Saturday, January 23, 2016

Agave hunting #5: You can get shot for that

In the borderlands of New Mexico and Texas, Agaves stud the grasslands.  It's a magnificent comparison of the artistic appeal of life forms. Grass is this dynamic, opportunistic, fast-growing and breeze-dancing thing, almost liquid waves, whose success echoes all over the earth in numbers no other vascular plant can claim, while Agaves are this strange biker-gang of alien weaponized artichokes, which do no bend in the breeze but slowly, steadily march into larger and larger heads, (grasses coming and going nervously around them) for many years until finally mysteriously squeezing all of their accumulated life force into a small tree of a flower stalk, and die.

There is something seductively nihilistic about Agaves.

I really try to be ethical about plant watching and plant collecting. I try hard.  the problem is that plants don't honor political boundaries, and I will confess, the lure of getting close to a plant overcomes mature reasoning at least once a year for me.  I can count twice in my life that I've had dogs come running to visit me on such occasions.

I totally understand those whackos you read about occasionally in the paper who climb over bars and tall fences at the zoo to be inexplicably close to some charismatic giant cat or another before they are somehow surprised by being eaten alive.

Agaves , too, have teeth and they were also on the other side of the fence.  I couldn't help myself. Anyhow, regrets are just there to let you know you are capable of good judgement should you decide to go back to using it one day.  I, on the other hand, sat next to the biggest Agave parryi ssp. neomexicana I've ever seen.  I measured it at 4 feet wide.  There were closer observations I would not have been able to make from the highway side of the fence, like the interaction with Agave x gracilipes.

Agave (parryi ssp) neomexicana is growing alongside, but not gene-mixing with Agave x gracilipes, which is said to be a natural hybrid between them and Agave lechuguilla.  ("gracilipes" means graceful foot. I don't get the foot bit, but they are indeed graceful in narrow leaf.) Note how they have spike-like, rather than open, tree-branch-like paniculate) flowers stalks of neomexicana. This skinniness is lent from that  Agave lechuguilla ancenstry.

The graceful-foot. A. nemexicana flower stem in the background.

You may wonder "Is it really legal to shoot a person trespassing in Texas?" and the answer is no.  The second, perhaps more important question is, "Will they do it anyway?"

Friday, January 22, 2016

A few notes from near and afield.

Winter is a contemplative time for Gardeners.  Or a time for madness.  No, that's actually my house.  No, I don't live in a museum, it just takes me a while to update my word processing equipment.
Christmas is a nice time to decorate and over-eat.  
 (Trichocereus pringlei; someone will ask. He's 20 years old, his name is Fernando and I adopted him recently)

Outdoors, the sun makes the snow dance in an out of places.  It betrays the microclimate of the KAFM  Native Garden's crevice garden.   The first snow has never melted from the North face.

Opuntia 'Dark Knight' is the purplest of them all, wearing his winter cloak through most of summer as well. Treat yourself to one at

On Main Street in downtown Grand Junction, I just noticed this lovely placard in one of the better of the flower beds.  I though native plant people were just forgotten. No sir, I've heard this man's name reverently spoken of among native plant gurus.  I bet there are living things here he is responsible for which I take for granted.  

My friend Greg and I inspect the "prototype" unirrigated greenroof.  (Fence pickets stapled together and lined with roof lino)  No one has stolen it off of the roof. That's like calling a beer can a prototype for the apollo missions.  Hey, but this eagle's been flying for over a year now and all the plants are alive.  The best thing about experiments which require forgetting about them for a year is the forgetting.  You can have lots of experiments going at once.

The florescent light shelves are full of agave seedlings from my hunting trip to Arizona.  These are so fast and easy to grow from seed, they'd make a great windowsill slow-motion circus for the cabin-fevered gardener.  Their little seed hulls stick to them and do not encumber them at all, unlike if this happened to a tomato, say, or pepper.

if I have failed to wax poetic on the blog about these miniature sea-lavender or Statice, I am a fool.
Limonium gougetianum (from Harlequin's Gardens in Boulder, CO) but ultimately from Spain or North Africa, perhaps?  Anyhow, it's great.  Grows beautifully in the dry clay semi-shade rock garden.  7 out of 10 plants die there. It turns Christmas-light colours in winter.  Oh yes, it does have pale purple, long-lasting wee flowers in a little spray above it in summer.

It's sister species, perhaps a neater, smaller plant is Limonium minutum, which can grow into excellent cushions of tight, ever-shrinking rosettes and foliage. In years of harsher winter weather (this el Niño doesn't count as harsh at all) it wears much bolder reds and purples. If you have a rock garden and live in Colorado, Utah, or New Mexico, you mustn't suffer another year of life without this plant.  Please don't do that.

No one said Asperula gussonii (form the Denver Botanic Gardens spring sale) turned cabernet-sauvignon in winter.  I'm sure glad it does. 

Allen left, who is a talented up-and-coming propagator came over for the world's briefest bonfire. We lit my week's cardboard recycling to simulate a forest fire on top of a pot of sown Greenleaf Manzanita seeds.  it's been said you can wake them up this way.  I did it accidentally last winter, without fire, and grew this little nugget, who doesn't blink at the weather. (Arctostaphylos patula) Oh, the accident?  An overnight soak in Hydrogen peroxide, a few weeks wet and warm in soil indoors, then out for the remaining three months of winter, germinating in the late spring.  Allen predicts the seeds around the edge of the pot will germinate.

I made a new year's resolution: If two options presented themselves as 
1. known, comfortable or 2. New, unknown, scary then pick the latter at least half the time.  This happened over tea again, and my friend, passing through town, led us canyoneering in the Monument. Rappeling off of frozen waterfalls was not scary after all, even using all of the 300 foot of rope.  A beautiful foggy day.

Here is what you'll find in this very place in the spring and summer.
Hyla versicolor, canyon treefrog.  Isn't she sweet? 
Don't you wonder where she goes for the winter?

Friday, January 1, 2016

A few more APEX plant pictures for Susan

Eriogonum pulchrum

Junellia succulentifolia

Arctotis adpressa

Lepidium nanum

All on October 15, 2015 at the APEX "Community Heroes" Crevice Garden in Arvada, CO, USA

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

New photoshoot with the versatile Shrubby Buckwheat

Eriogonum corymbosum, pink form, San Rafael Swell, UT, USA.

Western Colorado Botanical Gardens, (Chelsea Nursery strain)

A more tight-haired Seedling from Chelsea Nursery.

"Henryville Yellow" is Eriogonum corymbosum v. aureum.

It was sold for a time by High Country Gardens.

It really wants to be dry. Very dry. The low end of the desert rock garden was too wet for it.  Odd little bugs liked its flowers, scented lightly of arm-pits.

Since the first time I fell in love with Shrubby Buckwheat, I have learned that it really hates shade.   In the way that cats don't like having their nails painted. They could die.

It is best used in the brightest, driest open landscape with room to stretch out to 4 or 5' wide. 

I'll make a link to our last interview here.

Enjoy its autumn colours, and buy it from Chelsea Nursery.

Alternative & Organic Weed/Bug Weapons We've Actually Tried.

Winter. Time to reflect and evaluate last year's experiments, and make resolutions for next year.

Or have a glass of wine and read books.

The internet is rife with recipes and how-tos full of bright, brief, smiling clip-art, hopeful solutions to our worst little life annoyances.

More annoying is how often this are copies of copies of copies and chain-mail click-bait, confirmed and yes-nodded and reproduced and celebrated, and I swear they are rarely tried. Weed recipes are no exception- we pass along all kinds of neat-sounding recipes we've heard and read on the net.

But we at Paintbrush have been trying a few.  The nice thing about nice clients is that they will let you experiment.

Here are our real experiences with alternative weed and bug sprays.

1. Soap.
The world's finest contact pesticide (my opinion here) is soap-of-castile, known to most as "Dr. Bronner's."  It was introduced to me by Bob Nold, of Penstemon fame.  Contact pesticides simply must touch the animal to work.

This is to be known about it:
-Deadly to ants, earwigs, and aphids, my main foes.
-It is mixed and sprayed out of a hand-held spray bottle.
-Too weak/diluted will not work well, go with 2 tbsp to the quart of water or so.
-It seems to loose efficacy if the mix gets old.
-Bugs die in seconds- much quicker than those wild chemical wasp-bazooka or Cockroach-burning sprays.
-It kills insects, not necessarily Slugs/snails (mollusks) and definitely not Pillbugs/Sowbugs/Roly-Polys. (Crustaceans).  I have not tried it on spiders, because spiders are helping me out, eh?
-Devastating to indoor Scale-bugs. (re-treat at intervals to break life-cycles)
-Doesn't seem to effect Mealybug (but rubbing alcohol sure does-eating through their powdered wax)
-Safe.  Wet, it is obviously harmless to people/pets.  Once dry, it is harmless to bees and other friends.
-It is very alkaline/basic, meaning do not mix it with anything which is meant to be acidic- it will counteract it.  It lit up my pH test paper like that blue girl in Willy Wonka.


While doing a talk in Aspen, I met a gent who works for the city up there.  He said he uses vinegar for weeds in pavement cracks.  Pure white vinegar, nothing else.  It set me on a summer jag of testing.  I am not rich enough to try horticultural vinegar, which is much stronger.

Indeed, the best use of pure vinegar is on tender little, but unreachable little, plants in cracks like dandelions.  It is particularly effective against them when young.  Fuzzy and waxy leaves will repel it unless you use a surfactant.

But on Kocia, or Tumbleweed, very common here in Western Colorado, the fuzzy leaves repel the vinegar.  The above plant was sprayed with vinegar with surfactant (Soap which will make the vinegar wetter but not kill its acidity as normal soap might have.)

Even re-treated, vinegar on Siberian Elm (Ulmus pumila), a great foe in Grand Junction, only abuses.  It did not kill.  

It was useless against Bermuda grass, no matter how I tried it.
Still looking for a use beyond the weeds in cracks.

3. Boiling water

My co-worker and good buddy Julie swears by this. She has a previously-empty house where weeds reigned without challenge.
 Now she's winning.

She notes "The one problem with it is that it's time intensive." (You've got to find something to do while your next batch of water heats up.  We recommend laundry, throwing a ball for the dogs, or Black Books. )

"It's Julie-Approved!"

Goathead/Puncturevine/Tribulus terrestris  is a particular foe near the rock-pile, since she has dogs. Sometimes you get tired of pulling it up: here it is after a boiling-water splash.

Julie has noticed that the "dead zone" persists, quite remarkably.  We wonder if it is killing surface seeds in addition to not disturbing the soil, which would encourage new germination.

4. Diatomaceous earth.
It's a dust made of fossil sea life, which becomes harmless clay when wet.  Use a feather duster to make rings or circles around tender plants, because for wee things, it's like walking through a great pile of broken glass.  A nice mental image when you are &%$#ed about your eaten carrot seedlings.

-Another insect (& other) killer.
-They must walk through it
-Pillbugs yawn at it.
-Wetting from rain/water renders it inactive thereafter.  {This rainy year has been annoying.}
-Harmless as dirt.  Wait.  It is dirt.

Lastly, What didn't work:
-Cayenne Pepper, Black Pepper, garlic powder, strong mint tea. (against ants)  "Epic Fail."
-Newspaper (against perennial weeds).  Several layers suppressed bindweed for.... several days.  However, newspaper under woodchips/gravel works great against any other weed as seed, or weaker perennials than bindweed!

Please share any tried alternatives you use.  Until then,

Happy New Year 
defending the sanctity of your desert garden.

Friday, November 20, 2015

An Update on the APEX Crevice: The Community Heroes Park

(That's Greg on top of mound four)

The world's largest, or co-largest, crevice garden is filling in.

I am very excited to see the completion of the website, which was done entirely by a girl-scout for her Gold Award project, which was to provide interpretation for a public garden.  In today's age, this not only meant creating a physical sign at the location, {which she did, and very well} but a website with current information- and she did that, too!  A great deal of work went into it, and I'd like to point out that it has a plant list, as a PDF file, of the current plant list, which is currently at 210 taxa. Kudos to Carrie for her excellent work:


Weeds. We had a smattering of construction-site small weeds like knotweed, pigweed, and cutleaf nightshade, which were not scary at all and were easily evicted, this spring and summer.  A dry late summer prevented any new ones and sent the cactus into an early dormancy; which, after Denver's November 2014 extreme cold event, which dramatically damaged things all over the front range last fall, is not a bad thing!

Currently, the cool weather and snow has invited a smattering of Dandelions one of the few weeds to get into actual crevices, confirming Stephanie Ferguson's observation that a crevice garden's weeds are almost always tap-rooted weeds. But we've got sharp tools for that: about 20 Dandelions is work done in mere passing.

Bone amends the bald spot on top with Globularia cordifolia.

We did an autumn planting.  Greg, Linda from RMC-NARGS and Mr. Bone of DBG all jammed some future colour into the ground in the form of species tulips and autumn crocus, as well as some replacement manzanitas for the 3 of 8 we lost from the original planting.  I experimented by burying wild Manzanita dirt under our new plants in an effort to introduce soil life (like bacteria and mycorrhizae) which may help the plants prosper.  And Mr. Bone, ever obsessed with them, added even more globularia.

There has been much in bloom, and all summer. And even now.  We have our first re-seedlings of very welcome plants.  Townsendia 'Jeane's Purple' is claiming great territory on the open face of a mound, and Erigeron compositus is spreading like the strands of a berber carpet at the foot of the mound and even, welcomely, a bit into the path.

It was our intent to invite tiny flowers takeover so as to exclude weeds.

 Muhlenbergia reverchonii, now being marketed as  'Undaunted®'

The winter colours rock on the Ruschia pulvinaris- mat shrubby iceplant.

But are still usurped by the hardy Jadeplant, Crassula peploides. We'll soon find out if it's actually hardy here.

The "Little Pickles" Plant, Othonna capensis.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Sacred Geometries

 Antennaria hilbersonii
Antennaria aromatica

 Draba aff. hispanica

Echinocereus triglochidiatus f. inermis 

Echinocactus horizonthalonius

Convolvulus arvensis (variegated)

Colchicum sp.