Succulent Gardening

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In my last post, I briefly mentioned I’ve taken up succulent gardening this spring. What turned into a side dabble quickly took on a life of its own as I delved deeper and deeper into the world of succulent varieties, and in more recent weeks, has proven to be a happy little sanctuary and positive focus for my brain as times get crazier and crazier, and I’ve even been able to get a lot of these little guys through mail order.

I’ve harbored a low-grade interest in succulents for years. They’ve fascinated me, the different colors, forms, and varieties, and I’ve experimented with trying to grow them here and there, with minimal degrees of success, mostly due to our largely inhospitable summers around Phoenix and the fact that most plants don’t like to be cooked.

I started my first succulents over 20 years ago, when my parents were putting our backyard pond in, and I wanted something to call “my own” in the yard…so I ended up with a little pot of a mixed variety of succulents, and one tiny standalone pot containing a teeny little “ponytail palm.” And 20 years later, that palm is still around, as is one of the original selections — a haworthia that has since produced 3 full pots of propagated offshoots, and dozens more random ones.

Last spring, a family trip to one of the Phoenix garden nurseries netted another round of succulent buying. By the end of the summer, I hadn’t had the best of luck with my selections all making it through, but I had a small pot with a few different varieties that had survived.

What I started with last summer, around Memorial Day

Winter 2019-2020 start

Late 2019/Early 2020: What survived. The only thing that survived from the original selections above is the few scraps of crassula/jade plant (bright green). The silvery-blue and the small spiky green got added in later in the summer. This is what I started the year with.

This spring, my parents gave me an adorable “Donkey Tail” sedum for Valentine’s Day.

Sedum morganianum -- Donkey's Tail

Sedum morganianum — Donkey’s Tail

This adorable plant really perked me up — I was still in a funk regarding endurance, and a funny little cheerful plant was exactly what I needed. Looking up info about it sent me spiraling down a rabbit-hole of interesting and unusual succulent varieties, and the next thing I knew, my mom and I were packing into my truck and hopping over to one of our local nurseries for a bit of combination garden and retail therapy. (Which also involved the addition of a very unique Australian Finger Lime tree to the yard as well.)

That trip netted me one of my favorites in my collection, a “string of dolphins.”

Senecio peregrinus -- String of Dolphins

Senecio peregrinus — String of Dolphins

As I briefly mentioned in covering my trip to Florida for the AERC convention, I love the ocean, and I love marine life. Little known fact: In elementary school, I wanted to be a marine biologist. In 5th grade, I was even part of the school’s “Oceanography” club. Unfortunately for me, I have a rather strong aversion to going underwater, so that kind of derailed that idea.

Anyway, moving on…since that trip, it’s turned into a spring of succulent collecting, to where I have the entire garden cart shelf at the top pic of this post pretty much totally filled, and another smaller pot as the centerpiece of the patio table.

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I’ve had very good luck with two local nurseries — Summer Winds and Whitfill, for anyone in the East Valley area. I’ve also snagged a couple from Trader Joe’s, of all places — they usually have a display of mixed succulent/cactus varieties in the late spring/early summer.

Online, my sources have been:

Mountain Crest Gardens
Succulents Box
Leaf & Clay

I’ve ordered the most from MCG, but have multiple plants from each source, and have thus far been very happy with all of them. All of them have sent healthy plants, have been packaged well (I think MCG wins for the best packaging jobs, though), everything has survived shipping, turnaround has been quick, and all have a good variety and selection.

I’m not an expert — I pick stuff out based on the highly scientific “oh, that’s pretty!” or “oh, look how funky that one is!” methods. As a rule, I avoid anything that’s a hardcore spiky cactus (I have one spiky cactus, and it lives over by the fishpond, completely out of anyone’s travel path), mostly because I hate picking cactus spines out of my clothing/skin. Some of these, I have no idea how they’ll survive the summer. I’m hoping because I got them in much earlier this year, they’ll have several months to establish themselves before the hot weather really hits.

This is my current line-up as of the end of March 2020, put together mostly as a reference for myself and a reminder of what exactly I’ve got out in my garden. There’s a few mystery varieties in there as well, so if anyone knows specifics, please let me know!

Hope everyone enjoyed my little detour away from all things equine-related, and a peek at one non-horsey element of my life. I’ll update later this summer as to what has survived/thrived…as well as what other new additions may have shown up.

Gardens and Seahorses

With two days left to go in the month, I was thisclose to breaking my “at least one post a month” streak that I’ve had going since August 2011. It was tempting. My blog content is decidedly ‘endurance lite’ right now, at least as far as the actual riding part. I’m still managing to stay involved with endurance, via the AZ Endurance Riders Club activities (and running the website and social media), and I’ll be volunteering at the Wickenburg ride this weekend.

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Getting more and more official all the time: We have club shirts now.

But there’s an aspect there that is a bit of a dual-edged sword. It’s great to have ways to stay involved and active…but it also stings to be involved, but not on the riding front. I keep reminding myself that this is nothing new for me — I don’t think “consistency” can be applied in any way, shape, form, or definition to describing my endurance “career,” such as it is, over the years.

So right now, I’m just not thinking about endurance a ton.

Earlier in the month, I went up to the Scottsdale Arabian Horse Show. It’s been an almost-annual tradition ever since I was little, and it made an early impression on me in terms of the beauty and spirit of Arabians. It also left a lingering dream and desire to some day show at Scottsdale. Never mind I don’t have an Arabian. But being up there this year really re-ignited that particular dream, and I realized I actually miss showing. I miss the fuss and the bother, the ritual and routine. I don’t miss my tall English field boots, though.

But my dime store psychology, combined with some peanut butter whiskey, netted me the epiphany that I think what I really miss is being that good at something, that successful. Mimi and I put in the work, and there’s boxes of trophies and ribbons stacked up in my closet to prove it.

Right now, endurance just has me feeling a bit defeated.

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Watching the Western Dressage classes. This handsome guy is VA Ralvon Crusader. I’ve followed him with some interest on Facebook for a while now, and it was delightful to meet him in person. He is sweet, kind, and has knock-your-socks-off good conformation. Wouldn’t mind owning one of his offspring.

So I spent a couple days at the Arab Show, admiring the sleek and shiny show ponies…and then I got to go groom my yak.

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Seriously. The shedding. It’s epic.

No worries about this one retaining her coat or anything like that…she might have grown an impressive coat this year, but she’s dumping it by the handful and can’t get rid of it fast enough. (My pony is a better forecaster than some old groundhog…I believe her and her shedding patterns as to if we have an early spring or not.)

Last weekend, Saturday featured some major rain.

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Spoiler Alert: It was not delicate.

Despite what my snarky weather app tried to convince me of, it was neither “light” nor “delicate.” Instead, the end result was enough water to leave the arena at the barn almost entirely under standing water.

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“I am NOT a seahorse.”

Mimi was not amused by my “water aerobics” exercise session. Princess is not a seahorse, and Princess does not like getting wet or splashed, so doing trot sets through several inches of water was not her idea of fun.

She was also feeling good enough to crowhop under saddle, which she hasn’t done since she was about…I don’t know, maybe 10? Glad that at almost-27, she’s still feeling that sassy. Took me totally by surprise, and all I could do was laugh. By the time I gathered my wits about me enough to realize, “uh, my pony is crowhopping, I should probably address that…” she had desisted her shenanigans on her own, but it still shocked me. It’s no wonder that some of the Arabs I’ve ridden don’t really faze me…at some point, there’s probably been some Pony-equivalent behavior I’ve already survived.

I also spring-cleaned down at the barn, organizing both my tack trunk and my storage cabinet. Everything got sorted, old stuff got tossed, cobwebs got swept out, several black widows got relocated to another plane of existence, shelves got fixed, and I have some semblance of organization happening again.

I’m also very proud of my leg-wrap storage system, set up to allow wraps to hang to dry, as well as have their own storage space that doesn’t involve them being tossed unceremoniously on top of my grooming tote.

I also did a bit of retail therapy. Because what else do you do when you’re beyond frustrated with endurance but buy more endurance gear? (I already know I’m impossible, you don’t have to tell me.)

I have a fondness for laced English reins, due to years of showing huntseat…but leather + endurance don’t mix. Plus, I like cleaning leather saddles…I hate cleaning leather bridles & reins. My plastic tack has me spoiled. But a query to Hought Tack, on whether they could do their beta English reins that were laced with ‘roo leather as endurance reins (snaps on the ends, no center buckle) netted me this gorgeous pair. They look cool, and they feel really good, too. And the ‘roo leather is super durable and holds up to all the sweat and dirt. Yay, best of both worlds.

I’ve also been on a non-stop quest to find the perfect saddle packs, and I just may have found them. Longer review to follow, but after two short rides, I am in love with these True Grit saddle packs. The maker of them doesn’t have a website yet, but I can put you in touch with her if you’re curious. They truly don’t bounce, and attach and sit on the saddle in such a way they sit above the horse’s shoulder.

And finally, I’ve been throwing some of my focus on the backyard at home. 20-something years ago, my parents transformed our suburban postage stamp backyard into a tropical paradise, complete with fishpond for exotic goldfish, and dozens of varieties of different plants. This was before horses totally and completely ruled my life, so most weekends were spent going around to various and sundry plant nurseries around the Valley. I loved getting involved with the fish pond part of things, especially picking out the fish, but my pre-teen self only had so much (very marginal) interest in the gardening part of things. I appreciate how it looked, but tending plants was not my cup of tea, aside from giving benign neglect to the little pot of succulents I decided to grow. (Incidentally, two of which are still alive, and one of which has propagated like crazy and I’m running out of room to stick all of its offspring.)

Well, fast-forward a couple decades later, and I think I’m starting to uncover my latent green thumb. Or at least attempting to. Over the last few years, I’ve started taking more of an interest in some of the garden stuff, like growing our own nasturtiums (and harvesting the seeds, saving them, and planting them the following year), and last year, really got more into it again with another pot of succulents, and helping tend to the veggies Mom planted.

And this year, I’m having a hard time staying out of the yard. I’ve gone a bit succulent crazy, two mail orders of little succulents on their way to me as I type this, in addition to the few new ones I’ve already added.

Playing in the yard is a really good mental distraction, it gives me something to do, and it makes me feel productive. There’s also a combination of instant and delayed gratification at work. Instant gratification that comes from cleaning up a spot that needed work, or the satisfaction of tearing down and pruning things. Delayed gratification in seeing plants grow, and thrive, and the enjoyment of being able to harvest some fresh veggies and fruit.

Keeping my fingers crossed, but it looks like that gardening gene I was skeptical about inheriting actually may not have skipped a generation.

November 10 Questions

Feeling really “content-lite” right now guys…sorry, not a whole lot happening in horsey-ville or running life at the moment.

So I poached Liz Stout‘s “10 Questions” post so there’s at least something on here for November.

How old is the youngest/greenest horse you’ve ridden?
Mimi is the youngest…she was 3-1/2 when I got her. Greenest? Probably Beamer. He’d been to a couple of different trainers by the time we got him, but he was really inconsistent and knew the least in terms of “things beyond the very basics I had to install on him.”

How old is the oldest horse you’ve ridden?
Probably Snappy…he was in his late 20s the last time I rode him.

Were you scared of horses when you first started riding?
I wasn’t…until I got dumped within my first month of riding, and then proceeded to part ways with the same horse a number of times over the course of that first year of riding.

Would you say you’re a more nervous rider or a confident rider?
More nervous. See above. I’ve gone through cycles where I’ve felt super-confident, would climb on and ride most horses without thinking twice, and be really brave and bold. And then there’s the flip side of that, where I’m doubting everything I know, question my own capabilities, have a hard time trusting the horse, and am looking for the boogieman around every corner. I’m really trying to reclaim that confidence cycle again.

Biggest pet peeve about non-horse people around horses?
Probably bad attitudes about right-of-way and trail sharing. I understand that not everyone may be familiar with trail etiquette, and I try to give people the benefit of the doubt and educate first — “Hi there, can you slow down or stop while we pass? Can you speak up so my horse knows you’re a person? Hiding in the bushes may not be the best idea, horses might think you’re a predator.” And so on. But I’ve unfortunately run into a few pieces of work (most commonly mountain bikers and some hikers) who have a major attitude problem about trail sharing.

A time you’ve been scared for your life?
I guess it’s a good thing that I really can’t think of anything? Several times where I knew the end result was going to hurt, but if there’s anything else, I’ve done a good job of blocking it out of my mind.

Have you ever fallen off at show? What happened?
Ahahahahahahaha…multiple times. Most memorably? Parting company with the pony in the warm-up ring at the International. Oh, yes. Biggest show of my life, and the most memorable part of it was I got dumped.

What’s a breed of horse you’ve never ridden but would like to ride?
Peruvian Paso. Andalusian.

Describe the worst behaved horse you’ve ridden?
Spooky, ansty, won’t settle, explosively reactive, can’t handle contact, rears under pressure.

The most frustrating ride you’ve ever had? 
This is a hard one to answer. I’ve had a lot of frustrating times/moments along the way. You know I’ve got a passion for horses when a lot of this journey has been an uphill battle, and I still keep forging onward (mostly because the good times have been so good, it’s worth the struggle to get there). I  can think of a number of times when, if pushed, I would say “Yes, that was a frustrating moment” but I try not to dwell on those moments too much, and instead try to spend more time focusing on the positives that happened. So I don’t know if I’ve had one ride that stands out in my mind as “most frustrating time ever.” So I’m going to go with “doing everything right at a show and being under a judge who just doesn’t like your pony.” Because you can’t do anything to change that when your horse moves with impulsion and rhythm and the judge like foot-shuffling peanut-rollers.

Pronouncing Arizona: A How-To Guide

This is meant to be a tongue-in-cheek post stemming from good-natured humor and the observations of a native Arizonan. I promise not to name names or point fingers…this is all in good fun. ;) 

A Public Service Announcement: “You’re saying it wrong.”

A source of almost-constant amusement for me is the pronunciations and inevitable mispronunciations of the names of places and things around the state of Arizona. You can almost always tell if someone is from out of state by how they pronounce certain names. Many names around the state can be attributed to either the Spanish language influence (‘double-l’ makes a ‘y’/’ee’ sound, for example) or Native American names and language.

Here’s just a few of my favorites…

Spelled “Prescott,” it’s actually pronounced “Pres-kit.” It was Arizona’s original territorial capital, and is still a very fun city that has retained a ton of its Old West charm and character. Off the top of my head, this is probably one of the most mis-pronounced cities in AZ. (Although Tempe, just two cities over from me, is a close second. It’s “Tem-pee” with a long ‘e’, not “Tempeh” or “Temp-ay”.

Behind the pony is just one part of the Sierra Estrella range. That’s “Es-tray-yuh.” Not “Es-trail-la” or “Aus-trail-a.” I have also heard “Es-tray-lee-ya”. (They’re a truly rugged, magnificent range and I cant seem to find a good overview shot of them within easy access in my photos. I’ve done a number of rides out here — phenomenal trails.)

This is just one of many varieties of cholla cactus. “Choy-yuh.” Have most commonly heard “chawl-la” but also it is also frequently associated with the phrase “Ouch, dammit, get it off, it’s stuck to me!”

And this is an ocotillo, often crowned with bright red blossoms on the ends. When it’s green, it looks sort of soft and fluffy from a distance, but like all things in the desert…it is sharp and pointy. “Ock-oh-tee-yo”…I think the worst I’ve heard on this one is “ock-oh-till-oh.”

The big, tall cactus with the arms is a saguaro, unique to the Sonoran desert. “Saw-whar-ro”, not “sag-you-are-ro” or “sa-garrow.” That’s ‘The Bulldogs’ behind it, part of the Goldfield Mtns…stare at it long enough and it’s supposed to look like a bulldog’s head. I’m bad at seeing-eye type of things, so I’ve yet to really see it.

The Mogollon Rim is one I’ll give to people, because it’s not pronounced anywhere near how it’s spelled; at least, not really. It’s “Mug-ee-on.” This is a doozy: I’ve gotten “Mug-a-lon”, “Mongolian”, and many “not even gonna try it” attempts. Insider tip: Most of us just call it “The Rim.” There’s only one place like it, so if you refer to “the Rim” we will know you’re talking about the large plateau above Payson. Also considered the “gateway to saner temperatures in the summer.”

riding below The Rim, which is the flat mountain plateau above;
there are trails that you can ride/hike that take you up to the top

western edge of The Rim

Some other things I can think of off the top of my head are the bougainvillea plant (“bow-gan-vee-ya”), Aravaipa (wilderness canyon located southwest of the Valley whose name inspired the name of the group I run with: “air-uh-vie-pa”), Mazatzal Mountains (which is a funny one: technically, it’s “mah-zat-zal” but locally, in ends up being shortened to “mat-a-zal”), and Galiuro (which should be “gal-oor-o” and I jsut learned I’ve been saying it wrong, as I’ve always refered to is as “gal-uh-roo-uh”).

I’m sure there’s a ton more I’m missing…we are a state of interesting names…but this concludes Lesson One in our primer of “How To Talk Arizona”. ;)

cover girls

Not too long after we started distance riding, one of Mimi’s and my ride photos was the cover page for the Long Riders Gear (now Riding Warehouse) catalog. I think it was one of the 2003 catalogs, since the photo was from 2002.

We were both babies then…Mimi was 9, I was 16. I chuckle a bit that yes, at one time, I actually started with basic black tack. (As I gaze now at my current tack hooks loaded with all things purple and orange and colorful… :))

Looking back, it makes me smile…I had us loaded down for a safari expedition with bags and packs…all for one 20-mile NATRC ride. This was only our second ride…we were both still learning. (Witness Ashley riding in paddock boots and Mimi pulling to go faster…well, at least one of us learned, since someone still likes to pull at opportune moments.)

That was the Helen Logan River Romp ride, held in Santa Ynez, CA…still one of the prettiest rides I’ve done.

I was so glad I found this the other day during my magazine sorting. All sorts of happy memories.