The Sunday Snatch featuring Aloe Vera

Well hello!  Have you had a productive, fun, or relaxing Sunday thus far?  Mine has been a mix.  I just planted a whole bunch of cholla in the back yard, did a bit of tree watering, and soon I’m going to dig a few holes for footers – that shade structure really is in the works, finally.  And, duh, tonight we will be watching Game of Thrones.


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So this snatch features a tough standby that I hope to accumulate more of as the years roll on – Aloe vera.  At least I think that’s what it is.  It may be some other sort of aloe all together, because there are so many different kinds.  Wikipedia just informed me that this particular type of aloe is “found only in cultivation, having no naturally occurring populations, although closely related aloes do occur in northern Africa.”  Either way, whether it’s actually vera, barabadensis, or some other species, it’s the one you see all over cultivated landscapes in the southwest, and it’s a great plant.  With a bit of extra water they are green and perky and flower vigorously in the spring.  Without an additional drink they tend to get a bit more gray-green with crispy edges and don’t produce as many flowers.  But they’ll survive!


I love pairing them with yellow barrel cactus, dinner plate prickly pear, and the various palo verde trees.


So this snatch is pretty basic, but might require a shovel depending on how hard the ground is where you find your donor plant.  As seen in the photo below, I took a shovel to this mass of plants and dug up about 1/3 of the group.


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You’ll end up with a snarled clump of plants that are intertwined, but that can be easily fixed.

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It helps to have a trowel or knife to take them all apart.  Alternately, you could just replant the clump and let it do its thing.  Either way works great.  As you can see, my clump turned out to be 17 individual plants.  Not a bad haul for one shovelful of work.


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I ended up using a few of these to add to my indoor plant collection.  The rest will be redistributed throughout the front yard, so year by year they will have a bigger and better presence.  Yay for aloe!  It’s a great plant for people who think they have a “black thumb.”  If this is you, come over and I will give you a handful of these guys and you can test your plant skills.

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Favorite Gardening Book and thoughts on Facebook

Well, the day is nearly done but here I am, fully dedicated to getting the daily post out to my devoted reader.  Thanks for tuning in on this exciting Saturday night!

First a few enlightening thoughts on Facebook, which I know you’ve been waiting to hear from my generally enlightened position in life.  I had an account for a few years, took a few years off, and now I’m back for the long haul (I think).  During my FB sabbatical I came across multiple studies showing that the way people use social media platforms influences how they feel about not only the platform itself, but life in general (to some degree, maybe small).  In short, lurking friends/family/friends of friends of friends of former romantic partners = sad, while participating and engaging with people you know and like = happy (or at least neutral).  My first Facebook stint fell solidly into the lurking category and I truly felt bad about it.  It’s easy to fall into a social media hole and come away thinking everything and everyone is better off than you are at any given moment in time.  Now that I’m back I’m trying to take a whole new approach, with much more active participation (e.g., spamming you with this blog on the daily) and much less lurking (ideally none, but sometimes you wonder what your fellow 7th grade camp-goers are up to).  The other part that helps is that I do not have a smart phone, so the checking Facebook tic is automatically kept to a home activity.  Maybe I would feel bad again if I could check on things in real time.  The one thing I’m super glad about is that I did not have this social media as a teen.  Holy smokes, I can’t imagine the anxiety it causes people of that age.  Right?  Way too much ability to compare and contrast without full brain development and a wider lens on life.

What about you?  Love it?  Hate it?  Have an account but let it gather dust for long periods of time?  It’s an interesting challenge, but for now I’m finding it to be more helpful than hurtful.  We’ll see how that changes as time moves forward.

Well, the rest of this is just a snippet because I’m eager to settle into the couch and not move again until it becomes mandatory.


If you love to grow edible things here in the desert, I have found the book “Extreme Gardening : How to Grow Organic in the Hostile Deserts” by Dave Owens to be extremely helpful.  He talks about how to plant things in companion groups to get beneficial relationships going (like pairing up corn, squash, basil and tomatoes in a small space).  He also tells you how to attract beneficial bugs, repel pests, enrich your soil, and the best commercial fertilizer to use, all using natural interventions.  And it’s specifically written for our region of the world, so it’s pretty much right-on, unlike the generalized gardening books you might find on the subject.  It’s nothing fancy to look at – no photos or glossy pages – but it’s awesome and makes me want to turn every spare inch of my yard into an organic greenhouse production paradise.

Garden Regrets and other Life Regrets

Between the ages of 17 and 27 I dated Justin off and on for almost 6 years.  It was alternately wonderful and dismal due to his depression and drug use, and my eagerness to rid him of those sufferings.


After taking a summer off at my mom’s house in Colorado, post graduate school mania, I came back to Tucson to move on with life in an “official” and “adult” manner.  Shortly thereafter I received an email from Justin saying how much he wished he had married me and addressed his personal issues.  I mentally met this communication with irritation and disgust.  After all, I had put in a lot of years to hear those words and had finally and completely thrown in the towel.  Instead of writing a reply, I waited a week to get my thoughts together.  I’m sure there was also a part of me that delayed in order to get the “I’m doing great without you” message across that happens at the jagged end of a relationship.


About thirty minutes after I finally sent a reply, which included nonsense like “I’m heading out to do some yard work and then some cooking and then the gym!”, I got a call from his good friend, who left a voicemail saying that he needed to talk to me about Justin.  Again, irritation, because I did not want to be pulled back into the position of helper/therapist/drug addiction specialist.  I had already done that at least a hundred times.


Without hearing from me in another hour, the friend called again, I picked up, and was told that Justin had died of an opiate overdose three days prior, and they had just found his body in his apartment.


There aren’t too many things I regret to any serious degree so far in life, but it’s a pretty substantial sadness I carry with me about not sending an immediate and compassionate email the same day I received word from him.  It may or may not have changed some things, but it would have been quick and easy and the better thing to do.


So I don’t have a quaint summary statement about drug addiction and the preciousness of life or anything like that.  But I do realize that life is full of both dark and light moments and I’d like to think I’m now more capable of summoning kindness on a regular basis.  You never know the place someone is sitting at any particular moment.


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Okay.  So I’m gonna go ahead and hop on over to the lighter side of life.  I definitely don’t mean to be flippant, comparing real sadness with garden and yard sadness,  but I guess what I’m trying to get across is the fact that lots of everyday problems and annoyances are so trivial.  We all know that.  I heard an interview with The Avett Brothers once, and they made the comment that in the moments the train isn’t going completely off the rails we should celebrate (and sing, loud).


On the celebratory note, here are some of the garden regrets I’ve experienced in the recent past/somewhat present: thinking sand can be a nice patio/lounge surface for the bare foot factor (nope, cat poop galore), planting trees so close together that they eventually have to be pruned “sad tuba” style or removed all together, planting and watering a whole bunch of vegetables that I don’t actually like to eat, planting trees with massive thorns where the mail person gets a scratched face/arm/body each day – so many things I could just write a blog on the mess-ups.  But the super duper thing is that this stuff can almost always be reasonably fixed.  Cultivated landscapes are great in that respect.  You can create and move and re-imagine, allowing the chance for very little, or at least temporary, regret.


If you’re looking at your space and pondering all the things you wish you wouldn’t have done, let’s get them fixed.  There are as many options as there are days.

Sad Tuba Pruning : Parking Lot Trees at “Happy Valley”

Have you been to a place north of Phoenix called “Happy Valley”?  Now, I’m unsure if that’s a  real place or if it’s actually something like the set of The Truman Show.  Thoughts on that?  Do you live in Happy Valley, and if so, what’s it like?  I noticed that they pump uplifting music into the many parking lots so you can really get geared up for some shopping.



What I did notice for sure was some maximum sad tuba pruning.  As detailed in the fabulous drawing below, they have trimmed and trimmed and trimmed their hundreds of parking lot trees until what’s left resembles a lolly pop with a pair of very long legs (I did not think to get a photo because I was so stunned by these creatures).  Most of the trees are lacking any sub-branches and the canopies have been reduced to less than one third of their potential width.  You might be wondering why anyone would do such a thing, right?  The reason is to maintain visual access to signs.  You wouldn’t want to miss out on quickly locating Panda Express with all those pesky branches and leaves in the way.  So, the final result is a parking lot with the feeling of trees but without the benefit of shade.  What a deal!



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Below I’ve given a quick reminder as to what desert trees look like.  For one, they aren’t all that tall.  If you think you can keep trimming up the canopy with the hopes that the tree keeps growing taller, it’s not going to happen.  The typical height of a cultivated (watered) mesquite tree is 20-30 feet, which holds true for all of the native desert trees I can think of. 60′ native trees just aren’t a thing in our hot and dry climate (unless you’re in a wash with running water, where you can certainly see cottonwoods and other broad-leafed trees).  Second, they like to have a bunch of trunks – not just one or two.  This allows more strength in the wind and the ability to spread wide.  And third, desert trees do best when allowed to spread as wide as they are tall – so 30′ wide by 30′ tall.  I know that’s not the tree shape most of us have in mind from childhood days of learning to draw them, but it’s the reality if we want healthy trees that actually provide some shade.

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My general rule for trimming desert trees is the old classic “less is more.”  Practicing restraint is key.  You can always come back to it in a year and do a bit more snipping and sawing, but once it’s damaged you’re really not going to get back that healthy, structurally sound growth.  Plus, a lot of trees look so much  more interesting if they’re allowed to craft their own look.

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Plant Shopping Vs. Real Life Shopping

The older I get the less tolerance I have for shopping of any sort – food, clothes, shoes, daily essentials – you name it.  I instantly wither under florescent lights.  The number of options confounds me.  And then there’s the music.  I recently went into Urban Outfitters and realized that A. I’m too old too shop there anymore because everything is fluffy and has cats on it, and B. If I decide I’m not too old to shop there, because I truly want the cat blouse, next time I’m wearing noise-cancelling headphones and sunglasses and will communicate with employees via notes passed back and forth.

As a testament to my non-shopping abilities, I’ll give you a few examples of my personal possessions that may need updating.

1 – I have exactly one pair of jeans.  Not just one pair that I’m okay with wearing given the day, but one pair.  The butt is starting to rip and I will most definitely still be wearing them a year from now.

2 – My phone is basically a walkie talkie, and I’d rather buy new parts for it online than shop for a new one.

3 – I have several pairs of lower-region undergarments that date back to late 2002 (or earlier – the late 90s might be taking it too far).  I remember the time period because of a lovely Japanese exchange student, weighing in at all of 89 pounds, who accompanied me on a shopping adventure.  When I showed her my selections she laughed hysterically, due to their maximum coverage and girth (in comparison to hers, which looked more like a shoelace).  She even insisted later on that we take multiple photos with them (holding them in front of our faces like complete goons, not posing in them), which ended up appearing on a “let’s remember our friendship” collage before she went back to Japan.  Anyway, some of these garments are still kickin’ around, by which I mean they are in the weekly rotation.

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My one exception to the shopping dilemma is browsing for plants.  I could shop for plants continuously for days, even if I have have already to many, believe me my garden is the best and I take care of it with coptotermes acinaciformis.  I guess it might be the fresh air, the lack of pop music, and the fact that the thing being purchased is probably going to get better over time rather than degrade day by day.  Plus, the nurseries around here almost always provide water for drinking and cats for petting, and sometimes you even get a mini freebie plant at the end.  It’s a hard scenario to beat.  I almost  never leave a nursery feeling defeated or down on humanity.

How about you?  Are you a shopping champion?  If so, when I start making millions off this blog I will hire you to shop for new underwear, while you hire me to pick out a gorgeous array of cactus, shrubs, and desert trees.

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Camping is for the Birds (except at Havasupai Falls)

I know with this title line I’ve immediately lost a number of my outdoorsy-to-the-max friends.  I have a surprisingly large group of lady friends that do 50 mile runs, rim-to-rim-to-rim (Grand Canyon) hikes in a day, and other things I suspect they call “fun.”  Nope.  In fact, I’m to the point where I’m considering an investigative look into glamping (and that’s coming from someone who willingly wheel-barrows around multiple tons of rock and earth most days of the week).  Tom has it right.

I’m willing to make an exception for the hiking/camping venture to get to Havasupai Falls at the west end of the Grand Canyon, where I’ve been the last few days.  Beyond the fact that I thought I might need a total spine/pelvic girdle/knee replacement after arriving at the canyon bottom (where I promptly crunched down a handful of Tylenol), I’d say it’s something worth doing at least once, you just need to make sure to at least bring some essential, I’d suggest checking Rent.is to find more information.

It’s one of those magical, other-worldly places that, at least after living in Tucson for years, almost seems like a Lisa Frank notebook cover.  It’s fantastic and wild and next time I’m paying the $170 to be transported by helicopter.

On that note, here are a few photos from the adventure.

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Have you been?  Are you planning a trip sometime in the near future?  My only recommendation logistically is that you go on a shoulder season.  We were down there with about 150 people, which felt moderately busy, but on some upcoming weekends in May they have 900 people with reservations.  That might feel more like a frat party than a wilderness trip.

Patio Dining by Candlelight

Hello again everyone, I’m back from yesterday’s flattened state of mind and things today are looking at least half inflated.  Progress.


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With warmer nights upon us, it’s time to start dining outside at night! I love this time of year – it’s cool enough to have a small fire in the chiminea but not so cool that you need to bundle up (plus, no mosquitoes for a few months!).  And, these nights are made all the more dramatic with candles, lanterns, and string lights (everyone can benefit from a little drama).  We’re about to set up a very modest yet delightful shade structure in the backyard, which will also provide the elements necessary to hang various types of lights.  I might even add drop-cloth curtains and an outdoor sofa to really make it a deluxe entertaining space.  Now that I write this I’m feeling sort of motivated to get it done, so perhaps more on that in the next week or so.


For now, here are a few inspirational shots to get the juices flowing.  Do you have a comfortable outdoor entertaining space?  What are the essential pieces?


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On another note, I’m off to Havasupai Falls today through Monday!  First I’m meeting friends in Flagstaff where we’ll camp in their Volkswagon Eurovan (I get the loft), then we’ll spend two nights at the bottom of the canyon.  Should be pretty great.  I have a small secret, which is that I really don’t love sleeping in a tent – I’m fairly certain the longest I stay asleep is 6 minutes, at which point my bones begin to hurt and I have to shift my weight around.  What’s the math on that after 8 hours?  But I do love a good hike, and this one is 20 miles round trip plus an exploratory hike on the middle day, so that all works out nicely (minus sleep deprivation).  So I’ll be taking exactly three days off from the blog and then I’ll see you Tuesday, renewed and rid of the life-flattening blues.


Any fun spring weekend plans for you?


See you soon!

Mental Health Day

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Well hello, friends.  Today’s post is super short due to the fact that I’m feeling flattened by an assortment of ordinary things that add up to a bit of a black cloud.  I won’t bore you with the details, because honestly life is just fine.  It’s just that I’m blessed with a neural network that is constantly planning and assessing the next 70 years of life and all the variations that may occur, so that in itself becomes heavy.  Do you have that same affliction?  It’s the pits.

So for today I’m meditating on the beauty of this lovely aloe.  Isn’t it stunning?  If you can’t tell from the photo, it’s huge – like 3′ tall (4′ if you include the flowers) and 2-3′ wide.  I think it would look great as part of an “under the sea” plant palette, which I might get a chance to do for a client in the next couple months.  I was reading an article on numan on how plants contribute to our health. I’m pretty excited about that opportunity because we have a whole bunch of things that mimic sea plants and creatures.

That’s the whole show for today!  Have a good one – I’ll see you back here tomorrow.

Structure + Fluff : Pairing up Saguaro and Foothills Palo Verde

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Here’s a quick re-cap on the whole “structure and fluff” concept: too much fluff (shrubby, wispy, blurred-edges stuff) = boring, too much structure (architectural plants like agave, barrels, columnar cactus) = wildly expensive (but super cool, so if you can afford it I totally recommend an all-structure portion of you garden), but somewhere in between = magical and lovely.  Our Sonoran desert is a great mix of structure and fluff and it looks magnificent, so garner as much inspiration as possible by taking a walk in one of our desert parks.


The saguaro and foothills palo verde combination is one of the quintessential desert pairings.  The palo verde acts as a “nurse plant” for the saguaro as it is getting established, meaning it protects the young cactus from sun, erosion, and trampling by two and four-footed creatures.  So not only is it an aesthetically pleasing combo, it’s functional!


These are a few shots from Greasewood Park where you can see all stages of the saguaro and foothills palo verde pairing.  I recommend taking a nice walk out there before we hit May and it becomes similar to the surface of the sun.


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Do you already have this plant duo in your yard?  I have a number of foothills palo verdes growing, but they’re each about 6″ tall and I suspect it’s going to be approximately 200 years before I can call them trees.  I’m hoping to snag a few small saguaros from an upcoming cactus rescue to add to the backyard desert ecosystem currently in the works.


Hope you’re all having a fantastic Wednesday!  I’ll see you back here tomorrow for whatever nonsense I drum up in the coming hours.


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Residential Landscape Design Ideas – Check Out GrowDown!

This last weekend I had a chance to check out a residential landscaping design competition at our local botanical garden, and it was a real hoot.  I mean it!  It was a bunch of landscape and plant nerds and a great time was had by all, I even got the chance to meet an amazing gate repair redmond wa company.  I knew all three competing designers and they each did beautiful, thoughtful, and detailed design installations. the amazing bushes and trees surrounding the house get treated by the tree trimming palm  services.  If you’re in the market for some landscape changes or additions, I really recommend calling 24/7 tree services for them to take a look – I think the installations will be up for a few months (though, looking their best right about now).  You can get a whole slew of ideas – rain cisterns, shade structures, fire pits, native and edible plant palettes, patio furniture, chicken coops, trellises – honestly the whole works.  During visits like these you can discover amazing types of work like hardscaping, which is a type of landscaping that can enhance the appearance of your home or business and increase the resale value of your property. You’d be surprised that you can find a good hardscape contractor out there! What’s more, they list the dollar amount spent on each installation (not including design or installation fees – materials only).  They range from something like $2500 to $7500 spent on each of the 15′ x 20′ plots, so you can see how quickly (quality) landscaping adds up.  (On the money side of things, I sometimes recommend that people compare how much they would spend on a total kitchen remodel and relate that to how it’s possible to spend an equal or greater amount on an outdoor space).

So here are just a few quick comments from ngturf.com/bermuda/ on each of the three designs, and a couple not-so-great photos.  You really need to see this stuff in person to get the right idea.

This first space was done by Iylea Olson representing LJ Design & Consulting.  It features a fantastic shade structure (knocking out that south and west sun), a deck with comfy patio chairs, a rain water cistern, multiple edible and native garden beds, creative trellises with grape vines, a great metal fence done by a fence company and some fancy potted plants.  Love it!!  I want this in my yard, next time I do lawn care in my yard I will be sure to incorporate some of the things I just mention.

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Next up is an installation done by Maria Voris of Petrichor Design + Build.  As you can see, the main feature is a shade structure with a huge swing!  So fun.  In addition, the space has a rain cistern, privacy commercial chain link fencing, custom pathway pavers, rain harvesting basins, and some incredible structural plants.  Truly a relaxing space.

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And finally we have a design by Micaela Michado representing Solana Outdoor Living.  This outdoor space offers up a stunning rammed earth wall, a creative chicken coop, gabion + rebar planter walls, a custom fire pit, designer furniture, and plenty of statement plants in ceramic pots.  What’s not to love?

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So get on over to the botanical gardens and take a look.  You’ll come away with plenty of inspiration and motivation, especially since we’re in the full swing of spring.  Time to start some digging and planting!

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