Saturday, October 26, 2013

Landscaping, Phoenix Style

It's going piecemeal. The first fall, warped sickly cactus were removed from the back yard where the dogs could/did get spined. That winter, a fellow was hired to remove the oleander bushes from in front of the house and dig up the stumps from where the realtor let two citrus trees die because she wouldn't spring for water to keep them alive a few months until the house sold.

My 35-year-old ponytail palm (called bottle palms down here) was set in the front yard last fall to see if it would survive, and last spring I brought down 2 small ponytails to add in the front of the house, arranging to have them watered over the summer. As a bonus, they received rabbit cages. While nothing had bothered the old one, the new ones had low foliage which was being sampled regularly, until then. I'd thrown some seeds in the ground near the old one where watering would occur, to see if red yucca plants could be started that way. I harvested them out of a couple pods I plucked off a plant before I left AZ last December. No signs of life yet.

This fall, the verdict on the old ponytail was it was living and growing but set where it was getting too much sun. It needed a new spot, and has been relocated next to the two little ones where the roof shades it much better, as the house faces north.

I also arrived with some plans for that north side: aloes and similar shade tolerant plants. Like all plans, things changed.

It started with a visit to a well-reputed garden center. What I found was high prices and low selection in succulents. No sale.

A trip to WalMart included an impulse stop in their garden center. Yes, I know. Caution is advised. Know your stock and its limitations, check for vitality. So... They had a variety of Aloe Vera, the basic aloe one uses for burns. I grabbed two. Riding through the plants rows revealed two sizes of Red Yuccas. Again I picked out two, the cheapest size. No major gamble.

After more thought, I talked Steve into a drive. It was also a scouting trip to see if the Desert Botanical Gardens had suitable little plants for sale in their gift shop. Just hitting their shop, one avoids paying admission, and it's right by the entrance so little walking. Plus frequent benches and water fountains. Win win. It turns out they just had their semi-annual plant sale (50,000 plants) the previous weekend, and there were a few remaining in what I was looking for. We would up with 3 varieties of baby aloes and 3 varieties of agaves, two pots worth of one kind.

We also picked up a sunny area plant, called variously a pencil plant or ladyslipper. It basically grows waxy twigs, sprouting the occasional leaf, and blooms in a weird-looking flower which attracts hummingbirds. It's in the back yard next to the patio. The larger agaves needed sunnier locations, so locations had to be adjusted to that. The circle where the old ponytail had been now holds both red yuccas in the background and the variegated agave in the front. After the first night, they each also received a chicken wire cage. The local coyotes are not quite keeping up with the rabbit population in the neighborhood. Holding that thought, the ladyslipper also got a cage. The aloes hadn't been touched, so must not be as tasty as the others. Not having an unlimited supply of cages, that is a good thing.

Think we're done?

My next move was to go online, trying to see what else might be out anywhere, new and different varieties which met the criteria. I found something. It happened to be local, if you can stretch the boundaries of "local" to include southwestern Chandler. I called the listed number to find out if what I was interested in were actually in stock, justifying the long drive. Yep, about a dozen or more, and best yet, if we picked them up, the price was half the listed price which included shipping and lots of risk to the plants.

Road Trip!

Steve again came along to lend an opinion. We settled for six more plants, this time including some haworthias, much more shade loving even than the aloes but with similar forms. I could have bought more, but there's time for research before next fall this way. Plus, the plants needed to go in the ground and I was only going to be around one more day. Digging that crap is hard work, even when you water it thoroughly to change it to mud.

Then there were rocks to scatter among the plants. I still recall those folks who teased me for moving rocks down in the truck from  Minnesota. Didn't I think Arizona had rocks? Well, yes, of course. Not, however, the lovely granites I spent months collecting for my northern rock garden. Mostly they sunk in the clay and hid under weeds up there. In Arizona, dry as it is, they'll just sit and stay put showing off, as well as tactfully discouraging people from walking through the area where right now teeny little plants are hiding, trying to become bigger weird little plants. And Arizona rocks? Well, I've seen them. Solid red. Or solid off-white. Don't forget grey.

My favorite plants? Ponytails, of course. But of the new ones, there's an aloe hybrid named "Christmas Carol". It's red and green, swirling leaves out from the center horizontally, with each leaf tip curving over toward the next leaf. I actually bought two, part of that run out to Chandler to a place called Arizona Cactus.

I'll likely go back next year. And maybe head down early enough next October to hit that 50,000 plants sale at the Botanical Gardens.

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