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An Exploding Blue Surprise & More

May 5, 2015


I’m often asked why I prefer hand watering to drip or some other irrigation system. The short answer is that I prefer to water everything myself because I’m afraid I might miss something. See, if I entrust the watering needs of my garden to someone — or something — else I might miss the baby’s first step, its first word, its first exploding tassel-topped purple turban. Okay, so I mixed things up there a bit but what I’m referring to is shown in the photo above. While watering I looked up at my favorite super-tall blue cactus and noticed that its fruit had somehow . . . exploded?


The fruit that had begun as beautiful waxy blossoms back in February (click here), had become clenched black-tassel-topped purple turbans in March; I fully expected they’d dry out next, and fall to the ground. Looking up at them last week it took me a moment to understand what I was looking at, that the fruit/turbans had swelled to such a degree that they’d exploded; but why? I hurriedly hauled out my stepladder to take a closer look.


I looked up information on my blue cactus (actual name pilosocereus azureus) to find a description of what I was seeing. On one site I found a description that matched: The fruit apparently becomes overripe, swells and explodes, exposing its inner flesh and seeds. None of the sites I consulted answered the question of whether the seeds were then passed through the digestive tracts of birds as a way to spread them. I did find a website that said this is the time for gardeners to gather the cactus seeds, noting that they should be cleaned and allowed to dry fully before storing … in a small glass jar, I’m thinking. Or maybe in a paper envelope as a gift for a lucky friend.



Although I’m not able to walk as long as I’d like because it’s a pain trigger, I still do so every day. I find that varying my route provides enough sightseeing entertainment I can increase my time. I was delighted to walk underneath this agave arch recently. I particularly enjoy the little upturn at the curve’s end. The homeowner’s told me they’ve had other agaves send up flower stalks, but that they were always straight … like my octopus agave’s recent example (click here).



Another delight: The sight of this puya alpestris in bloom. A blue explosion of a different type, these blooms have the appearance of alien bird babies with their mouths agape. I find the deep azure of these petals awe inspiring. Like the shocking magenta of the cactus fruit interiors at the beginning of this post, the metallic sheen of these puya blooms demands my attention; definitely worth stopping for photos.


Hand watering and walking: Both take valuable time. But each is their own reward, in that they they provide close encounters with plants — and their lives — that might otherwise be missed.

16 Comments leave one →
  1. Guida permalink
    May 5, 2015 5:05 am

    Me me….I’d love a seed or two…..enjoyed this post so much…….you are so ahead of the times……

  2. May 5, 2015 12:14 pm

    On another blog a discussion developed recently after the writer noted he was forced back inside by neighbors who had their lawns regularly sprayed with foul smelling chemicals. People commented so many who have services spraying never actually use their lawns – they are simply backdrop for an interior view. A form of exterior carpet.

    I love to hand water and so does The Hub. I joke he must not have gotten to play with the hose enough as a child growing up in drought ridden Texas. For me, hand watering helps me feel more in partnership with what grows. And sure, I do talk with the plants a bit, just in a generalized, encouraging, totally non-crazy lady way. (the bugs get an earful, too)

    Those fruit are surreal. If I saw them in a painting I’d think the artist was displaying a wonderfully active imagination (and/or on some really potent drugs). And really, same goes for those puya blooms – they seem other worldly. Perhaps because the colors are so saturated…but then that’s cacti’s jam, yeah? Exaggerated form with show stopping blossoms? I’d never want to miss a moment!

    • May 5, 2015 3:56 pm

      That spraying lawn chemicals thing stinks, TD! I really have to check myself when talking to someone about their lawn lest I berate them. In this day and age, with the drought more real than ever, it’s just so stupid. I am seeing more and more that people are ripping them out and making the change to low-water solutions but we’re far from the ideal.

      I love your teasing The Hub about his childhood hose play; clearly you both share a wry sense of humor. Yes, these fruit and flowers are totally surreal and I love them so … how could I possibly risk missing these changes?!

  3. May 5, 2015 1:31 pm

    Okay, you are helping me think more positively about all the hand watering I have to do. We are on a drip, but so much of what we have, isn’t. I’ve been looking at hand watering as another chore, and have grown to dread it. However, after reading this, I think I’m going to work on my attitude and embrace being able to see the changes up close.

    On another note, is the fruit on your cactus edible? And those black flowers are amazing… you should see if you could get a clipping.

    • May 5, 2015 4:02 pm

      I don’t know, WF, you’ve got soooooo much land to cover you might get a pass on some of your watering. For rather passive plantings, like groundcovers, a drip system makes sense.

      As for the cactus fruit being edible, I don’t know in this case. I’ll have to wait until they’ve become ripe next time they appear and have a taste. As for the blue puyas, I’ve had several types in the past — red, yellow, orange — but they never bloomed. I suspect they need to be in place longer than my attention span. I sold them all in that big purge sale I had in 2011, or 2012.

      Loved our lunch the other day; my post-lunch nap was the best in a long time!

  4. May 5, 2015 4:22 pm

    Agreed! I love hand watering for exactly the same reason. The only time I wish for something automated is when we travel. Finding a friend willing to take on the task (and do it well) is difficult. After breaking my ankle a few years ago I do not take walking for granted. It’s therapeutic and I’m glad you’re able to do some.

    As for those exploding fruit WOW! Pretty darn amazing. Is the bright pink bit soft and moist?

    • May 5, 2015 4:51 pm

      Hi, Loree! After my last surgery I had to have someone do my watering and he did a great job, but it was MY job and I couldn’t wait to get on my feet again. As for walking: I’ve never driven a car so walking is second nature to me. I’m not able to go as far for as long as I’d like but I keep trying, thinking that one day I’ll arrive home and come to the realization that it was pain-free. Hasn’t happened yet.

      The pink fruit was too tall for me to reach, even on a ladder. As far as the fallen fruit is concerned, the pulp is very dry, fibrous and reminds me of microsopic views of human muscles. Weird!

  5. May 5, 2015 7:51 pm

    This post warms my heart. I have been accused of not being “a responsible gardener” because I don’t have drip irrigation. Don’t have any irrigation systems. All my watering is done by hand. There’s an old adage that says, “the best fertilizer is the gardener’s shadow.” I don’t have to tell you that.

    • May 5, 2015 8:01 pm

      Old adages stay with us because they are sometimes truths, Jane, and I love this one! Thanks for commenting.

  6. May 6, 2015 6:14 pm

    At first I thought this was one of your paintings. The colors on these dry garden plants would scare the crap out of the misty meadow planting brigade. I hand water too, after trying drip hose and other schemes. I change things up too often, and with water systems the water often goes where it’s not needed. I was hoping I’d have a puya bloom this year too….maybe next year.

    • May 6, 2015 6:36 pm

      Seriously, I didn’t know what I was looking at Denise; the color was just so amazingly bright it didn’t seem real. LOL at the idea of the misty meadow brigade … I’ll have to steer clear of them! I think it’s easier to tailor water to the needs of specific plants, too.

  7. Vickie Perez permalink
    May 7, 2015 5:53 am

    Wow!! Those plants!! I’m glad to say that I also hand water. As said above, you can adjust, inspect, enjoy that day’s surprises. And just enjoy the quiet time. I’ve got some birds around here that entertain me as well. Some of them watch for the bugs to run from the water. The hummers like to fly thru the spray I create for them.

    • May 7, 2015 5:22 pm

      Yes, Vickie, the quiet time just might be the best part about hand-watering … love the idea of hummer’s spray-bathing!

  8. May 19, 2015 7:05 pm

    While we have an automatic drip system for most of the garden, I do agree with you. Hand-watering fosters a special kind of interaction with your plants. I handwater all my potted plants, so at least I get some of it.

    That Puya alpestris is otherworldy! I’ve seen a flowering specimen at Annie’s Annuals, so I know how unreal the color is. I love the metallic sheen on the petals.

    • May 19, 2015 7:08 pm

      Hard-boiled hand waterer here, as you can tell. I’d love to visit Annie’s Annuals one day, though I’m afraid I’d buy too many plants I don’t need. I’m impulsive that way!

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