Garden Tour

It hasn’t taken me long to turn into a full-tilt succulent hoarder collector. My little plant collection grows by the week (sometimes by the day), and I’m slowly developing my niche interests and plant preferences within the succulent world. Putting some major time and research into things like growth versus dormancy cycles, what plants are compatible with each other, sunlight exposures…all of that really makes a difference. Another major component of growing success has been where I source my plants. There is a major difference between getting plants from dedicated succulent growers and sellers versus the nameless big box stores that don’t know the difference between an aeonium and echeveria.

Yes, I’ve got some what I jokingly call my “rescue plants” that I’ve salvaged from utterly clueless nurseries, mostly to try my hand at seeing if I can save them, or learning what constitutes “too far gone.” But by and large, my healthiest plants are the ones who have come from exclusive succulent sources.

My top sources for plant buying:

Cedar Creek specializes in the world of rare imports (succulent breeding and hybridizing is a huge thing) and I’ve had the best time exploring the CCF world, and the community message board chats during the live upload sales. It’s a slightly different format than typical online buying, but because most of the plants are super rare or even one-of-a-kinds, doing a live upload is a super fun, interactive, everyone-has-a-shot-at-it unique approach. And she takes custom requests if there’s a certain plant that you’re dying to have and want a guaranteed shot at it. The plants you get are amazingly gorgeous and healthy, and they are rapidly becoming some of the stars of my collection. But honestly, I have too many to play favorites. It’s more like “plant of the day” or maybe “plant of the week” around here. Feel like a peek and photo tour of the current garden offerings?

We’ve had one heat wave roll through already, and so far, everything is holding its own, with just a couple of plants pulling a diva routine and threatening to keel over on me…so fingers crossed that I’m able to keep managing them.

Habit

21 days to form a habit, or so the adage goes. Newer research suggests it can be anywhere from two weeks to eight months to form a new habit.

And how quickly do we lose them?

Right now, I feel like I’ve lost some of my habits. Somewhere along the way, I’ve fallen out of the habit of many things I used to do. Running. Writing. At this point, even riding. And once you fall out of the habit of doing something, and you look back on it, it makes you wonder, “How did I do that?”

How did I run a 50k ultramarathon three years ago, and now after 1/8th of a mile down the canal path, I’m gasping for breath? Sure, I can blame hurting my ankle back in December and it still not being 100% right, but the truth is, I fell off the fitness bandwagon last summer, and have yet to find sufficient motivation to climb back on it again. I need to — I’m out of shape, feel like a squishy marshmallow, and have some extra pounds that have decided to creep up on me that really need to go. I also need to get creative, since the gyms are all still closed, and part of why I stopped going last year was to save $$$ on membership costs. I did add 1/4-mile jog to the daily dog walk routine yesterday, and ugh. It’s like starting back at the beginning. But it’s something, right?

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3 years (and about 20 pounds) ago. While I don’t have much desire to make a grab for the ultra-distances again, I did enjoy the cross-training I incorporated and want to get back to that.

General fitness work…that, I need to get creative, since gyms are closed and Amazon is currently out of stock of all free weights. I’ve started doing a “plank a day” and adding time every day…and my abs and core are laughing at me. Not for the first time do I wish people held fitness as well as horses do.

While backing up some computer files the other day, I got to browsing through and opening up some of my creative writing files. I used to creative write all the time, especially during college and my stint in court reporting school. Why write term papers when you can write creative fiction? I was in such a habit of it, I never realized how prolific I was. Of course, my major failing as a writer? I have a hard time actually finishing things. The vast majority of my writing projects are unfinished…some just need a chapter or two tacked on, others are half-started ideas. It’s always been for fun, not publication, an exercise for my creative brain cells, and often times, good therapy, since there’s no law about creating fictional representations of annoyances and subsequently beating the crap out of them on paper.

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All of my creative writing projects from 2005 onward live on this drive (and a couple of other back-up places)

But while the ideas are still there in my head, and sometimes scribbled down in one of my never-ending ideas notebooks…I don’t remember the last time I sat down to a keyboard and a blank Word doc and actually wrote. (Creative fiction, not blogging or a work article/project.) And I find myself out of the habit. Words don’t come easily. Characters who once lived in my head feel like strangers. I get caught up on the minutiae and technicalities of writing versus just letting the story come. I feel self-conscious and self-judgmental. (Why??? If I have no intention of publishing, why can’t my brain just switch off and let me write for myself?) Or I can’t be bothered to try to put words on a page, because I have a story playing out in my head, and I can’t translate what’s visually playing out in my head as cleanly into words as I would like. So I let my writing habit fall by the wayside. Although I do still find myself scribbling down random ideas…so there’s still hope…

And riding. How do you admit that you’re out of the habit of the one thing that has been a constant in your life for the past 27 years? Or that you’re losing heart for the one habit that has pretty much defined your life? Obviously in the immediate here-and-now, with rides shut down and no signs of getting back to “normal” on the horizon any time soon, it’s of little to no consequence. But the future? I don’t know what the future holds.

This has been another slow, downward spiral. It started last year after Flash got hurt. I wasn’t there, I had nothing to do with it…but having my favorite horse taken out of commission really knocked the wind out of my sails. Maybe it was dumb on my part to get so attached to a catch ride horse who isn’t mine, but my heart doesn’t always obey logic, and I connected and bonded with that horse from the first moment I interacted with him. He raised the bar to a whole new level for me, where it isn’t even fair to the other horses I’ve catch ridden to try to compare. Even though I’ve ridden him fewer than a dozen times all told, he changed the face of endurance for me.

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It’s been a year since he got hurt, and was at the vet clinic only 2 miles away from me for a couple weeks as part of his recovery time. I loved my daily visits with him, and how much he loves smooches and selfies.

The inglorious end to my winter 100-mile plans struck another blow. Not only was it yet another case of plans going awry, this time I also felt like a major failure. Pretty sure part of the deal of catch-riding your friend’s pony doesn’t entail breaking your friend’s pony. :/ Was it a pre-existing situation and something he had brewing for a while? Yes, most likely. But whatever the case, it was ultimately caught up to him on my watch, which still makes me feel guilty, and I can’t help but armchair quarterback myself and wonder what I missed along the way, where I went wrong, what could I have done different. I had been feeling pretty dang good about the whole endurance thing, felt like I had finally grasped the elusive art of pacing, was getting my ducks in a row, might actually have a shot at cracking my 1,000 endurance miles milestone…ah, nope.

Since then, I’ve made no real attempts to try to ride. Excitement flared briefly after winning a raffle entry to the Barefoot in NM ride, and the offer of the ride manager’s super-experienced horse to take me through…but that ride was supposed to happen in April, which it obviously didn’t.

And finally, even almost-27-yr-old Mimi decided to get in on the “fun.” Sometime back in March, probably when I was gone at Convention, she whacked a front leg on something. Who knows what. Wouldn’t be the first time. End of March, I noticed a hard lump on the outside of her right front leg that she was flinchy to hard palpation on, and was off at the trot under saddle and in-hand.

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That wasn’t there before…

The area corresponded roughly to where the splint bones are, but I wasn’t sure if they went down quite that low. Fortunately the vet was scheduled to be out for spring shots within the following days, and she took at look at it, declared it to be a “remodeling splint” that wasn’t impinging on any ligaments or tendon area, and that it would just take time.

So I’ve done one 5-minute bareback meander on her for the past two months. Last weekend, we took a couple-mile hand walk around the barn neighborhood, where she proceeded to still be an utterly hilarious pain-in-the-butt who still thinks she can drag me around like the pipsqueak 11-yr-old I used to be. Spoiler alert: She can’t since I now have the power of height, weight, the correct application of physics and leverage, and most importantly, a rope halter, to my benefit. But it’s still funny to see her try, and her sassiness and attitude makes my heart happy. She owes me nothing, and has well-earned a life of ultimately being a happy pasture pony if that’s what she needs.

She’s also happily trashing fly sheets, since we are two weeks into the season with this year’s sheet and it’s already looking tattered. This doesn’t bode well for its survival for the entirety of the summer. I think I will start a betting pool for how long it actually lasts…

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She’s unamused by unicorns, apparently.

Combine all of that, though, and I’m just not feeling all that motivated at the moment to seek out saddle time. Which is a bit weird when so much of my life has revolved around and been defined by horses for so many years. I don’t know. Maybe I’m just feeling a bit burned out. Or at least tired of trying so hard and fighting so hard and feeling like I’m getting nowhere. I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: Horses, and endurance, are not for the faint of heart.

On the flip side, there is one habit I’ve apparently picked up: my succulent obsession habit. I’ve added “a few” new additions since my post on the subject last month, and I’m a wee bit obsessed with tending my plant babies right now. Which is really ironic, because succulents tend to thrive on benign neglect, so they’re probably feeling a bit suffocated with me hovering around, waiting for them to dry out and show signs of “water, please!” (Pretty sure I’ve killed my past batches with love via over-watering, so to that end, I now have a moisture probe, an the watering bottle doesn’t come out until that needle is hard-pegged on “dry” and the plants are looking wrinkly.) The biggest challenge will be getting them through the hot summer months, especially as the evenings heat up, and I have way too many of them to bring them inside the air conditioning. I may have to get creative with ice packs…

I know what I’m feeling right now is a rough patch, the culmination of things that have been building over time and finally coming to a head, in a time when everything is weird. This isn’t the first time my motivation has ebbed or that I’ve found myself frustrated and asking “why?” in regards to my equine sport of choice. I also tend to fling myself at projects, ideas, and tasks with a bit of wild abandon, putting a lot of time and energy, both physical and emotional, into them (see: “How many plants can Ashley buy in the span of three months?”), so it doesn’t entirely surprise me that eventually I would start feeling some effects of burnout along the way.

Right now, I don’t have any answers, just the thoughts that were swirling around in my head during this morning’s walk. But I do have plant seeds in the mail and on their way to me…after managing to sprout three adenium and a dozen lithops, I’ve decided to try my hand at raising echeveria from seeds. Because apparently my brain still needs a project, even if it’s not one of my “usual” habits.

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.