Travels with plants | Squamish Chief

Travels with plants

Ciao from Bellaria, Italy. I've been on vacation with my family for the past month touring around Italy, Switzerland and Croatia. We've seen and been to some wonderful places and it goes without saying that my eye is always on the local vegetation

The weather here has been hot, hot, hot - much like Squamish, I have heard. We played volleyball on the beach the other night at 9 p.m. and it was still 31 C out. With intense heat and limited water capabilities, drought-tolerant plants become a gardener's best friend.

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One little beauty that keeps catching my eye as I walk to and from the beach is the perennial plant Delosperma cooperi. Commonly called "ice plant" and indigenous to South Africa, ice plant can be grown at home in planting zones 5 to 9 (Squamish is Zone 7 or 8).

This arid beach town sports patches of Delosperma that are four feet across; at home, it grows much slower but is still a worthwhile plant to check out. It stays relatively short and is considered a ground cover as its maximum height is only three inches. Whether you use it as a ground cover, or cascading over rocks or terra cotta planters, it is procumbent in habit.

Delosperma is beautiful. Masses of purple flowers which are slightly daisy like rise above fleshy cylindrical foliage. It is also available in yellow and white. The patches I have seen here in Italy have been in full bloom since I arrived here more than a month ago.

Those cultivating the plant in Squamish should try to mimic the hot, dry conditions of its homeland. Plant it in full sun in well draining soil. Avoid planting it in clay. These are drought-resistant plants and don't require rich soil. They hate to have their roots sit in water, so make sure to have free drainage.

My second favourite succulent of the trip were found all over the Dalmatian coast of Croatia. Agave (or Agave americana) is a native of Mexico and it has been naturalized in a number of tropical areas around the world. It was clinging to all the dry, rocky hills of the island towns of Korcula and Hvar - a show-stopper.

Some of the clumps I spied on my morning stroll were six to 10 feet tall, jutting out of the ground with their glorious thick spikes bending forward and backward. Each was a work of art.

Some people call agave "century plant," implying that it blooms once in 100 years, but in warm climates it actually blooms every 10 to 15 years.

In Squamish we have to grow agave as a striking indoor plant which can be put out for the summer and brought in again in the fall. Indoor plants rarely bloom but have wonderful architectural interest and are easy care.

The one problem associated with agave is that its fleshy leaves, if cut open, are a terrible skin irritant. If you need to re-pot your agave, just make sure to dig it up by the roots and not to break the skin of the plant and release the sap.

Agave needs bright sunlight year round, so once you bring it inside for the winter, make sure you have lots of direct winter light. In spring and summer, you can water your plants with warm water just as the soil begins to dry out. In winter and fall, the growth starts to slow down, so it is important to water very, very lightly at this time.

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