I am generally an honest person--honest, even, to a fault--confessing things that don't need confessing, and telling you true things you didn't even ask. Yet, when it comes to succulents, I admit that I am not always altogether forthcoming. Let's see if you can relate to any of these:
It's not that I mean to lie, just that succulents bring out the self-protective impulse in me. Luckily, my spouse tends to know I'm lying and--most of the time--just rolls her eyes indulgently. Do any of these resonate? What succulent lies have you told lately?
True, I have moved to Zone 5. True, Zone 5 is often freezing cold and holds a possibility of snowing seven months out of the year. True, the first snow this fall was in October and the most recent was April 1. But that doesn't mean I never get to see succulents outside of my abode, thank goodness.
It might not be Stanford's Arizona Garden, but the Morrill Greenhouses at UMass Amherst are just a short walk from my office and house some really cool plants. Last month when I was lamenting the cold weather, I took a walk across campus to the Peet's (we have Peet's here!), got a cup of coffee, and spent some quality time in the greenhouses. It's not an enormous collection, but it's a rather nice, well-labeled, and thoughtfully-curated one. (I love saying that things are "thoughtfully curated," because it makes it seem as if I have a refined and generous aesthetic). Anyhow, observe:
...Pretty cool, right? Especially those echeveria lutea (that's the oddly-shaped, thin-leaved echeveria that looks as if its leaves were outlined in white.
Stay tuned as I share more of my Zone 5 environs with you. It may take a little more work to find the plants I love, but I'm up for the challenge and I'll be sharing it with you every step of the way. It's so good to be back on Gardening Succs, my dear succ-ers!
When I was a kid, the last place I wanted my mom to bring me was a plant nursery. "Not the nursery!" I would wail. "We'll be there forever!" What am I supposed to do at the nursery?!?!"
Fast-forward 25 or 30 years: guess whose favorite places are plant nurseries? (Well, along with coffee shops and bookstores, and come to think of it, my mom introduced me to both coffee and books, too.) Though a few decades elapsed before my plant obsession took hold (though there were warning signs in the form of dalliances with bonsais and jade plants), I fully attribute it to my mom.
When I was growing up, we lived in a number of different places, and each is marked in my memory by the plants my mom tended there: the sunflowers she grew in Dallas, the olive tree that exasperated her in Sacramento, her gorgeous tomato garden in Tracy. I also remember her mom's amazing tiered garden, which I think of whenever I catch the intoxicating scent of mint plants in the summer sun.
Some of my fondest memories entail talking to my mom in the yard while she weeded or watered or planted. I only wish I had imbibed more of her expertise when I was younger so that I wouldn't have so much catching up to do now. She is also an expert at plant identification. Two days ago, I texted her a picture of a strange flower I liked. She didn't know it, but googled and managed to ID it shortly after I had given up (osteospermum "flower power," in case anyone's interested).
On Mother's Day, of course, I'm thinking about my mom (and I'm super excited, because she's coming to visit me in my new Zone 5 abode soon!). I'm also thinking about my wife's mom, who passed away a few years ago, and who also loved gardening. Today we bought a plant in my wife's mom's honor--one she used to keep in her garden (I can't remember the name--I'm terrible with non-succulents), and I'm looking forward to making it part of our garden tomorrow.
In addition to wishing you all a happy Mother's Day, I want to share some pictures I took two months ago on a trip to southern California. It was one of the saddest and happiest trips I have ever taken. We were there for my paternal grandmother's funeral. She exited this world far before I thought she would, and I think about her every day. After the funeral, my mom and I spent a couple days together--just the two of us, which we hadn't done in ages. We chose Manhattan Beach and had so much fun. When we weren't in pursuit of coffee or books or red wine or looking at open houses or eating sushi, we were obsessing over the magnificent Manhattan Beach succulent scene.
I couldn't believe the variety and vigor of plants growing in people's yards! Observe, e.g.:
I love this next one. On yeah, a crassula moonglow. No big deal... I think most people have a couple dozen of those growing like weeds in their side yards below a thriving agave kissho kan, right? Right? OMG.
There is also a walk/bike path along the beach that extends the length of the city. It is clean and well-maintained, and long stretches have lovely beds of succulents surrounded by grey river rock. The pictures don't quite capture the splendor (and it was a foggy morning, so you can't see the ocean), but they'll give you an idea:
Of course, I was selfishly trolling the succulent beds for stray leaves and fallen stems, with the hopes of scooping them up and rooting them in my little succulent room back on the east coast. I thought my mom was doing the same thing for her succulent collection, and when I witnessed the scene pictured below (left), I speculated aloud that she was liberating a piece of the giant crassula mesembryanthemoides. Nope! She gave me an "Oh, puh-leez" look and I realized that she was guerilla weeding this public space (action shot below on the right). Just randomly weeding, because weeding was needed. That encapsulates my mom's generous nature.
Restaurants and public businesses in Manhattan Beach also had some terrific plantings. For example, if I'm remembering correctly, this healthy, robust faucaria was just chilling casually in the window box of a coffee shop...
And these lush thickets of kalanchoe thyrsiflora were on a curb/median strip that appeared to be completely neglected--which the plants didn't seem to mind a bit.
The sunsets at Manhattan Beach were also terrific. Of course, the picture below doesn't do the sunset justice; sunset pictures never do. But it's still beautiful. I love the kid with the surfboard running toward the ocean. Shouldn't we all try to catch as many good waves as we can before the sun dips below the horizon?
Anyhow, dear succ-ers, today I wish you many succulent pups, abundant time for gardening, and a very happy Mother's Day.
I love you, Mom!!
Don't pretend you don't waste an inordinate amount of time fawning over succulents. You know you do. You're probably every bit as much of a hapless succ-er as I am. Today I began wondering about how I can spend so much time thinking about succulents, and decided to catalog some of the more ridiculous succulent- and cacti-related ways in which I spend my not-actually-all-that-copious free time.
How about you, my dear succ-er friends? Do any of these resonate with you? Do you have any succulent-ish pastimes to add to the list?
'Twas the month before moving, and all through the house,
I prepped plants with a fury that frightened my spouse.
Agaves were wrapped in old towels with care,
So heavy in boxes that movers did glare.
Crassulas snug in nests of paper towels,
I was up all night packing, listening to the owls.
Some plant boxes piled in the big moving truck,
Others sent via post (I was wishing them luck).
My wife did her best to tune out all my chatter,
And my friends surely thought I was mad as a hatter.
But to the Northeast my plants trekked by and by,
As I climbed on the plane and got ready to fly.
I would meet my dear plants at the end of the flight,
And hope to the heavens they'd turn out all right.
If they all died, I'd shoulder the blame.
And as we traveled eastward I whispered their names.
Now lithops! Now aloes! Now little gasterias!
On ariocarpus! Astrophytum asterias!
Now haworthias glauca, pumilla, truncata!
On tephrocactus and aloe striata!
Most were bare-rooted, but still I did fret,
About all my plants and their tiny plantlets.
As soon as I got to our house in Zone 5
I tore open boxes to see what was alive.
I will not lie--there had been some attrition,
But I lined up pots, got my dirt in position.
I potted with fury, I planted with skill,
I set plants on shelves and on each windowsill.
Laying my finger aside of my nose,
I sized up the damage and set plants in rows.
I was covered in soil, from my foot to my head,
Just gratified not all my wee ones were dead.
Thanks to my wife, who is rather indulgent,
We now have a plant room, with succs so effulgent!
You can hear me exclaim, pretty much every night,
"Happy Zone 5 to all, and thank God for grow lights!"