This blog is about growing tropical-looking plants in the Phoenix, Arizona area

March 18, 2018

How to plant bare root agaves

If you live where it's warm enough to grow agaves, such as in Phoenix, or Los Angeles, they're wonderful. I've been learning more about them lately, and there are many varieties, or types of whatever you call them - different colors and sizes. But there are some tricks to getting them in your garden.

The first thing to note about agaves is that they are dangerously sharp. Not, "oops sharp" like a thorn on a rose bush, more like "suddenly bleeding all over the place" if you get stuck sharp. So wear sturdy leather gloves. The other thing that you need to do is cover your body. I tend to be a shirtless gardener, but if you're a "belly itcher" like I am, and you touch your skin with the gloves after cutting an agave, the sap stings like crazy. No, it won't damage your skin, but it hurts, and you have to go take a shower right away, or it will just burn and sting until you do. Ask me how I know this? So, shirt, gloves. OK?

I got several agaves yesterday from a friend, which are bare root. And agaves are fine with that. There's really no reason to buy them in a pot - especially if you have a friend who will give some to you for free. By the way, agaves create offshoots, and most people trim them off and throw them away. Nice people give them to friends.

Agaves being cleaned for bare root planting.

I like to clean up the bottom fronds before I plant. I just sit on the ground and pull the bottoms leaves off. Takes some doing, but that's the cleanest way to do it - no stubs. Then you dig a little hole and firm the plant in, be sure to get the soil down with your thumbs around the roots. Water in, and you're done.

And no, agaves don't mind this at all. I will often pull up my miniature agaves and trim them and replant, just for normal maintenance.  They're tough plants! You just gotta treat them with respect.

Miniature agaves planted bare root

March 12, 2018

How to design a garden that will allow you to "age in place"

As a man who is just entering his golden years, one of the saddest things that I'm seeing is gardens owned by people who are just a little bit older than me becoming unusable for them. And the reason for this is the same reason that people often have to give up living where they've been for decades, the design doesn't allow them to "age in place".

If you're familiar with the concept of "aging in place" it means that a person can continue to live somewhere, and enjoy it, as their go into old age. It's a difficult concept for most people to accept, that they will get old, and certain things will become more difficult.

I have a unique point of view, as I had a preview of what old age limitations would feel like when I had a stroke in my mid-forties. I was able to get up on my feet, but I suffer from some of the "nuisance problems" of people older than me, such as poor balance, and impaired vision in dark areas, with contrast. But I'm also a graphic designer, which means I'm fascinated with design, and how something can be both beautiful and useable. My house, and my garden, will allow me to age in place. If you're interested in doing this now, in spite of the fact that you're young and strong, I think I can help. I call it "design for the elderly, the disabled and the drunk". And if you're not in the first two categories, you probably have been in the third one, and you can understand what it feels like.

If your design won't accommodate someone who has "had a few", you need to re-evaluate. That is, if your design requires careful footwork to navigate around hazards, you've made a mistake. And yes, I recommend having a few too many beers and then taking a walk around your garden. If you're tripping over things, or just missing an accident, you know what you need to fix (when you sober up!).

Now waitaminute, I'm not saying that your garden design has to be completely flat and featureless. As a designer I've often seen people feel the need to go from one extreme to another - either a design that's practically an obstacle course, or a design that's so dull that no one would even want to look at it.

Start with a place to walk to and sit. Design everything around chairs and a table. Don't squeeze chairs and a table into a garden. Look for trip hazards and eliminate them. No hoses lying on the ground, no trip-hazard steps. And make it very clear where people are supposed to walk, and where the garden is. No stepping stones! No. No.

Because of my personal experience, I can take a glance at a garden and say "no way!" And if you don't see it, and you don't mind me criticizing you, just ask me. Garden mistakes may not force you out of your own garden for twenty or thirty years, but they will. Fix it now.