Let’s be honest. We all plant something we were told most likely wouldn’t grow in the garden. But we gardeners are a stubborn folk. Even though I fully understand my stubbornness can lead to heartache and wasted time in many cases, I have found that not listening to collective wisdom has allowed me to reap some rewards in the world of gardening. Unfortunately this blog post is not an example of one of those times.
The story needs a little history from which to begin. In 2006 I first saw a photo of a beautiful Dominican palm called Pseudophoenix ekmanii. The stiff cycad-like leaves and the swollen trunk (thickest towards the top) with waxy white internodes make this tree one of the more unique and beautiful palms in the world in my opinion. From that moment on, it instantly became a must-have plant for my garden. The issue was that not only is the plant rare, but it is also one of the slowest growing palms in the world. So not many nurseries will carry this plant—certainly not any in California. However, in 2007 I found a grower in Florida that had Pseudophoenix ekmanii for sale. So I purchased an overgrown 1-gallon-sized plant and shipped it in. For the next 5 years I grew it in my greenhouse. Yet even in a heated greenhouse I was only able to get about 3/4 of a new leaf every year. Now that is slow!
By March of 2012 it was time to plant my Pseudophoenix ekmanii. With my daughter’s help I planted it in a prime location in my garden and marked the spear with a Sharpie to track growth.
Fast forward to this March and you can see this was becoming an eyesore and really had no chance in my garden. After exactly two years in the ground it had pushed only 1/2 of a new leaf. At this rate it would have taken a decade to replace the greenhouse-grown leaves that you can see were now brown.
The location in the rocks, sitting as a backdrop to my pool made this spot far too valuable as real estate. Instead of waste anymore time on this experiment I decided to dig it up and replace it. While my Pseudophoenix ekmanii didn’t do much above ground, it did grow a lot under ground. It put out some large roots, as you can see from the picture. Upon realizing this I did feel a little guilty and thought perhaps I might have been a little impatient. Many palm trees can take a good couple years to really root in before they take off. However, I still feel pretty confident this was not going to be the case for me with the Pseudophoenix ekmanii. This palm is slow for everyone—even those in more suitable climates.
Finding a replacement was not so easy. Getting water to that rocky part in my garden is difficult, and the heat reflecting off those rocks can get pretty intense. When you couple that with the fact most my landscape in the area is tropical in nature, it was challenging to come up with a great replacement. Chance would have it that my addictive personality would change direction and move into the world of aloes. This led me to a small but beautiful aloe cross called Aloe ‘Hellskloof Bells.’ The mother is a rare and challenging plant to grow named Aloe pearsonii, and the father is the common and easy-to-grow plant named Aloe distans.This cross truly combines the best of both plants to make an excellent choice for my Pseudophoenix ekmanii. The name, you ask? It is a play on the term “hell’s bells,” coming from the fact Aloe pearsonii grows in the Hellskloof in South Africa.
Thanks to the excellent drainage in the location where I was going to plant my Aloe ‘Hellskloof Bells,’ I didn’t have to make any soil amendments. However, instead of using shredded fir bark for my mulch like I did for my Pseudophoenix ekmanii, I decided on just some crushed rock and smaller rock accent pieces. It felt fitting, considering what I was planting. Currently my Aloe ‘Hellskloof Bells’ really isn’t much to get that excited over. But give it a few more years and it will become a real standout.
…And since I was in the area, I decided to give Aloe pearsonii a try in the ground, too. This was a small cutting I bought off eBay. Aloe pearsonii is one of my favorite smaller aloes and very few people actually grow them in the ground here in California. They are quite fastidious for an aloe so if this one takes, I will be thrilled.
Hopefully someday my Aloe pearsonii will look like this plant that won an award at the San Diego Cactus and Succulent Society (SDCSS) Winter Show and Sale.