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Saturday, July 24, 2010

Agave parryii, or what?

This is the  latest treasure added to the out of control succulent collection. It was labelled Confederate Rose.
What is it? Agave  Parryii, - - also called Mescal Agave , Artichoke Agave, Desert Rose, Confederate Rose. There seems to be a lot of confusion about this plant. What is quite certain is that it’s, from the desert, and some plants seem to sucker easily like this one, and others don’t at all. They clump.

Agave Parryii originates in New Mexico, Arizona and N. Mexico. This possibly explains the some of the confusion—the different locations may have produced slightly dissimilar plants. However The Mescal Agave is not the same agave but A. americana , known in Mexico as maguey,from which is made mezcal the a smoky liquor, generally drunk neat. ( If it has with the larva worm in it, you have gotten the inferior version made for dumb gringos.) Most mezcal comes from Oaxaca, where it is appreciated, and considered good for hypertension, diabetes and will jump starting your  sex life.

 In N. Mexico, you throw it down before breakfast. However, it won’t look as good in a pot as A. Parryii:

Artichoke Agave is A Parryii v. var. huachucensis , according to the very reliable San Marcos Growers(” This agave from South-eastern Arizona south to Chihuahua ….forms suckers. Individual plants are 18 inches to 2 feet tall by 2 to 3 feet wide with the sucker growth produces dense clumps.”

And is often confused with A. parryi v. truncata which it is not !
This is:
See---shorter, fatter leaves. This variety has lots of sports.
All A Parryii varieties are are monocarpic, meaning they bloom once in the life of the plant. The parent plant dies, hopefully having left many sucker off- spring behind.

Confederate Rose is possibly Agave potatorum

Photo  from The Tropic Center.

And the Desert Rose may be Agave parrasana
 Origin: Mountainous areas of Coahuila (Mexico) higher than 4000 feet in elevation (1200 m).
Growth Habits: Clumping succulent rosette, up to 2 feet in diameter each (60 cm)..

Photo from Xeric World (good site)
Now, are you  inspired to go get one of each?

Monday, July 19, 2010

Butterflies on the Central Coast and a nifty cold soup for the hot weather

One of the nicest things that has happened in July is suddenly- a lot of butterflies! This one is a Buckeye, (Jununia coenia) and the spots on his wings are to scare young (dumb?) birds into thinking the spots are eyes. Buckeyes aren't fussy eaters, but they are very territorial. (I think this means "stay off my snapdragon" since they like snapdragons, veronica, and various weeds.) Snap dragons are a host plant --they both imbibe the nectar and lay their eggs on the host.

Host plants are crucial. There used to be lots of Anise Swallowtails around this neighborhood. They bred on the wild fennel which is everywhere along the roadsides in summer. But we have become so cultivated in town, there's no wild fennel to breed on.So, Anise Swallowtails have simply disappeared . My neighbor's   conscientious gardener removed the last patch of wild fennel from a nice messy spot at the back of her lawn .Haven't seen a swallowtail since.
Trying to grow wild fennel is not as easy as you'd think......been strewing fennel seed here and  there,but so far-- no fennel. I suspect it's like poppies--- you must get the seeds in right after the first rain

However, I did import two host plants for the Gulf Fritillary who love passion flowers,and --- it worked. The garden is brilliant with these orange beauties.

I don't know where they came from, or how the message got out, but the GF's have raised 2 seasons worth of children on a rather scruffy pair of passion flower vines. One is the blue passion flower which the butterfly sseems to  to prefer, but she'll make do with the scarlet perfectly happily.(Passiflora coccinea)

Blue Passionflower This  has been the favorite for eggs---the pupae dangle and hatch before your eyes. Quite miraculous no matter how often it happens. We don't have just a couple of GF's--we have lots, so if you want some of your own hurry to your preferred plant  nursery and get a passion vine.

Thanks to a neighbor's giant broccoli (which hasn't produced any broccoli, but is 4 feet tall) we have Cabbage Whites. These are considered an Invasive Species in some circles, as the host plants are cabbage family crops. However, since neither broccoli or cabbage is high on my list of preferred foods (they are healthy, but so are ice cold showers) I'm delighted to have Cabbage Whites decorating my rose garden (note: rose garden entirely on grey water.) So for your own Cabbage Whites, try some Ornamental Kale.
Pretty, and you don't have to feel guilty about not eating it.

If you grow lantana--and it comes in yellow, white, and lavender for starters--- you will find yourself the happy possessor of the host plant for the Orange Sulphur--that one usually sees looking like this:
 but he's full of surprises. His topside looks quite different.

  Lantana is not only a host plant, it's very water thrifty, can be pruned hard and used as a ground cover, or allowed to sprawl and become a big mound of flowers.

If you live on the Central coast, chances are you have Monarchs. If not--you can buy some!

Here's the female Monarch.

And the male Monarch

We are  lucky enough to have both sexes  in the garden. Apparently they like purple flowers--lavender, Mexican Sage, Society Garlic, agapanthus. All low water. A sensible as well as spectacular  being.  Butterflies love puddles and as well, will drink nectar from butterfly feeders.                                                           
   All photos from W Commons

Here's the cold soup recipe: (LA Times 7/15/10) Servings: 6 to 8           86 cal a serving
Note: Adapted from a recipe by Teresa Fanucchi in "A Place at the Table"
2 large leeks, white and pale green parts only
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 pounds yellow crookneck squash or golden zucchini, chopped (Or green zucchini of which we always have TOO MUCH)
1 quart vegetable broth, more if desired
Salt and white pepper
2 tablespoons fresh dill, chopped, plus a little more for garnish
1/2 cup plain yogurt or sour cream
1 teaspoon lemon zest

1. Clean the leeks. Coarsely chop the white and pale green parts of leeks. Submerge the leeks in water to remove any sandy soil. Rinse well in a colander, and shake to remove any moisture.

2. In a medium soup pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the leeks and cook until softened, about 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the squash and broth. Season lightly with one-fourth teaspoon salt and one-eighth teaspoon white pepper. Stir in the fresh dill. Bring the soup to a boil, then reduce the heat to a very gentle simmer and continue cooking, with the lid ajar, until the vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes.

3. Remove from heat and set the soup aside for about 30 minutes to give the flavors time to marry. Purée the soup using a blender (this will need to be done in batches, filling the blender no more than two-thirds full, and being very careful if the liquid is still hot). The soup can also be blended using an immersion blender. Add additional broth if desired to thin the soup to preferred thickness.
4.Transfer the soup to a covered storage container and refrigerate until chilled, at least 3 hours, preferably overnight. This makes about 6 cups soup.
5. In a small bowl, combine the yogurt with the lemon zest and a pinch of salt. Serve each bowl of soup with a dollop of the yogurt mixture.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Cycads and other delights--- Miss Jersey Giant and avocado gazpacho

The Cycad Garden

That mislabeled plant you bought at the Big Box is not a sago palm at all.
It’s a cycad with an astonishing and impressive history.

cycad fossil  (from W commons)

 Cycads were around with the dinosaurs---and were the food of herbivore dinosaurs (ex. Triceratops .) Somehow the cycads survived The Great Die Off that killed the dinosaurs, and so many other creatures. (Latest theory for the GDO is an enormous meteorite (6-10 miles wide) that created the Chicxulub crater in Yucatan, Mexico which either obscured the sun with dust, or sulphur dioxide gas which shut down photosynthesis, cooled the planet , starved the herbivores, and then the meat-eaters (T.rex) (See

A cycad at Lotusland

This means your “sago Palm” is can do nicely without full sunlight, though many cycads  love the sun.. The most remarkable collection of cycads anywhere are  here in SoCal –not on the back lot of Universal Studios as you might expect along with Jurassic Park and the T. Rex--- but at Lotusland (

Mme. Gana Walska loved the curious, and the grotesque as well as the beautiful. Cycads are all of the above, as well as being drought resistant, slow growing and good companions for succulents.The cycad collection at Lotusland was acquired by Mme. by selling a million dollars worth of her jewels at Sotheby’s-- so don’t miss it!
Local news :we are exchanging apples from the amazing " bears 2 crops a year " apple tree for eggs from the Urban Farm. Our favorite Bad Girl --Miss Jersey Giant in the white feathers-- turns out to be a great producer of lovely cream colored eggs. Of course, the Urbane Farmer has to be swift to gather them before she eats them. She's still a Bad Girl....
We've also gotten Haas avocados from the Urbane Farmer  and found a recipe for avocado gazpacho in the LA Times for June 24th in the Food section.
Servings: 4
1 cup packed fresh bread crumbs
Water for soaking the bread crumbs
2 cloves garlic
1 pound ripe avocados (about 3), peeled and chopped
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
11/2 teaspoons salt
Chopped green onion, for garnish
Chopped tomato, for garnish
Chopped cilantro (optional), for garnish
1. Soak the bread crumbs in water to cover until softened. Drain off the excess water (reserve the water to thin the soup if desired) and place the bread in a blender with the garlic. Purée until smooth. Add the avocados and lemon juice and purée. Blend in the oil and salt. Thin the soup, as desired, with the reserved water.
2. Serve the gazpacho at room temperature or chilled. Garnish each serving with chopped green onion, tomato and cilantro.
Each of 4 servings: 315 calories; Thank you LA Times!

Saturday, July 3, 2010

What's a Succulent Collector to do? And anti-mold recipes

Collections are the very devil to deal with. The laws of design demand mass effects, repetitions--- but what about those of us who can't resist a succulent we don't have? How to deal with 79 different little darlings?

Mine spent two months sitting under a tree in the backyard looking unloved, as they were displaced when we painted the house. The one place they could possibly find a new home is  a narrow (1.75. feet) strip of dirt, with a west facing exposure, bounded by a sidewalk on one side, and the house wall on the other. Many houses have a strip of dirt like this and most plants don't like it. Decided the only way to proceed was to leave them in pots, as some of them need almost no water (barrel cactus, mammillaria and some agaves), where as others, like the sedums ,need to be watered about once a week if they are not going to look stressed.

This one--a small African Euphorbia--seems to thrive almost anywhere with or without water, and goes on happily producing little rosettes. It's in a 3" pot.

These all want to be watered once a week to look happy. The Blue Elf has turned purple because it needs more water. The bright green Mexican sedum has been getting enough water, but the pink sedum is stressed. The theory is to put the pots with the same water requirements together, then arrange again within that parameter. Sounds like a plan.

To catch up on the local news-the Urbane Farmer has been struggling with mold on his zucchini  (it came over the wall from a neighbor's neglected garden patch.) He first got some sulphur dust but when he read the label he decided it was too toxic. Soooo...he got on the net and found a totally non-toxic recipe: water, a little olive oil and a pinch of baking soda . It worked. It should work on zinnias and dahlias as well as the squash. Spray it on with a spray bottle. Add that to your collection of non-toxic sprays  along with milk to get rid of black spot on roses. 

Another success---we have new  ocean friendly gardens with  parterres for our dwarf citrus. Each terrace covered with a thick layer of compost (free from the city) with paths of decomposed granite which will slow down any water trying to run-off.