Desert Mountain Times
Desert Mountain Times - People, Plants and Places of Desert Southwest

Setting out asparagus fern purchased 26 years ago

Methusela's long runners, extending in every direction, obviously reduce the amount of light plants on the garden floor below her are able to get daily.

Methusela‘s long runners, extending in every direction, obviously reduce the amount of light that plants on the ground in El Hueco garden below her are able to get daily. Thus, move her! the call became. She needs a better fit. (DMT photos)

Methusela VI


By Dan Bodine


Monday I did it!

Before the season’s first hard freeze arrives, I set out an asparagus fern named Methusela I’ve toted around for the past 26 years – transplanting it every few years into a larger hanging basket pot until she’s become just too large now.

Confronted with this Sunday afternoon — e.g., she’d really prefer to be in an open bed somewhere where she could really grow, wouldn’t she?! — I did it!

Methuselah in the Bible is a man’s name, of course. My Methusela is female. I bought her very small at the old Winn’s store in ’89 from Pancho Molinar, the manager then (some of you readers may remember how he was always an expert on the sexes), the first week after I’d arrived and rented a little apartment in town.

Being a new gringo in Presidio in ‘89 and shy-to-the-core to boot, a plant to talk to those first few weeks was no small deal. In fact, it may’ve kept me from throwing in the towel and running back to my familiarities in Dallas-Fort Worth – like some ol’ dog with its tail between its legs. Methusela has this special place with me then. Attached, we are.

Over the years I’ve kept her as a hanging basket on a porch, or in the yard somewhere; and bring her in somewhere warm just before the first freeze hits. This year there were problems though. Not just her size! Several concerns, indeed, seemed to converge at the same time this past weekend!

Over the years I’ve kept transplanting her from one hanging basket to a larger one — she spreads out! When is enough enough?!? For asparagus ferns, this is no easy choice.

Methusela IV

Methusela, naked, as seen on the floor of Casa Verde after I’d removed the old pot. Some call these white nodules seen here “sex pearls,” and will still “saw” the clump into 2-3 pieces and re-pot each one. That “life-in-the-fast-lane” stuff ain’t for me! Besides, what if they were sex pearls?! Would God let you sleep at night knowing you did something like that!?! Life is risky enough, without messing around with strange stuff, is the way I figure it! (DMT photo)

The photo above is after I removed the pot Sunday. See all those nodules on the roots?! They’re not sex pearls nor canker sores either one, you with the imaginative minds! These plants are survivalists, and this is where they store their extra water. Here’s an old link to one “expert” on it.

Indeed, start digging around on the internet and you’ll find lots of stories on ’em. People love or hate ’em! In the Desert Southwest, we call them sidekicks though! That’s enough to know.

In our El Paso micro-backyard, the garden east of Casa Verde, is El Hueco. Except for the first years — when we kept her beneath a western catalpa tree in the front yard for the warm seasons – this lattice shade in El Hueco has been her summer home ever.

Toward the end of the year before the first hard freeze hits, I’ll politely move her somewhere warmer. She’s so heavy, always have to recruit help.

This year I admitted some other problems though. I’m having difficulty finding plants suited for El Hueco. The problem: Methusela is hogging most of the sunlight, I realized!

Also, one winter there’d been complaints she took up too much space in front of the study window, inside the house. Last winter she took too much space in the little greenhouse built a couple of years ago, behind Casa Verde. Dominated it last winter, in fact!

So, yada-yada soured exponentially! I was faced with not only having to do another transfer to a larger pot but find a place to over-winter her also.

Little Methusela, sure enough, came up from seed in this gravelly rock part of the front yard in 2012 and has done well with little care. The red arrow adjacent the fence is where I selected to plant its mom. (DMT photo)

Little Methusela, sure enough, came up from seed in this gravelly rock part of the front yard in 2012 and has done well with little care. The red arrow adjacent the fence is where I selected to plant its mom. (DMT photo)

That’s when I thought of her child. During those first two years hanging beneath the western catalpa, one of her bright red berries that dropped to the ground, sprouted. In the rocks!

And is doing quite well there. Even through three winters now! Research says these plants do quite well outside year-round in most parts. Do I DARE set Methusela in a flower bed? Alone?! In the elements?!??

Doing more reading, indeed, I realized these are tougher plants! My Presidio sidekick may not even be a true fern, for one! A wild weed? Online gripes even include one woman describing it as “a cruel invader, and the prickles are very sharp.”

Git a Life, lady! You want to live ’til you die with someone spoon-feeding you?!! Gee!!!

Anyway, in front of the west-side side fence seemed best finally for Methusela’s relocation. Noemi OK’d moving the trash containers to the east side to allow more sunlight to reach it.

With just a climbing rose there and a young desert willow we rooted in the green house to share the bed with, Methusala should do well.

The catalpa tree provides excellent shade during the hot, scorching summer months; and since building the canopy over the kitchen door, this fence area also is well-protected from biting northern winds too.

On zero-degree nights like we had in early 2011? Trust me, I’ll be out with plastic sheets covering this lady from the killing freeze! Like a good gardener.

Methusela V

“Thanks!” my old Presidio sidekick told me the next morning, catching the early sun. “I’m going to like this new home real well!” (DMT photo)

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