Shady Way Gardens Bits and Briefs June 2004
ASPARAGUS & THE ELECTRIC BLUE FLOWER

JUNE

As June arrives, so arrives the most intense sun, the highest temperatures, and lowest humidity of the year.  Even the most hardened of outdoor people prefer the retreat of a shady patio.  One group of plants that can make any patio or atrium more inviting without greatly impacting the water bill are the Asparagus Ferns.  These tough plants are not ferns but are Asparagus, as you can see by the mini spears that arise from the soil during growth.  Now, we know that some of you (plant snobs, perhaps?) may look upon these plants with disdain because they are just so common, but they should be credited for greening up many a bleak area - and with very little complaint.  Sprenger Asparagus (A. densiflorus var. sprengeri) is widely used as a groundcover or container plant in shady areas as well as full sun.  The presence of tuberous water storage roots makes it quite drought resistant, but regular watering keeps it better looking.  It also remains greener with partial shade.  Anyone who has ever tried to maintain any kind of green plant in a hanging basket through an Arizona summer knows what futility is.  Asparagus Fern to the rescue!  One somewhat vexing problem we've had with our Asparagus baskets, though, is that doves think they are there for their personal nesting use.  This would be acceptable and even desirable, except that the unlucky person wielding the hose has a heart dropping experience as a startled, wet dove barrels noisily out of its nest.  Nobody wants to be the villain that waters the dove, so of course the Asparagus Fern is the loser, eventually becoming a clump of straw colored sprigs sporting a plump, happy dove in a nest of sticks.  If planted in the ground Sprenger Asparagus also has the potential to consume other plants in its path and can be difficult to remove.  It is also slightly frost sensitive in unprotected areas.  An occasional cutting back will rejuvenate old, leggy plants.  Pretty red berries follow the starry, white flowers. 

An elegant addition to any patio container in partial shade is the
Foxtail, or Meyer's Fern (A. densiflorus v. meyeri).  This plant is very well behaved.  It's fairly slow growing and its stiff, green plumes only get a couple of feet tall.  Another less common but interesting and unusual container or ground plant is Asparagus retrofractus.  The erect, fluffy plumes get many feet tall and lend a unique look to any patio.  Fern Asparagus (A. plumosus) is such a ferny looking plant that it is used instead of the real thing in floral arrangements.  Since it looks extremely delicate you wouldn't suspect that it's actually a tough vine for your covered patio.  It will even twine up posts and fences. 

ELECTRIC BLUE

It seems that blue is an in color these days, and there is always the quest for blue flowers, especially in a desert plant.  Look no further, as Guayacan (Guaiacum coulteri), a large intricately branched shrub, has eye-stopping, electric blue flowers.  The big burst of bloom occurs in May with just sporadic flowers into summer.  A short blooming period in a plant is always a turn-off, since most everyone wants to see flowers all the time.  But have you noticed that when plants do have a long flowering period you are awed by them for a few days or even weeks, then you hardly notice them?  It's easy to become jaded by too much of a good thing!  So you won't have this problem with Guayacan.  Even without flowers it's still an interesting shrub.  It will take full sun and heat but is fairly frost tender so would be best in your most frost free area.  We have some 15 gallon size plants available in the nursery.

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Web Comments george@mswn.com September 13, 2004 Shady Way Nursery 2004