mangaves, water bills, and other mysteries

I’ve been going over the monthly water bills, which this year give usage in 100-cubic feet per month instead of gallons per day. Beyond exasperated with the inscrutable tables and tiers on July’s bill, I made my very first cranky call to a public utility yesterday. Why, in the name of all that’s sensible, and in the midst of this horrific drought, have you stopped listing water usage in helpful and easy-to-comprehend gallons per day? I had known exactly where I stood each month of 2013 by checking the daily gallon usage under the heading “Evaluate Your Conservation Efforts,” and it became a game to see how low we could go. (And not to boast — well, forget it, I am going to boast: Our water usage has always clocked in at well below average.) On the phone, I tried not to sound shrill, aiming for Friendly But Concerned Citizen, but I could sense the voice on the other end was taking my inquiry in the spirit of Oh, great, my first wild-eyed crazy caller of the day and it’s still two hours until lunch. I was left waiting for maybe 3-4 minutes, which pre-Internet might have been an effective ploy to tire us out. Not so much anymore. (Someone had mentioned Lawn Chair Larry earlier in the week, which drew a blank, so that was four minutes productively spent learning about the modern-day Da Vinci of San Pedro, Calif.) She eventually came back on the line and was ready to walk me through the numbers. “A cubic foot of water is 748 gallons…” She started out strong but immediately sputtered out, sounding as wobbly as I am with math. Yes, I know. That formula is in tiny print on the back of the bill, but what about this tier usage? There’s several numbers. Which do I use? At this point it was clear I was guilty of torturing an innocent bureaucrat, so I asked for the Suggestions Department. She suppressed a snicker and then gleefully kicked my can down the road to the “Suggestions Department” (probably someone she was mad at that day), where I left an impassioned voice mail to help us deal with this ferocious drought by sending a bill we can easily read, calculator not required. That’s probably been replayed several times by the “Suggestion Department” for a good laugh.

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photo of zonkey found here

Leaving the water department and on to fresh mysteries, like the mangave in my garden. Mangaves are the zonkeys of the succulent world, intergeneric hybrids between manfredas and agaves. (Save up zonkey research for your next phone complaint.) It’s an offset from a mangave Dustin Gimbel bought at a Riverside plant sale. Not ‘Macho Mocha,” which from what I can tell from photos has a wavier, almost flabby leaf and is overall a bit more relaxed in form. “Macho Mocha’ is thought to be a manfreda hybrid with Agave mitis (nee celsii) This mystery mangave has a thinner leaf and that snap-to, at-attention look of an Agave desmettiana. It might have more color in full-day sun. It gets only morning sun here, afternoon shade under the tetrapanax. At 28 inches in height and 34 inches across, it’s many times the size of Mangave ‘Bloodspot’ in bloom in the front garden, which is about as large as an Echeveria agavoides.

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For scale, shown with Agave ‘Blue Flame’ in the foreground.

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New leaves are typically spotted, which fades on the older leaves. Very small teeth on the margins.
I need to try some of its many pups in full sun, but attempting to remove a pup seems to destabilize the whole plant, so I’ve been reluctant to force the issue.

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That this mystery mangave has turned into such a big presence in the garden has been a nice surprise.

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In the front garden under the triangle palm, the Mangave ‘Bloodspot’ is in delicate bloom, which is where its manfreda/tuberose heritage becomes most apparent.
And whether expressed in teaspoons, gallons, or cubic feet, mangaves, manfredas, and agaves are all very easy on the water bill.

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16 Responses to mangaves, water bills, and other mysteries

  1. Mark and Gaz says:

    Whatever that mystery Mangave is, it certainly is a beauty! You’re lucky to have such a unique and intriguing plant in your garden, that is easy on water consumption too. Good luck on the water bill btw, who knows they may actually listen to you 🙂

  2. Hoov says:

    Nifty mangave, have not seen that one. I like the bold and substantial size of it. Looks almost bromeliad-like. You might be getting better foliage color in some shade–my Manfreda clump looks faded out all summer.

    I can go you one way better on the water bill–we must pay a surcharge for not using enough water. Yes, we must pay extra if we don’t use enough water to ensure that our for-profit water company makes its guaranteed profit. Yes, the California Public Utilities Commission approved that surcharge. So we can use lots of water, or we can save water–either way, we pay. Guess what I do?

  3. Alison says:

    Whatever your Mangave is, I love its upright look! I have one I’m pretty sure is Macho Mocha, and yes, it’s very flabby. And it has no teeth. What a PITA about the water bill. Why do they do stuff like that?

  4. Denise says:

    @M&G, I’m lucky Dustin has a good eye at a plant sale 😉
    @Hoov, that’s a perverse disincentive, and shame on the CPUC for approving that.
    @Alison, thanks for seconding that it’s not MM. I’ve never grown it before and was only comparing to photos. Who knows why they changed the bill format. When they return my call, I’ll be sure to let you know ;>)

  5. ks says:

    I have been thinking about expanding my Mangave collection–which at this point is one plant. Really can’t be called a collection can it ?
    My water bill is tiered as well; as my usage goes up my rate per 1k gallons goes up.The bill is pretty clear-I must benefit from a smaller bureaucracy. I was mortified to see I had an increase this billing cycle over last year . I have subsequently reduced the times on my watering schedule.

  6. Kris P says:

    The Mangave is beautiful. I’ve yet to see one of any variety in a local nursery. My condolences on your dealings with the water department – I can imagine how pleasant that was. I think more of the general population has become sensitized to the issue (KNBC had a special on the water crisis this evening) but I’d be happier if the water utilities and local city officials showed they’re doing their part to prevent further incidents on the order of the Westwood water main break.

  7. Where I lived, per capita water use dropped 225 to 175 gal / day, the municipal water utility raised unit rates across board to cover their “non-profit” profits. They also added a tiered surchage, for progressively higher water use (insane amounts) above certain baselines. It gave wealthy people something to brag about, while showing off their blah midwestern lawnscapes – heard that more than 1x. Dealings with city phone people could be dispiriting, though not as much as talking with the 6 digit salary suits who come up with this stuff.

    Mangaves so much more friendly and worthwhile of a pursuit!

  8. David Feix says:

    Denise, this looks more like a typical Manfreda in foliage than a hybrid to my eye, but just my opinion.

  9. Denise says:

    @Kathy, I loved my old bill, which sounds like yours, where it was easy to compare increases/decreases, which I think has the potential the change behavior.
    @Kris, the plant shows always have them. Wasn’t that jarring to see all that water wasted in Westwood?
    @David, you think so? I had no idea they were so agave-esque!

  10. Ed Morrow says:

    The switch from gallons to cubic feet is a well known ploy of water companies. It is usually coincident with a rate change. By changing how water is measured it makes it more difficult for customers to compare the old and new rates. What is interesting is that the meters that measure consumption are usually calibrated in gallons, so the water company has to make the conversion to cubic feet to put it on your bill.

  11. Peter/Outlaw says:

    Sorry about the frustrating changes in your water bill. Your mangave is very handsome and I hope you are happy together for years to come!

  12. Pam/Digging says:

    I agree that it’s not ‘Macho Mocha’, which lacks teeth on the leaves. I see one of your commenters thinks it’s a manfreda, but I’ve never seen teeth on those either. You’ve got me wondering! It’s very handsome with that upright form.

    Like David and Hoov, we in Austin have been urged to conserve water for the last several years, which we have done, and subsequently were told our rates are going up because the water utility isn’t making as much money now. So frustrating! Of course saving water is imperative, but what a disincentive to make people pay more for less. Clearly the utilities have a conflict of interest in that they are distributing limited supplies of water during drought, but it’s not in their financial interest for people or industry to use less.

  13. Deanne says:

    Good grief, I can’t imaging dealing with such a dreadful drought. We occasionally get a dry summer but never anything like what you are dealing with. Kudos for maintaining such a great looking garden in such harsh conditions. I lol over the incomprehensible water bill. Reminds me of my old mutual funds statements. One could NEVER figure out how much the fees were.

    Love that Mangave! what a beauty. that’s a great vignette it’s planted in as well. You have such a great eye for combinations.

  14. Denise says:

    @Ed, then it sounds like there’d be no problem putting gallons and cu. feet on the bill if the interest was solely transparency.
    @Peter, I hope some of the intended mild humor came through and not just pure kvetch.
    @Pam, what a bizarre tension, free market interests coupled with precious and/or dwindling resources. Gail/Hoov says the say things is happening in Orange County, CA.
    @Deanne, the dry summer is normal, but lack of the usual winter rain is really stressing plants out. There’s conflicting forecasts for an El Nino winter bringing extra rain or more drought. We’ll see…

  15. Amy says:

    Very attractive mangave! Any plant with very low water requirements scores massive points from me!

  16. Denise says:

    You said it, Amy! We may be continents apart but certainly have that philosophy in common.

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