What’s in Bloom: What does this Toronto gardener do every winter?

By | What's In Bloom | December 6, 2012 | One comment

Every winter for the past 6 years I have visited my sister, brother-in-law, and three nephews who live in the Arizona low desert.  This Agave parryi (Parry’s agave) is just one of many that I covet from her collection — that I wish I could grow year-round!     

This is just a sampling of Deb’s (my identical twin sister) desert plant container collection – complete with Haws watering can from the TBG gift shop.

Five and a half years ago Deb & I removed this Agave desmettiana (Agave) as a pup from its parent plant, which flowered from February to April of this year.  Once agaves flower their life cycles are near completion.

A family member from Tucson gave Deb an arm of Echinopsis candicans (Argentine giant) which she planted in the winter of 2010.   This nocturnal to early-morning cactus blooms in spring and, if you’re lucky, again in summer.  The white flowers are impressively large.

Vigna caracalla (Snail vine) is a leguminous vine native to South and Central America.  The light purple to pinkish flowers remind me of enlarged sweat peas.  This is one tough vine!  The family went away for three weeks (to visit us Canadians!) and the plant received no water yet survived the 110F temperatures.

This branch of Calliandra californica (Baja fairy duster), a Sonoran Desert native, has buds, flowers, and seedpods.  A member of the pea family, this shrub flowers all year in frost-free weather.  Deb tells me when the seedpods are ripe you can literally hear them ‘pop’ open.

Cordia parvifolia (Little leaf cordia) flowers all summer through the most intense heat, covered in beautiful white clusters of blooms, continuing into early fall.  Deb absolutely maintains that “every low desert home owner should have one! ”

In a pot for 3 years, Deb finally planted out her Euphorbia tirucalli (commonly known here as Fire sticks), on the west side of the house.  The plant gets full-sun, reflected sun, and radiated heat from the patio – thus the common name when under stress.  Deb’s has been living the life of luxury in a pot on the north side of the house so she is finally stressing it out to get that red hot color.

Asclepias subulata (Desert milkweed) here backed up by a bright orange wall that Deb painted three years ago, attracts what?  Butterflies!!  Arizona gets Monarchs too!

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Sandra Pella about the author: Sandra Pella

Sandra Pella has worked as Head Gardener of the Toronto Botanical Garden since 2008. She holds a degree in Political Science from the University of Western Ontario, and upon graduation worked in the financial sector until the pull of plants was too much to resist, whereupon she found herself at Janet Anderson Perennials (formerly JEA Perennials) as a horticultural technician. She has been the Perennial Manager at Summerhill Nursery & Floral followed by the Assistant Horticulturist at the TBG prior to its renovation. Sandra worked as a Gardener for two seasons with the City of Toronto as well as seasonal Gardener for the TBG prior to being named Head Gardener. She is self-taught in the field and thus greatly appreciated the experience a gardening internship in 2009 at Great Dixter in the UK brought to her. Sandra has a regular What’s In Bloom blog and is one of the spokespeople for the TBG.

  • Janet Davis

    Hey Sandra! Nice post – glad you’re enjoying the sunshine in the desert. I’m heading there in late April with hubby — he can golf, I’m going to shoot the desert in bloom (hopefully)! Cheers Janet

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