Monday, October 29, 2018

Ethel M's Chocolate Factory and Cactus Garden

Scene from Ethel M's Chocolate Factory and Cactus Garden

A few months ago, we visited Ethel M’s Chocolate Factory and Cactus Garden, home of gourmet Mars-family-made chocolates, and a four-acre garden with 300+ species of cacti. I was attracted by their display of xeric plants. My wife was drawn to the chocolate.

About as soon as we parked the car, two motor coaches pulled up to the entrance. Out spilled large contingents of tourists with cameras clicking. It’s challenging to take photographs of saguaro in a naturalistic setting when clacking crowds are in the background.

Did the signs say, “Stay on the path?” Yes, the signs said, “Stay on the path”, but it made no difference. The other tourists stepped gingerly among the cactus displays. I waited with a twisted desire to see some reactions to painful encounters. None occurred. I managed to capture some good plant images, though. A photographer can achieve good results with the right camera angle.

Cactus gardens such as Ethel M’s provide wonderful opportunities to see drought-tolerant plants in attractive, practical settings. If you’re interested in saving water, it doesn’t matter where you live. You need not live in a desert to create a water-wise garden. Conserving water is always a good idea, and xeric species are available for practically every climate zone. Photos of some of my favorite selections are featured below.

For more information on xeriscaping, cacti and succulent species, click on the links provided. Don’t forget to check back occasionally. I’ll post more articles in the future.

After capturing their moments, the tour groups entered the chocolate factory. My wife was already there.

Formerly, such a place would have been a “dream come true” for her. I must say with pride, however, that she has committed herself to maintaining a “keto” diet, and has done quite well. But entering a chocolate factory must have been, for her, like a recovering alcoholic browsing a liquor store. I captured her posing with her mouth wide open by an enormous, wall-sized mock-up of a sampler.


If you’ve visited Ethel M’s Chocolate Factory and Cactus Garden, I’d love to hear about your visit. Which plants did you like best? Have you tried growing any of the species you saw on display? How did they work for you? Let us know in the comment section.

Carnegiea gigantea flower

 Opuntia microdasys var. albispina

Oreocereus celsianus

Austrocylindropuntia subulata

Euphorbia tirucalli

Ferocactus cylindraceus

Carnegiea gigantea skeletons

Calliandra californica

Agave lechuguilla

Agave parryi var. parryi

Hesperaloe parviflora

Agave vilmoriniana 

Echinocactus grusonii

Opuntia santarita

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Saturday, October 20, 2018

Unwanted Immigrant - The Spotted Lanternfly

Credit: Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture
"An invasive insect species native to China, India and Vietnam is posing a problem in at least two states" reports Fox News. "The spotted lanternfly is harming crops in Winchester, Virginia", and has been spotted in Pennsylvania. Apparently, the pest was observed in Pennsylvania as early as 2014. 
According to the USDA, "spotted lanternfly feeds on a wide range of fruit, ornamental and woody trees, with tree-of-heaven being one of the preferred hosts. Spotted lanternflies are invasive and can be spread long distances by people who move infested material or items containing egg masses. If allowed to spread in the United States, this pest could seriously impact the country’s grape, orchard, and logging industries."
  • Inspect your trees and plants for signs of this pest, particularly at dusk and at night when the insects tend to gather in large groups on the trunks or stems of plants.
  • Inspect trees (in particular, tree of heaven), bricks, stone, and other smooth surfaces for egg masses.
  • If you find an insect that you suspect is the spotted lanternfly, please contact your local Extension office or State Plant Regulatory Official to have the specimen identified properly.
  • Locate the Extension specialist near you
  • Contact your State Plant Regulatory Official 
If you live in Pennsylvania, an interactive plant pest quarantine map is provided to see if you’re in the spotted lanternfly quarantine.

As noted, spotted lanternfly is particularly attracted to "tree of heaven." Ironically, "tree of heaven" is not heavenly at all. According to the Nature Conservancy, "It is a prolific seed producer and can thrive in even the most unfavorable conditions with little management. Its rapid growth also means that it can crowd out nearby native plant species, and its aggressive root system can cause damage to pavement, sewers and building foundations."

It also attracts spotted lanternfly, which can be a bad thing or good. The bad thing is that it's a host plant for the little creatures. The good thing is that, as a spotted lanternfly magnet, a whole gathering can be eliminated in one place.
I guess those "No matter where you are from, we're glad you're our neighbor" yard signs don't actually apply to all.
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Thursday, October 18, 2018

How I Like Claret Cup Cactus

Claret Cup Cactus

"How I like claret!" gushed John Keats. He meant, of course, the red wine from Bordeaux. But I'm fond of another - Claret Cup Cactus.

Its botanical name is Echinocereus triglochidiatus. Echino refers to its hedgehog-like spines. Cereus describes the funnel-shaped structure in the center of the flower. Triglochidiatus refers to its three-pointed fruit. But none of that adequately describes the simple beauty of this little creature.

Claret Cup produces eye-popping red flowers in spring. The long, white spines will pierce your skin any time of year, but are starkly beautiful - at least to my mind. Though rather small, it will stop you in your tracks when you happen upon it.

Claret Cup is native to the American Southwest, so it will be a perfect addition to a native cactus and succulent collection. Don't be digging it up in the wild. I believe it's legally protected in the State of Nevada, but even if it weren't, indiscriminate collecting can easily lead to endangerment.

I highly recommend Claret Cup for your cactus collection.

Name(s): Echinocereus triglochidiatus, Claret Cup Cactus, Strawberry Cactus, Crimson Hedgehog Cactus

Flower Color: Deep red to orange-red

Bloom Time: Mid-Spring

Foliage: Evergreen, sharp, spiny.

Height/Spread: 12 inches x 24 inches.

Climate Zones: 8, 9, 10, 11

Sun Exposure: Full sun

Soil Condition: Well-drained to dry, average to poor, pH 6.1 to 7.8

Features: Drought tolerant, deer resistant.

Uses: Xeriscaping, massed planting, naturalizing, desert gardens, native plant collections, container gardens, cacti and succulent collections, borders, "homeland security."

Comments:  Handle with care!

I'd like to know your thoughts on Claret Cup. Have you grown it? Do you use it in your landscape or as a container plant? Tell us about your experience with Claret Cup in the comment section. If you have any suggestions that might help our readers, please let us know.

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Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Sharp Like A Dagger - Agave lechuguilla

Shin-dagger (Agave lechuguilla)

During a recent trip to the American Southwest, I found Shin-dagger. Not by accident, thankfully. It immediately occurred to me, however, that Shin-dagger is one for the books.

Shin-dagger - aka Agave lechuguilla - is similar in many respects to its larger relative, Agave americana, also known as Century Plant. R-E-S-P-E-C-T is the key word, and not just a little bit. It's smaller than the Century Plant but every bit as formidable. It throws up a magnificent, tall flower spike ONCE during its decade-long life, then dies. It thrives in hot, dry environments. It is (or was) quite useful to American Indians as a source of fiber - maybe for tequilla, too, but I don't know that for certain.

Another plus for Shin-dagger is that it requires practically no maintenance, and that's a good thing since working around it can be somewhat hazardous to your flesh. Those sharp spines also make it a perfect choice as a serious discouragement to trespassers, especially of the two-footed persuasion. As for four-legged species, it lacks gastronomic appeal. Deer, for example, won't eat it.

Keep in mind that "formidable" doesn't have to mean "ugly." As with many cacti and succulents, it is very appealing, form-wise. So are the flowers.

So, if these traits fit your bill, by all means include several Shin-daggers in your landscape.

Name(s): Agave lechuguilla, Agave poselgeri, Agave multilineata, Agave lophantha var.tamaulipasana, Agave lophantha var. subcanescens, Agave lophantha var. poselgeri, Shin-dagger, Lechuguilla, Tampico Fiber

Flower Color: Red to yellow

Bloom Time: Early spring to mid-Spring

Foliage: Evergreen, succulent, gray-green, sharp, spiny.

Height/Spread: 24 inches x 24 inches.

Climate Zones: 7, 8, 9, 10, 11

Sun Exposure: Full sun

Soil Condition: Well-drained to dry, sandy, average to poor, pH 6.1 to 7.8

Features: Drought tolerant, deer resistant, disease and pest resistant. Poor drainage may lead to root rot.

Uses: Xeriscaping, massed planting, naturalizing, desert gardens, native plant collections, cacti and succulent collections, borders, "homeland security."

Comments: Shin-dagger flowers once at about 10 to 15 years of age, then dies. The stately flower stalk can reach to 12' high. In the meantime, small shoots are produced at the base of the plant. These may be separated and planted elsewhere. Leaf edges are very sharp. Handle with care!

I'd like to know your thoughts on Shin-dagger. Have you grown it? Run into it? Tell us about your experience with Shin-dagger in the comment section.

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Better Homes and Gardens Recommends Hardy Mums for Autumn Color

'Sheffield Pink'

Better Homes and Gardens Magazine, in the October 2018 issue, published a wonderful article on Hardy Mums. is a fine source for garden info! I was delighted to see that the variety 'Sheffield Pink' was included in the lineup.

'Sheffield Pink' - aka 'Hillside Sheffield Pink' and 'Single Apricot' - is not one of those bloomin' mounds you see offered at so many garden shops and 'big box' stores this time of year. It is, in fact, a stunning perennial more like the carefree, heirloom mums you'd see in grandmother's garden.

There are hundreds of chrysanthemum flower types, sizes, colors and habits. Some, like the show quality types, can be tender and difficult to grow. Others are quite hardy and simple. Most gardeners stick to the hardy types, and that's what you should do. Why work so hard when you don't have to?

The name, Chrysanthemum, was given by Carolus Linnaeus sometime in the 17th century. As with many plants, taxonomists seem always to be trying to sort out matters. So the genus has been split into two or more, and species have been added and shifted between genera. Some of those genera include Arctanthemum, Argyranthemum, Dendanthrema, Glebionis, Leucanthemopsis, Leucanthemum, Rhodanthemum, and Tanacetum. 'Sheffield Pink' is labeled as Dendanthrema about as often as Chryanthemum, so don't let the name confuse you.

'Sheffield Pink' thrives in USDA climate zones 5 to 9. If you live in one of those zones - most of us do - you're in luck! 'Sheffield Pink' should thrive for you.

'Sheffield Pink' requires at least 5 hours of full sun per day, particularly during the morning, because humidity and lingering moisture can encourage mildew. For the same reason, good air circulation and soil drainage are essential.

Choose a site with average, well-drained garden soil with pH ranging from 5.6 to 7.5. Take a soil sample to your nearest Cooperative Extension Office for analysis. You will be charged a nominal fee. Follow the recommendations you'll receive.

It is best to plant 'Sheffield Pink' in spring or fall about 6 weeks before hot or freezing weather commences. Can it be planted any other time of year? Certainly! Just make sure you can provide sufficient water if you choose to plant during summer. Even though it is drought-tolerant when established, don't take off on vacation and leave your newly planted perennials at the mercy of the weather.

If soil is compacted, prepare the planting bed by cultivating at least 8 inches deep, removing all traces of weeds.  If the soil is high in organic matter and friable, it may not require cultivation.  Compost may be incorporated into the soil, if necessary.  Incorporate 10-10-10 fertilizer at a rate of no more 2 lbs. per 100 square feet into the top 4 inches to 6 inches of soil. Avoid synthetic fertilizers contacting any part of your plants.

Space the plants between 18 inches to 24 inches apart. Dig planting holes into the cultivated soil a little less deep than the depth of the growing container. Place the plants into the holes and back-fill, watering as you go. Press soil around the root balls. Do not cover entirely the root balls with soil. The tops should be slightly exposed. Add a top-dressing of mulch around the plants, not on top of them, about 1 inch deep.

After a few years, 'Sheffield Pink' should be divided. In spring, when danger of frost is past, dig the clumps and cut or pull them apart. Older, worn out parts should be cut off and discarded. Incorporate organic matter into the soil. Plant the renovated clumps at the same level they grew before. Water them in, and add mulch. A little renovation every 3 to 5 years will reward you with many seasons of pleasure.

In addition to its beauty, 'Sheffield Pink' is a wonderful addition to the butterfly garden! 

If you've grown 'Sheffield Pink' or any other hardy mum, we'd love to hear from you. How has it performed for you? Do you have pictures you'd like to share with us? Please let us know in the comment section below.

If you'd like to read more about hardy mums, check out our other blog post - How To Grow Hardy Chrysanthemums in Your Yard.

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Tuesday, October 9, 2018

The Beauty of Double Tulips

Melinda Meyers published a lovely article for the National Garden Bureau, Boost the Beauty of Your Spring Garden with Double Tulips. She writes:

Double tulips look completely different from regular tulips. Instead of upright, egg-shaped blossoms, their flowers look more like roses or peonies, with layers of silky petals. I love how they look in the garden, and they are also beautiful cut flowers. In fact, their growing popularity with floral designers is making them easier to find in flower shops.
You can both start and end the spring bulb season with double tulips. The early-blooming varieties open at the same time as daffodils, while the late ones finish up right before the peonies open. Double tulips change day by day as the flowers mature. They begin as romantic, softly cupped blossoms and go out as flashy extroverts. Watching this transformation is part of the fun of growing them. As an added surprise, you’ll find that most double tulips are also fragrant, especially the late-blooming varieties.

So true! If you're looking for something really special for your spring garden, you simply must plant Double Tulips this fall. 

Have you planted Double Tulips before? What did you think about them? Did you use them as cut flowers? Let us know. We'd love to hear from you in our Comments section!