Growing tropical-looking plants in the Phoenix, Arizona area. With a wiener dog.

June 11, 2014

Panorama of The Tropical Paradise, June 10th, 4:30 pm, 2014

The Tropical Paradise is a tiny space, so I sat at the table yesterday and took a series of photos from the chair, June 10th, 2014, at 4:30 pm.

This first view is of the Tiki Bar patio, where I have several plants in pots that are protected both by the overhang and by the fact that the walls face east and north. In the lower left is Macintosh, the good little wiener dog, who is keeping an eye out for geckos. That's my knee and foot, in the reflection of the sliding glass doors. The table, which is aluminum, I got online at Walmart, and is made by Panama Jack. The umbrella, also from Walmart, is just aluminum with plastic *grass skirts*. It was pretty cheap, as I just wanted to see if I wanted to have an umbrella in the yard, which I do, and my intention was to upgrade at some point, but I kind'a like it. I'm sure it'll start to fall apart, and then I'll think of replacing it, but not then. Macintosh's doggy door is right behind the post there, where there is a drain pipe for the gutter I had installed a couple of years ago. The palm is a Phoenix roebelenii, which I got at K-Mart, a dwarf date palm, that has been there for almost the entire twenty years I've owned this house. It's a miniature, but it's a big miniature. And next to it is the beginning of Canna Forest, which gets nice shade from the house, and where the cannas look their best.

Moving towards the north, you can see more of Canna Forest, which are Canna Tropicannas that I got from +Easy to Grow Bulbs, Inc. a few years ago. They do fine, but like a lot of water, and sunburn easily, so I'm limited them to where you see the edge now. And next to that edge is the beginning of the newest part of the garden, the aloe garden. This is a south-facing wall, which can get very, very hot, so I'm still not sure what's going to work here. By the way, the sling-back chairs are from Target. Light weight and inexpensive, and since the turf is artificial, I don't have to worry about my garden furniture *killing the grass*. I had the artificial turf installed in 2006, and it really looks great. Even people who visit, and walk on it, have to bend down and touch it before they realize it's plastic. And yes, it's perforated, so water (and other stuff, i.e. dog piddle) flows through it.

The south-facing wall, which I often refer to as *the fires of hell*, has killed a lot of plants. That's because, in addition to facing south, this area gets reflected heat from the block wall. I've planted several types of aloes, some haworthia, and agaves there. Like everything else, I'm experimenting mostly. I really don't want to plant cactus, but if the aloe fails, I will add more agaves, which are tougher plants, but not quite so *desert-looking* to me. Another thing that I have done in this area is adding a lot of large pointy rocks. People are tempted to walk into this area, for some reason, and there are tiny plants and watering heads that can be kicked. The big rocks say *keep out*, hopefully.

To my surprise, these cycads, called Dioon edule, var. palma sola, have done well in *the fires of hell*. They have been there for many years, and are very expensive plants that I have, luckily, gotten as gifts from a cycad collector here in Arizona. They are really my favorite plants, giving the illusion of ferns in the desert. At the right is a Mediterranean Fan Palm, that is growing like crazy, and has filled up that corner very nicely. What you can't see is the daffodil bulbs, which bloom in mid winter, but disappear in the summer. So, I add and subtract rocks to keep the area from looking too empty. The big rock back there is where the watering trunk line is, by the way, and there is room for me to get behind these plants to clean up and trim. It gets VERY hot back there, but these plants don't seem to mind. Nor do they mind in the winter when it can get very cold.

The area that I call *Rock Ridge* has also gone through a lot of changes lately. In fact, for a long time all that was really there was rocks, and I have tried to get something growing between them. Here you see, from left to right, the edge of the med palm, a small agave, a Dioon edule, var. palma sola, a blue elf aloe, an iris, and another dioon (which is suffering right now, and is very yellow. The shade is from the umbrella, which really doesn't help all that much. This wall faces west, so it's also very hot, especially in the afternoon. The rocks along the edge are the *Wiener Dog Highway*, which allows me access to the back of the garden, and allows Macintosh, the good little wiener dog, access to her friends the geckos. They're not really geckos, just common wall lizards, but the word *geckos* is funnier. If you shout *geckos*, by the way, Macintosh takes off like a rocket!

This area, which is midway along the back wall, facing west, had a tree until a couple of years ago. You can still see the trunk, which unfortunately, will never go away. That's why I planted the cape honeysuckle there, which will grow and cover it up very quickly. It just needs to make it through this summer! At left is a Dioon edule, var. palma sola, and at right is a Dioon edule, var edule. In the foreground are iris. Next to them is an agave colorata. You can see the afternoon shade from the olive tree now, which helps this area a lot. The shade in the foreground is from the table umbrella, which is fairly small, and really doesn't help the plants much.

Going further south along the back wall, which faces west, is a combination of some very old plants and very new plants. The Dioon edule, var, edule, has been there for many, many years as has the cape honeysuckle behind it, which I keep trimmed down very low. I let it grow a little freer in the winter, as this is when cape honeysuckle blooms, and if you try to keep it in a tidy compact shape during that time, you won't have many blooms, if any. In front of the dioon, in what I call the *apron*, are some agaves and aloe. In the center is a sansevieria. I have planted a lot of sansevieria around the garden, which were given to me by a plant friend. The common one that you see everywhere is called a *snake plant*. Off in the shade given by the olive tree are two more dioons, and some agaves, as you approach what I call *The Outback*.

This is the eastern slope of The Outback. which I just started developing a couple of years ago. Before then, this was mostly a neglected area where I had tried, and failed, to grow many different types of plants. In spite of the shade you're seeing now, when that western sun hits this area, it's brutally hot. So, I've added a lot of agaves and some sanseiverias. I especially like the African Spear sansevieria, Sansevieria cylindrica, the one just to the right of the Moai. I've also added a lot of pointy rocks, which should say *keep out*, along with the fact that there is no path through the outback, and the artificial turf stops there. But I'm still working on the balance between allowing myself access to the area, without making it look like a public place to walk. Still working on that!

This narrow space is where I spend a lot of time, being lazy. It's where I have a simple chaise lounge, and a plastic table that I can move around a bit to stay in shade in the summer, and sun in the winter. Mostly here in the Phoenix area, we are interested in being in shade. As you can see, the afternoon sun from the house casts a lot of shade there, and the space under the tree, and next to the house, is what I consider *prime real estate* for tropical plants. The window is my bedroom window, where I'm typing right now, and in the morning I keep the blinds closed tightly, but by afternoon it becomes a wonderful view. That's an olive tree there, one of the very few plants that was actually here when I bought this house, which was mostly just dirt and rocks. I have a company come out every February/early March to spray fruit stop to keep olives from forming. Nowadays you can buy fruitless olives, which is what I wish these were. And that's the Outback back there. And did I mention how much I like having artificial turf?

This area, which I call the Dioon Garden, is really the best location here in The Tropical Paradise for the types of plants that I like. A dioon is a cycad, similar to a sago palm, but with a lighter green (almost bluish color) to the leaves. I've had them here for years, but they only do well with perfect conditions, which includes a lot of shade. This is the east-facing wall of the house. When I bought this house, I insisted on an east-facing backyard. If you backyard isn't oriented like this, you will need to pick up your house and move it. Otherwise this isn't possible. Macintosh, the good little wiener dog, is looking down the *Wiener Dog Highway*, which is a narrow space that allows me to get behind the plants for maintenance. She patrols it regularly, looking for lizards, which we call geckos. She is lighting fast, like all dachshunds, but her legs are barely two inches long, so the geckos really don't have all that much trouble avoiding her.

And there you go, there's the whole panorama of The Tropical Paradise. My garden is something that I am always experimenting with. I would say that the vast majority of the things I've tried here have failed, but I have a poor memory for failures, and I prefer to focus on successes!
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