Category Archives: gardening

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.