Monday, February 23, 2015

Church Landscape Renovation 1 Year After...

Do you enjoy seeing "before and after" photos?

I do - especially with landscapes.

Just over a year ago, I was asked to help renovate a local church's landscape.

As you can see their landscape had become rather bare as plants had not been replaced over the years.  In addition, there were some old plants that needed replacing.

So, I got to work on a new design.  When renovating an existing landscape, it's important to determine which existing plants to keep.  I rarely get rid of all the plants since mature plants help anchor a new landscape while the new plants take time to fill in and grow.  Also, why waste a perfectly good plant as long as it is still attractive and can fit into your design?  You can always create a design to go with an existing plant.

A year after being installed, I was asked to come back to work on a different area of the church,  During that time, I took some "after" pictures of what the landscape looks like now.  

This area was filled with two old shrubs, which we elected to keep.

Some contouring (mounding) was added for elevation and river rock washes were added for drainage.

And this is what it looks like 1 year later.  Flowering feathery cassia (Senna artemisioides) adds color in winter and spring.  Year round color is supplied by angelita daisies (Tetraneuris acaulis) and 'Blue Bells' (Eremophila hygrophana).

Agave and boulders will add texture contrast.

In this area, I tagged two struggling shrubs with paint for removal along with a yucca plant that the church landscape committee wanted removed due to it poking people with its sharp leaves as they walked by.

The Mexican bird-of-paradise (Caesalpinia mexicana) tree would remain in this area.

The small wash was redone, which serves double duty - it adds a decorative element to the landscape and helps channel water from the roof.

Golden barrel cacti (Echinocactus grusonii) were planted in the corner where they will lend sunny yellow color all year long.  'Blue bell' shrubs complete the planting in this area.

While pink fairy duster (Calliandra eriophylla) is a beautiful desert shrub in spring, it makes a poor hedge.  In addition, it does not flower 9 months of the year.  A plant that would look great throughout the majority of the year was needed in this area.

Ornamental grasses fit the bill perfectly in this area.  Pink muhly (Muhlenbergia capillaris) is green from spring through summer and puts on a show in fall when burgundy plumes appear that fade to an attractive wheat color in winter.  Instead of a hedge, which would need pruning throughout the year, pink muhly needs pruning once, in spring.

This area had a few sage shrubs, a single red yucca and a barrel cactus.

I had everything removed in this bed except for the barrel cactus.  The church had a large number of old Texas sage shrubs (Leucophyllum frutescens 'Green Cloud').  The reason that I had many of these taken out was because a the majority of the members of this church are winter visitors.  Texas sage flowers in summer and early fall when they are gone.  I was asked to add plants that would provide winter and spring color.

Now this area is filled with feathery cassia and Valentine bush (Eremophila maculata 'Valentine), both of which flower in winter and spring.  Desert spoon (Dasylirion wheeleri) adds both color and texture contrast and 'Blue bell' shrubs will add colorful flowers throughout the entire year.

This corner section of the landscape was filled with formally pruned shrubs that offered little beauty to the area.

The ocotillo and yucca remained and angelita daisies, 'Blue Bell' and feathery cassia were added.

I must admit that I was quite pleased at how everything looked.  It's one thing to create a design on paper and another thing entirely to see it growing in beautifully.

On a slightly different note, I also took time to check on the streetside landscape by the church that I had designed 2 years ago.

In the beginning, there was nothing there but an old cactus or two.

What a difference 2 years makes!  A young palo blanco tree (Acacia willardiana) grows among feathery cassia, Valentine and purple trailing lantana.

The plant palette for the church mirrored that of the street landscape for a visually seamless transition.

Along this section fo the street, all that was present were 3 Agave americana and utility boxes.

The agave were relocated along this stretch of road with trees and colorful shrubs.  You can hardly see the utility boxes now.

Thank you for letting me share with you some of my favorite "before and after" photos.  Learn more about the plants that I used in this project by clicking their names: 'Blue Bell' shrubs, feathery cassia, Valentine bush and pink muhly grass.

*Do you have an area in your landscape that needs a little help?  Take some time and drive around and take pictures of landscapes that you like.  Then take them to your local nursery or landscape professional and have them help you renovate your landscape.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Drive By Landscapes: Winter Beauty Shines in the Southwest

One of the things that I love most about living in the Southwest is that the landscape is always in bloom - even in winter.

Yesterday, I spent time in one of my favorite communities.  I had several appointments there and as I drove back and forth I couldn't help but notice the winter-flowering plants.

So, when I finished up my work, I took some time and did some drive by photography of the landscapes.

Now, for those of you who have read my blog or followed me on facebook for sometime - you know that I often take drive by photos of problem landscapes.

Well, not this time!  I was so distracted by the beauty around me that I didn't notice any landscape mistakes.

I hope you enjoy them as much as I did and come away inspired to create your own!

Valentine bush (Eremophila maculata 'Valentine') is hands down, my favorite shrub.  I love its bright red color, which decorates the landscape from January through April.  Even when it's not in bloom, the foliage adds an attractive element to the landscape.

Golden barrel cacti (Echinocactus grusonii) are a great choice with the sunny yellow color that they add.  I have been using them more often in my landscape designs due to their drought tolerance, low maintenance (they need none) and the yellow color they add throughout the year.

Large desert spoon (Dasylirion wheeleri) add great contrast with their spiky texture and gray-blue coloring.

This is a great pairing of plants and I plan on using it in future designs.

The yellow, fragrant flowers of feathery cassia (Senna artemisioides) are decorating Southwestern landscapes right now.  Nothing else brightens a dreary winter's day as much as the color yellow.  The silvery foliage of this cassia adds color contrast and give off a silvery glow when stirred by the breeze.

In the background, you can see the pink blooms of pink fairy duster (Calliandra eriophylla).  Their uniquely shapes blooms (looks like a feather duster).  Hummingbirds find them irresistible.  My only fault with this pink flowering beauty is that they bloom once a year in late winter and spring.

Bursage (Ambrosia deltoidea) acts a native groundcover that needs little water and provides nice color contrast.

This combination was well done, but perhaps planted a little too closely together.

Against the backdrop of yellow-flowering feathery cassia, a pair of boulders are decorated with blue bells (Eremophila hygrophana) which have lovely gray foliage and produce purple/blue flowers all year long.  This is a newer plant introduction that is getting a lot of attention and I have included it in many of my newer designs.

A golden barrel cactus offers great contrast along with a pair of agave.

This is one of my favorite landscapes in this particular community.  I like how they use a combination of cacti, flowering shrubs and perennials along with trees to create a pleasing landscape.

A trio of flowering firecracker penstemon (Penstemon eatoni) caught my eye.  They are in my top 5 of perennials and I have several in my garden.  They flower January through April in the low desert.

In another landscape, firecracker penstemon were used as part of a wildflower planting, backed by desert spoon and purple trailing lantana.

Ornamental grasses add great interest to the winter landscape and pink muhly (Muhlenbergia capillaris) is one of my favorites.  While most people rejoice when they produce their burgundy plumes in fall, but I like it when those burgundy plums fade to an attractive wheat color in winter.  Soon, they will be pruned back to 3 inches in preparation for a new growth cycle.

Some landscapes look attractive using a minimum amount of plants.  The key is to use a variety of different plants - not just shrubs or cacti.  In this one, a blue palo verde (Parkinsonia florida) overlooks a planting of purple trailing lantana (Lantana montevidensis) and desert spoon.  While the lantana is frost tender, the canopy of the tree provides it some protection from frost.

It's important to anchor the corners in your landscape - particularly those next to the driveway.  This planting also shows how you can combine plants that look great throughout the year, such as cacti with those that put on a show when warmer temps arrive such as the 'New Gold' lantana (Lantana 'New Gold'), which shows frost damage.  But, notice that the golden barrel cacti attract the attention and keep you from noticing the frost damaged plants.  Once spring arrives, the flowering lantana will take center stage.

This street planting also attracted my attention with the row of littleleaf (foothill) palo verde (Parkinsonia microphylla) trees, Valentine shrubs and purple trailing lantana. I should note that normally this time of year that the lantana wouldn't be flower as much, but we have had a very mild winter with our last freezing temperature occuring back in December.

An almost leafless mesquite tree stands sentinel over a planting of red-flowering chuparosa (Justicia californica), which has lovely green foliage and tubular flowers that drive hummingbirds crazy with delight.

As you can see, the Southwestern landscape is filled with beauty and color, even in winter.  Unfortunately, many homeowners only use plants that bloom spring through summer, leaving them with a boring landscape through the winter months when the weather is glorious.  It's important to incorporate plants that will add beauty to the landscape in both winter and summer.

I hope you have enjoyed this tour of the Southwestern winter landscape.  Next time, I will show you some areas that I recently designed that are growing in beautifully.

Here is a look at one of them - a street planting next to a church...

Until then, have a great weekend!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Beautiful and Fuss-Free: Lady Banks Rose

Do you love roses?

I do.

While most people will tell you that they love roses, they probably do not like the extra maintenance that they require with repeated fertilizing, deadheading, fighting damaging insects and fungal diseases.

Well, let me introduce you to a rose that is beautiful and low-maintenance.

Lady Banks rose may be well-known to a few of you and it is worth a second look for those of you who love roses but not the fuss.  

They are resistant to damaging bugs and most fungal diseases leave them alone.  However, unlike many modern roses, they flower once a year in spring, producing a glorious show.

Tombstone rose Lady Banks

If you've ever heard of the World's Largest Rose Bush in Tombstone, Arizona - it may interest you to find out that it is a Lady Banks rose.
You can read more about my visit to this historic rose bush, here.

There is so much to enjoy with this beautiful, fuss-free rose.

I invite you to learn more in my latest article for

Monday, February 16, 2015

Winter...What Winter?

Firecracker Penstemon

While much of the country is suffering from a truly awful winter season, those of us who live in the Southwest are having the exactly opposite problem.

This has been a very warm winter season, with the exception of a few freezing nights back in December.

With temps 10 - 15 degrees above normal, we have been enjoying temps in the 70's.  

I have seen some signs of our warm winter including the fact that I have ditched my slippers and am going barefoot every chance I get.  Plants have begun to emerge from their winter dormancy and people are asking me if they can prune their frost-damage plants early.

In regards to the pruning question, there is still a chance of Southwestern residents getting a spell of freezing weather before we approach the average last frost date.  So, pruning too early can actually hurt your plants if by some miracle temps dip below 32 degrees.

But, that may not stop everyone from grabbing the pruners.  If you happen to be one of these impatient pruners, make sure that you cover your recently pruned plants if temps dip into the low 30's.

In the meantime, enjoy the glorious weather!


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