Argentine Giant Cactus Flower – Photograph

Photograph of the Argentine Giant Cactus in Bloom
at the Desert Botanical Garden, Phoenix

Argentine Giant Cactus, Echinopsis candicans
Argentine Giant Cactus, Echinopsis candicans

I am a member/volunteer at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, AZ. It is the second most visited attraction in the state after the Grand Canyon. On my way to the Seed Room where I work as a volunteer, I passed an Argentine Giant cactus that was still in bloom. It has been my experience that they generally bloom earlier in the season, but this particular specimen was in a location that enabled it to be in flower now.

The flower is not the most attractive cactus bloom I have seen, but it is very pretty and the size is huge. The flower can be as large as a person’s face. Unfortunately, these blooms only last a day, but what a day it is!

 

JBRish.com originally published this post
*All photographs Copyright by Jeffrey B. Ross with all rights reserved.

 
See previous posts about life in the desert HERE or gardening HERE.

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Agave Farms (AF) – An Urban Desert Experience – Part 2

In Part 1 of my story about the Master Gardener’s visit to Agave Farms, I mentioned the large size of the facility. Many of the sections have stone walls creating raised beds that are also very large.

Agave Farm picture

If you visit the area near the informal entrance you may be able to find a variety of plantings, pots, etc. to provide ideas and inspiration such as this large planting of Euphorbia tirucalli is commonly referred to as a ‘Sticks on Fire’ or another similar name.

Agave Farm picture

As previously noted, AF grows vegetables, cacti, succulents and a host of other plants. Another of their specialties is roses. Whenever I mention rose growing in the desert to my friends from other areas, they are surprised, but Arizona is one of the largest exporters of roses in the US.

Agave Farm picture

AF carries a large variety of roses. They have a three-fold brochure listing the names of their roses so gardeners can more easily find a particular variety.

Agave Farm picture

If there is a color you are seeking, you will most likely find it at AF. Interestingly enough, they grow many of their roses in mesh-like bags which are environmentally friendly. I had never seen these before, but they seemed to work well.

Agave Farm picture

I was seeking a very particular climbing rose that does well in our zone, Golden Showers, and sure enough, I was able to find the plant at AF and it is now doing well in our courtyard landscape.

I did not get the specific name of the plant pictured below, but it was somewhat unique for our area. I particularly liked the leaf form and the white-ish tips at the end of the flowers.

Agave Farm picture

Flowers and vegetables are planted in groupings and interspersed. This may be to deter certain pests or perhaps just to develop a more colorful display.

Agave Farm picture

In one section of the farm, they were demonstrating hay bale gardening for those who don’t have a fertile plot or otherwise find this an acceptable alternative.

Agave Farm picture

More cool weather veggies and flowers.

Agave Farm picture

Agave Farm picture

It was fun just to walk around. Up against a fence, I saw this half-column ornament which was different!

Agave Farm picture

There are constant reminders that AF is in the middle of the city as apartments surround it and can be seen across from this water retention pond.

Agave Farm picture

A chicken coop constructed from an old truck cargo area was another interesting stop.

Agave Farm picture

Agave Farm picture

Just before I left the farm to head home, I saw this unique bicycle cart. Isn’t the color wonderful?!

Agave Farm picture

 

JBRish.com originally published this post
*All photographs Copyright by Jeffrey B. Ross with all rights reserved.

 
See previous posts about life in the desert HERE or gardening HERE.

Agave Farms – An Urban Desert Experience – Part 1

In Phoenix, AZ (the Sonoran Desert) gardening is unlike most other places. One thing more difficult than gardening in the desert is creating a successful garden retail business and that is why it is always exciting when a new option appears.

As part of the Maricopa County Master Gardener program, we took a field trip to visit Agave Farms in central Phoenix.

    4300 N Central Ave,
    Phoenix, AZ 85012
    (602) 374-6553

Agave Farm picture

What renders Agave Farms somewhat different is that it is a cross between a community farm and garden center. It is landlocked by urban landscape and serves as a welcome oasis for those in the immediate area.

Agave Farm picture

When visitors enter the center, they are first struck by the vastness of the farm. Although it appears as one city block, it is a big one.

Agave Farm picture

At times there can be a flurry of activity taking place so naturally, there needs to be some guidelines for the safety of the visitors and the care of the plants and other items for sale..

Agave Farm picture

Here is an artistic signpost explaining where most areas of interest are located.

Agave Farm picture

Gardeners should take their time to look around and study the displays and floral groupings. These can spur creative gardening thoughts for home use.

Agave Farm picture

Agave Farms (AF) appears to invite group visits such as ours. They have a small picnic table and barbecue area just behind the office building near the parking lot.

Agave Farm picture

For inspiration, there are small and large displays to get guests into that gardening mood.

Agave Farm picture

AF even offers plants that are impossible to kill, i.e. metal sculptures. (Note – I am not sure these particular specimens are for sale, but if interested, I think AF can provide the contact information of a supplier).

Agave Farm picture

Many people who have desert gardens like to use rebar, metal objects, etc. in their garden design. I have learned to appreciate rebar and rust as a featured element of a Sonoran Desert garden design. This portion of a rebar gate focuses attention on flowers on the picnic area’s patio.

Agave Farm picture

Below is a picture of a nice, artsy petunia display. Keep in mind that these photographs were taken the second week in January at a time when there are still cool-to-cold temperatures and danger of frost. This is our early spring in the Valley of the Sun. This season is not a time to find, full lush gardens in the desert. It is however, a good time to begin thinking about plans and planting for the upcoming season.

Agave Farm picture

There are some interesting, some may say humorous, touches at AF such as this doctor statue standing in the middle of a future planting area.

Agave Farm picture

We cannot forget that this is a desert-based farm and landscape center and as such there are desert plants for sale. These cactus plants have cups covering their sensitive growing tips should a frost occur. It does look a bit unusual to those from other areas, but quite common in the desert.

Agave Farm picture

In a previous JBRish post, I depicted another unusual aspect to winter protection of sensitive desert plants. You can check out the post, Cactus Ghosts in the Desert.

Large specimens are often sold in planting boxes. These are a bit tricky to use for those who are uninitiated and usually require a specialist or someone who has developed the appropriate skills. There is a definite technique to releasing a plant from one of these wooden planting boxes and keeping the root ball intact.

Agave Farm picture

There are live agaves to be seen at AF, but this particular fountain sculpture can serve as a signature for this post and a fine end to Part 1 of our visit to Agave Farms.

Agave Farm picture

 

JBRish.com originally published this post
*All photographs Copyright by Jeffrey B. Ross with all rights reserved.

 
See previous posts about life in the desert HERE or gardening HERE.

Native Datura (Jimson Weed) Pretty with a Punch!

The first day we moved into our new house in N. Phoenix, AZ, we noticed a plant on the side of our yard that had dark, rather large, green leaves with tubular white flowers; also large. We had no idea what this was, but it was an impressive looking plant.

I have certain criteria for growing plants and one of them is the size of the flower in relationship to the size of the plant and leaves. I want a plant to offer color or a unique presentation. There are times when a plant provides other reasons for cultivation such as unique form, colorful leaves, etc., but I digress.

After doing a bit of research we found out that this plant was a native Datura or Jimson Weed.

Datura (Jimson Weed)

The plant pictured above isn’t the original plant, but it is a native Datura we grew from seed. As you will note it is rather large.

Here is a picture of a couple of the flowers in bloom.

Datura (Jimson Weed)

The flowers open in the evening because their natural pollinator is a Hawk moth which is out and about during the late afternoon and evening hours.

A close up of a single flower shows how inviting this might be for a moth or other pollinators such as bees. Every morning there are bees visiting the flowers to gather whatever pollen they can. The Hawk moth prefers the nectar and it has been noted by others that some of the moths seem to be a bit “high” as the Datura has hallucinogenic properties. Read more about that HERE.

Datura (Jimson Weed)

While this particular specimen is very white, I have seen others that have purple-to-pink tinges and, if my memory serves me correctly, I think one had purple stripes in the throat.

One of the positive characteristics of this plant from a gardeners point of view is that the mammals living in our yard, i.e. rabbits, squirrels, mice, packrats, javelina, etc. tend to leave it alone.

One of my favorite forms of the flower, because of its beautiful and unique form, is the swirled bud shape that it assumes the day before it opens.

Datura (Jimson Weed)

This particular plant wasn’t this robust its first year, but with every subsequent year, it has gotten larger and larger. The seed of this plant was harvested from a sprawlingly huge specimen. Now that it seems to have taken hold, we anticipate that it will remain a sturdy perennial.

This spring, once the blooms began to mature, I have been greeted with a dozen or more flowers nearly every morning. The flowers only last a few hours after daybreak and with the heat of the Arizona desert sun, this bloom interval will shorten.

I remove the spent blooms each morning and create a “dead head” bouquet.

Datura (Jimson Weed)

This seems to extend the bloom time by preventing the formation of the prickly seed pods.

Datura (Jimson Weed)
Photograph courtesy of www.desert.usa.com

If you live in an arid area with the appropriate temperature range and you would like to grow an interesting plant that is mostly pest free, I think the Datura would be a good candidate.

Streets of Gold in the Phoenix Desert (Gardening)

Palo Verde Tree in flower

As you can see from the photograph above, the desert is decked in gold this time of year. The Palo Verdes (along with some other flowering trees snd shrubs) produce an abundance of yellow blooms. There are streets that are lined with these trees and they build a seasonal hallway of gold.

Streets of gold

The ground is carpeted with spent yellow flower petals adding even more color to the street. While the neighborhoods aren’t paved with gold, they are covered with pretty yellow hues.

Below is a picture of the branches of the Palo Verde tree laden with its delightful burden of yellow flowers.

Palo Verde Tree flowers


JBRish.com originally published this post
All photographs are Copyright by Jeffrey B. Ross with ALL Rights Reserved

 
See more JBRish gardening and desert gardening posts here HERE

Opuntia (Paddle Cacti) – Phoenix, Arizona

Opuntia - Paddle Cactus

“Opuntia is the most widespread of all genera in the cactus family. The genus occurs naturally throughout North and South America from as far north as Canada, through the Caribbean, and down into Argentina. With man’s help, however, this species can now be found world-wide where it has escaped cultivation and become naturalized even to the point of being classified as a noxious weed.”
Source: – https://cactiguide.com/cactus/?genus=Opuntia

While much of the country is still in early spring, the desert is moving quickly through its yearly spring and toward what most would consider summer. As of this writing, we are still in the sweet spot of a bumper crop of blooms. The native desert plants are taking their turns in showing off.

Most of the year our cacti look like a pincushion holding onto its requisite supply of pins, but hidden in the DNA of each of these organisms is the promise of blooming beauty. Some of the blooms like our pink Opuntia (see photos above and below) look as though they would be more at home floating in a tropical drink.

Opuntia - Paddle Cactus

As pretty as these are, many of the cactus flowers have a prime bloom duration of only one day, but what a bloom it is!

You may know Opuntia cacti. They are the “paddle” cactus family. They have large, flat paddle-like growths that look similar to the ears of a number of Walt Disney characters. The picture below better shows the paddles with the pink bloom atop.

To the left of the bloom are “ladies in waiting,” so to speak. The buds will plump until nature tells them it is their turn to open and show off.

Opuntia - Paddle Cactus

A more common Opuntia would be the yellow variety. We have several specimens in our front landscape.

Opuntia - Paddle Cactus

The pile of paddles above is more than five feet tall and if the truth be told, it would probably benefit from a pruning.

This is a closeup of the flower. Note the buds in the corners of the photo.

Opuntia - Paddle Cactus

Some of the paddles have a cascade of blooms that open on the same day and form an amazing vertical line.

Opuntia - Paddle Cactus

While I am enjoying the wonderful blooms in our landscape, I hope to share more of them with JBRish readers.

You can read more about Opuntias and Paddle Cacti at the link above.


JBRish.com originally published this post
All photographs are Copyright by Jeffrey B. Ross with ALL Rights Reserved

 
See more JBRish gardening and desert gardening posts here HERE

Wild West Weeds

Desert weeds along the roadside

Prior to moving to the North Phoenix area of the Sonoran Desert, I never thought about having a problem with weeds in such an arid region. After all, it is the desert with little water so there shouldn’t be a lot of weeds.

Desert weeds along the roadside

Wrong!

It turns out that desert plants, which naturally includes weeds, are pretty resilient. Winter rains from the end of December through February provide enough showers to enable the weeds to germinate; the more water, the more weeds.

Desert weeds along the roadside

This field at the end of our street has many, many weeds and among them are some very pretty willdflowers such as the orange Globe Mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua) in the foreground of the photo below.

Desert weeds along the roadside

Globe Mallows grow well along the roadsides and in open fields and have a color range from light to dark orange. Once in a while one can discover a rare pink Globe Mallow or an even more rare red variety.

Desert weeds along the roadside

The Globe Mallow in the photograph above adds variety in the desert weed landscape of silver, greens and yellows.

Triangle Leaf Bursage (Ambrosia deltoidea) is an abundant weed found in many open spaces.

Desert weeds along the roadside

In fields that are left untended for a number of years, a tree may take hold. This appears to be a Mesquite of some variety.

Desert weeds along the roadside

Yes wildflowers are pretty, but weeds can be more than a nuisance. As weeds dry out, they create a fire hazard. When the temperatures rise to above the ninety degree threshold and the rains become more scarce, spent wildflowers and weeds become tinder.

Desert weeds along the roadside

It is recommended that there is a defensible space around homes to help avoid fire spreading to dwellings. There was more to know about the desert ecosystem and weeds than I ever imagined prior to my residency in Arizona.


JBRish.com originally published this post

 
See more JBRish gardening and desert gardening posts here HERE

Gardening in the Desert – You Dirty Rat

The Sonoran Desert of Arizona can be quite a challenge. It is hard to imagine that, at one time, people lived here without air conditioning. We normally receive between 10-12 inches of rain a year in our particular area of Arizona near Cave Creek. This isn’t a lot of rain and this adds to the challenge of gardening in the desert.

Add to that problem the competition with the natural desert denizens including snakes, scorpions, tarantulas and a host of rodents.

This is the time of year when I make a daily round to look at all of the plants in our landscape to monitor their condition. When temperatures can spike to more than 90 degrees, the tipping point for some plants is very small.

For several days, I noticed that two of our plants were being nibbled. They weren’t being eaten, just ripped and the detritus left behind. From previous experience, I figured this was one of our most prevalent pests, the desert pack rat.

Rather than set a killing trap, we try to capture them with a Have-a-heart trap and relocate them. Out came the trap and at dusk I set it and placed it where I had seen the nibbling.

My most successful lure in the past had been peanuts or peanut butter. I had no more of the nuts so I put some peanut butter on a saltine cracker. Sure enough, prior to bed time I checked and we had trapped a pack rat.

Left to their own devices, pack rats have been notorious for chewing through wires and other human necessities in search of nest building materials and food. While they definitely look like rats, they are a bit, and I emphasize the word bit, cuter than your average rat (see iPhone pictures below – apologies, but these were taken in pitch black desert).

The pictures show the pack rat just before we released him so he could take up residence in a more rural part of the desert!

You can read more about pack rats HERE.

Desert Pack Rat Arizona

Desert Pack Rat Arizona


JBRish.com originally published this post

 
See more JBRish gardening and desert gardening posts here HERE

Spring Cactus Bloom in Arizona – The Claret Cup

We have had a wetter than usual winter and early spring and thus we are having a beautiful wildflower bloom. Our landscape cactus are showing their appreciation as well with a living bouquet for our enjoyment.

One of our courtyard features is a round planter that has hosted a Claret Cup cactus (Echinocereus triglochidiatus) for more than ten years. At one time it had plenty of room, but as you can see below, it will need to be divided and replanted within a year or so.

Claret Cup Cactus

In years past, it wouldn’t have this many blooms open at once, but its stinginess vanished this year and we are being treated to a full orchestration of its floral beauty.

Upon closer inspection you can see the juggernaut of thorns it sports that will present quite a challenge when it comes time to move or transplant it. We have a long pair of tweezers or tongs that we use to remove spent blooms or any debris that gets caught amid the needles.

Claret Cup Cactus

In the photo below, the pollen can be seen on top of the stamens. While this adds color to the picture and pollen to the air, it also seems to attract woodpeckers. For some reason they like to eat the center of the flowers and my assumption is that it is because of the pollen. After inspecting where they have been, the pollen sacks are gone — who knew?

Claret Cup Cactus

You can read more about Claret Cup cactus (Echinocereus triglochidiatus) by clicking HERE.


JBRish.com originally published this post
All photographs are Copyright by Jeffrey B. Ross with ALL Rights Reserved

 
See more JBRish gardening and desert gardening posts here HERE

Cactus Ghosts in the Desert

Life in the Desert

Cactus appear as ghosts in the desert
Photograph copyright by Jeffrey B. Ross – © All Rights Reserved.

Living in the desert will often present a real life oxymoron which will make us stop and take notice. Although people think of the Sonoran Desert of Arizona as a very hot place, it does have a winter season. During this period of time, from December through February (approximately), we have cloudy days with intermittent rains. This year, we had more rainy days in January than any time in the last ten years that I can remember.

Another surprise to some is that we get snow on top of the mountains surrounding the Phoenix valley and we have a frost every once in a while. In our neighborhood so far this year, we had one day with light frost, but there have been years when we have had several days with a bit more than a light frost. When that happens, we need to protect some of our sensitive plants. This is often done by covering them with frost blankets.

Once the cloth is placed over the plant, it needs to be anchored at the bottom so the cold air, that is heavier than the warmer air, does not get under the cloth.

THE PICTURE ABOVE – There are certain cactus species that people use in their landscape in the desert that are more sensitive to the cold than others and nurseries can’t take the chance of having them damaged by cold or frost. To protect the plants, they wrap them in frost cloths during the colder months. The picture demonstrates this phenomenon. When I passed by this nursery in N. Phoenix, the bundled cacti reminded me of ghosts.

 
See previous posts about life in the desert HERE.