Monday, March 2, 2015

Saying "Goodbye" Never Gets Any Easier

Do you have an easy time saying "goodbye" to a loved one?  Probably not.

As I sit and write this post this evening, I must confess that my mother's heart hurts.  

We said "goodbye" this morning to our daughter, Rachele and her little baby, Eric.

Her car was all packed up and ready for her journey back to California.

We said our goodbyes just before we left for church.  The day was cloudy with rain on the way. The dreary weather matched my mood.

Just 48 hours ago, Rachele and I (along with Eric) were enjoying a talent show put on by the kids in our church's youth group.

It was a fundraiser for a future mission trip. The kids served a spaghetti dinner and entertained us all with their talent.

My daughter, Gracie, played piano and did great, even though she was a little nervous.

My son, Kai, and daughter Ruthie (hidden behind Kai), displayed their comedic talents.  Or should I say, Kai showed how much ice cream he could eat.  Ruthie while hidden behind Kai, served as his 'hands' as she prepared an ice cream sundae and then proceeded to feed him.  Needless to say, not much ice cream made it into his mouth.

The silent auction afterward was fun and I even won a couple - Starbucks and a Diamondbacks baseball game.

24 hours ago, I was sitting with Eric, enjoying some of our last moments together.

He is almost 6 weeks old and I have been with him for everyday of his short life.

From holding him minutes after his birth and changing his first diaper...

To taking care of both him and my daughter during their 6 day hospital stay.

Rachele came home to stay with us while she recovered from her c-section and we enjoyed her company and holding Eric a lot.

I will miss feeding Eric and seeing him becoming 'milk drunk' and I will even miss his crying (a little).

This morning, I took one last picture of Eric before it was time for them to go.  It will be hard to think that we will miss the next few milestones like his first smile.

I remember how sad I was when Rachele first left for the Navy and how I rejoiced when we saw her again when she graduated from basic training.
You can read more about her Navy journey, here.  

Then there was sadness as she was gone to Missouri and later Mississippi for further training.

It's hard to believe that my little girl is all grown up.  You would think that when your child is an adult, that saying "goodbye" would be fairly easy.

Well, it's not true.  I wish it was.

Now it is harder because I also miss my grandson. I realize that I was given a special gift of being able to spend so much time with them both. 

While the house seems rather empty with them gone, there are some perks:

-  My son, who graciously gave up his room for them to stay in, now gets to vacate the living room couch and move back into his room.

- The Xbox, which was moved temporarily into our bedroom, is now back in his room.

- The kitchen counter is free from bottles, nipples and formula.

- The trash can will be 'diaper-free'.

- There is more room in the family room with the absence of the baby swing, infant seat and changing pad.

- Nights will be somewhat quieter with no midnight feedings.

While the house is quieter and cleaner, I would trade it all back if I could.

But, the good news is that Rachele lives one state away, 7 hours by car and 1 hour by plane.  We already have plans to visit in April, June and September for starters.

I wonder if I can figure find a gardening conference coming up soon that is near her house?

Thank you for letting me share my mother's heart with you today.

**For those of you with older kids, do they live nearby or far away?  How often do you get to see them?

Thursday, February 26, 2015

A New Cactus Cutting Finds a Home

Do you have a plant that you have wanted to add to your garden?  

I have wanted a certain cactus for my own landscape for a long time and earlier this week, I found myself bringing a cutting of my favorite cactus finally home.

I was so excited that instead of putting it in the back of my car, I strapped it into the front seat for the ride home - I don't recommend doing it that way for a cactus with thorns :-)

In my work as a horticulturist, I have been fortunate to have picked up cuttings of certain cacti.  Often, the cuttings result from pruning and it's not unusual to see some left at the curb for trash pick up.

While I have planted a purple prickly cactus and a Mexican fence post from cuttings, I was still missing my favorite cacti in my garden.

I have often used totem pole cactus 'Monstrosus' (Lophocereus schottii 'Monstrosus') in my designs.  I love its knobby shape and the fact that it is thornless.

What I don't like about them is their price - a 1 1/2 ft. section can cost up to $40.

So you can imagine my reaction when I was visiting a client and came up upon this sight...

Seeing so many different types of cacti cuttings, just ready for planting, made me almost hyperventilate.

There were beautiful cacti available - Agave americana 'Variegata', a unique species of prickly pear, Cereus peruvianus AND my favorite - Lophocereus shottii 'Monstrosus'

My client had received these cuttings from her next door neighbor who had just pruned back some of her cacti.  It turned out the neighbor had a beautiful garden that has been featured in several magazines, including Phoenix Home & Garden.

I explained to my client where she could use the cuttings and explained the benefits of each one.  When I mentioned that the Lophocereus was my favorite type of cacti, she offered to give me one.

Despite my desire for this type of cacti, I was hesitant to accept, but my client was insistent.

So, I picked out the smallest one and drove home.

On my way home, I thought about where I wanted to put my new cactus.

I finally decided on putting it in my front landscape in the large area to the side of the driveway.

Planting cactus cuttings is extremely easy and the hole doesn't have to be big.

We planted my new cactus cutting so that the bottom 6 inches were buried.

Taking cuttings from cacti of all types is a fairly simple process, there are some guidelines that you need to follow.

A couple of years ago, I wrote about giving a cutting from our Mexican fence post cactus to our neighbor with step-by-step instructions that you can see here.

Our neighbor's cactus has been in the ground for 2 years now and is growing so well - it's formed two new 'arms'.

I can hardly wait to see how my newest cactus grows!

How about you?  Have you ever given or planted a cactus cutting?

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!


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