09 Nov

5 Unusual Plants for Garden Landscape

In my previous post, I shared useful tips for designing a low maintenance garden landscape. Today, I am introducing some unusual plants for garden landscapes. These plants are unusual because of their extra-ordinary shape and formation. Almost all of these unusual plants are hardy, evergreen and require less maintenance. Before I introduce these plants, the question is why select unusual plants when you have a huge variety of plants for your garden landscape? The answer is simple. Unusual plants are for unusual people – enthusiasts and experimental gardeners.

There are a number of unusual and stunning plants in the universe but I would limit to just five of them. The plants in this list are easy to grow and can be used as nice companion plants in your garden landscape.

Ponytail Palm

Beaucarnea recurvata or Ponytail Palm is an unusual plant because of its unusual and very noticeable caudex which is used to store water and food. Typically Beaucarnea develops a tuft of long and strappy leaves that emerge from a bulbous stem. Because of its palm-like leaves and swollen stem, it is also called ponytail palm and sometimes Elephant Foot Tree. Beaucarnea is considered one of the easiest houseplants to grow. It can be grown in garden containers as well as in landscape. The plant requires bright sunlight and preferably direct sunlight for some part of the day. Since it is native to the deserts of Mexico, Beaucarnea does not require much water. Water only when the soil is dry; excessive watering would damage the plant Fertilize Beaucarnea plants regularly during spring and summer. Beaucarnea loves well drained soil and warm climate; protect it from extremely cold weather and frost.

Beaucarnea is unusually slow plant. Though it eventually gains a height of more than 15 feet but it takes more than 10 years.

ponytail palm

Photo © www.pythonjungle.com

Golden Barrel

Echinocactus grusonii or Golden Barrel is one of the most widely grown commercial species of cactus. It is an easy to grow plant and can be used as companion plant in many types of garden landscapes. It remains solitary and assumes the shape of a big, fat ball until it mature; at maturity it tends to form a cylindrical shape. Echinocactus grusonii is unusual because of its striking shape, spines, crown, flowers, and ability to survive long droughts. Golden Barrel requires bright sunlight and warm, humid climate. However, it can withstand cold weather and small spans of freeze. Like Beaucarnea, Echinocactus grusonii is a hungry plant and requires regular fertilization.

golden barrel cactus unusual plant

Photo © Pamla J. Eisenberg

Madagascar Palm

Pachypodium lamerei or Madagascar Palm (it is not a palm) is a tree-like succulent plant with a thick, grey stem that is completely covered with spines and topped with palm-like leaves. The unusual formation of Pachypodium makes it a perfect choice for rocky or experimental landscapes. It can gain a height of more than 15 feet in tropical climates. Pachypodium belongs to Southern Madagascar. It loves well-drained but somewhat rich soil. The plant sheds its leaves during winter; during this phase it does not require much water. This weird looking plant produces delicate white and yellow flowers at maturity. Pachypodium does not like spells of frost and cold weather.

unusual plant pachypodium lamerei

Photo © AxelStraub

Agave Americana var. Medio Picta, ‘Alba’

One of my prime choices for landscape gardens, Agave americana var. Medio Picta can dramatically change and enhance the overall effect of your landscape garden. It is a rugged plant but adds unusual colors and shapes to your garden landscape as a companion plant. It produces a nice rosette of fleshy leaves with teethed edges and stripes of green and creamy white color. Agave Americana var. Medio Picta prefers bright sunlight and moderate watering. The plant can live up to 35 years and gains 90-120 cm in height.

agave americana medio picta alba

Photo © Tom Spencer

Zamia Furfuracea

Zamia Furfuracea is a slow growing plant and makes unusual foliage of thick and hard texture, that is why, it is also called Cardboard palm. Zamia likes bright sunlight, moderate watering, and some fertilizer in spring. The color of leaves ranges from olive green to dark green. A mature plant can grow as large as 3-4′ in height and 6′ in diameter with a heavy trunk that acts as water reservoir during drought. It is quite a hardy plant and makes a good choice for landscapes because of its hardy and drought-tolerant nature.

zamia furfuracea

Photo © Mike Gray

If you would like to add more entries to this list of unusual plants, do share your comments. I will review and feature those unusual plants on this website.

08 Nov

How to design a low maintenance garden landscape

Designing a garden landscape is an art; and it is not hard to master it. You do not have to have a big lawn, skills of a master gardener, expensive tools or abundance of plants. You just have to select the right type of plants for the right location and climate. Selecting the right plants for your garden landscape is somehow tricky. You cannot just mix and match your favourite plants and put them together in your lawn or garden. You have to pick and choose plants that complement one another and mix up well to make a uniform and a low maintenance garden landscape.

In this post, I would list a couple of general rules that novice gardeners can use to design a low maintenance garden landscape. The primary principle of landscape design is to do your homework before paving the ground for a garden landscape.

Purpose of Garden Landscape

Decide the purpose of your landscape. Landscapes are design for special purposes. You may want to design a garden landscape for shade, as visual divider, for noise control, or for sheer ornamental purposes.

Understand Climatic Conditions

Once you have decided the purpose of landscaping, do some research to understand the (year round) climate of your garden, lighting conditions, type of soil, and availability of land and water.

Decide the Type of Landscape

When you understand all of these vital factors, decide what type of landscape you want to design: rock garden landscape, xeriscape, miniature landscape, native garden landscape, evergreen, tropical garden landscape etc. Every landscape type has unique requirements and features. For a low maintenance garden landscape, go for native garden landscape. You will still have a long list of plants to select from.

Also see:

Select the Right Plants for Your Garden Landscape

At this stage, you should have clear idea of type of plants that you are going to use in your landscape. The toughest part starts now; selection of plants. Do not select plants just because you like them. Select plants that can grow well in climatic conditions (light, temperature, soil etc.) of your garden. Make a combination of plants of different types – shrubs, flowering bushes, small trees etc.

Visualize Your Landscape Design

Once you have a list of plants; try to visualize how your garden landscape would look like when these plants grow old. Plants that are smaller today might turn into big trees spreading their roots and branches all over the garden. Similarly, shrubs might need regular pruning. Some plant might be hungrier than their companions. Some of them might remain solitary or too small to make survive under large specimen. Now start eliminating all plants that might grow larger than your landscape.

Select Colors and Textures

At this point, you still have a large number of varieties that you can use in your landscape garden. Now think about aesthetics and dimensions. Think about color, texture, and shape of shortlisted plants. Shades of same hues complement each other and give a uniform look-and-feel. Colors with greater contrast make showy and vibrant environment. Grey, black and white and neutral colors that can be used in background to neutralize and break distracting color schemes. Texture is another important factor. Some plants, for example ferns, are delicate. Some are rough or rugged (for example Pachypodium) and some (like Beaucarnea) have both characteristics. Make a combination of these plants. Combination of plants eliminates a number of problems like insects, temperature and soil control because some plants repel insects, some attract pollinating bugs, some provide shade for plants that do not like direct light, and some make vigorous roots to keep the soil intact.

Purchase Plants for Your Garden Landscape

Obtain plants. Go to your local nurseries and purchase plants. Do not go for larger specimen; purchase small plants – it is fun watching them grow into large plants. Always purchase plants that are healthy and acclimatized.

Go Digging!

The fun part starts now. Time to flex your muscles and dig the ground. You know rest of the stuff. Go digging and share your experiences. If you have designed a garden landscape, come across a nice design or have some cool design ideas, do share. I will feature your landscape design on this website.

Recommended Book:

Add Some Pond Plants

If you already have a fish pond in your garden you might even want to improve its aesthetics by adding some pond plants which will attract natural wildlife. If you are considering building one, its maintenance can get much easier with equipment from specialists like www.allpondsolutions.co.uk.

Here are a couple of inspiring landscape designs that I have come across recently.

28 May

Agaves, tips for cultivation & medicinal uses

Agaves are one of my prime choices when selecting plants for gardens, containers or landscapes. The variety of size, color and symmetrical patterns of Agaves make them a perfect candidate for interesting landscapes.  Generally, all agaves love plenty of light and space to grow and, except extreme cold, these plants can survive tough conditions.

Classification

Agaves belong to the Agavaceae family and are native of dry regions of the Western Hemisphere, but can be found in the Caribbean Islands and throughout Central America. There are more than 200 recognized species of Agaves and most of the species are grown commercially for ornamental purposes – to be used in rock gardens, landscapes, patio gardens, for medicinal uses or as container plants.

Growing Habits

Agaves vary in size, color, spread and flowering habits. The color of agaves can range from bluish green to pale-green and olive-green to shades and variegation of white and yellow. Species such as Agave Americana or Agave Tequilana have broad, bluish-green leaves with protective teeth running along both sides and long sharp needle-like tips. Some agaves, for example, Agave Attenuata have smooth, light green leaves with tiny red teeth on both sides and a small tip. Agave Stricta has long needle-like leaves of usually olive-green color. Agave Filifera has narrow leaves, sharp tips and white threads. Similarly Agave Vitoria Regina has compact, green rosette with white patterns.

Agave Victoria Regina

Photo © The Lovely Plants

Agave Filifera

Photo © The Lovely Plants

Agave Attenuata

Photo © The Lovely Plants

Flowering

Most of the agaves are monocarpic – means they bloom once a year. Mature plants bloom in summer and produce sweet odor to attract insects and bats as pollinators. Flowers grow on a long stalk that that grows from the middle of the rosette. There are some agaves that bloom several times a year, however, most of them flower once in their lifetime and die after flowering leaving clumps of off-shots on the mother plant or offshoots on the stem. A few agaves remain solitary and can be reproduced by seeds only. Plants grown in containers bloom rarely or less frequently.

Uses of Agaves

Culinary Uses

Selected agaves are used for their edible flowers, leaves or stalks or basal rosettes, and the sap. For example, the sap (also known as Agave Nectar) secreted by certain species is used as an alternative to sugar or honey in cooking.

Agave Tequila or Tequilana (Weber Blue) is commercially grown in Mexico to produce Tequila spirit. The young flowers are cut, processed, and fermented for the production of Tequila which is drunk straight or with a pinch of sangrita – a sweet, sour and spicy drink typically made from orange juice, tomato juice and hot chilies. Traditionally, tequila is served in a narrow shot glass called a caballito.

agave tequilana

Photo © Juaneque

Medicinal Uses

Certain agaves are known for their medicinal benefits. The juice from leaves of some species is used as a topical treatment to relive itching and sores. After-fibers from some agaves are soaked in water that transforms into a tonic to be used for disinfecting the scalp. As a diuretic, the sap secreted by some agaves helps the body expel excess water and salt; in turn, this allows the heart to pump better.

Medicinal use of any plant should be administered. Always seek medical advice before any self medication.

Industrial Uses

Leaves of most of the agaves contain fibrous vascular system. This fiber is used to make a number of products like twine, rugs and ropes. The fiber from Agave Silsiana is called Sisal and is known for its strength, durability and ability to stretch. Sisal is used in manufacturing of paper, dartboards, buffing cloth, filters, geotextiles, mattresses, carpets, handicrafts, and as an environmentally friendly strengthening agent to replace asbestos and fiberglass.

Plant Care

Agaves usually require very little maintenance. They grow well in a both rocky and rich loamy but well drained soil and require a plenty of light. Younger agaves, however, prefer partial or filtered sunlight. Agaves can be easily grown in containers. However, you must report them in a larger pot once a year to allow more room for roots. The potting mixture can be made by mixing equal parts of soil, pumice and crushed gravel.

Water your plants only when the soil is dry especially during the winter when they get dormant. During this period protect them from freezing temperatures and frost. For growing plants in containers, terracotta pots are preferred.

Agaves are usually attacked by fungus or mites; use anti fungal treatments and miticides, if this occurs. Sometimes, Snout Weevil attacks and bores through the leaves whole destroying the plant. In this case, use a good insecticide meant for beetles and grubs.