Apaches and Agave Plants Before Tequila

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Aguamiel translated from the precolumbian Nahuatl language is honey water, describing a sweet liquid secreted at the heart of the agave. It was collected and fermented into an alcoholic drink known to the Aztecs as pulque. Pulque consumption was strictly regulated. If you were under the age of 52 you could drink two cups a day. If over 52 you could enjoy three. And if you were a priest and practiced human sacrifice for the pulque goddess Mayahuel, you could down five cups. Yet anyone found drunk on pulque was put to death. Fortunately the “civilized” Spanish conquerors made it ok to get sauced on pulque no matter what age you are. Further north many agave species were known generally as mescal, used so extensively by certain Apaches they became known as Mescalero Apaches. They also utilized the fibers that run the length of agave leaves, a factor that distinguishes this genus of plants from the similar looking but fleshy aloes. Known as maguey (maw-gay) in central Mexico, these are considered the earliest fibers ever used in North America. Some believe they are among the first plants ever cultivated in these regions. With so much history, agaves belong in every ethnobotanical garden. They also make first class landscape plants that are architecturally dramatic and tough as nails. But agave does not flower every year like the aloes, yuccas and gasterias. The cycle of the agave begins with an individual “mother” plant. This produces adventurous roots that spread out in all directions and produce “pups” or new shoots all around the base of the mother. Eventually the mother will bloom with an extraordinary tall bloom spike that in some species may reach twenty feet. Sadly, she will die soon after the flowers mature and set seed. But worry not because the pups will quickly fill in the gap where she once stood. Pups make it very easy to obtain an agave by cutting them away with some root from the mother plant. In today’s garden just a few agaves are widely available and reasonably well adapted where winters are mild. The most common in the United States is Agave americana, or the century plant, a large blue fleshed species with wicked thorns hardy to 15°F.. Erroneously named because they bloom once in a century, these plants actually flower at ten to thirty years of age depending on the climate.The variegated form of this species is far more dramatic in the landscape. Its long leaves can be more irregular and striped gold. Another, variegated form with creamy white accent is sold as Agave americana media picta. It makes a superior single specimen so its color and form are appreciated in isolation. Perhaps the most widely planted agave in moist frost-free coastal regions is Agave attenuata. Its soft tipped , succulent sea green rosettes blend nicely into more traditional landscapes. They make an outstanding container plant. When this species blooms it produces a huge pendulous spike quite similar to an elephant trunk. The
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Horticultural Speaker Informs and Entertains Garden Events


The art of entertaining education should apply to the horticultural world as it does elsewhere.  The problem is that plant people aren’t often good communicators, and they struggle to share their life long knowledge with others.  This lack of good presentation is matched by TV garden show “talking head” hosts who can read a teleprompter but have little real world horticultural knowledge or experience.  While name recognition from television may help an event’s notoriety, it does little for the audience which must sit through a rambling talk.  I have always made it a goal to give my audiences tangible ideas and tips they can take home and use.  This is what a speaker is paid for – to give all he or she can to those who take the time to attend an event.  But in the process of delivering real information you must make it fun, personal and interesting too.  Overly scripted talks are just that…scripted.  Those lacking drop dead gorgeous visuals are reduced to a dry speech. When you want your visitors or attendees to share a lasting experience, the right speaker, topic and delivery style are essential. As garden events are being planned for next spring, consider a qualified, professional speaker who can bring quality content to your audience.  With lavish PowerPoint photography and a broad range of topics from minimalist modern to lush romantic cottage gardens, my photo archive will wow the viewers. More practical presentations to fire or flood ravaged communities add civic benefit as does a strong landscape architectural approach to community-wide green living and design. Whether you are planning a garden show, a community day or selecting specific educators to create topics for your institution, consider our services.  I am accepting dates for the 2008 garden season and will be happy to create a specialized program for your audience, event, company or charity.  With experience, national reputation and an immense photo archive, there’s no reason to settle for a talking head or a dull horti-holic when you can inform and entertain in glorious color.  http://www.moplants.com/about_mo.php Contact:  Mo Gilmer (760) 320-6753  mo@moplants.com Recent speaking engagements: Garden show judge: Northwest Garden Show, Seattle, 2007 Independent Garden Center Show, (trade) Chicago 2007 Portland Garden Show, Portland 2007 Boise Garden Show, Idaho, 2007 San Francisco Garden Show 2006    

Aztec Dahlia Flowers of Mexico


In the south of the Valley of Mexico, the Xochimilca, people of the flowers, founded their city upon a verdant wetland.  They dwelled on earth just inches higher than the shallow lake surface that surrounded them.  To create more dry land they hauled lake bottom muck in baskets to create man made islands known as chinampas.  This land would prove among the most fertile places on earth, linked by a system of spring fed canals.  Building up the chinampas by hand just as it was done by the Aztecs. There they cultivated gardens of flowers and vegetables in what is today called Xochimilco, place of the flowers.  From the highlands that surround their valley they brought wildflowers, both the cempacuchil marigold and bright wayside blossoms known today as dahlias.  Growing like potatoes out of thick underground tubers, the many small flowered species produced a wide range of color.  The Mexican native wildflower, Dahlia coccinea. The Xochimilca were conquered by the Aztecs, their agricultural region taken over to support the needs of a rapidly expanding empire centered further north at Tenochtitlan.  The Aztecs were avid gardeners and dahlias soon found their way into the gardens of the Emperor and homes of the wealthy tended by slaves.  Flowers, with their short life and fleeting beauty would become vital to celebrations of their many gods and death.  They would deem Xochipili the god of flowers.  There is no doubt that the dahlias collected in Tenochtitlan from far corners of Mexico and Guatemala began to naturally cross pollinate in these gardens, producing ever more varieties. But again the dahlia and its people were conquered.  Hernan Cortez wrote of the flowers known in the Nahuatl language as acocotli, and even sketched them.  Sadly this and other Spanish works are all that remains of the Aztec records detailing how dahlias were used in garden and as a medicinal.  The valuable codex or written works of this culture were summarily burned.  Only seeds were sent back to Spain.  Flowers of three species eventually grew in Madrid:  purple Dahlia pinnata, pink Dahlia rosea and vivid red Dahlia coccinea.  All of these figure into the history of our modern day hybrids, but many believe even these were early hybrids themselves gathered from the gardens of the Aztecs. Europeans would soon discover that when grown from seed the offspring of dahlias were highly variable.  The original species contained genes of a whole rainbow of hues and forms, and when crossed the results were staggering.   Fancy modern dahlia hybrids. Nineteenth century breeding exploded around the world as fancy and show types produced larger and more complex colored flowers.  In 1872, a load of dahlia tubers from Mexico arrived in Holland, but only a single one survived.  This would become Dahlia ‘Juarrezii’, the progenitor of the spectacular cactus flowered dahlia.       Xochemilco canals and the floating garden boats formerly bedecked with fresh flowers. Xochimilco remains today the horticultural heart of Mexico, the chinampas farmed by boat just as they have been
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Distinctly Cool Dutch Decor

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One of the great things about being in media is access.  This year it was a private tour of the best Dutch gardens featuring virtually every bulb known to man in full bloom.  But we didn’t just see Keukenof the greatest bulb extravaganza in the world, our visits were to small lesser known sites, many of them residential.  I found a plethora of new ideas which I’ll share with you over the coming weeks. A table made of a slab of salvaged steel plating on sawhorses displays urns of snowdrops and terra cotta filled with gorgeous purple crocus. One garden was actually a very deep backyard created by a woman who ran a small garden shop and nursery in her home.  This is unusual to find such an operation in a residential district but thankfully the locals let her do it.  Like most of Holland the site was immaculate with not a leaf out of place nor a weed in sight.    The garden owner is enchanted by cool colors of blue and purple, so she created a most unique combination of pots and plants.  This table featured metal containers planted with succulents and other unusual foliage along with a few spectacular accents. I think what probably caught my attention about this long display of foliage and flowers is the cool color palette.  But we’ve all been trained that all cool is just too dull and needs an occasional red or yellow to bring it up in temperature.  Somehow despite the lack of such contrasting spots of bright hue this works by creating incredible diversity in an amazingly small space without being overwhelming.

Off To The Portland Oregon Garden Show


  I’m off again, this time to the Portland Garden Show.  I’ll be giving presentations every day at the Monrovia Stage where you’ll catch: Designing with Four Season Foliage  Gives you the tools to create fantastic foliage color and effects all year around.  Friday 2:00 and Sunday 3:30 Right Plant…Right Pot  Shows how to make truly outstanding potted architectural pieces to add elegance and spice to any yard or garden.  Friday 11:00  Sat. 5:00 I’ll be at the Monrovia Marketplace booth to meet everyone and answer your questions -  Friday  4:00-7:00 PM   Saturday 1:00-4:00   Sunday 10:00 AM-1:00  See you at the garden show!   Mo

Off to the Northwest Flower and Garden Show


I’m delighted to be judging the gardens at the Northwest Flower and Garden Show in Seattle over the coming week.  So the MoZone blog will be on hiatus until my return.   I’ll be giving three seminars at the show for anyone planning to attend. Your Own Private Sanctuary: Creating Gardens for Contemplation  Wednesday, Feb 14  10:00 AM Rainier Room Outdoor Decor:  Adding Style to Outdoor Spaces   Thursday Feb 15  2:30 PM Rainier Room Small Space Design Inside and Out:  Integrating Your Home and Garden  Friday Feb 16  10:00 AM Rainier Room Hope to see you there!   Mo

Indoors With The Greatest Water Lily on Earth

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The greatest of all water lilies, a plant named for Queen Victoria was the driving force behind the construction America’s most famous public glass house conservatories.  In New York Botanical Garden rose the Crystal Palace and in San Francisco the Conservatory of Flowers.  For in the 19th century it was all the rage to provide such an environment for the greatest water lily on earth.  These and so many others are the perfect haunts of plant lovers on cold winter days.     Discovered in 1820, but well known to the native peoples of the Amazon basin for eons, its great pads will spread to many feet across, capable of bearing the weight of a human being.  The locals called the Lily maiz de l’agua or corn of the water because its pods bear seeds rich in a starch so pure it was coveted for special pastries. In Victorian England, the arrival of the first of these great lilies was to Joseph Paxton’s estate, Chatsworth where it was planted in the hot house.  Leaves grew there to five feet in diameter and Paxton named it for his beloved Queen and presented it to her personally.  This of course set off a fad of epic proportions driving all who owned hot houses and conservatories to seek out a seed or cutting of the famous lily.  Those who did not have a conservatory built one.  Every city’s civic minded gardening elite drove the government to build a conservatory so that they may too claim a Victoria Reggia in their midst as well. Crowds came to witness this marvel of nature. The Conservatory of Flowers at San Francisco Golden Gate Park contains water llilies, orchids and an incredible collection of rare exotic plants. Today the plant has been renamed Victoria amazonica with its very own genus.  It has become widely available to water gardeners with much information on growing at this web site:  http://www.users.uswest.net/~jhoneycutt/vic.htm To read the original botanical work on the story of this amazing flower that inhabits a conservatory near you, check out Victoria Regia online, a paper written by John Fiske Allen in 1854 to document this most amazing aquatic species: http://www.victoria-adventure.org/victoria_images/allen_sharp/victoria_regia.html