Patio, with plants and penguins

From a little while ago, this photo of part of my front patio, featuring, in the front, two giant pots, with an Agave desmetiana and, behind it, a Hydrangea macrophylla in bloom. With attendant plastic penguins. Behind them, two deck chairs and a small table. And to the side, a cymbidium orchid in a pot, one end of a stand of these orchids, together with many geraniums and a collection of other plants in pots.


That was then. Now the patio is completely empty, waiting for a contractor to begin work on repairing the two dry-rotted balconies above my patio. Scaffolding is soon to be erected.

Starting with the most recent developments: the property management firm announced last week that work was soon to begin and everything had to be moved away. Panic mode.

Yes, I have a back patio, large enough to accommodate lots of stuff, but it had lots of things on it and was a mess from fallen leaves and grit and dust that had settled from the air. So it had to be cleaned up and sorted out, and then everything had to be moved from front to back. Projects that took 6-8 people-hours, involving me and two helpers.

But it’s complicated. The front patio is basically northern exposure, the back patio southern exposure, so the light strikes plants in very different ways. The plants that were on the front patio were those that would thrive there, and mostly wouldn’t survive fierce direct sun. (Any number of plants that people have given me have died because I couldn’t find the right environment for them. Others shriveled away because of our long drought, when I could give plants only small amounts of infrequent water.)

I’ve tried to place the plants in the back to satisfy their light requirements, but it’s hard, and the hydrangea suffered bad sunburn in just one day (so I’ve moved it).

Sadly, after many weeks of work — part of the story is here — I had not only restored most of the plants on the front patio, I had also found them spots that suited them, and even better, placed them where I could gaze at them, with pleasure, while I’m working at my computer. Now they’re in a secret garden, where I have to walk out the back of my condo just to see them.

The plants. On the hydrangea, discussion in a 9/7/15 posting of mine.

On other agaves, two postings: on 6/1/16, a posting about an Agave americana (“century plant”) in Palo Alto’s Gamble Garden, with a note on Agave tequilana (agave azul or blue agave), used in the production of tequila; and on 7/7/16, a posting on agaves that look like artichokes.

The one in the picture, however, is A. desmetiana ‘Variegata’:


The specific epithet honors Louis De Smet (1813-1887), a Belgian horticulturist and nurseryman – this is sometimes misspelled as desmettiana

Juan Gomez, who gave me the plant in #1, was hoping it could be parlayed into pulque. From Wikipedia:

Pulque … is an alcoholic beverage made from the fermented sap of the maguey (agave) plant. It is traditional to central Mexico, where it has been produced for millennia. It has the color of milk, somewhat viscous consistency and a sour yeast-like taste. The drink’s history extends far back into the Mesoamerican period, when it was considered sacred, and its use was limited to certain classes of people. After the Spanish Conquest of Mexico, the drink became secular and its consumption rose. The consumption of pulque reached its peak in the late 19th century. In the 20th century, the drink fell into decline, mostly because of competition from beer, which became more prevalent with the arrival of European immigrants.

… Pulque is a milk-colored, somewhat viscous liquid that produces a light foam. It is made by fermenting the sap of certain types of maguey (agave) plants. In contrast, mezcal is made from the cooked heart of certain agave plants, and tequila, a variety of mezcal, is made all or mostly from the blue agave.

… The production process is long and delicate. The maguey plant needs 12 years of maturation before the sap, or aguamiel, can be extracted, but a good plant can produce for up to one year.

To Juan’s dismay, twelve years, and then a complex fermentation process, isn’t promising for DIY pulque-making.

Meanwhile, agaves send out “offsets” (also called “pups”) that can be detached and planted elsewhere. My plant in #1 already has a couple of these.

Agaves generally send up tall flower spikes after many years and then die — but the offsets go on.

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