Monday, January 31, 2011

Winter Storm

A nice rain event here in Tucson.  Some pictures of clouds over the Santa Catalina Mountains from the roof.
Protect your plants, pipes, people, and pets over the next 3 nights as temps dip below freezing in Tucson and surrounding areas.

San Antonio

Back in 1998, I took a trip to San Antonio, Texas with some great friends. I didn't know what to expect, but I kept an open mind. We had been doing a lot of the nature hikes around Austin and so we decided to take a break and head on down to San Antonio.  People hear a lot of things about Texas, some good and some bad, and I was no different.  I wasn't thrilled about spending time in this VERY large state, but my friends lived there and I needed to see them.

This trip taught me to always keep an open mind about travel.  Not only was I blown away by the beauty of San Antonio; I actually considered living there! We had so much fun seeing all of the Missions(7 total I believe).  It was hot and muggy. You can only imagine what that does to one's hair. Mine got out of control on this trip. However,  I highly recommend seeing this place because it has a lot of cultural history PLUS amazing gardens.  Around the Alamo, you might spy the gardener walking around who manages the grounds.  We did and had a great talk about some of the challenges and fun that happen around the Alamo.  What did you talk about?  I remember the Master Gardener speaking about tourists walking all over the grass and that being his constant battle.  The solution was putting in natural and artificial barriers to keep people off the sacred lawn area.  If I remember correctly, this is where I began to see people's views change about lawns and their purpose in our landscape.  In Wisconsin, you walk on the lawn, picnic on the lawn, and drink coffee around the lawn, but in several parts of Texas, the lawn was for decoration only:)  Maybe it's different now, but I remember on more than one occassion that it was taboo to cut across I stuck to the sidewalk:)

A gold mine for Spanish teachers, El Mercado, while touristy, is a short walk from the river
Food. Dance. Mexican culture!  If Tucson were attacked by Klingons:), I would consider living in this city.  It's on my top 3 list of places to live in the US.....1. Tucson 2. San Antonio 3 San Diego.  The gardens are stunning and the people are really wonderful. 
I have one more post on Texas that I hope gardeners/naturalists find useful...well those of us outside of Texas.  Most of you who live in Texas probably already know most of this and it's nothing new:) For more information on this incredible place, go to
PS.  The Alamo does NOT have a basement:)

Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Army of Cacti

The battle has begun.  A war wages against the meth zombies.  I have called border patrol and they have refused to help.  I have called the police and they just shrug.  Most people turn a blind eye. But today I offer a sharp PRICK!  and fight the battle against meth!  My army of cacti have been employed in a fashionable manner.  Officially it's called the cactus garden which will serve as an attractive entrance to El Presidio.  It also serves as the next barrier of thorny anger that keeps evil from hopping our walls and stealing our valuables from the property.  Several months ago, I wrote about the cacti soldiers that protect our property.  Today I write about the army that came together to protect our northern borders.  They are an attractive group of plants that will hopefully grow as a team. Stay tuned for the completed project!

Forgetting Oneself

 Looking for sand crabs in Santa Cruz, CA

I think the aborigines of Australia have it right. In life, we are constantly redefining who we are.  We are not the same people we were a year ago or 5 years ago. The aborigines believe that when you change something like a profession or the things you like to do that it's time for you to change your name, but only when you're ready to do so.  If you were a musician before and you decide to become a hunter today; you would then choose to pick a name around the word "hunter". It is then celebrated by the tribe and considered a type of birthday or a day of renewal in your life....born again into someone new.
On Mt. Tam, across the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisico

Climbing the Rincon Mountains with my dear friends

In my twenties, I lived an adventurous life of uncertainty and excitement.  I did so many things that it felt like I lived 10 lifetimes in 12 years. At the time, I specifically loved teaching Spanish. However, I always dabbled in nature and enjoyed climbing, hiking, and anything else I could do outdoors on my off time. 
Working at Point Beach State Park  in Two Rivers
Helping tourists and busting underage drinkers, watching deer walk around the booth while having my morning coffee in the stand ......perfection.
I'm not sure if anyone feels this way about their current jobs, but I have been going through a change of my own this past year.  I used to love teaching a lot, but it's just becoming something that I do.  I switch it up, change projects around, research the latest info for the Spanish classroom, but it's not that exciting/challenging for me anymore. People ask me why I don't go into administration and at that point, I want to laugh.  For them, it's about money and leaving the classroom. I work with Spanish only in the education system because I enjoy both the kids and Spanish. Everything else is rather terrible. The kids have a blast and we laugh a lot, but there's something else inside of me that is telling me to do something new. I have a student teacher who is great and full of energy and I see a lot of myself in her when I first started out.  It's always great to watch these "kids" become young teachers. Adding another adult in the classroom allows me to help that student to teacher ratio a bit which keeps getting larger every year.  I always ask them why they want to be teachers and why specifically Spanish?  Before I take them on, I need to know that they are passionate about the language and that they are interested in helping others learn the language. Anyone who says that it seems to be the right thing to do or it just seems like I should settle down are denied:)  In any case, my job is fine, but I am looking to add another dimension to my work. I think we all get to a point in our jobs when we start questioning, "What more is there?"  I'm at that point now.  Gardening and writing this blog have shown me that I am capable of more, but I don't know what the next step is and I think with a bit more time, the answer will present itself.
A summer spent camping at the beautiful state parks of Wisconsin. Parfrey's Glen, WI

I've become so afraid of change that I don't take those risks like I used to.  And to be honest, a risk at our older ages is much more scary than the ones we make when we are younger.  You build a lot of things by staying in one spot....friends, saving, retirement, home, your own doctors, etc.  But you also can lose that edge....I've been trying to reconnect back to my crazy twenties and be more spontaneous, but it's not easy.  I would love to work outdoors for a living. The part I don't miss about my twenties is the partying, drinking, or the weird dates I went on.  For those of you dating now, I apologize, but there are a lot of whack jobs out there.  Have fun, but be careful and always meet at a cáfe first (or somewhere public). My single friends in their forties and fifties are really questioning being in a relationship again after the peace and quiet of single life. But alas, dating can be fun and they have some great stories to tell on lunch breaks:) 

Wildflowers outside of Yuma, AZ. I don't know why I was dressed so formal or where I was going, but I do remember an amazing display of wildflowers that year:) In the last pic, we were somewhere outside of LA.  It was close to Mt. Strawberry..

So the question before me now is where do I go from here?  Is this what we may call a midlife crisis?  I'm not sure it's a crisis just a new direction of interest and focus.  All I know is that I am so happy to be doing the things that I used to do and it feels good.

In the next several blogs, we're going to travel to several different areas around Texas and talk about more prep work on the Spring projects.  I don't blog all day long, but I do write everyday setting up different posts.  I am working on a report from Biosphere.  We were at the site today and I did my investigation and reporting.....but I forgot my memory card for the camera!!!!!  Thank goodness they sold disposable cameras or I would have been really upset.  Note to self, buy more spare memory cards:)  We'll see how the pics turn out.  I hope you find it interesting.  It was a beautiful day outside.  Until next time, happy gardening! 

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Cactus Arrangements

A cacti/agave arrangement of the whiskey barrel project.

Back in October, I wrote about "Cactiscapes" and my blogger friend, Brenda's Arizona, suggested that cacti arrangements can look like something from underwater while you are scuba diving.  Her idea inspired me to try a combination of cacti and agave from around the property that needed transplanting.  I looked again at the pictures from the cacti garden at Tucson Botanical Gardens and saw the arrangements in a whole new light!  They really do look like coral and other objects from the bottom of the sea. Thank you Brenda for making me look at things differently. Lately,  I've been seeing several homes around town that have successfully made beautiful cactus gardens.  When we drive to the front entrance now, we'll see some amazing structure variations as everything starts to grow larger over the next several years.  These are all cuttings from my own mini cacti garden.  I've included purple and dark green with striped variation on the agave to add color contrast and structure against the bland stucco walls.  Inside the barrel, there are two varieties of opuntia(prickly pear). One is more upright and green while the other has a rounder habit and is purple.  As you are approaching the complex, you should get the feel that you are entering a seascape of cactus.  It will punch up the curb appeal and invite homeowners to their inside courtyard.  Repetition with some minor variation is important here. The taller San Pedro cactus is the repeated element while the prickly pear, agave, and purple aloe vera are mixed in differently in each pot for some contrast.  They will all interlock with one another as they get larger.  The best part about this project is that  you don't waste any cactus.  Stay tuned for more from the whiskey barrel project. 

Speaking of coral, I wanted to share with you a song that inspires me creatively and transports me into a realm of fantasy and mystery. An unknown world from a forgotten place and time......

Friday, January 28, 2011

Atocha Station

Lately, I've been extrememly busy with things and I apologize for not reading more posts because it's one of my favorite things to do.  I keep documenting and reporting during this busy "spring" season because there is a lot to report.  Unfortuneatly, I have also had to deal with the recent death of a former student. The funeral is tomorrow and I have a very sad heart. It's also my 7 year anniversary and we're going to Cafe Poca Cosa(my favorite Mexican restaurant! in Tucson).  Can tomorrow be any more conflicting in the emotion department? Things also have been busy with other matters related to school, family, and visits. If it's one thing I don't have a lack of, it's the work! Taking a break from projects and plant series, I thought I'd share with you a beautiful garden place in the metropolitan city of Madrid, Spain.
I took this from a second story balcony
On one of my adventures to Spain, I remembered stopping at a subway station known as the Atocha Station.  A lot of metro stations can be humdrum when it comes to design, but this place did not disappoint!  It's a major hub in Madrid for intercity travel, dining, and now a place to go dancing.  But who cares about all of that!!  What's cool about this place is that there is a huge tropical garden containing such plants as Jacaranda, large Birds of Paradise, and oh so much more inside the station..
We were on our way to a peace demonstration after the bombing at the Atocha station in 2004.  Over 150 people were killed and thousands came from all over Madrid where they held a peace rally. Below is a pic at the station with red candles symbolizing the color of Spain and the lost lives.

Meanwhile above ground, the tropical garden held a calmness and stability. It was a whole other world from the sadness outside the station.
I love it when you accidentally stumble upon a place and discover something beautiful. Next time I go, I want to eat at one of the local restaurants below.

May you find magic and form in your own landscapes.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Small Patio Spaces

Kitty sees a butterfly!

So you rent but still want to garden?  Today's post is on how you can be a gardener in your own rented space PLUS keep your plants.  It's called container gardening and will require an investment of pots and other outdoor furniture like a miniature fountain or patio table.  While renting, I made every patio space my own.  In both instances, I covered the patio space with bamboo curtains which I hooked onto to the balcony beams.  This protects your plants from frost and it protects you from wandering eyes....and adds a bit of security since the pots are essentially heavy blocks of soil with plants in them.  People think that if you rent; you can't have a great garden space....and that couldn't be the furthest thing from the truth.  Any garden you want, whether it be vegetable, tropical or desert or.....well is all possible!. With a little patience and planning, you can magically transform an unused patio eyesore into something beautiful.  
Grandma at my first apartment in Phoenix near 7th and Osborne

Also VERY IMPORTANT!! I lived in my apartment for 5 years and when you have a lot of plants on your patio, you also attract other gardeners who like to garden.  Gardeners are generally cool people that won't play music at 3 in the morning and will be outside on that beautiful day chatting with you instead of getting arrested for the latest drug overdose. Do you catch my drift?:)  It is an important secret I share with you today. Let me tell you something about our building....all my neighbors over the 5 years were great! While there was a lot of police activity at the other buildings; our place maintained a quiet and stable community.  The plants on the patio areas screamed for other gardeners to come and join in on the fun.   Each one of us gardened together and our area was one of the most beautiful in the complex.  Beautiful
gardens attract beautiful people.

In Phoenix.  You can rent some nice places downtown and stay within your budget.  My place overlooked the downtown from a forest of trees and birds.  I had a hard time leaving my place because to me it was perfection.  I am trying to model El Presidio gardens after this place.

Issues can happen.  For example, sometimes a person will steal a pot that you put outside of the patio area.  My recommendation is to keep all of your valuables inside the fenced area.  Also during the monsoon, special critters will enter your sacred garden like tarantulas, the Colorado Desert Toad, perhaps a packrat, lizards, a Gila Monster, a stray cat, and get this.....QUAIL!!!!  One day I came home and found quail in my pots laying eggs.  They left a dozen eggs and for a month or two, and I watched the quail parents guard those eggs.  Some were in pots too high for them to jump out so I created a chute for them to slide down from my patio table.  On a Saturday morning I woke up to chicks all over my patio with Mom.  I threw chicken feed all over the patio outside so that they could eat and stay safe.  It was the event of the weekend.  The father would hang outside of the patio area making  protective calls to the mother who in turn cared for the chicks on the ground.  I left room under the table for them to hide if danger came near.  After about 2 days, momma and the chicks left my patio for good. I felt really lucky to have been a part of their family for awhile.  PS.  With a bamboo curtain, moisture is trapped inside and keeps the humidity in....guess who likes that?  Butterflies!  So you can raise native butterflies in your garden without even trying!!
A Jatropha to the of my favorite plants to grow.  Protect from frost.
I miss this garden as I had it for 5 years.  I know that I will recreate this again in another way, shape, and form.  But I do love established plants.
The secret to small patio gardening is to create multi level gardens so that all space is utilized.  Plant stands work wonders as do planters that hang over the fenc, etc.  I had a garden bench outside to store my ties and twisties and also grow some of my more exotic species of plants.  It was a very special space and my guests loved it! I thought I had a pic of my fountain, but I didn't.  It was a blue pot that had water bubbling out of it with water plants around it.  A trend got started at my complex because of me and a lot of people started taking pride in that otherwise wasted patio space.  I'm not sure if that was a good or bad thing, but I know people noticed and liked it.  Put solar lights up and add unique lighting around your area.  What a great place to have some wine and relax after a stressful day at work!! 

Dream it. Plan it. You can make it a reality.
The curtains protect the tropical foliage from the hot desert sun.

Sonoita Vineyards

This was delicious!!:) Serve cold and enjoy.
A Happy Customer
Have you ever gone wine tasting? Wish you could?  If you live in Tucson or the surrounding areas, there is a place that is not so far away....Sonoita.  The drive was beautiful and so was the weather.  As you are driving higher into the hills, the cactus gives way to grass, rolling hills, and vineyards!

Right now in winter, everything for as far as the eye can see is the color yellow.  When summer arrives, this region receives 16 inches of rain.  That is more rain than Tucson gets in one year!! At about an hour and a half drive, you will see the dramatic changes in plant life.

Personally I prefer the red wines over the white ones.  That day we sampled some very nice wines from our area.  One of the wineries, from 13 or so, was terrible.  Remember if you don't like the taste of the wine, dump it into the bucket below or spit it out.  Smell, swirl, and taste.....but take your time:)  We only made it to the 4th winery before calling it quits.  I was the designated driver and didn't get to sample the wine too much. Taste, spit, and either buy or not buy a bottle:)  That was my job.  That day we purchased several wonderful wines like champagne, merlot, and a dessert wine. Bring money.  The cost to taste is around 3-4 bucks a stop.  Bring your own wine glass to save even more money.

I don't know why but I thought these pics were cool but this was the only tree cholla cactus I saw around the area.

If you see this barn, you are driving in the right direction.  Usually people start with the Lightning Ridge Cellars and then go backwards to Sonoita Vineyards, Village of Elgin, etc.
I learned something new on this can drink champagne with a hibiscus flower in syrup!!!  It was so good that we bought a container of them for when my sister visits from Wisconsin.  Serve champagne and then put the flower into the wine. Delicious!
It looks like this.  Try it!! 

My first wine tasting experience in Sonoma, CA. One thing I loved about being a "Californian" for a couple years was their appreciation of good wines....thanks to the nearby Napa Valley!

Here is a link to get started!!

It's a fun day.  If you'd like a tour, call in advance and your party must be 10 or more people.  Pace yourself or by the afternoon, your head will be spinning.  Make sure you have a designated driver.
Final thoughts about life on our way back to Tucson.  It was a fun day and reminded me that I need to take time from my busy schedule to do day trips like this more I used to do in my twenties.  Sometimes we get so busy, we forget to take time with our loved ones to enjoy life's pleasures. If the twenties were about living and experimenting, and the thirties about security and stability, then I can only imagine what the forties will bring.....and I can't wait!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Citrus Seeds

Today marks the conclusion of the citrus family series.  I have been doing a lot of reporting on plants that I have put into the garden over this past year for people who are on a limited budget and want something they purchase to grow in the desert southwest.  Currently, I have introduced mostly all successful plants in my garden, but remember that this blog is also about failures.  That series will be coming up in February.  Again, what works for me may not work for others and vice versa.  I'm just reporting my observations about the ease of growing a plant in our garden space here in Tucson.  Today's title is about that citrus seed we take from a fabulous eating experience with an orange or grapefruit.  We loved the flavor so much that we kept the seeds and put them into the ground.  A lot of people have asked me if this will indeed work.  I've done this myself with my favorite orange in Wisconsin back in the summer of 1995. I have moved all over the world and I still to this day have that orange what's the deal?  Will it grow fruit?  What does it look like? How tall did it get?

Here's the story of my orange seed.  I hated, like many of you, having to give up my plants to the winter cold.  It was a major disappointment to me when beautiful tropical plants had to be moved to the inside of my apartment in snowy Wisconsin. My plants followed me indoors and the brutal winters depressed me in ways you could not believe, but I had my little sprout in a pot that kept growing.  In '96, after college, I moved to Tucson and lived in a tiny little dump under the football stadium.  I didn't have much money with me and lived off of beans and tortillas.  My parents were coming from Wisconsin to drop off  more suitcases of clothes etc for my new move.  The only extra thing I asked them to do was bring me my potted little orange tree.  The orange tree was a symbol for me that I could make it in a new world.  It was also a comfort to remind me that if an orange seed could grow in Wisconsin; a Wisconsinite could grow in Tucson.  I put it under a lamp light in the dark dorm room of the stadium and I religiously cared for the plant.....even sleeping with the plant light on at night.  My parents came to me with the plant wondering why they brought it by car all the way to Arizona, "Land of the Citrus".  One.  It was the only green thing I had in my sterile dorm room.  Two.  It was the only reminder to myself that I could make it on rice and beans. Three.  I grew attached to the little tree.  I remember my mother crying at the conditions of my life and room.  Why would I want to move to this city when everything I needed was in Wisconsin?  Sometimes you grow up knowing that you don't belong in your birthplace.  Sometimes we need to take a risk and just jump.  And I did.....I never look back with regret.  Today I am still here and my entire family is back in Wisconsin.  And guess what?  They sure come often during spring to visit:)

The little orange tree moved with me as I moved to different apartments.  It grew.  It always grew.  I left for California and it came with me in a larger pot.  I moved to Cape Verde and left the plant in Tucson with my wonderful friend David and it grew.  I came back to Tucson and it was a miniature tree with thorns.  In my new apartment, I put it into a larger pot and it grew into a larger 5 foot tree.  Here it stayed for 5 years!!!  A frost nearly killed it back in 2006 when we received snowfall in the foothills!!  We later purchased a home and I have since nursed my tree back into health.  It now has a permanent place next to our home where it grows several inches every year.  It blossoms but does not produce any fruit which doesn't bother me at all.  This plant is a special member of my family and represents strength and courage.  When I doubt or become scared about something, the "little" orange tree of 7 feet now brings me comfort.  This is probably the most cheesy thing to write but it's true.  I made it in Tucson and came back to Tucson and now it's part of my larger garden life.

I wonder if any of you have similiar stories of a plant that has followed you throughout your life. There's gotta be a bunch of you that have also done this:) If so, what is the plant?  Wait!  You don't care about the personal story? Okay okay....:)  Then let me go technically into the citrus seed.  So you love a citrus fruit so much that you keep the seeds and plant them.  A plant begins to grow and grow and no fruit.  Here are the facts. Some seeds are sterile while others "may" fruit after 7-12 years.  Mine is older and still hasn't set any fruit on it.  Of course it wasn't put into the ground until 3 years ago where it has substantially grown back from the hard freeze. OR some citrus seeds will set fruit on the tree but be completely sour!  "How does that happen?", you ask.  Well remember that most citrus trees you buy in the stores are grafted from another rootstock.  The seeds of your fruit may actually revert back to the original part of the plant or form some fruit similiar, but rarely exact, to the fruit you ate.  I have several friends that have tangelo and lemon trees in their yards that never set fruit.  They became frustrated because they put the seed into the ground, but haven't, after 11 years, had any fruit on the tree. I thought it was weird and went with them to the local citrus expert, who was also baffled until we both found out that they had planted their citrus from seeds. Mystery solved.  My personal opinion, if this is your situation, is to wait awhile.  The tree may eventually fruit and if it's large and bushy, why not give it a chance?  My friends are going to let their citrus be for now and are planting fruiting citrus trees around the area to try and encourage some fruit to grown on their trees. Kind of a citrus "intervention":) They thought they needed a pollinator, but the simple fact is that getting a tree to set fruit from a citrus seed is difficult.  If you have had it happen, give yourself a pat on the back. If you want fruit, buy a fruiting tree from your local nursery.  Seeds are unpredictable, but they will always grow for you and if you are patient, they may provide fruit for you.  My orange tree is green and beautiful and while there haven't been any oranges on the tree, it adds a nice view from the window:) I have a lot of fun posts coming up and will be taking a break from the plant series for a bit plus an update on the Whiskey Barrel project!  Until next time, happy gardening!!

Protected in a well next to our place.  I can't get a side view, but this is the top view from the balcony.  The "little" orange tree that grew from a seed.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Ruby Red Grapefruit

Last but not least, I cannot forget this important citrus.  It seems to be the dominant citrus of Tucson.  There are trees here that are old with most of them being on the East side of town!  You can see this tree out in the open all over the place and most people don't care if you pick the fruit.  Of course, remember to ask first.  I wanted to mention before I finished this series on citrus trees that there is a program here in town that you can contact if you can't use all the fruit or just don't want to eat the fruit. The Tucson Food Bank offers to come and pick these citrus for those in need around the community that can't afford fresh fruit.  Here is some information before I start my write on the Ruby Red Grapefruit,

"The Community Food Bank is offering to pick surplus citrus from homes and businesses in the Tucson area.
This service is known as "Gleaning" or harvesting food that would otherwise go unused.
"It's an easy way for someone to help their neighbors in need during these difficult economic times," said Bill Carnegie, President of the Community Food Bank. "There are thousands of orange, lemon, and grapefruit trees in the Tucson area with citrus products that go to waste each year. These items can go a long way to help feed the hungry in our community."
To schedule someone to come to a home or business and pick the citrus, call:
•(520) 622-0525 x 222.
Those able to do their own gleaning may bring the citrus to the food bank at:
•3003 S. Country Club Road (between 36th Street and Ajo Road)
•Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.
Founded in 1976, the Community Food Bank provides education, advocacy, and food for people throughout Southern Arizona including Pima, Santa Cruz, Cochise, Graham and Greenlee Counties.
On the web: " Source:

There are also other programs around town including one that utilizes African refugees who have just moved into the Old Pueblo.
My hope, when writing on these citrus, is to expose the unique properties of a citrus tree/bush.  It's important to NEVER prune a citrus tree in hot direct sun.  That's a sure way to kill your citrus plant.  Citrus, naturally, are bushy in nature and should not be pruned into trees. The branches protect the trunk with its' leaves. However, they do make lovely trees and here is a practice that you may see some people do with their citrus in hot climates.  I don't recommend painting the trunks white on many trees, but with the case of the citrus, it is okay to do.  The white paint reflects the sun off the trunk and keeps it from scald. This practice is usually done on the younger trees and only on the ones being trained as trees. If you leave the branches on, you won't need to do any of this.  I prefer dwarf varieties that will fit into my smaller spaces and I prefer them in the bush form. On several posts back, I wrote about several of the citrus having thorns.  I have put these bushes by fences to keep the transients off the property.  If they get through the cactus, they will then hit the nasty thorny Tangelo or Bearss Lime.  These make great deterrents for safety around your property.  Imagine that!  Not only do citrus smell good, look good, taste good, but they can also work as a security system! Talk about a useful plant to have around.
The Ruby Red is a great citrus to grow around your property.  It's the sweeter of the grapefruit varieties and excellent both for breakfast and/or juice.  I almost killed my grapefruit this year by planting it in a shadier spot.  When I pulled it from the ground, it looked like it was going to die, but I nursed it back to health in a pot and it will be ready for transplant this spring in March.  Most grapefruit varieties in town have a yellow fruit and they make great juice.  I like to eat grapefruit so I chose the Ruby Red variety instead of the juicing yellow variety.  This tree is sold as a dwarf or as a regular size plant.  I always go with the dwarf because I know that they won't grow out of control, but you may have a larger area to plant a bigger tree.  My final post is one that many people ask about......what if I threw my favorite orange seed into the ground?  Will it grow?  I have answers so stay tuned!  Until next time, see you in the garden!

Monday, January 24, 2011


This would make an attractive potted plant.

A weird little citrus fruit and yet it's a pretty one.  I honestly didn't know what this plant was all about, but that doesn't mean we can't try new things out, right?  It's a very attractive bush with beautiful little fruit similiar to a kumquat.  The difference is that they taste nasty!!  Well let me be clear about this.  You should cook with these little fruits and not eat them straight off the tree.  My mistake is that I assume if it's an orange color, you can eat it.  That is so not the case with this fruit.  It is strange.  The peel was sweet with a bitter fruit inside. You would use this little fruit as a way to flavor food.  Over the past year, you've heard me talk about this strange plant and many of you have given me some wonderful responses.
It grows very well here and has a beautiful variegated leaf.  Even if I don't eat or use the fruit, it still makes an attractive landscape plant.  It needs a little bit more watering than other citrus plants.  During our severe freeze, it survived with very little protection. In many ways, this plant reminds me of those decorative orange trees I see around town.  They look pretty and that's about it. Why put in a decorative orange? Why not a real edible orange tree?  Again, when I first moved here, I thought anything orange was okay to eat and boy what a sour shock that was to my mouth!  While studying in Mexico, I tried several trees in Guadalajara and discovered that there are a lot of citrus out there that are not good to eat at all....or even use in your cooking!! The calamondin fruit is a very tangy and sour fruit. This is the perfect fruit to squeeze into your cooking.  
I have one more citrus to report and then a report about spitting out citrus seeds.  I also have a personal story of a love affair that happened with an orange seed in Wisconsin and how it has grown with me over my lifetime. Until my next post, have fun searching and planning your spring gardens wherever you may be!!! 


What's sweet and easy to peel?  The tangelo!! Not as tangy as a tangerine nor as tart as a grapefruit, this fruit has a sweet sprightly and juicy flavor.  It's easy to peel like a tangerine and sweeter(less acidy) than an orange.  This bush has grown a lot for me over the past year and is getting quite large.  Again, while it didn't have any fruits on it last year, I see several forming on the tree this year.  I've received several conflicting reports about whether it self pollinates or not.  The citrus expert assures me that a pollinator is not needed.  This account was also backed by other gardeners in the area who have shared that they don't have another tangelo tree to pollinate yet they get fruit.  However, some sources outside the Tucson area report that a pollinator is needed.  So here's what I've gathered from research because this plant has conflicting reports.  Earlier in my citrus report, it's stated that the lemon tree will increase a larger yield with more pollinators around and specifically several of the same lemon or another lemon type variety.  I think the same applies here.  The tangelo will produce fruit on its' own but not a lot unless there is citrus in the neighborhood or in your garden. Some people report the Meyers lemon is great while most say that a Dancy Tangerine is the key. Others swear that it's only the mandarine "Nova" or "Temple". My suggestion is that before you purchase this tree, ask your citrus expert.  I'm satisfied with my tree and the tiny fruit forming right it got it's pollination somewhere.  Sometimes we forget that others have citrus in their own yards and that those trees will cross pollinate with your own.   It's cold hardy to 30 degrees. The maximum height will reach 10-15 feet tall and equally wide. Give this beast 20 feet to spread out as it has a round habit.  It blooms in spring, but beware it has spines like that of the Bearss Lime tree.  Water 1-2 times a week. This particular fruit can have a lot of seeds, but in my opinion, it's worth it.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Moro Blood Orange

Vegetarian Vampires love this fruit!!!  As do many Tucsonans....

Queue music.  And da da daaaaa!  This is one of the sacred trees of Tucson.  When I call trees sacred, it means that they are protected safely in people's backyards away from wandering hands and mouths on the street:)  This tree is also known as the Blood Orange or the Moro Blood Orange. I didn't know what people were talking about when they told me that I needed to put a Moro Blood Orange into the ground.  So I went to a local nursery and ate one.....and it was very good.  It had almost a berry flavor to it.  It has been in the ground now for a year and it's doing very well. It follows all the previous rules of citrus, but you need to watch this particular plant during a freeze.  A lot of times it will say that citrus is good until a freeze at 32 degrees and to be honest, it doesn't go below 32 for long here and that doesn't really affect our citrus plants.  However this plant is a bit more touchy like the Lisbon Lemon.  There haven't been any fruits from the plant yet, but I think this will be the year that it happens.  For the feel of this post, I thought it would be fun to read some of the comments people made about the moro because you'll hear about it if you look for citrus trees:)
From Paul in California, "I really like Moro Blood Oranges. I have had a 3-4 foot tree in the ground for about a year or so, and I have already enjoyed about 5 micro-fruits from it, and it is fruiting again. I think it is an orange that is worth growing for its distinctive blackberry overtones; it is kind of like an "adult" orange, and an orange with an extra flavor added. Here, in California, it is widely sold as the "common" blood orange to grow. The Sanguinella and Tarocco are also sold, but they do not seem to be quite as popular.

The fruit really has a tendency to be small. I am not sure I have ever seen a big one, even in the stores. And the skin is very tight skinned, which for some people can be difficult. He further notes that his fruit was dry. This is not the case with my Moro (which is in an area that is...probably...too wet for its own the end of my drainage pipe...I was actually wondering if it would survive...the adjacent longan did not.)
However, I am not convinced that dry fruit on a citrus tree is inevitably the product of too little water. I have noticed that citrus trees that are generally unhappy (I saw many of these over the weekend!), regardless of how much water you give them, will frequently make lots of fruit that looks good, but can be dry as a desert inside.(Excuse me?) . Perhaps it never found its rhythym. I see a lot of citrus trees obviously out of rhythm. They struggle. Also, it seems that sometimes a citrus tree is carrying more fruit than it can realistically provide for. Under such circumstances, I have noticed they often produce dry fruit.
So far, mine has been fine with average water and citrus fertilizer. It is true that the flesh of my moros, unfortunately, does not color up too well because I guess, by the book, I lack the heat.(This is where the desert is NEEDED! Sorry, I shouldn't add my own comments here:) You open them up and see just small striations of color. Some people would probably be upset with this: a blood orange without the full blood color! But, I confess, I am not too concerned...because they rock! "

There's one response.  You can see why this fruit will redden up here in the desert as we have the heat and the sun.  It needs that extra punch to fully form that red fruit inside.  Here's another response from Anon6137410(A Borg from the Midwest?), "I tried a blood orange for the first time today. I've wanted to try one for years! They're hard to come by in the midwest.

I didn't know what to look for when picking one out, so I chose one that had some red on the skin and was softer when I squeezed it.
I was prepared for what it looked like inside, but was unsure of what to expect for taste. Wow, was it tangy! More tang than sweet. Is that normal? (No, unless it was one of the other 2 varieties or it needed to stay on the tree for awhile.)
In the future, what is the best to look for when picking out blood oranges?(Tight skinned? Maybe, but the peels came off rather easily for me and they weren't tangy as they were sweet and berrylike. Sometimes it has to do with the age of the tree. The first couple crops are always said to be tart before they get sweet.) I have no idea what type the local store carries, but it was a Sunkist.
And finally, here is another response from New Orleans, "I live on the west bank of New Orleans. And we have the very best oranges I've ever tasted. These blood oranges are so sweet and so juicy. Everyone I give them to are just blown away. I have no idea whats makes them so good. I have one small tree bout 10 feet high and just as wide produce almost 1000 oranges. It's crazy. I love them. everyone says I should sell them. I eat my share and just give them away."

From reading many posts, this tree sounds like a rich person's tree.  There are 3 varieties of blood oranges...Sanguinello, Tarocco, and Moro.  You find everyone has their opinion about what the best tasting blood orange you can decide.  Maybe you have one and  would like to share your story:)  Until next time, see you in the garden!

Valencia Orange

Here in Arizona, we are lucky to plant all kinds of citrus trees. I think what shocks me the most is why people don't plant more of the citrus they want to eat.  The standard citrus trees you see around town are the grapefruit and decorative oranges that people planted back in the 50's.  There are certainly many more varieties that grow here and do just as well as the standard Tucson grapefruit tree.  It's really strange how people are protective of some of their trees.  For example, I am going to write on the Blood(moro) Orange later today.  This is one of those trees that people consider sacred.  They'll say things like, "You can pick any of those oranges, but not the Blood Orange." Why not plant more of the blood orange tree then? This story comes from my Great Uncle who lives up in Sun Valley near Phoenix.  However, I've heard this same conversation between other people around town.  It makes me laugh.  The moral of the story here is plant fruit that you'll eat and not plant citrus for the novelty of having a grapefruit tree, etc:) However, I love grapefruit:)
Today's focus is on the orange trees that I have growing currently on the property.  The first one is the Valencia Orange.  This standard juice orange is the most widely planted orange in the world.  Medium size fruit is orange in color and nearly seedless. The fruit is sweet and very juicy.  It's often called the "Summer Orange" because it matures from April to October. The fruit stores well on the tree and improves in quality.  It is a large, vigorous, and columnar shaped tree. This plant has also done well in the gardens and grew several inches.  It is a dwarf variety that will grow anwhere from 10-20 feet tall and equally wide.  This particular plant is more upright than the others. It's also frost hardy up to 32 degrees. I didn't get any fruit off this tree this year but I am hoping that this year will bring the first crop:) Stay tuned for the sacred "blood or moro orange":)  

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Bearss Lime

The second of the citrus trees I'm reporting on is the Bearss Seedless Lime tree.  Again this tree is a dwarf variety that produced several wonderful limes this year. It grew quite a bit in its' first year and added some great flavor to our Asian themed dinners.  Let me tell you about having a lime tree in your own's great! No need to buy lime juice!  Just go outside and pick one off the tree.  The lime flavor was sweeter than other limes I've tasted.  The only thing about this tree that I don't particularly like are the thorns.  When we had that severe freeze, we covered the citrus up with plankets and got poked on this particular plant.  However, it's a great lime to have around the garden. Remember that I am reporting from mid town Tucson in Zone 9a/b.
Here are the facts....
  1. Does not need a pollinator
  2. Low in saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium.  Good source of Calcium, Iron and Vitamin C.(The Lisbon Lemon and most other citrus have this health benefit.)
  3. Full sun(6+ hours of direct sun)
  4. Blooms in spring
  5. Keep ground semi-moist
  6. Growth is medium(but it grew nearly a foot longer in its' first year...if that's medium growth?)
  7. Grows to be a height of 10-20 feet and equally wide.
  8. Cold hardy to 32 degrees
  9. Pruning, remove shoots below the graft
  10. Fertilize spring, summer, and fall
Other "key" limes to plant are the Mexican, Indian or Key Lime trees.  They can be trained as trees or kept in their natural states as bushes. For more information on other citrus plants in the garden, type in their name from below into the search engine.
Several citrus trees I've written about already have been the Dancy Tangerine, Lisbon Lemon, the Nagami Kumquat, and Fukushu Kumquat.  More citrus on the way, stay tuned.....

Lisbon Lemon

Taking a break from planters, pots, and projects, I'm going to do a mini series on citrus trees that were planted around the property.  So while I'm working on those projects, we'll look at some other things. Two series that are coming up are on exotic citrus trees, butterfly plants, and bulbs. Here are some citrus varieties that are doing really well on the property.  Another thing that we are seeing currently in the nurseries are citrus trees/bushes. Be careful about planting these trees/bushes during this time of year.  You can put them into the ground, but they won't start really growing until it heats up again and we still need to be careful about the freezes until March 15th. If it's one thing that's different about a citrus compared with a fruit tree, it's the cold. Always make sure you cover these plants up and protect them from frost.   Today's feature is the seedless Lisbon Lemon.  It's cold hardy to 32 degrees and should get full sun.  Keep the ground semi-moist.  It's bloom time is around spring. The average height of this particular tree/bush is 10-20 feet tall and equally wide.  Fertilize in spring, summer, and fall.  It does not need a pollinator as it is self fertile.  However by adding another cross pollinator like Eureka, Lisbon, Meyer, Pomona, Ponderoas, or The Valley will increase the quality and quantity of the fruit yield.

I've had a great experience with this plant.  It grew about a foot up from the ground and produced one or 2 fruit the first year.  On a posting back in summer, I talk about bird droppings on the plant.  Of course, these were caterpillars that eventually transformed  into swallowtail butterflies.  They get all over the plants here and the leaves look terrible after they're done.  If this bothers you here in town, the Tucson Botanical Gardens will accept them.  Elizabeth is the person to speak with as she is our butterfly specialist. Back to the lemon. It's a great fruit to use in cooking and/or for lemonade.  This particular plant had a harder time with the frost, but it's doing alright now.  It seems lemon varieties here do very well but they need a little more protection from the winter freezes.  Until next time, happy gardening!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Whiskey Barrels

Projects. Projects. Projects.  Here is one that I am loving right now.  It's called the Whiskey Barrel project and it is the 3rd and final Spring Project.  This is a great posting on how to start your own cacti garden.  Here are some things I've learned from over the years to keep you from scratching yourself up and how to have a cool cacti garden without it costing a million dollars.  If you live in the desert, it's really easy to do. 
From the picture above, you can see that's I've taken segments of cactus off the mother plant.  Cactus/succulents are very easy to begin, but you need some time to prep them before planting them into a pot or ground.   You could certainly buy them at your home gardening center, but why?  Most of us have friends who have all kinds of cactus in our yards.  So here's what I do.  Several of my friends in Tucson LOVE cacti and euphorbs and all succulents. We get together and take cuttings from each other's yards.  When you take the cuttings from the various cacti, etc, you must do so at the segmented part of the plant.  For example, if you have a prickly pear and want to start another plant, you take a pad or pads carefully off the plant.  Use gloves and metal tongs to grab segmented pieces off the ground so that you don't stick yourself.  Put the pieces in a box.  Let them sit outside or in your garage for a week or two so that the segments can scale over before planting them into the ground.  I've let these sit out for a week and have planted them into several of the whiskey barrels seen below. 
Once you've collected your cacti specimens, you prep your areas for plantings.  I purchased ten whiskey barrels that you'll see me place outside next week.  I mix our poor soil with cactus potting soil and let it settle.  A couple things about putting your cactus into pots or the ground. 
  1. Keep your new transplants out of the direct sun for the first year to prevent burn. Weird but true.
  2. The larger the segment of cactus/succulent; the longer it may take for it to become established. Smaller/average sized segments have a better chance of succeeding.
I'll show you everything when I'm done.  I have stickers in my hands from doing this but I'm slowly getting one barrel done a day.  I'm on barrel number 5 as of tomorrow. I need to get some more prickly pear pads of the purple nature.  I'm trying to create a purple green contrast with tall and short mixed together.  Several aloe vera and smaller agaves have been planted as well.  We'll see how it all works out:)

Agave Fun!

Taken in the AM
Okay, let's take a break from all the project talk for the moment. Here is an idea for you agave lovers during the holiday season.  Obviously, the home owners are still feeling the Christmas spirit.  I actually like this idea a lot.  This top one was taken this morning on the way to work and the bottom one sparkles with afternoon sun on the way home.  Agaves add sculpture and form to a garden.  The only thing I don't like about them is that they can make you bleed if you are not careful so always wear gloves when dealing with these dagger like plants.
Taken in the PM