December 12, 2015

Maguey with Virgen de Guadalupe

Maguey with Virgen de Guadalupe

It's her day. (Read up on Mayahuel here.)

And Chet is eleven! Read Julie's wonderful post here. "Get outside. Smell the air. Look around. Cover ground." Heartfelt amen to that. Happy Birthday, Chet Baker!

December 1, 2015

Cold snap, and two new opuntias

Opuntia sulphurea, on a roll.

With temps below 30F for a few nights, many of the new and/or not-so-hardy plants were crammed under the patio roof...

and covered with frost cloth each evening. Old nursery pots came in handy as covers, too (see far right).

The sun room (odd name, since its windows face north and east) is filled with tender plants, and the garage holds a few more.

Nighttime temperatures for the next ten days or so are expected to be in the 40s F. No rain expected until late next week.

I brought two new opuntia species home from the Mexican Hat nursery. The first is Opuntia sulphurea, shown in the top photo. It's native to Argentina and Bolivia, and has stout pads with long, twisted spines. It's not supposed to be frost hardy, but a Gates C&SS friend who lives a few blocks from me has a big potted O. sulphurea that shrugs at our occasional mid 20F temps and snow. (If it grows in the "high Andes Mountains" one would imagine it to be at least frost tolerant, but several sites rate its hardiness only to zone 9b [25F].) After I bought the plant you see in these photos, the good folks at the nursery tossed in another sulphurea for free — thanks, Mexican Hat! Those twisty spines:

Wiggly: Opuntia sulphurea.

A few links:

Opuntia sulphurea at CactiGuide.
First page of an article from the C&SS Journal on O. sulphurea (October 2013).
Photo of a beautiful plant at the Huntington, via Dave's Garden.

My other new opuntia also has amazing spines, but in this case they are long and straight as knitting needles. The parent plant was growing in the ground at the Mexican Hat nursery, and a kind helper sliced off these paddles for me:

Opuntia quimilo, drying out in the garage with some cholla sections. Weird blue tint on spines produced magically by garage window.

The quimil is another native of South America. Cold hardy to zone 8, maybe. Spines are reported to reach from 8 to 16 inches in length. (Longest spines in the photo above are >4 inches.)

Lots of cool information about the quimil in this post (in Spanish). To wit:

O. quimilo is said to be a favorite hideout of black widow spiders.

The paddles are used as a folk-medicine treatment for venomous snakebites. (Paddles are also used to make a poultice for healing wounds.) It'd be kind of depressing if a black widow bit you while you were trying to break off a paddle to treat your venomous snakebite.

The quimil is a staple of this creature's diet. The pecarí quimilero was apparently known to science only through fossils, and was thought extinct until it was "rediscovered" in the 1970s. From the Wiki link: "It uses its tough snout to roll the cacti on the ground, rubbing the spines off. It may pull off the spines with its teeth and spit them out. The kidneys are specialized to break down acids from the cacti."

Are there any popular North American songs that employ cactus as metaphor? Here's a good one from Argentina. Free translation:

I'd like to be a quimil
rough and stiff-spined
so that no one would shake me
looking for ripe fruit.

It was 38F when I took the dogs out this morning. Spring can come anytime, if you ask me. Thanks to blogger and plantswoman CHACO from Argentina, whose post provided such a wealth of information on the quimil. How intertwined are the lives of plants and people...

November 25, 2015

The good, the bad, and the ugly (Wednesday vignette)

Huey, Louie, and Dewey.

Lock, stock, and three golden barrels: Patty, Maxine, and Laverne? Rock, Paper, Scissors?  Gödel, Escher, Bach? Chico, Harpo, and Groucho? Faith, Hope, and Charity? Tinker, Evers, and Chance? Shake, Rattle and Roll? Wynken, Blynken, and Nod?  Shirley, Goodness, and Mercy? Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics? 

I'm here all week, folks. Try the turkey! Heartfelt thanks today to the Gates Cactus & Succulent Society. Kind friends, patient mentors, plants for sale each month,  field trips, trades, great guest speakers, and rescue opportunities with nice plants available for a song: all courtesy of Gates. (Need a pickup truck for a rescue? I'm your girl.)

One of the loveliest things about Gates is their willingness — eagerness! — to rehome plants. That's a blessing for a gardener or collector who lives by the adage "Prune with a shovel" (™ Clair Martin, former Huntington rosarian). If a plant isn't working in my 20 x 50 foot space, it's gone. Thanks to Gates, plant and gardener part as friends. Farewells are painless when good homes are waiting in the wings. 

The top photo was taken in July, and now, in late November, only the dudleya at upper left, the tiny trio of barrels barely visible at far right, and the golden barrels — all three of them from a rescue operation — are still here. Negative space? New plants? A nice puzzle for winter.

The Wednesday Vignette meme is hosted by Anna over at Flutter & Hum: follow the link for much vignette goodness. Happy Thanksgiving, all!

November 23, 2015

Thanksgiving Week

Love this parryi. Brought him home from the school garden two years ago, after the district banned spiky plants. Sun, snow... he doesn't care. Errant leaf is from one of the recent Santa Anas. On the right is Salvia mexicana 'Limelight.'

Much for me to be thankful for. Family, friends, beautiful weather, home, health, the whole week off for dogs and gardening and walks and tamales. I'm very fortunate: all loved ones and I live safe and sound here in the most beautiful region on earth.

Over to you, Pope Francis: 

 A prayer for our earth
All-powerful God, you are present in the whole universe
and in the smallest of your creatures.
You embrace with your tenderness all that exists.
Pour out upon us the power of your love,
that we may protect life and beauty.

Fill us with peace, that we may live
as brothers and sisters, harming no one.
O God of the poor,
help us to rescue the abandoned and forgotten of this
earth, so precious in your eyes.
Bring healing to our lives,
that we may protect the world and not prey on it,
that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction.
Touch the hearts
of those who look only for gain
at the expense of the poor and the earth.
Teach us to discover the worth of each thing,
to be filled with awe and contemplation,
to recognize that we are profoundly united
with every creature
as we journey towards your infinite light.
We thank you for being with us each day.
Encourage us, we pray, in our struggle
for justice, love and peace.
And a favorite quote from a rabbi: "Our prayers are answered when we are moved to do all that we can."


Looking south into the sun this morning. The cholla at upper right, behind the Opuntia basilaris in the old feed trough, looks like an x-ray of itself, spines translucent in the sunlight. That's a little Russelia equisetiformis in the foreground.

Last Sunday, looking north at the same group. That broken pot was one of my favorites :~( I am never throwing it away. To the left of the cholla is a new Opuntia azurea, the second one I've brought home from a UC Riverside Botanic Gardens Plant Sale. Love those spines. 

I stumbled across this Gymnocalycium chiquitanum over at the Mexican Hat Cactus Nursery and couldn't leave without it. It should look more like this. (Scroll down a bit). Beautiful flowers. Needs new soil and a sip of water. Think I'll keep this one inside for the winter.

The closing-shop sale at the Mexican Hat Cactus Nursery was mostly rained out last weekend, and so there are still a few days to visit and grab some very nice plants. There are BIG golden barrels (>2 feet across) for $50 and under, a gorgeous big Aloe marlothii, a huge Agave titanota, and lots of smaller plants. The nice people running the sales will help you dig up plants (if necessary — lots of choice stuff in the ground) and help carry them to your vehicle. No need to bring the wheelbarrow! Cash only. Black Friday freeway traffic will probably be insane, but towards the end of the week I'd like to drive back to the Mexican Hat for one last visit, maybe buy two or three more plants... two big golden barrels to flank the front door...? Hmmm...


Few things are more beautiful than a Monarch chrysalis, but I'll nominate a Monarch chrysalis hanging on an agave leaf. From a local blog, too: click here, then scroll down and click to embiggen. Also check out this link from the comments: more about the native vs. tropical milkweed debate, by a UC Davis professor. ("Ideologue"? Ouch. Big native plant advocate here, and wouldn't plant tropical milkweed, but look at my patio: I just bought two cactus from Bolivia, for Pete's sake.)

Meanwhile, east of the Mississippi... Julie Zickefoose is an artist and author from Ohio. She has a wonderful blog that I've been following since Chet Baker was a pup. Right now she is getting her garden ready for winter. Japanese maples, sweet potatoes, the story of 'Rio Samba' and the zinnia... and Boston Chet warming himself by the fire. Love that boy.

In the background as I blog, inimitable Chavela Vargas is singing the milonga-candombe 'Negra Maria.' True sad song (and yet so danceable) set during Carnaval in Buenos Aires. Great mix: milonga and candombe from Africa, adopted by descendants of Europeans in Argentina and Uruguay, where these musical influences were crucial to the birth of the tango. And speaking of tango, here's the awesome Gabriel Missé dancing with Analía Centurión at a studio in New York City. Skip ahead to 15:10 and watch them go all Corny Collins Show to Little Richard's Long Tall Sally. (Can't miss Little Richard's all-white 1956 audience.) In my fantasies, warring factions and evil despots hear this song on the radio, and they all put down their weapons and start to dance.

November 18, 2015

It was a dark and stormy night (Wednesday vignette)

Overpotted, bare root, waiting for a real pot...

It was cold (mid 30s F), it was blowing a gale (the Lady Banks rose fell over), and there were intermittent downpours, so before it got dark I rounded up the possibly/probably-less-hardy kids and put them under the patio roof. Sharing shelter with the ones above were a tabletop's worth of others, and a box of paddles from the Mexican Hat Cactus Nursery — that's a humongous Opuntia 'Old Mexico' on the left ("previously known as (and may still be listed in various places) Opuntia gomei 'Old Mexico', but recent genetic tests indicate it is a spineless form of Opuntia stricta," says Xenomorf), next to a ginormous Cow's Tongue (Opuntia engelmannii var. linguiformis).

I think I need a bigger pot.

Those two are ready for potting. Next week is Thanksgiving vacation, and the weather should be quite nice for working in the garden. Getting colder, though. I'll have to set up frost cloth central in a week or two.

The Wednesday Vignette is hosted by Anna over at Flutter & Hum — visit the link for much vignette goodness. 

November 12, 2015

Mexican Hat Cactus Nursery: Wednesday Vignette

Echinopsis photobombs an opuntia -- or is it the other way around? Mexican Hat Cactus Nursery, Riverside, California.

When a California succulent nursery has a week-long sale and you're there and you hear someone say, "A man from Arid Lands [not to mention others from Tucson, Las Vegas, Reno] was here yesterday," you know right off that the nursery must be a legendary one, with specimen plants (small ones, too), a wide selection, rarities, and happy surprises. Harvey Welton's Mexican Hat Cactus Nursery has been all that for nearly fifty years. And "Mexican Hat Cactus Nursery"? Best. name. ever.

Harvey is selling everything this week, and closing shop. The sale runs through Monday, November 16. Cash only! More info here. Hope I get a chance to go back one last time. Big thanks, Harvey! 

The Wednesday Vignette meme is hosted by Anna over at Flutter & Hum.

November 5, 2015

"I don't think it woke up"

Great photography by Bryan Hughes: click (and then click again) to embiggen.

Late vignette: Wildlife Wednesday

Big voice on this little guy.

When I moved here two years ago, the first wild critter (birds aside) that I spotted in the yard was a treefrog. I'm delighted to hear (and see) them more and more often in my garden. You can hear lots of them singing in the arroyo. They live in surrounding gardens as well, and are occasionally swept down into my yard when an uphill neighbor forgets to turn off a dribbling hose. This little one, spotted at night next to my new Opuntia robusta, is a Baja California Treefrog (Pseudacris hypochondriaca hypochondriaca). Love that Latin name — I might borrow it if I become a rap artist. Treefrogs in the inland foothill chaparral? Yep. From the great CalHerps site:
The name "treefrog" is not entirely accurate. This frog is chiefly a ground-dweller, living among shrubs and grass typically near water, but occasionally it can also be found climbing high in vegetation. Its large toe pads allow it to climb easily, and cling to branches, twigs, and grass.
The Baja California Treefrog's range overlaps the range of the California Treefrog. Different voices! The Baja California Treefrog makes the classic "ribbit." You can follow the links and compare their calls.

The Wednesday Vignette meme is hosted by Anna over at Flutter & Hum.

November 2, 2015

Snapshot: rainy and cold

A few of the little ones huddled together under the patio roof. 

It's snowing in the mountains — in fact, it's snowing a few miles from my house. Rain started at my place about an hour ago. Temps here aren't expected to dip below 40F or thereabouts, but I'm glad I have stacks of frost cloth in the garage. Took this photo a little after 8:00 PM tonight.

Merlin Tuttle and The Secret Lives of Bats

  Breathtaking. "Bright colors of painted bats blend well with dead leaves where they roost. Vespertilionidae, S and SE Asia." All photos by Merlin Tuttle.

¡Feliz Día de los Fieles Difuntos! Rather than whine about last week's Santa Anas (worst ever, say people who grew up here in the foothills) or the ongoing clean-up (Sisyphean) or express endless and well-deserved appreciation to the local cactus club members who rehomed some of my plants on Sunday afternoon (room for more opuntias and agaves, yay!), I want to talk for a minute about bats, and about Merlin Tuttle.

Dr. Tuttle is the founder and president emeritus of Bat Conservation International. Because of his work on behalf of bat conservation around the world, bats (and plants, and humans) live much, much better lives. That mosquito carrying the dose of West Nile Virus that had your name on it? A bat ate her. (Bats eat thousand of metric tons of insects in the US each year.) Those avocados (cashews, coconuts, bananas, etc.) you can't imagine living without? Bats pollinate them. Saguaros, glories of the wild and of many gardens, wouldn't exist without bats. The saguaro opens its flowers at night for them:

"A lesser long-nosed bat (Leptonycteris yerbabuenae) pollinating saguaro cactus in Mexico." 

And bats also pollinate agaves. Raise a glass of your favorite reposado to the bat!

"Lesser long-nosed bats (Leptonycteris yerbabuene) pollinating agave (source of tequila) in Arizona." 

And raise another glass to Merlin Tuttle. "Mr. Tuttle is fueled by a ferocious curiosity fed by a stiff dose of crazy," writes Julie Zickefoose in the Wall Street Journal review of his latest book. It's the best kind of crazy: he's determined to learn more, discover more, protect more, educate more, and his adventures along the way make Indiana Jones look like Barney Fife. Saving bats, it seems to me, is a way of saving the world, and I'm so happy that The Secret Lives of Bats is getting lots of attention. Check out the New Yorker review, and the Mother Jones review, then run to Amazon and get a copy.


(There's an old documentary floating around called The Secret World of Bats that features Merlin Tuttle and his work for Bat Conservation International. I've shown it to students every October for over twenty years. I realized with kind of a pang that last week's showing will probably be the final one. Not that I'd forego retirement just to keep playing this ancient video for people, but still. Bats are awesome, and Merlin Tuttle is awesome. I can't wait to read his new book.)

October 21, 2015

La cadena

Heavy: a vignette for Wednesday. 

This wonderful, ginormous (logging?) chain was at a fave local salvage yard on Tuesday afternoon. $15 or $20, can't remember. Too bulky for my little garden, and not exactly right for my design sensibility (such as it is), but oh, I was tempted.

For the Wendesday Vignette meme hosted by Anna of Flutter & Hum.

October 18, 2015

Weekend before a plant sale

Ay caramba, such low light this morning. Do not adjust your screen! 
This is Agave 'Little Shark' — or is it? (Louie's says 'Little Shark.')

What an odd day! Cool (65F) this morning, and so overcast that 8:00 AM looked more like an hour before sunrise. Rain off and on. It's a perfect day to curl up with tea or coffee and catch up on reading. Give me a good read, a sturdy tea kettle with a whistle you can hear a mile away, and a mug of chai, and I'm set. (Latest issues of Atomic Ranch and Garden Design Magazine are waiting.) 

This coming weekend is the 33rd Annual Friends of U.C. Riverside Botanic Gardens Fall Plant Sale, or, as I like to think of it, a perfect Saturday. (I've been cutting and pasting from their sale list, but an FYI: they always have some small/young succulents — Aloe erinacea, for example — that aren't listed.) First I'll hit the sale, then Wild Birds Unlimited in Riverside to see what's new, then Gloria's Nursery for a big pot and a cactus (lots of opuntia love right now), then Louie's Nursery to look around (they have a nice succulent selection), and then the scenic route home. I feel a bit like E.B. White's Wilbur (who planned a perfect day down to the last slop — only to have it ruined by rain [though I've done all this in the rain, and it's still quite wonderful]). Oh, and Sunday is the Brannaman Roping Finals in Santa Ynez, but that's a whole nother post. 

This weekend I'm dealing with the "one in, one out" rule of gardening in a small space. Are there any plants in my garden that should really go to new homes? Why yes, there always are! Since my garden is mostly in containers, and since the Gates folks are happy to rehome succulents, moving things along is a relatively easy process, thank heaven. In theory, this will make more room for the opuntias and native shrubs I hope to nab at UC Riverside. Plants on the way out have been moved to the side yard, awaiting the judge's final decision...

Here are photos of some of the more or less permanent fixtures in my yard these days, plant-wise, along with a few new additions. Warning: lots of photos.

Aloe africana. The tree in the ground behind it is a walnut: a native walnut tree in a two foot wide strip next to the house. To be fair to previous occupants, a bird probably planted it. The arborist offered to put it (where else?) in a pot for me.

A tiny Mangave 'Bloodspot.'

And not far away, a smallish Agave bovicornuta.

Bunper crop! The Meyer lemon was a neglected shrub when I moved in, but it's much happier now, and will be even happier after the arborist removes dead wood and tidies everything up. ("You have a Meyer lemon!" said the arborist. "Oh, no," I said to the arborist. "It's just an ordinary lemon." [dies of shame] 
It's a Meyer lemon. 
[Although I grew up surrounded by citrus groves, and love them, citrus fruit seems to trigger arthritis flare-ups, and I've avoided citrus most of my life. Need some lemons?])

Gone suburban. This Thanksgiving Cactus is in a hanging basket next to the lemon tree.

Morning light is wonderful through the leaves of Grevillea 'Long John' — I'm just afraid this plant would be happier in the ground. Probably needs more sun. And I'm afraid to prune it, which is ridiculous, since in general I'm a lop-branches-off-with-abandon kind of person. We'll see how it does this winter.

Agave montana. It survived last winter's snow with no protection, but I'm bringing it under cover this year.

In the pot ghetto (oh, who am I kidding — my entire garden is a pot ghetto): a new, NOID agave from Jurupa. 'Baccarat'...?

Finally potted: Agave victoriae-reginae 'Golden Princess,' from Tony Marino of the Gates club.

The beautiful foliage of Eucalyptus 'Moon Lagoon.'

Opuntia basilaris, the king of the glochids. Seriously, this cactus sits back and sneers at puny humans through a cloud of dispersing glochids. Great flowers!

Vision of a dream come true at Louie's Nursery. I want an entire wall of big opuntias. Working on it.

Also at Louie's, a perfect  Agave guiengola 'Crème Brûlée.' As Gerhard has written, guiengolas bruise if you look hard at them. This one is well-protected and gets just the right amount of sun — mine (below) gets too little. Must get an arbor... 

My 'Crème Brûlée.' I love these guys, and as luck would have it, they're big puppers: see below.

One of three pups on this plant.

Opuntia nursery. The school district groundskeepers tore out a big variegated opuntia that was thriving (seven feet high) behind a friend's classroom at work. I managed to salvage a few pieces, and have four or five pots with little variegated opuntias now. It looks like Joseph's Coat (Opuntia monacantha var. variegata).

My gnarliest-spined titanota has a pup!

Please grow up to look like your mom.

Orostachys iwarenge. Such a cool little plant! Found this one at Hunter's Nursery up at Big Bear Lake last summer, and as directed put in it a wide, WIDE pot so that it would have room to sow seed and be bigger next year.

Dies after flowering (Noooo...!!), but comes back from seed each year. (All right then.)

Looks like a fairy garden. Right, Annie's Annuals?

Yucca gigantea. This plant was on a neighbor's porch in Big Bear, of all places, looking dead as a doornail, and I got it when they sold their cabin. Took months for it to show signs of life, but it's thriving now. No intention of ever putting this thing in the ground.

Nearby, some Aloe arborescens going nuts.

And in front of the aloes, a California fuschia, also from Hunter's Nursery in Big Bear. The galvanized bucket was a salvage find, and my welder put a nice hole in the bottom. Now, what plant to put in it?

That flower reminds me: I finally got a hemidemisemi-decent snap of the first Aloe elgonica bloom.

Baby elgonicas.

One of several good-sized elgonica pups I separated from the mothership. Original big plant came from fave Gloria's Nursery in Riverside.

The leaves on Kalanchoe fedtschenkoi 'Variegata' are bordered with the loveliest hot-pink ever — the camera refuses to catch it [/no photo skills].

A new titanota from fellow Gates club member Rob Roy MacGregor.

And another titanota [note to self: do a post on your titanotas], this one a Kelly Griffin variety called 'Stacked.'

A million pups on this Aloe suprafoliata...

... and none on this one [a rescue plant from a Gates salvage operation]. A meaningful difference, suggests palmbob [last comment]. I love to see this oldster blooming.

How cool to be small enough to build a little web in this well-armed Aloe marlothii? Which, by the way, is as green in real life as his relative below, just washed out in this early morning photo.

Another aloe pup! This is a David Verity aloe called 'Spiney,' and you can read about its parentage here.

Nooooo...!! Disaster strikes. This is not my big Kissho Kan (thank the powers), but a nice medium-sized one. For the heck of it I did minor surgery, removed the rotted leaf, sprayed with straight (rubbing) alcohol. Damage seems localized. No symptoms of mites, as far as I can tell. If it can't be saved, there are many pups, including one that is very light-colored.

More disaster: mealy bugs attacked my oldest agave, a twenty year old A. parryi var. huachucensis. Those are dead mealies — I alcoholized 'em. When the leaf opens a bit more I'll clean things up with a toothpick. Poor parryi! 

All this disaster is too much. I need to see a pug.

Lily to the rescue! Here's my sister's pug, Lily, watching the nightly news up at the cabin. Whew! Everything is better now.

If you've made it this far, thanks for looking! Have a good week and a great weekend, whether you're in Santa Ynez, or at that other plant sale (hint: it's in San Marino), or racing me to the opuntias at UC Riverside.

Bookend: a slightly later-in-the-day, slightly better shot of Agave 'Little Shark,' with its beautiful dark spines and leaf margins. I love this one.