Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Desert Southwest

I started having visions back in December of a desert rockery on the Southwest corner of the yard.  I've come to realize this small corner has an amazingly desert-like microclimate: it's in full sun most of the day, it's right next to the road which soaks up heat during the day, and it gets some frost & rain protection underneath the canopy of a tall deodar cedar (Cedrus deodara).  
December 28th, 2012
There was a Japanese maple, an umbrella pine, a barberry, a small hardy banana cutting, and a fairly ugly patch of candy tuft that all had to be transplanted somewhere else (by the way, the picture below was taken on Dec. 28th, 2012 - pretty amazing the banana leaves were still in tact that late into the season).

December 28th, 2012
There was only one thing left to do to make this the best possible spot for growing opuntias, agaves, aloes, dyckias, and other heat-loving plants outdoors....Add lots and lots of sand...

Six 100-pound bags to be exact.  This sand was so pristine and white, I almost felt guilty burying it all.  I hand-mixed it with garden soil to create a "dirty sand" mix of about 60% sand and 40% soil.  This pindo palm (Butia capitata) that has been growing in a pot for the past few years finally has a permanent home.

March 3rd
I started taking cuttings of some plants growing in other places.  The plant with the silvery-green leaves is Astelia chathamica 'Silver Spear'.  Of course I had to borrow (permanently) some big rocks from other places in the garden to make a sort of skeleton to keep all that well-draining sand in place.  It's hard to tell in the picture, but this hill is about 3' tall, with pretty steep slopes.

March 3rd
The little plant in the lower left corner in the picture above is Opuntia humifusa.  I saw this growing as a groundcover outside the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago.  I wasn't about to let Chicago grow a cactus outside that I didn't have in my garden.  Luckily Far Reaches Farm came to the rescue and had the plant in stock.

March 16th
I used pea gravel as a mulch.

March 23rd
It will help keep the sand from blowing away and hopefully keep dogs and cats and kids from digging in it (it's basically a giant sandbox after all).
March 31st
Here are a couple before & after shots (Dec. 2012 Vs. April 2013):

What started back in January as Project #1 for the year is now 99% complete...which is about as complete as it's going to get!


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