Have you ever had the experience of receiving an unexpected bouquet?

I’ve been blessed to have gotten bouquets throughout my life from my wonderful husband, my children, and in the past – from a boyfriend or two.

But recently, I was presented with a bouquet from an unlikely source.

If you look up the definition of the word, ‘bouquet’, it states “an attractively arranged bunch of flowers, especially one presented as a gift or carried at a ceremony.”

This spring, I was delighted to see that my garden had presented me with an unexpected bunch of flowers – in other words, a bouquet.

This area in my front garden has a lovely Sandpaper Verbena (Glandularia rigida), which is a ground cover with vibrant purple flowers. It blooms spring through fall and thrives in full sun.

I planted the Sandpaper Verbena, however, I didn’t add the other flowers in this area.

Last year, I noticed the white flowers of Blackfoot Daisy (Melampodium leucanthum) growing up in the middle of the Verbena. It came from a seed from a nearby plant that alighted in this area and grew in the presence of irrigation.

I liked the look and as the plants were doing well together, I left them to their own devices.

Well evidently, someone else wanted to join the party. Enter, Angelita Daisy (Tetraneuris acaulis) that came up on its own. I have several throughout the landscape and they do self-seed sometimes.

I absolutely adore colorful plants and I must say, I am so happy with this bouquet growing in my garden. As long as they play nice and one doesn’t try to take over the other, they can remain.

Who knows who will show up in my living bouquet next year?

Have you ever paused in the shade of a mesquite tree (Prosopis spp.) and noticed that its branches grow every which way? 

I was reminded of this when I was visiting a client earlier this week and was advising him on how to care for his mesquite tree. I looked up and saw a cluster of branches growing up, down, sideways, and in curvy pathways.

Texas Honey Mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa)

 

In an ideal situation, mesquite trees resemble the shape of more traditional tree species, as shown above. However, they don’t always turn out this way. 

Have you ever wondered why mesquite trees grow in such crazy ways?

The answer is quite simple – in nature, mesquites grow as large shrubs. The branches of shrubs grow in all directions, up, down, sideways, etc., and so do mesquites.  

The problem arises when we train them up as trees, and their branches don’t always behave as trees do. Because of this, mesquites that have been pruned into trees, do best being pruned by a professional, particularly when they are young and certain branches are being chosen to remain while others are pruned off.

Of course, this doesn’t always happen, and you can see the results of bad pruning practices in many places. 

I do love the shade that mesquite trees provide and I must admit that I enjoy a good chuckle when I see the unusual shapes that some mesquite trees have taken.

How about you? Have you ever seen a mesquite tree with crazy branches?

What do you do when you spot aphids on your plants?

Do you reach for the nearest bottle of insecticide? Spray them off with a hose or remove them with your fingers?  

Believe it or not, sometimes the best thing is to do nothing.

So, is this something I learned in school? No. I figured it out by observing the plants in my first garden.

 
I remembered this early lesson when I passed by a severely pruned oleander shrub in front of my favorite bagel shop.  
 
The oleanders were growing back nicely. However, there were yellow aphids on the young leaves.
 
Years ago, my oleander shrubs had an infestation of yellow aphids like this, and I was anxious to get rid of them. Really, this is our first reaction when we see bugs on our plants – we want them gone.
 
I had several methods at my disposal – insecticidal soap, a strong jet of water or my fingers – all of which, would help get rid of most of the aphids. But, life got in the way, and I didn’t have a chance to get out to treat my shrubs until about ten days later.  
 
Can you guess what I found?  Not a single aphid.  I didn’t have to do a thing, and the aphids were gone, and my shrubs look great.
 
So, what happened to the aphids?
 
When harmful insect pests first appear, it can take a week or two before their natural predators follow. In the case of aphids, lacewing and ladybugs showed up and ate the aphids.  
 
Plants are tougher than we give them credit for and can handle a certain amount of insect pests without any adverse effects.  
 
So, when I come back in a couple of weeks to the same bagel shop, I expect to see no aphids in sight and a healthy oleander shrub.
The lesson here is that you don’t need to freak out when you see aphids as the normal cycle of nature will take care of them. However, you can step in to get rid of them if you see adverse effects on plants such as wilting, smaller blooms, or discoloration.

One of my favorite things I do as a landscape consultant is to show my clients newer plant introductions on the market.

Imagine being the first person on your block with the latest plant that all your neighbors will want to add in their landscape.  

Tecoma x ‘Orange Jubilee’
 
Many of you may be familiar with the large, orange-flowering shrub Tecoma x ‘Orange Jubilee’. This popular shrub has clusters of trumpet-shaped flowers and a long bloom period. Its large size 8-12-foot height makes it a favorite for screening out a block wall or unfavorable view.
 
While the flowers and lush foliage are a plus, Orange Jubilee is too large for many smaller areas, which is why this newer shrub is one of my new favorites. 
 
 
‘Sparky’ Tecoma is a hybrid that has bi-colored flowers and is named after Arizona State University’s popular mascot due to the coloring. It was created by a horticulturist and professor at ASU.
 
 
‘Sparky’ is about half the size of ‘Orange Jubilee,’ which makes it suitable for smaller spaces. It has smaller leaves and a slightly more compact growth habit, reaching 4-5 feet tall and wide.
 
Both types of Tecoma have the same requirements – plant in full sun and prune away frost-damaged growth in March.  ‘Sparky’ is slightly more cold tender than ‘Orange Jubilee’.
 
I have added three of these lovely shrubs in my front garden. One along my west-facing side wall, and two that flank either side of my large front window. They add beautiful color 9 months a year.
For those of you who are U of A alumni, you can plant one and call it something else. To date, there isn’t any word of a red, white and blue hybrid yet – but, I’ll be sure to let you know if they create one 😉
Spring in the desert brings a flurry of activity out in the garden – much of it involving container gardening.
 
As they say, in late spring, it’s “out with the old and in with the new.” In the desert garden, it’s when cool-season flowering annuals are traded out for those that can handle the hot temperatures of summer.  
 
Examples of cool-season annuals are pansies, petunias, and snapdragons, which are grown fall through spring. BUT, they won’t survive hot, desert summers. So, in late April, it’s time to plant flowering annuals that can take the heat. My favorites include angelonia, ‘Blue Victoria’ salvia, and vinca.
While flowers are a popular pot filler, there are so many other things that you can do with growing plants in containers.
Here are some of my favorites:


Jazz up the appearance of your containers by painting them a different color.

 
 
Let’s face it – beautiful containers can be expensive while inexpensive plastic containers are a bit boring. I like to dress up my plastic containers by adding a coat of paint.  
 
Many spray paints can be used on plastic and last a long time. I have several painted pots in my garden that add a welcome splash of color.
 

Grow herbs and vegetables along with flowers in pots.

 
Leaf lettuce and garlic grow along with flowering petunias.
 
Did you know that you can grow vegetables in pots? I love doing this in my garden. In the fall, I plant leaf lettuce, spinach, and garlic in my large pots alongside flowering petunias. When March arrives, I like to add basil, peppers along with annuals.
 
Winter container garden with spinach, parsley and garlic growing with pink petunias.
 
For pots, I recommend you use a potting mix, which is specially formulated for containers and holds just the right amount of moisture.  
 
Container plants need to be fertilizer. You can use a slow-release fertilizer or a liquid fertilizer of your choice.
 
Cucumbers growing with vinca and dianthus.
 
In spring, vegetables such as cucumbers, bush beans, and even zucchini can grow in containers paired with flowers. 
 
*If you would like to try growing edible containers, click here for more info.
 

Plant succulents for a low-maintenance container.

 
 
My favorite filler for containers in the desert garden is cacti and succulents. They do very well in pots and need less water than those filled with flowering annuals and perennials.
 
Desert Spoon (Dasylirion wheeleri).
Succulents are an excellent choice for planting in areas where water is not easily accessible. While they will need supplemental water, they don’t need water every day, making them a better choice for these areas.
 
 
In general, succulents are lower-maintenance as well, so they are an excellent choice for the ‘fuss-free’ gardener.
 
Use a potting mix specially formulated for cactus & succulents, which will drain well.
 
Fertilize succulents spring through fall using a liquid or slow-release fertilizer at 1/2 the recommended strength.
 
*For more information on how to plant succulents in containers, including how to do it without getting pricked, click here.
 

Fill the bottom space of large pots with empty, plastic containers. 

 
 
Let’s face it – potting mix is expensive and makes your pots very heavy. If you have a large pot, your plant’s roots most likely will never reach the bottom – so why waste soil where you don’t need it?
 
Fill up the unused space with recycled plastic containers and then add your potting mix. You will save money, AND your container will be much lighter as well. 
Whether you are new to gardening, an experienced pro, or have a small or large garden space – I invite you to reimagine what you can do in a container!

Have you ever discovered a garden in a surprising place?

A few years ago, I found myself driving through the historic neighborhoods of the Encanto district in downtown Phoenix. I had finished up a landscape consultation in the area and decided to drive through the nearby neighborhoods in the historic district.  

My initial goal was to see if I could find the home my grandparents owned in the 1940’s. While I didn’t find the home, I did find a house that stopped me in my tracks.

 
 
What first drew my eye was this parking strip (also known as a ‘hell strip’) between the sidewalk and street, filled with a bounty of flowering annuals and perennials.
 
I couldn’t believe this was growing blocks away from the skyscrapers of downtown Phoenix. 

And so, I whipped out my phone and started to take pictures. The bright colors of California poppies, red flax, and plains coreopsis caught my eye, while in the background I noticed the old, Veteran’s Memorial Coliseum where the Arizona State Fair is held every fall.

 
 
As I made my way up the planting bed, I saw more colorful, annual flowers intermixed with globe mallow, ‘Thundercloud’ sage and red yucca.
 
 
One flower that I did not expect to see in the desert garden, not to mention downtown Phoenix, was larkspur with its deep purple spikes.
 
 
Multi-colored bachelor’s button flowers grew among scarlet flax and plains coreopsis.
 
As I stood admiring the effect that all these flowering plants had on the street landscape, I happened to meet the son (James) of the owner of the house. He was busy working out in the garden and was flattered at my interest in the garden he had created. 
 
Last fall, James took three packs of wildflower seeds (multiple varieties) and threw them on the bare parking strip, added some compost on the top and watered well. Over the months, he has watched them come up and was thrilled at how the hell strip had been transformed.
 
He then offered to show me what he had done to the backyard – I could hardly wait to see it after seeing what he has done on the outside.
 
(A few of the photos are a bit blurry. I’m not sure what went wrong with my phone’s camera, but you can still get a sense of the beauty in the backyard.)
 
 
The backyard consists of a lawn split in two by a large planting bed with hollyhocks.
 
 
I love hollyhocks and have grown them in the past. They self-seed and flower for me every spring.  All I give them is a little water – that’s all they need.
 
 
The small patio in the back of the house is filled with an old-fashioned table and chairs, which fit the age of the home perfectly!
 
The pathway separates the two lawn areas and leads to the garage in the back. It was created using concrete molded into geometric shapes.
 
 
Bermuda grass is allowed to grow into the cracks for an interesting look.
 
 
The patio is edged with flowering annuals such as blanket flower, bachelor’s button, and yellow daisy (Euryops pectinatus).
 
 
In this blurry photo, a large crown-of-thorns plant was thriving in a tiny container. Believe it or not, it is 20 years old and thriving in a very small pot. According to James, he waters it twice a week in summer and weekly throughout the rest of the year.
 
 
Two Chinese elm trees provide dappled shade on a beautiful spring day.
 
 
A small potting bench stands in front of the wooden fence painted a greenish-chartreuse color, which blends well with the garden.
 
A fountain is in the center of this grassy area and adds the refreshing sound of water.
 
How relaxing would it be to enjoy this outdoor space, even in the middle of summer with all of its shade?
 
 
I bade a reluctant goodbye to the back garden and ventured back out to the parking strip. James then showed me where he had planted wildflowers next to the detached garage.
 
 
 
Bright pink and vibrant orange – doesn’t that remind you of the 70’s?
 
 
These tall poppies were planted from 3-year-old seed that James was going to throw out. I’m certainly glad that he decided to plant them instead.
While old seed won’t germinate as well as young seed, you’ll often still get some seeds to sprout – just not as many.
 
It is unexpected surprises like this that make life interesting. This garden was fairly small but beautifully tended to.  Ironically, most of what was growing in it grew from seed with little effort.

I have a wonderful treat for you! This week’s blog post is from Dr. Jacqueline Soule.

Chances are that her name sounds familiar and that is because she is a noted plant expert and well-known author of several books on desert gardening.

Jacqueline grew up in Tucson and currently resides there where she enjoys growing low-maintenance plants that add beauty, which thrive in the desert.

I am fortunate to call Jacqueline my friend and we are both part of SWGardening.com I am excited to share with you her post on Germander.

“As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.”

Germander (Teucrium chamaedrys) Photo by Amadej Trnkoczy cc 3.0

Gorgeous Germander 

by Jacqueline A. Soule, Ph.D.

Special for AZ Plant Lady, 03 2020

Germander is a gorgeously green low-water ground cover that grows well in Arizona, is great for pollinators, and happens to be usable as a culinary herb.  

Greeting from another desert garden this week – that of garden writer Jacqueline Soule, who lives in Tucson (Gardening With Soule – in the Land of El Sol).  Noelle has graciously shared her space this week to allow me to introduce you to one herb for your landscaping.  

https://gardeningwithsoule.com/

Germander Has a Long History

This handsome herb was brought to the mission gardens of Arizona in 1698 by Father Kino.  Germanders are native to the rocky hillsides of Greece and Turkey, where they get rain only in the winter.  This means they tolerate dry and hot conditions well!

Germander (Teucrium chamaedrys) growing in a Sedona garden.

Which One to Use?

There are around 100 species of germander!  The one most commonly used in landscaping is the wall germander (Teucrium chamaedrys).  This species has tiny, bright green, rounded leaves.  The creeping germander is the same species, but has been selected over time to be a low ground cover (Teucrium chamaedrys var. prostratum).  Both of these are available at many local nurseries (but not big box stores).

For landscaping, germander offers a gorgeous bright, forest-green.  I confess, I prefer this color in general over the blue-green of rosemary.  Even in poor soil and with little water, germander grows to form a dark green carpet, about 2 feet around per plant, the creeping germander a bare 4 to 6 inches tall.

Germaders grow well in alkaline (unamended) desert soil, in full sun to part shade situations.  Reflected summer light is tad too much for them, so not under picture windows.

Teucrium chamaedrys by Amadej Trnkoczy cc 3.0 002

Fragrant Flowers

Both germander and rosemary have many oil glands in their leaves and are fragrant plants.  But then there are the flowers!  Germander flowers are far more fragrant than rosemary.  Germander blooms are almost honey-scented, like sweet alyssum.  Like rosemary, germander are bee pollinated, by both European honey bees and by our native Arizona solitary bees, with occasional butterfly visitors.

Use In Your Landscape

Both rosemary and germander can be used in roasting potatoes or to add flavor to meat dishes.  I use either herb to scrub down the grill prior to cooking – depends on which needs pruning.  In ancient Greece, hunters would field dress their meat with germander, often found growing wild in the hills.  (It may have anti-microbial properties.)  Germander abounds on Greek hillsides because the strong oils render it unpalatable to wildlife.  I won’t promise it is rabbit proof, but those “wascally wabbits” don’t bother mine.  

Herbs that can be used to create a beautiful, low-water-using, edible, Southwest landscape are numerous. Learn more in this webinar offered March 25, 2020 by the Herb Society of America – only $5 and you don’t have to drive anywhere! Or in April, drive to Carefree, where Jacqueline will speak about “Gardening for Fragrance” on April 18 2020.

Want to learn more from Jacqueline? Check out two of her most popular books –  Arizona, Nevada & New Mexico Month-by-Month Gardening and Southwest Fruit & Vegetable Gardening.

You can follow her on Facebook and Instagram.

Did you know that you can have plants blooming in your landscape every month of the year? In the desert garden, this is definitely true!

One of the most popular programs that I teach at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix is ‘Flowering All Year’. During the presentation, I teach students how to incorporate plants in their gardens so they can enjoy colorful blooms all year long.

Sadly, many desert dwellers miss this opportunity. Drive down a typical neighborhood street in winter, and you will have a hard time finding plants in bloom except for colorful annual flowers. As you’ll note, the focus in our gardens is typically on plants that flower through the warm season.

So, how can we change that? It’s quite simple – add plants that will flower in winter. Believe it or not, there are quite a few plants that fit the bill. 

I invite you to come along with me on a virtual tour of the plants I showed to the students in the class as we walked through the garden in mid-February.

*Before we embark on our walk, I have a confession to make. Usually, I arrive early before my classes to see what’s in bloom so I can plan our route. But, my daughter’s bus arrived late that morning, so I was running a bit late. As a result, I didn’t know what we would see. Thankfully, there was plenty to see.

Plants for Cool-Season Color:

 

Purple Lilac Vine (Hardenbergia violaceae)

The vibrant, blooms of Purple Lilac Vine never disappoint. Blooms appear in mid-winter, adding a welcome relief to colorless winter landscapes. Here it is planted in a tall raised bed and allowed to trail downward. In my garden, it grows up against a wall with a trellis for support.

Whale’s Tongue Agave and Mexican Honeysuckle underneath an Ironwood tree

 

Mexican Honeysuckle (Justicia spicigera)

Several perennials and small shrubs do best in the desert garden when planted in filtered sunlight. Desert trees like Ironwood, Mesquite, and Palo Verde are excellent choices for producing filtered sunlight. Mexican Honeysuckle doesn’t do well in full sun. As a result, it thrives under the shade of this Ironwood tree. I love the texture contrast in this bed next to the Whale’s Tongue Agave.

Weber’s Agave (Agave weberi) and Desert Marigold (Baileya multiradiata)

Desert Marigold is a short-lived perennial that resembles a wildflower. Yellow flowers appear throughout the year on this short-lived perennial. I like to use them in wildflower gardens or natural desert landscapes because this yellow bloomer will self-seed.

Firesticks (Euphorbia ‘Sticks on Fire’) and Elephants Food (Portulacaria afra)

Shrubs, vines, and perennials aren’t the only plants that add winter color in the landscape. Colorful stems of the succulent Firesticks add a splash of orange all year. I am a fan of the use of blue pots in the garden, and here, it adds a powerful color contrast with the orange.

‘Winter Blaze’ (Eremophila glabra)

 

Lush green foliage decorated with orange/red blooms is on display all year long with this Australian native. Several types of Eremophilas add cool-season color to the landscape, and this one deserves more attention. There must be a blank space in my garden for one… 

Blue Bells Eremophila and Mexican Fence Post Cactus

 

Blue Bells (Eremophila hygrophana)

Blue Bells is arguably one of my most favorite plants. It resembles a compact Texas Sage (Leucophyllum spp.) but doesn’t grow as large AND blooms throughout the year. For best results, plant in full sun, but well-drained soil is a must.

Valentine Bush (Eremophila maculata ‘Valentine’)

My favorite choice for winter color is Valentine Bush. Red/fuschia blooms begin to appear in January and last into April. For maximum color impact, use them in groups of 3 – 5. They are low maintenance – prune back to 1/2 their size in mid-April after flowering. No other pruning is required.

Aloe ferox

Winter into spring is a busy time for Aloes, and many species do well in the desert garden. Most require filtered sunlight to do their best, but ‘Blue Elf’ Aloe does well in both full sun and bright shade.

Trailing Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)

People from colder climates are often surprised to note that rosemary flowers. In the desert, we are fortunate that we get to enjoy their blue flowers from winter through spring – the bees like them too!

Shrubby Germander (Teucrium fruiticans ‘Azurea’)

Toward the entrance to the garden, I was delighted to see Shrubby Germander. A star in my own garden, this shrub has flowered all winter long and will continue to do so into spring. The blooms are a lovely periwinkle color.

Chuparosa (Justicia californica)

As our walk was wrapping up, the bright red blooms of a Chuparosa shrub caught our eye. A hummingbird was busily drinking as much nectar as he could. I like to use this shrub in landscapes with a natural theme as it has a sprawling growth habit. It flowers through winter into spring and an important nectar source for hummingbirds.

Of course, blooming plants aren’t the only way to add color to the garden. Garden art can play a vital part in adding interest. The Desert Botanical Garden is host to a traveling art exhibit with various animals made from recycled plastic. This group of meerkats greets visitors to the garden.

I hope that you enjoy this virtual tour of winter color in the garden and will add some to your own.

What plants do you have that flower in winter?

A chilly winter’s morning dawns over this Phoenix garden

Winter is a beautiful time of year in the desert landscape with bright blue skies, fresh cool air, and the plants in the garden add subtle beauty.

A seating area beckons you to sit and enjoy the peace and beauty of the garden

This particular garden was the backdrop for a video shoot by the horticultural filmmaker, PlantPop this past December. They asked me to be the subject of their first video shoot in Arizona, and I was thrilled to do so.

succulent container

A variety of succulents add beauty to this large galvanized steel horse trough container

Shooting the film in my garden wasn’t possible as my backyard is undergoing renovation. So, I asked one of my clients if we could film in her landscape instead. Thankfully, she said yes!

green hedge doorway

Hop Bush (Dodonaea viscosa) shrubs

We met at her house early in the morning with the filmmaker who set up the cameras and microphones. Our host is one of the most gracious people I know and kept us warm with the outdoor fireplace and feeding us donuts 🙂

Being interviewed – I love talking about desert gardening!

We spent about 3 hours there with me talking about the unique challenges and possibilities of gardening in a hot, dry climate. During the filming, I walked around the garden, highlighting different areas throughout the garden. This garden has many ‘rooms’ and corners that display the beauty of winter in the desert.

The video has come out, and I’m so happy at how well the folks at PlantPop condensed our visit into a 4-minute video so nicely.  I hope you enjoy it and come away inspired by what you can do in your own desert garden!

No matter where you live, you will see the same shrubs being used over and over again in countless landscapes. While the shrubs may be attractive, their overuse throughout neighborhoods creates a boring appearance because they are so common.

 

In California, Nevada, and Arizona, oleanders have held a prominent spot in the landscape for years. Their popularity is due to their lush evergreen foliage, ability to withstand intense heat, and their pretty flowers.

However, their overuse in many areas makes their beauty less impactful and frankly, almost forgettable.

 At a recent conference, this point was put quite succinctly by the head of horticulture for Disneyland who said,

“When things are expected (in the landscape), they become less powerful and impactful”.

His statement sums up what happens when we use the same plants over and over.

In the case of oleanders, there is another problem.

 
 Oleanders are susceptible to a fatal disease called, oleander leaf scorch. This disease has come from California into Arizona where it is popping up in neighborhoods in Phoenix and also Lake Havasu. I have consulted with several cases affecting large, mature oleanders in Arcadia, Biltmore, and Moon Valley areas in Phoenix. 

This bacterial disease is spread by leaf-hopper insects and there is currently no known cure or control available. Infected oleanders slowly decline over 2-3 years before dying. To date, dwarf oleanders have not shown signs of the disease, only the larger forms. But, that could change sometime in the future.

Objectively, there’s a lot to like about oleanders; they thrive in hot, dry climates with minimal fuss, have attractive dark green foliage, and add color to the landscape when in flower. However, their overuse in the landscape makes them less impactful and coupled with their susceptibility to oleander leaf scorch, people want an alternative. 

You can learn more about this disease that affects oleanders here.

Hop Bush: 

 
When asked for another option for the large, tall forms of oleanders, I recommend Hop Bush (Dodonaea viscosa), also known as Hopseed Bush.
 
This native desert shrub has attractive, evergreen foliage and a similar growth habit to oleander. They grow up to 12 feet tall or prune to a shorter height.
 
 
Use Hop Bush in the same ways as oleanders to provide a nice green hedge or privacy screen.
 
Hop bush flower
 
While they don’t have colorful flowers; they have lovely foliage that is only mildly poisonous as opposed to oleanders which are highly toxic.
 
 
Hop bush has a lovely natural shape or prune as a formal hedge.
 
Want to learn more about this oleander alternative? In my latest Houzz article, I share what types of plants look nice next to hop bush, how to care for them and show a purple-leaf form.
 
I hope that you find a spot for this lovely shrub in your landscape.

Have you ever seen hop bush growing in the landscape?