Wednesday, August 20, 2014

10 Ways to Add Color to Your Garden Without Plants

Is your garden looking a bit lackluster and in need of more color than green?  While colorful flowering plants can help, it is hard to find a plant that will flower all year long.  


*Some of you may know that I am the garden blogger for Birds & Blooms magazine.  I have been going through some recent blog posts that I have written for them and thought that I would share some of my favorites with you.



As part of a two-part series, I shared some creative ways to add color to the landscape without relying on plants alone.  This is especially helpful during the winter months when not many plants are in flower.

Most of the photographs in these posts were taken during a recent trip to Southeastern Arizona including Bisbee, Tombstone and Tucson.



I hope that you are inspired to use a few of these colorful ideas in your own landscape!
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Monday, August 18, 2014

Summer Pruning and a 'Substitute' Gardener


Have you ever had a 'substitute' teacher?  

As most of us know, a substitute teacher didn't do things the same way our regular teacher would.

A few years ago, I was asked to help take care of the plants in my in-law's landscape.


Meticulously pruned desert ruellia (Ruellia peninsularis)

My father-in-law had been a meticulous gardener and took a lot of pride in his landscape.
Have you ever seen 'rounder' shrubs?

A few years earlier, I had designed his landscape and tried to convince him to allow his plants to grow into their natural shapes.  But as you can see from the photo above, he didn't follow my advice ;-)

He eventually took out his backyard grass and replaced it with artificial turf.  Whenever flowers or leaves would fall on the grass, he would vacuum them up - I'm not kidding.

We would often joke with each other about our very different styles of gardening - especially when he would come over for a visit and see my plants growing "wild and free" as he would say.  

But despite our differences, we shared the same love for plants and the garden.

Unfortunately, his gardening days were numbered and he asked me to come over and help him with the gardening tasks that he could no longer do.

My father-in-law was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease) in October 2010 and it progressed rapidly.

So, I was the 'substitute' gardener and I was happy to be able to help out so that he could still enjoy the beauty of his garden, even if he could not care for it himself.


In early August of 2011, I lightly pruned back his gold lantana.  At this point, he spent most of his time indoors sitting down.  But, as I was pruning, I saw him slowly make his way out, with his walker, so he could watch me prune his plants.

At this point, he could no longer talk due to his ALS - if he could have spoken, he might have asked me to make the lantana 'rounder' :-)

After this light pruning, the lantana would grow back to its original size before stopping during winter.  If they had not been pruned, they would have look quite overgrown for my father-in-law's taste.
Light pruning involves removing 1/3 or less.  The timing of this light pruning is crucial - prune too late and your plants will be extra susceptible to damage from frost.  Don't prune after early August in zone 9 (July in zone 8) gardens. Pruning in fall should not be done for this very reason. 


Another part of the garden that my father-in-law took a lot of pride in was his flowering annuals.  Every year, he would plant the same orange geraniums and white-flowering bacopa in winter.  Once spring rolled around, he would plant red and white vinca.

I found myself taking over this job as well. When I would return home and see all there was to do in my neglected garden, but I didn't mind.  It felt so good to be able to control how his garden looked because ALS had taken control of everything else.

My father-in-law died in September 2011, just 11 months after being diagnosed with ALS.  

It's been almost 3 years since he passed away, but whenever August comes around and I find myself lightly pruning back my gold lantana - I enjoy the memory of one our last moments together in the garden as I pruned his lantana.

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Friday, August 15, 2014

Underused White Flowering Beauty - Little Leaf Cordia

There are some plants in the landscape that are underused through not fault of their own.

This can be for a number of reasons, one of which, is that it isn't stocked at local nurseries.  Customers often walk into their local nursery without any specific plant in mind and choose from what is in stock.



Another reason is that many southwestern natives aren't all that impressive looking in their nursery container, where their root growth is restricted.  
However once they are planted and roots begin growing, they really take off and transform into a beautiful plant.


One underused plant in the southwest garden is little leaf cordia (Cordia parvifolia).

There are so many reasons to love this underused, native shrub...

- it is evergreen in zones 8 and above
- thrives in areas with full, reflected sun
- is drought tolerant
- needs no fertilizer
- rarely needs to be pruned
- and perhaps most importantly, it has beautiful, white flowers!


I recently wrote about little leaf cordia for Houzz.com and how to grow and use it in the landscape.

My hope that this underused shrub will soon become a much-used shrub in the southwestern landscape.

**Is there a plant that you think deserves a more prominent place in the southwestern landscape?  Please share it in the comments below!
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Tuesday, August 12, 2014

DIY Herb Salt Blends From the Garden

I am always on the lookout for new things to make from the garden.

Recently I learned how to make specially flavored salts using herbs from my garden.  'Herb salts' have become a popular flavoring tool in the culinary community and they are very easy to make.

The process of making herb salts starts out looking like this...



And ends up transformed into this...



Are you interested in making your own herb salts? 

Summertime means that many of my herbs are actively growing and I sometimes run of ways to use all of the fragrant leaves of them.

Herb or 'gourmet' salts are a great way to preserve herbs while adding a new twist to flavoring my favorite foods.

Basil Salt

In my last post, I shared how to make basil salt using two ingredients - fresh basil leaves and kosher salt.

Today, I'd love to show you how to make your own unique herb salt blend.


For my herb salt blend, I went out into the garden and looked for a variety of herbs that I love to cook with.  I found rosemary, sage and thyme. I then grabbed a head of garlic and kosher salt.
I must admit that I was thrilled that I had all these herbs growing in my garden.  I grew the garlic too! 

For equipment, you should have a cutting board, a sharp knife for chopping, a baking sheet and a glass jar with a lid.  
You can make this recipe using a food processor, but it is optional.


1. You will need 2/3 cup rosemary, 2/3 cup sage and 2/3 cup thyme leaves.  These are the amounts I used to get the flavor I liked, but you can play around with the ratio of each herb or choose different herbs to get the flavor you want.  


2. Place 1/2 cup kosher salt on your cutting board and add 5 peeled garlic cloves and chop them together.  The garlic should be finely minced at this point.


3. Chop all of the herbs together.



4. Combine the salt/garlic and the herbs together and continue chopping until finely chopped.

**You can use a food processor for steps 3 & 4 instead of chopping.  Simply put all ingredients in at once and pulse for 30 seconds. 


At this point you can use your herb salt to flavor a roast of beef, chicken or pork before cooking or to flavor roasted vegetables.  But, if you aren't using the herb salt right away, continue on...


5. Put your herb salt mixture onto a baking sheet in a thin layer and bake in a 200 degree oven for 30 minutes.  This step dries out the herb mixture.  You can also allow it to air dry over a couple of days instead of putting it into the oven.


6. Place your dried mixture into a food processor and pulse for 30 seconds to get rid of any lumps.
If you don't have a food processor, you can put the dried mixture into a Ziploc bag and roll it with a rolling pin until it is finely ground up.


7. Put your herb salt into a glass jar with a tightly-fitted lid.  Store in a dark, dry place with your spices and dried herbs to preserve its flavor.

I will use my herb salt blend to flavor a pork loin, baked chicken or even a beef roast.  It would also taste great when sprinkled on roasted vegetables or put into soups, don't you think? 

As you can imagine there are a number of different types of herb salts that you can make.  Here are a few different combinations that you might want to try:


Rosemary Sage Garlic Salt

All of these herb salt blends can be made following the same steps as I have done for my herb salt blend - except where noted.

Rosemary Lemon Pepper Salt - 1/3 cup rosemary leaves, 2 tablespoons lemon zest, 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper and 1/2 cup kosher salt.
*(Increase cooking time to 1 hour)

Rosemary Sage and Garlic Salt - 1/2 cup of rosemary leaves, 1/2 cup sage, 5 peeled garlic cloves and 1/4 cup kosher salt.

Sage Thyme and Garlic Salt - 1/2 cup sage, 1/2 cup thyme, 5 peeled garlic cloves and 1/4 cup kosher salt.

If your garden is filled with herbs, this is a creative way to use them in the kitchen or give them as gifts.  Even if you don't have a garden filled with herbs, you can find fresh herbs at your local grocery store or farmers market.

So, how about you? What would herb(s) would your ideal herb salt contain?
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