Darwin isn’t the only giant in our garden!

Despite the drought, or maybe it’s because of the drought, I’m spending even more time this summer in our garden than last. Most summers I’ve had an abundant vegetable garden requiring a lot of time and attention, but with severe water rationing I knew that to grow a few tomatoes and some squash would redirect water needed to save other garden areas from becoming severely parched.

It’s been challenging, but I’m not ready to concede my love of gardening to this drought. Not yet. I’m very happy when my hands are in the dirt. This fall we will have lived in our home for 42 years and I feel very personally attached to every living thing, and some have stories that make them even more special to me.

Pony tail palm

It feels like just yesterday I planted this ponytail palm (Beaucarnea recurvata) in the earth. It had lived a few years quite nicely in a plastic nursery pot, but when it started to strain against the sides it was time to let it spread its cramped roots.

I have three of these unusual beauties, and they are all going to get much larger. A ponytail palm can grow into very old specimens with over 20 feet of trunk, and trunks can branch multiple times with multiple heads of leaves.

It’s possible that at some point we may need to have them professionally relocated or even donate them to a botanical garden. Fortunately they are very slow-growing and require 50-100 years to achieve this height. I don’t think I need to worry about them right now.


My grandmother gave me a small Sago Palm “pup” at least thirty years ago. It has a very prominent presence in a far corner of our garden, and I don’t inspect it very often. But look what I found earlier this month.

Male sago palm


Sago palms are either male or female, with distinctly different reproductive organs. It takes 15 to 20 years for these characteristics to become prominent and then they don’t “flower” more than every few years. This male specimen still produces little “pups” at its base, and I plan to see if I can remove them successfully for propagation.

Sago and ponytail palms are not palms. Sago palms are cycads, primitive plants dating back 200 million years, and the ponytail palm is a native of Mexico classified in the Asparagaceae family.


This once small Golden Barrel cactus came home with me years and years ago, a simple garden center purchase. He’s been residing with other cactus and succulents very near the backyard railroad and needed to have more breathing space.

Golden Barrel Cactus

We moved him from the backyard to the front, giving him a lot of space to grow. I didn’t measure his circumference, but let’s just say he’s bigger than a basketball!

If I had more room I’d love to mass Golden Barrel cactus. But I go to the Huntington Library and Botanical Gardens and walk through the cactus and succulent gardens very often, imagining what it would be like to have all of this space–and the professional landscapers to help me take care of it.


Another once quite small agave moved from plastic pot to the earth a few years ago and is now a show-stopper.

Agave durangensis

Agave durangensis forms large rosettes of up to 6 feet across. My guy is well on its way, and is probably three feet across. How do you like the jagged, sharp edges and those thorns?

Agave thorns

Agave specimens are plentiful in the garden centers right now and featured in some spectacular drought-tolerant landscaping. I love the variety, but you would need a home with lots of space.

We seem to have a habit of bringing things home that will outgrow (and possibly outlast) our ability to care for them properly.

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Our African Sulcata is almost 8 years old now and weighs somewhere around 60 pounds.  I’m guessing at his weight, but I can still lift him…awkwardly!  In captivity tortoises may not live as long as in the wild, 80 to 100 years, and even size may be affected, but they can grow up to two and half feet long and weigh 80-110 pounds or more.

Darwin joins the family
Be careful what you bring home from the pet store (2008)

We’ll be home this weekend taking care of our jumbo responsibilities. There’s a slight chance of rain and thunderstorms…wouldn’t that be delicious! I’ll also plan to exhale a little bit…I need to take care of myself so that I’m able to continue taking care of all these giants!

Enjoy your weekend, too, my friends.


48 thoughts on “Darwin isn’t the only giant in our garden!

    1. I can’t believe all the rain you’re having, Kate. All the changes in our weather patterns are requiring us to make lots of changes, aren’t they! Our poor gardens need us to give them as much TLC as we can possibly offer! And you’re so right that our vegetation is very different. Much of what I have wouldn’t even survive with too much rain. I would actually like to order up a perfect balance of “just enough rain without too much.” I’ll bet you’d like to get in on that order as well? 🙂

  1. I do hope you get that rain. We’ve been hearing about the terrible drought conditions and the severe water restrictions and there’s always stories on the news about how green the luxury properties owned by celebrities are compared with how brown the properties are of everyone else. That’s a really long time to be in the same home! How lovely not to have had to move. We’ve just bought a home that we will be moving into in about 18 months time and I’m hoping we’ll be there for many years to come. I do love the photos of Darwin – he’s so cute! xx

    1. How wonderful to hear about your new home, Charlie! I hope you’ll share all about that when the time comes. And yes, living in one home for more than 40 years is something quite extraordinary these days. On many occasions it was tempting to move into a larger, newer home, but we just never did! At this stage of our lives it’s almost too much for us, but our roots are very deep and that’s a wonderful thought to us. I am delighted you’ll have the same opportunity, Charlie. I’m eager to hear about it. Darwin really does appreciate your sweet thoughts towards him. 🙂

    1. We did have rain this weekend, Nancy! It was delicious and we have laughed at the humidity! We are NOT accustomed to it, but we aren’t about to complain. LOL! And good old Darwin is really getting big. We do love him, but if I’m honest, he is a lot of work and can create quite a bit of havoc. A lot goes into just making sure he doesn’t hurt himself. I hope he’s grateful! 🙂

  2. As Kate mentioned, some of our plants have suffered this year from too much rain. I am not a serious gardener, but I usually manage to have lovely geraniums (they will take a lot of benign neglect :)). This summer, and I use the term loosely, every time I get them looking halfway decent, the skies open up and make them soggy all over again. Someone corrected me the other day, saying we were in monsoon season, NOT summer!

    I suspect that much of what grows in your garden, including Darwin, is going to fare quite well with or without rain, but I’d gladly send you some of ours if I had any influence in such matters.

    1. I’m sorry it took so long to respond to your offer to send us some rain, Karen, but I did read it and shook my head that you’ve had so much that even geraniums suffer. I really did not know that the rain has been so heavy that it doesn’t even feel like summer. The ground must be so saturated that I wonder if you’re experiencing problems with drainage? We did have a fair amount of rain this weekend, much to our surprise–and thanks to a hurricane in Mexico! After seeing the flooding in Texas and hearing about so much rain in other parts of the country I have been mindful to be careful what we hope for. There is an El Niño condition forming in the Pacific and typically that means heavier rainfall, so we may have a “wet” winter. It’s been so long that this has even felt possible that we are now scrambling to make sure that our landscaping drainage is adequate and thinking about all sorts of potential issues. It’s quite the precarious balance, isn’t it? Thank you so much for leaving such an interesting comment, Karen. I enjoyed hearing from you. 🙂

  3. At our house in La Jolla (Pacific Beach side) is a patch of daisies that my mom started in Buffalo, NY in the 50s. They’re still going strong. They’ve been moved from Buffalo to Massachusetts, to California. They have a great history.

    1. What a wonderful story! It’s wonderful to think that the patch of daisies has both traveled so far in distance, and dates all the to the 50’s. I’ll bet you’ve lovingly cared for them! They do have a great history, and I feel like they deserve a little marker like you’d find at a botanical garden, guaranteeing that the story is preserved! 🙂

    1. Thank you, Robert. I do think that’s a nice way to characterize what I’ve tried to express. I do have a relationship with my home and garden. I appreciate your comment very much.

  4. I’ll second Karen’s offer to send you some of our rain. Last night was one of he most dramatic shows of heat lightening I’ve seen in a long, long time. Today I drove through black clouds and downpours with sunshine on my back.

    I love your cactus and palms, Debra (even if not really a palm) and admire your faith and tenacity in letting them grow, especially after so many years. Wow! Good for you for not giving in. My tomatoes are not doing well, but, for a different reason; too much rain. Sigh. I think I’ll just go outside this weekend and count caterpillars. 🙂

    1. I love to hear about your weather, Penny. I’m sorry when it is harsh, but it is so foreign to me that I’m really fascinated. For instance, I’ve never heard of “heat lightening.” I always think of the time Jay and I were driving through Mississippi in the summer and the lightening terrified me. We headed indoors as quickly as we could manage. We just don’t have lightening like the midwest and south–EVER! But we did end up having quite a bit of rain this weekend, courtesy of a Mexican hurricane. It’s been really weird and wild weather all weekend, and I think we have all enjoyed it and we’re afraid to complain about the humidity. LOL! I’m glad I could share some of my little garden beauties. It’s really been interesting to see how landscaping is changing in the west, and some of it is dramatic and quite breathtaking–just very different from what we have had in the past. I think we all have to adapt, and I’m finding that another form of creativity. You know well that it’s not easy to stop playing in the dirt. 🙂 I do shake my head at your rain, though. We’re holding our breath that the El Niño forming in the Pacific is going to bring us rain this year. So if we get the rain, is it going to be dry on the Cutoff? I think Mother Nature is confused, don’t you? 🙂

    1. Thank you so much, Colleen. We did have quite a bit of rain this weekend–remnants of a hurricane in Baja/Mexico has provided completely unseasonable storms. It’s been wonderful–I’m not even complaining about the horrible humidity. LOL! I wouldn’t have the nerve to complain about a thing. 🙂

    1. Darwin is a wonderful member of our family, but in order to keep him safe I couldn’t begin to tell you all that we have to do! Since that photo was take we have had to severely restrict his freedom. It really has made me sad to do it, but his boundaries are very strict. And our garden got a really good drink this weekend. We’ve had more than a little rain–a gift from a hurricane in Baja. 🙂

    1. It is fun to compare and contrast climates, growing seasons and what we each can enjoy in our gardens, Tammy. Isn’t Golden barrel cactus special? I am so happy to have my little specimen, but I really love to see them when they are massed together. Then they really are show stoppers. Thank you so much for stopping by and leaving such a nice comment. 🙂

  5. Anonymous

    I love all the history and stories behind each part of your garden. Makes a hobby all the more meaningful and life-giving 🙂 Sending you some rain from this part of the world…we’re getting lots of steady sprinkles and rain here in Korea!

    1. Thank you for such a very sweet comment. It absolutely is the stories that come with tending a garden that make it special for me. Rain in Korea, too! My goodness. Sometimes it does feel like we are the only spot on the globe that is so dry. LOL! So funny! Thank you so much for taking the time to stop by and say hello. 🙂

    1. Thank you so much. Cacti and succulents are really taking center stage in Southern California right now and it pleases me to have a few very beautiful examples in my own yard. I had them long before they were so fashionable. 🙂 I hadn’t shown the photo of Darwin as a baby in a long time and it always makes me smile when I remember that day. It was my birthday and my family bought him for me after I mentioned an interest…not a one of us did any research into his potential size. We have a small box-tortoise almost 20 years old and we assumed they had similar growth patterns. We weren’t too intelligent in our choice, but he has given us so much pleasure. It’s fun to share him with my blogging friends. 🙂

  6. In spite of the drought, which I don’t envy, I am jealous of those beautiful plants which won’t grow in the Colorado mountains, where we are, and that Darwin is precious and put me over the edge. What a lovely garden you grow. I hope Mother nature gifts you with some rain soon and often (I’d be happy to give you a bit of ours!).

    1. Have you been to SoCal in the last year or so, Eva Marie? If not, next time you come I think you’ll be really surprised to see the extent to which landscaping is changing to include more and more cacti and succulents. Even the beach cities have totally embraced the look, and although there’s always been a presence, nothing like right now. It’s kind of fascinating to watch everything change. I honestly don’t believe the drought is a ‘forever’ condition, but I do think we ought to always be mindful of the scarcity of water in our region, and these changes should be permanent. I’m glad you enjoyed some of my garden favorites. My grandmother loved succulents long before they were fashionable, and I have a number of them that are quite big because I’ve had them so long.And Darwin really appreciates the love. So nice to hear from you, my Colorado friend. 🙂

  7. 42 years is a lot of growing, Debbie! We’ve been in ours 26 and it’s currently a wreck, about to undertake a makeover 😦 I love the Sago palm and those football cacti will forever remind me of a holiday in Lanzarote and a fabulous cactus garden there. Maybe that’s the way to go with your drought situation?
    A dreadful thought occurred to me! I hope you have someone in line to look after Darwin in his declining years. Sorry! 🙂

    1. LOL! I have a very big family, Jo, and from time to time I like to remind the younger ones that Darwin may very well be their responsibility one day. Perhaps this is another way to be assured that everyone takes really good care of ME! 🙂

  8. Well you know I just loved the slideshow of Darwin!!! I can’t believe he was that tiny when you got him. My favorite is him walking down the sidewalk though. He is just too much of a character! I love it. 🙂 Great shots of your beautiful giants Debra. I can only imagine how attached you would become to every living thing after 42 years. I can’t imagine living anywhere that long. I still have pangs for our old house where we only lived for 4 years. I can only imagine the attachment I’d have after 4 decades!

  9. I still can’t believe Darwin was ever that small. And I never thought about care and maintenance in a desert garden. I thought those things just bloomed where they were planted, without any upkeep. Do you have weeds and such when it’s dry?

    I really love desert plants, though I’m not sure I could work with them. I admire you for picking up that basketball-sized cactus and moving it. Oh, and if Darwin wants to eat more aloe, I have plenty!! I wish I could ship it to him, I mean, you.

    1. It’s true that desert gardens don’t require too much special care, Andra, but my main issue is that they start small and then they need to be moved to a more spacious portion of the garden and we just run out of space! And believe it or not, the weeds are thriving. You’d think at least we’d get some respite from weed pulling, but no. The weeds are even green! And I love pulling that photo of Darwin out from time to time. It is so hard to believe how he has grown. I do now plant aloe specifically for him, but he’d love donations–he thinks sometimes I hold out on him. 🙂

    1. Hi Bacon. It’s good to hear from you as well! I am trying to stay out of trouble, but all too often my mom thinks I need less freedom because I do eat her plants from time to time. Maybe I should come over and visit the Hotel Thompson and get a little love! 🙂

      1. You are welcome anytime my friend – anytime at all. You can bunk with me in my bedroom and my humans would never even know you are here 🙂 Party!! XOXO – Bacon

    1. Thank you, Karen. I do find a lot of pleasure in both the my garden and my pets. I often think I would have enjoyed living on a farm! Of course, I probably don’t want to have to work that hard. I have a nice little garden and I can sometimes pretend. 🙂

  10. Oh my how tiny and cute Darwin was…not that he’s not cute now, just all grown-up…enjoy your little refuge…how wonderful it must be to share with all the creatures it welcomes.

    1. Darwin is a good example of beauty being in the eye of the beholder, wouldn’t you say, Cristina? LOL! He’s such a character. He so often makes me smile with the way he has personality–very hard to translate how that is, but he does have it! Sometimes I think he’s more like a little dog. 🙂

  11. I’m very careful what I bring home from the pet store… Budgies always remain ‘Featherweight’ 😉 It’s great to see how Darwin has grown on a diet of your favorite succulents! I suspect he’ll be able to help with changing a tyre soon by jacking the car up for you 😉

    1. You’re so right, Martin. We have had to corral Darwin to one part of the yard far away from the driveway. Once I realized he was getting under the car and too heavy for me to dislodge, I knew we were in trouble! 🙂

  12. I am so glad that there are people like you who take care of plants – al I have to do is look at mine for them to shrivel up and die. The Golden Barrel Cactus is called the ‘Mother-in-Law’s Cushion” here in France! As for the agave plants, we have lots of them in our garden. I love their flowers – each rosette only flowers once, when they are huge things, and produce a high flowering stalk that makes them look like a cross between a Dr Seuss tree and a triffid. Then they die… Sad, hey? Oh well, I suppose they go out with a resounding bang of beauty.

    1. I think our climate has something to do with why my plants do well–at least for the succulents, because I don’t have to do much at all with them. I have never heard “Mother=in-Laws Cushion” before and that’s just wonderful. I’m going to start that reference here and maybe it will start to catch on! There are definitely some agave that get that spike and I know they are just spectacular. A neighbor had one blooming a couple of weeks ago and it was at least 30 feet in the air. Sadly, we had a really freak windstorm that came out of nowhere, and would you believe it broke that stem? I felt so awful about that. To wait all that time for one bloom and it breaks? Now that’s bad luck, don’t you think? Thanks so much for stopping by. I would not have associated cactus and succulents with France somehow, so it’s nice to have your addition. 🙂

  13. Pingback: I Spy… – breathelighter

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