Sunday, March 28, 2010

"Spring"ing to Life

The Castor Plant.

Well, one week since posts and I am liking everything that is going on around the property. The live oaks have shed A LOT of leaves....I have mounds all over and I just keep blowing them into piles....and more piles. It truly does make a good's just not an attractive mulch. Soon the pollen will drop from these two huge can see on the branches and buds are swelling and about to's going to be a HUGE mess! Usually it will work this day nothing; the next a carpet of pollen all over the patio grounds. While it looks like a disaster struck, it can be quite pretty.

Also this week, I checked my elephant ear bulbs in the ground because several weeks ago, I found one rotten. It frightened me and I ran to their beds to check and see if the bulbs were still solid....and thankfully, several hundreds of dollars of Colocasia Esculenta were saved and more are still arriving. I ordered from Brent and Becky's bulbs. It was my first time ever ordering from a catalogue this year. I also purchased several seeds from Hint's Farms and I wasn't disappointed.

Today was an affirmation that what I am doing will be amazing for all. The smell alone of the plants carried this fragrance all around the grounds. Currently, the citrus trees are giving off the scents and it's a wonderful smell! The smells along with the blooms and the birds/hummers flying around the property are making me truly excited for what is going to be quite a show. The nectarines, plums, peach, apple, fig, and citrus trees are all beginning to bloom and leaf out. However, I see nothing on the persimmons tree, but I am assured that things will begin soon on this tree. The branches are bendy so that is a good sign. Another smell on the grounds is from the purple verbena plant. They look great and smell fantastic. During winter, they can look kind of weedy and ugly, but the minute the heat and sun come back, these things really clean up nice and make a beautiful addition to the garden.....and the smell!! Roses currently have buds on them and ready to open in about a week. I am sure many people are going to enjoy the color parade of these plants. Finally on growth....the Hosta plant and Hydrangea. People told me it was impossible to grow and yet.....they are growing wonderfully. They are both in total leaves every day and both are quite full. I look forward to monitoring their success because if they work, that will open up a whole new sector of plantings as we have extreme shade areas that can be easily watered. I'll keep you updated.

As for sprouting. The first castor bean that I planted has popped out of the ground as do I see the Pride of Maeira shooting up. It was planted in FULL sunlight and so I'll see if these can take our full sun load during our extremely hot months here of 110-115 degrees! If not, I have planted several where the morning sun will only touch them. Above, I put a picture of what the castor bean plant looks like when full grown. While it's a weed in most places, here it makes a catchy tropical view in the garden. There are several varieties and I have planted only 2. Rincus Comunis and the Zhanzibar variety which can grow up to 15 feet tall. It is my hope to harvest the seeds to plant for the next year. It is a poisonous plant(mostly in the seed)....of course, a lot of plants are, but what's unique about this plant is the way it can "shoot" it's seeds to spread out. I saw this plant for the first time down in the Lake Chapala area specifically in the retirement community of Ajijic. There was a forest of them and during the hot spell of the day, the plants made an exploding sound shooting their seeds all over the place. I thought they were rats running around because I had seen many of them. Being a little bit on the bad side, I brought several of them back with me to the US and planted them in the ground and it was quite fun to watch them pop up and work their magic. This may sound cheesy, but I wanted to create an active garden for people....of sort of Pandora(from Avatar) that comes alive and invigorates the senses. It's a garden for smell, birds and butterflies, people and their gardening needs, for inspiration and color, and most of all an escape from our busy lives.

That's all for this week. My new and exciting bulbs will hopefully be coming this of them is the Borneo Elephant Ear. It will grow to 15 feet tall with leaves 4-5 feet wide. These will be placed around our smaller pool and under our live should be quite a sight! The datura is doing well and appears to be growing so I will update on that as well. Until next week.....

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Semi-Dwarf Citrus Trees

Bearrs Lime
Lisbon Lemons
Today was a major disappointment. It was a work day for all HOA people, but it just seems that no one cares about anything around here. The President was out and did some stuff around the windows, but as for everyone else, they had plans. I really do have plans myself but I took today off to help where I had little projects planned around the property. But....on the bright side, I am left alone to help restore the Presidio gardens back to her original design. I have to admit that there is progress now and the property is SLOWLY making its' way back to her former self. When I moved onto the property 3 years ago, there were dead trees, tree stumps, weedy out of control succulent plants filling poorly used spaces and trees/palms that needed trimming badly. With all of those things out the way, it has allowed me to move forward with the hardscape portion of this project.
Tucson. Spring. Projects. Do it now or die in the summer when it's hot. I HATE working outside in the blistering afternoon sun. I love the mornings and evenings but summer really isn't the time to work on's about enjoying the labors of your work during spring. I have the remaining part of March and all of April to get my stuff ready and that's it. May can be nice, but by June, we have extreme hot and dry weather and in July we have mosquitos and hot and humid weather...this will then last until mid September when things "start" to cool down a bit. It's amazing to me how plants can survive the brutal sun....but there are tricks to desert gardening.
Zero. Observe observe observe the light intensity for the first year in all parts of your home/property.
One. Create native or near native tree canopies.
Two. Plant appropriate species in the right spot for maximum absorbtion of the sun.
Three. Maintain water lines so that you won't die in the heat watering plants and you'll actually minimize water usage.
Once this is completed, you may then get your veggie garden going, plant your tropicals, and if possible....a shade garden!! Of course it is possible, but planning is everything.

So today, back again to the "workday", I put in two semi dwarf citrus trees. A Lisbon lemon and a Bearrs lime to be exact. These two trees were put in for the ladies that live in that part of the property because they enjoy lemons very much. The lime, I added, because I thought it made a good companion to the lemon tree. Lemons and limes. I feel bad because one of the ladies purchased a lemon tree for me to plant by the window, but unfortuneatly it does not get enough sun to produce lemons so hopefully this will make up for her purchase. Why did I suggest a lemon tree for that area then? In the stairway well by my place, I planted an orange tree(that I started from seed 10 years ago in WI!!) and it's doing very well so my thinking was that the lemon tree she purchased would also do well....wrong on my part. But they will get a great crop of citrus this year and into the future....I can't wait to see how the trees perform. They are really quite beautiful.
On juniper plantings. I am not having much success with both Junipers planted. I don't think they are getting enough sunlight.....but the areas do receive about 7-8 hours!!?? I think junipers like to be left alone and forgotten about and unfortuneatly, they are in areas that need a bit more water.
Budding. The Satsuma plum is doing well and growing, but my Santa Rosa plum is just showing a tiny little bud on the bottom....I'm not sure what this means, but I have been advised that the Santa Rosa plum buds at a later time than other plum trees. The branches are also very brittle....and I have to admit that I snapped a couple branches off. However, the trunk area is green and I am hoping that it will take off soon.
The old live oaks are shedding like crazy still, but the buds are getting larger and that means pollen season is here....lots of allergies for everyone:) I called my Grandma today and we chatted about a lot of things relating to a mislabeled plum tree in her yard. As a kid growing up in Wisconsin(aka the Shire), I ate a lot of those plums off of her tree. They were so good and I remember the skin being very tart, but they were so sweet and juicy inside. She is my inspiration for those plum trees.
The chitalpa trees are also beginning to bud and this is very exciting.
Future projects will include the living walls sections covering up old fences and walls, the artsy pot collections for those who love color and artsy design, more citrus planting of kumquat, blood oranges, jacarandas, etc, and finally bushes to fill in dead space. The one overwhelming piece for me are the planters along side the buildings....I don't know what to do with them. Well I do, but I don't want to do it because of water damage. Planters alongside a house are a bad legally, I don't want to touch them. I don't think anything like a tree or water line should be put against a stucco wall. We had major water issues from those stupid planters and we had wood rot really bad along with drywall damage. We took them out and now life is good was quite a stress. But other residents still have those planters and I can only imagine the damage happening to those lower units.
Well that's all for now. I'll write again soon:)

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Following Up

After climbing onto the roof today, I found that there are indeed new buds on the tree. So in several days, pollen drops are going to happen and boy will there be a lot of it!!! So I can relax a bit with the trees and just trust in Mother Nature.
A pic I took in southern France near Avignon

The plum trees have dried branches and snap off but yet there is growth on the bottom of the tree working towards the top. The fig is now budding as is the tree of heaven and nectarine.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Live Oak Leaf Drop

Yesterday and today mark a massive leaf drop on the oak trees. This is normal during this time of year and like clock work, the pool filters are clogged with leaf litter and the courtyard is full of leaves. I don't know why I obsess about it, but I always think the trees are going to die even though they've been doing this for years. This tree decides to drop all of its' leaves in Spring and then within 2 weeks, there will be a huge pollen drop of yellow/green all over the grounds. It just happened later this year and my thinking is that it is due to the mild winter we've had. Only recently has it been around the 80 degree mark and last year at this time, it was already at the 80 degree mark in February. I think once that temp is set for all the trees and bushes, the process of budding and in the case of the Live Oak trees, leaf drop occurs. They are unique and beautiful trees on the property adding a lot of shade and ambience to our courtyard. So I'll take the blower and move those leaves elsewhere until all leaves have dropped.....and then of course, the pollen and allergy season will begin:)

This is what some research has found....from San Angelo, Texas by Allison Watkins.

— The live oak is a popular tree for home landscapes. These beautiful shade trees are considered a treasure by many homeowners, and with good reason. They are a nice addition to almost any landscape and are generally reliable and valuable trees. They can tolerate many harsh conditions including drought, shallow soil and high pH; also, relatively few pests can damage them.

Live oaks are not a true evergreen, as they are commonly termed. The leaves drop, but with different timing than most other trees. Live oak trees lose their leaves during late winter to early spring, with the exact timing depending on genetics and environmental factors.

When the leaves fall, it can cause the tree to look bare for a few weeks — some years are worse than others. This can be unsettling for homeowners, but don’t panic; just wait a few weeks, and the new leaves should start coming out to fill the canopy.

Pruning, if needed, can be done to live oaks this time of year. While there is no evidence of oak wilt in the area, painting of wounds is recommended as a preventive measure to protect against the disease. Live oaks also can be planted now as container-grown, balled and burlapped, or as native transplants.

One common issue with live oaks is the pesky root sprouts that pop up in the lawn under the tree. Unfortunately, not much can be done to eradicate them. Since they are connected to the main tree, herbicides cannot be used. Growth regulator chemicals are available, but have not proven to be effective.

The best recommendation is to plant a circular bed of ground cover around the tree, which will hide or blend in with the suckers. Asian jasmine is especially appropriate for this task since the leaves look similar and it can grow in the shade.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Spring Cleanup

Peach Tree, Red Baron, blooming
El Presidio Gardens

Ash Tree Where do I begin? Over the past several days a lot has gone on in the Presidio gardens. Spring is now officially here!! Or so say the trees and bushes:) Our ash tree has new leaves. Yesterday there was NOTHING on the tree. Today, there are signs of life all around from the ash tree to our crape myrtle trees. This is exciting because they are just sticks in the ground and with that little bit of green begins that joy gardeners feel when they see that the garden resting period is over. How tall will a tree grow this year? How many buds will it have? The flowers? Nothing, and I really do mean this, is more exciting than spring and seeing your garden awake. So today it begins on my very appropriate "spring break".

For inspiration today and design ideas, I went to the Tucson zoo. While it's not large like the big city zoos, it still has a nice layout for the animals. One of the things I find fascinating about the gardens at the zoo is that there are VERY LARGE bamboo plants all over which gives the zoo a bigger feel and provides privacy for the animals. Here in Tucson, we are able to grow several types of bamboo which include the Alfonse Kerr Bamboo. On the Presidio grounds, I have planted the Buddha's Belly variety because of the way the culms bulge out during times of stress. At the zoo, there were bamboo specimens taller than the trees least 4 stories high. I sat at the park bench and just watched and listened to how the wind blew through the culms making that hollow wood rubbing sound. It is really quite lovely and I highly recommend it for everyone if an opportunity arises. Another tree that I don't see here in Tucson often is the Silk Tree which has thorns on its' bark. These trees were mixed in with the bamboo and offered a really nice contrast with one another. If you do go to the zoo, head towards the South American entrance first and you'll find this private and beautiful section very inspiring.

Speaking of bamboo, which is not really bamboo at all, is the Nandina or Heavenly Bamboo. On the Presidio grounds we have several "bushes" of these lush plants. But as with every year, comes that painful trimming. I trimmed everyone of those bushes and it was difficult as they provide a lot of privacy. Now some of them look like sticks in the ground....but I know they will come back green and fuller than ever.....they just don't look so great right now.
Our live oaks which are very large and amazing (the whole reason why we bought our place.) are starting to lose their leaves. You see most trees drop their leaves in fall and winter, but not these lovely trees. They decide to drop in March. When I say drop, I mean DROP. Thousands of leaves all over the patio/courtyard....I just cleaned it yesterday!! And if you think that's bad, wait until the pollen drop....what an ugly mess!!! Acorns, leaves, and pollen...extremely messy tree but also a very noble tree that has earned its' right to protect us from the desert sun:)

Finally with our winter rains, weeds have had a blast establishing themselves all around the grounds. I spent several days pulling weeds and more still seem to be popping up!! Roses have buds on them...once the flowers are on the bushes, I'll snap a couple photos. I can't wait to see what happens. It's the first rose garden I have planted and I named it after my favorite librarian at the school where I work. She inspired me with her own rose garden. During April, she brings in all of her rosebuds and puts them on the desk for the students and staff to smell. Every color and every smell....I hope to have created the same feel on our grounds. That's all for today....spring is here folks in the Southwest!! Happy gardening!

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Beginning

Today I write my first blog post ever and this is exciting. I love gardening and I really love plants. It has always been this way, but it was never as obvious to me as a child. My grandparents and mother loved to work on their gardens. One set of grandparents loved geraniums, rhubarbs, and strawberries while the other set loved growing all varieties of tomatoes. I was never crazy about the whole experience until later on in life when I was handed my first spider plant. It was at college and in the dorms. I started with a spider plant and then moved onto the easy to grow pothos and swedish ivy here I am today, landscaper at my home and for my community of 16 condos in Tucson, AZ. I've come a long ways from my hometown of Two Rivers, WI.

Why this blog? I spend soooo much time in the garden outside and am faced with the daily challenges of keeping everything happy. Thank goodness I love this stuff or it could be a real chore! I know a lot about the plants for the southwestern desert....specifically the Sonoran desert. I love all plants and I plant appropriate plants in the right spots....but as gardeners, I think we all get a bit bored and would like to try our hands at something challenging...such is the case with gunnera or what many would call "Dinosaur food". I know I grows in the cloud forests and loves the Pacific Northwest, Canada, Costa Rica, The Andes in Chile....I've been to all those places and have seen it grown. So my challenge for today besides trimming Heavenly Bamboo(nandina) and ripping out that weedy orange jubilee plant that decided to get between electrical wires(yikes!) and "forming" bouganvillia bushes so that they make beautiful structural task today was to figure out what to do with my gunnera seeds. These large and amazing plants are quite astonishing in appearance.....but the question is, "Will they grow in Tucson?" My instinct says plant them in shade from the intense heat....create a faux bog to trap moisture.....but then doubt settles into my mind....should I put it in a pot first? Or should I go for the ground? No matter how much research I do on this plant.....not a single place has told me if anyone in Arizona has tried growing it and if they were or weren't I end today with....Is it possible?

Las Aventuras is about the pursuit of all things relating to nature.  It will focus on birds, plants, mammals and of course, the garden and photography. This blog is based out of Tucson, Arizona.