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.

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

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


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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

Milkweed – The Beauty of A Seed

As I may have mentioned on the pages of this blog in prior posts, I volunteer at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, AZ. It is a wonderful place to experience desert flora from the Sonoran Desert and other arid regions of the world.

Whenever I work with the various dried seed pods, I am aware of the miracle of nature they represent. That a large flower can grow from the tiniest of seeds is a marvel. Not only that, but many seeds have a beauty of their own.

I recently had the opportunity to work with milkweed seed pods (Asclepias erosa). When I opened the first seed pod, this is what I saw.

milkweed seed pod

** NOTE ** These seed pods were not as dry as they would be in nature, but they had opened on their own and the seeds were removed and dried for storage.

Milkweed plays a key role in the health and welfare of the Monarch Butterfly. You can read more about that HERE. I am writing this post to show the form, function and beauty of the milkweed seed pod.

I was struck by the symmetry of the seeds and how they were aligned in a very particular pattern. In addition to the symmetry, I appreciated the rich colors displayed.

Here is the main seed structure removed from the pod. Notice how some seeds are separated from the main cluster. They fell off readily and easily separated.

symmetry along the main seed stem

As they were separated, they reminded me of tadpoles with their pearly white, almost silky tails flowing easily behind them.

silky white tails on the seeds

As they began to dry, however, they opened up on their own accord to form the fluffy wing-like structures we have come to know.

seed tails beginning to dry and fluff

In no time at all, there was a table full of the “wings.”

The tails dried to form wings

If all the seeds are removed carefully, as I learned after working with several of the pods, the backbone of the pod, so-to-speak, remains attached. It too has a wonderful symmetry and structure.

The remaining spine of the seed pod

Perhaps the picture below better demonstrates the architecture of this botanical backbone and the pointed tips which probably help to secure the seeds until, in a natural setting, they are dry enough to float away on their own.

The structure of the spine helps to retain the seeds until they are ready to fly away

The empty seed pod was slightly sticky and offered a relatively cushioned home for the seeds to await their release.

Empty pod

The two pictures below show milkweed in its natural growing habitat. Both pictures are used courtesy of The New Hampshire Chapter of The Appalachian Mountain Club  

The first picture shows how similar the seeds look while clinging to the pod in the wild.

The second photograph provides a glimpse of how the seeds float away on the wind hoping to find a hospital place to root and grow.

Seeds clinging to the pod in nature

Seeds poised to fly away on their wings with the first gust of wind

You can find more JBRish posts about plants and gardening HERE.

Showy Queen’s Wreath – October, 2015

Readers of JBRish know that we do quite a bit of gardening in our Sonoran Desert home. One of the showiest plants we have is our Queen’s Wreath (Antigonon leptopus). This is an easy-to-care-for vine that asks little more than enough water and fertilization with a standard blooming plant variety enhancer.

While the plant blooms through much of the growing season, it reaches a full flush at one point which is generally late summer or early fall. It is a stunner. Below is a picture of our coral Queen’s Wreath that we have covering an arched trellis.

Read more about the Queen’s Wreath here:

 

Stunning Coral Queen's Wreath



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Sun Trellis

Several years ago we decided to plant a snail vine (Vigna Caracalla) in the courtyard of our home in northern Phoenix. This is a good plant for our particular climate; tolerating reflected heat and a great amount of sun exposure and able to tolerate moderate freezes. (If the frost kills the top; cut to the ground and it will re-bloom in the spring). As this would be a focal area, a special trellis that would accommodate an eight foot expanse in front of an inside wall was required. A trip to an eclectic pottery and home furnishing store in nearby Cave Creek that was “going out of business” provided a sheet metal screen of smiling suns! Slightly damaged; (the blemish that prompted its reduced price was negligible) the screen was cut in two even sections to facilitate ease of installation. Over the years, the weight of the new growth has required some staking with rebar and wire, but the effect is still impressive!

Note: this vine (at least in our particular area) develops mildew each year during the humid part of our summer; after a significant re-cutting and application of Bayer Advanced Disease Control for Rose, Flower and Shrubs Concentrate, it resumes vigorous regrowth.


Sun Trellis with Snail Vine

The Trellis with Foliage Beginning to Fill the Voids

Snail

A Snail Vine Bloom