Birthday Cake

The past couple of months has been a period of busyness, a new look, and opportunities for me.

Normally in December, work in the garden slows down, which means that I have fewer landscape consultations. I welcome this time of year as it allows me to focus on Christmas and a welcome break from work. However, this time it was a very busy time for me as I have been working on two big projects. 

One is the free webinar that I gave earlier this week. It was the first live webinar that I’ve presented and although I was a little nervous, I loved it!

The second project is one that is near and dear to my heart, and you can read about it HERE.

Desert_Gardening_Website_AZ_Plant_Lady

You may have noticed that things look a little different. I decided that it was time to freshen up the appearance of my website and I’m pleased with the results. I did this with the goal of making it easier for you to navigate and find the information that you need.

During the periods of busy work, I did take time to slow down and enjoy some new opportunities. One was adding a playhouse to my garden.

Although I think it would be a great mini-garden shed, I think it works best as a playhouse for the grandkids, don’t you think?

For Christmas, we added a badminton net to the backyard. The kids got into it right away and had so much fun. Now, my husband and I go out to play three times a week or more, for about a 1/2 hour. It’s a fun workout, and the weather is beautiful!

Back indoors, I have been using my extra free time having fun in the kitchen with my new Instant Pot. My family is huge fans of what I’ve made so far which include Bolognese sauce, porcupine meatballs, and roast chicken. Do you have Instant Pot recipes that you recommend?

We are pizza lovers, and my newest recipe is based on the Pioneer Woman’s Stuffed Crust Pizza. I made some changes by leaving out the string cheese, adding sausage and shredded Mozzarella on the top. It is so good and easy to make!

Birthday Cake

The day after Christmas is my birthday and my dear husband, who is no great baker, does know how to order my favorite Freddy’s Ice Cream Cake with Heath Bar added – YUM!

Finally, I can’t wait to get back out into the garden this week. It’s time to prune back my roses. I find this task gratifying as I get to decide which canes to keep and which ones to cut back. Although it is hard to cut them back when they are in bloom, I keep thinking of how beautiful they will be in spring, in large part, due to my pruning.

What are your plans for this new year?

The 5 Most Common Mistakes People Make in the Desert Garden

The 5 Most Common Mistakes People Make in the Desert Garden

I am always looking for ways to help people on their desert garden journey and so I’m offering a FREE class on 5 reasons you are struggling with your desert garden.

As a horticulturist and landscape consultant, I have seen people making the same mistakes, which prevent them from having a beautiful outdoor space.

Because of this, they unintentionally ‘hurt’ the plants by over-maintaining them and spending money on unneeded products and landscape services.

If this sounds like you, I AM HERE TO HELP!

I’ve been helping people like you for over 20 years and I can help you too!

Free Webinar AZ Plant Lady

This LIVE class is on January 17th, at 1:00 MST. *If you want to register for this free class, but can’t attend it live, it will be recorded so you can watch it at our convenience for a limited time.

Knowledge is power and once you know what you are doing wrong in the landscape – you have taken one GIANT step in having a desert garden that you are proud of.

CLICK the following link to learn more and register – http://bit.ly/2RpFFb5

I hope to see you there!

David Austin roses Olivia Rose
David Austin roses Olivia Rose

Olive Rose, one of David Austin’s recent introductions

Yesterday, the world lost a man who made a huge contribution to rose lovers all over the world. Called the ‘Godfather of English roses’ David Austin’s mission was to create a better rose that was more robust, had fewer disease and pest problems, but most of all, beautiful and incredibly fragrant.

Graham Thomas English rose growing in Phoenix

‘Graham Thomas’ is one of his most popular creations

For a man that I’ve never met, David Austin has a big impact on my love for gardening. Roses were the first plant that I fell in love with and inspired me to become a horticulturist. At one point, I had forty hybrid tea roses growing in my Phoenix garden. While they were beautiful, they took a lot of work to keep them that way. Pests and fungal disease were things that I had to deal with and though my roses were very pretty, not all were fragrant.

I planted my first David Austin roses in 1993 and soon became convinced that this was truly a better breed of roses. I never had to worry about aphids, blackspot or powdery mildew, all of which, are common problems with growing roses. The unique beauty of the roses comes from David Austin using old-fashioned roses for their sturdiness and disease resistance with more fragrant roses that bloom often. The result are roses that are low-maintenance while also exceptionally beautiful and fragrant.

Red rose Darcy Bussell grows in an Arizona garden

‘Darcey Bussell’ is one of the newer David Austin varieties in my garden

Today, my rose garden is made up almost exclusively of David Austin roses. While I never met him in person, I have met several of the individuals who work for his family-run company. I heard a fun story about David from a member of his company who told the story of David Austin and Queen Elizabeth. At the Chelsea Flower Show, David Austin’s roses were on full display and he was present as well. The Queen came to visit and he flirted openly with her and she seemed to enjoy the attention of this charming old gentleman. I must say, it takes courage to flirt with the Queen of England.

Arizona Rose Garden Urban

My rose garden

In my Arizona garden, I test several of their newest roses for the David Austin Rose company in my rose garden. Each year, they send me new ones to try out and then I give them my feedback. The company wants to know how they will perform in the low-desert heat and I must say that almost all of the ones that I’ve grown do very well.

Here is a list of those that I have grown and recommend for the desert garden:

Abraham Darby

Darcey Bussell

Graham Thomas

Olivia Rose

Juliet

*I also have ‘Ancient Mariner’ and ‘Lady of Sharlot’ growing. I’m still waiting to see how they do as they have only been in the garden for a year and I find that it takes a little longer than that to see how well they will do. 

If I had to pick two favorites, they would be ‘Darcey Bussell’ and ‘Olivia Rose’. Both bloom well into summer, which is rare for roses grown in the desert. 

For people who want to add one of David Austin’s wonderful rose varieties to their garden, not all nurseries carry David Austin roses, although I know that Berridge Nursery in the Phoenix area does. However, they are easy to order online and they will be mailed to you at the proper planting time for your area, which for the low-desert garden is mid-December through February for bare root roses.

The family-run company will continue with his mission of creating beautiful, fragrant roses for the garden and I look forward to seeing what is coming next.

Have you ever grown a David Austin rose? Which one?

Have you ever renovated the interior of your house? Seeing the old, outdated elements peeled away and replaced with new paint, flooring, etc. can leave you feeling refreshed and even excited. Well, I get to do that with outdoor spaces, assisting clients with already established landscapes, create an updated look. The key to this is NOT to tear everything out and begin from scratch – instead, it’s a delightful puzzle deciding what should remain and what is best removed and replaced.

I get so much satisfaction helping people create an attractive landscape, and even more when I get to see them several months later once the plants have a chance to begin to grow. Last week, I was invited to re-visit a new landscape that I designed, exactly one year after it was completed and was very pleased with the results.

I’d love to show you photos of the finished product, but first, let’s look at what I had to work with.

As you can see, the interior of the house was also undergoing renovation when I first visited. The front yard consisted of two palm tree stumps, a few agave, overgrown gold lantana, and boulders.

The landscape rock was thinning and mixed in with the river rock while the asphalt from the street was crumbling away.

The parts of the landscape that I felt could be reused were the boulders and the gold lantana. Also, the river rock could be re-purposed. All of the rest was removed.

To create the structure for the new landscape elements, additional boulders were added, and the existing contouring was enhanced by elevating the height of the mound and a swale in the front center. The circular collection of rip-rap rock serves to mask the opening of the end of a french drain which helps to channel water from the patio.

A saguaro cactus and totem pole ‘Monstrose’ (Lophocereus schottii ‘Monstrose’) were placed for vertical interest and the gold lantana that were already present were pruned back severely to rejuvenate them and others were added to create visual continuity. Along with the cactuses, other succulents like artichoke agave (Agave parrying var. truncata) and gopher plant (Euphorbia biglandulosa) were incorporated to add texture with their unique shapes.

The existing river rock was removed, washed off and replaced along with the crumbling edge of the street, helping it to blend with the natural curves of the landscape.

Anchoring the corners with a grouping of plants is a very simple way to enhance the curb appeal of a home. This collection of volunteer agave and old palm tree stumps weren’t doing this area any favors.

This corner was built up slightly, creating a gentle rise in elevation. A large boulder joined the existing one, and a beautiful, specimen artichoke agave was transplanted here from the owner’s previous residence. Angelita daisy (Tetraneuris acaulis) will add year-round color as they fill in. ‘Blue Elf’ aloe were planted to add a welcome splash of color in winter and spring when they flower.

Moving into the front courtyard, the corner was filled with an overgrown rosemary shrub. The dwarf oleander shrubs were also taken out as they were too large for the smaller scale of this area.

Mexican fence post cactus (Pachycereus marginatus) helps to anchor the corner and will grow at a moderate rate, adding more height as it grows.

Year-round color is assured with angelita daisies and ‘Blue Elf’ aloe, which won’t outgrow this area.

Moving toward the front entry, this area is somewhat underwhelming. The natal plum (Carissa macrocarpa) adds a pleasant green backdrop and is thriving in the shade, so should stay. However, the Dasylirion succulent should never have been planted here as it needs full sun to look its best.

The solution in this area is quite simple. Pruning back the natal plum to a more attractive shape makes them an asset. A lady’s slipper (Pedilanthus macrocarpus) adds height and texture contrast and will grow in the bright shade. We kept the trailing purple lantana (Lantana montevidensis), for the color that it provides. Rip rap rock was placed to add some interest at the ground level.

Moving toward the backyard, another old rosemary shrub was removed from the corner in the background and replaced with ‘Blue Elf’ aloe and angelita daisy, repeating the same planting from the corner area in the courtyard, helping to tie these separate areas together.

Aloe vera (Aloe barbadensis) were added along the shady side of the house where their spiky shape creates interesting shapes. The key to keeping them attractive is to remove new growth around the base as it occurs.

The corner of the backyard is a very high-profile spot and faces the golf course. The homeowner’s wanted to get rid of the dwarf oleander hedge to improve their view. Clumps of agave look slightly unkempt as volunteer agave were allowed to remain and grow. The gold lantana does add ornamental value as does the small ‘Firesticks’ (Euphorbia tirucalli ‘Sticks on Fire’) and can be reused.

One of the clumps of agave was removed, which opened up this area and allowed us to add two aloe vera, which will decorate this corner with yellow blooms in winter and spring. The existing gold lantana provides beautiful color spring through fall. The centerpiece of this group of plants is the water feature.

It’s been over 20 years that I’ve been doing this, and I never get tired of seeing the transformation. I love being a part of it and combining the old with the new for a seamless design.

Thank you for allowing me to share this particular project with you!

pumpkins_decorate_garden

Fall is my favorite season of the year and so it stands to reason, pumpkins play a big part in both my garden, crafts, fall decor, and food!

A few years ago, I visited an Atlanta garden where colorful pumpkins were scattered throughout the landscape, adding fun fall interest. This year, I added uncarved pumpkins in empty containers for added interest by my front entry. Next year, I will probably add more near the vegetable garden as well as other places.

My personal pumpkin growing experience has been rather lackluster. This is the only pumpkin that I’ve successfully grown. It was years ago and I’ve only made rather half-hearted attempts since then. I do have plans to plant some new ones in late April, which means that they will ripen in mid to late July. Then I will store them in a cool, dark, dry space until October.

On October 1st of every year, I bring out my homemade pumpkins, which I made over 6 years ago. They are made from beach balls and newspaper dipped into a flour paste. It was a fun project that I did with my mother and I’m so happy that they are still a part of my fall decor years later.

This past week, I was visiting my oldest daughter in northern Michigan, which I try to do at least three times a year. As we were walking in the small downtown district, we came upon this comical bank robber who was caught in the act of robbing the bank. I loved the ingenuity of those who created this scarecrow with a pumpkin head!

pumpkin-bird-feeder

Last year, once Thanksgiving was over, I sliced our remaining pumpkins in half and placed them on the old picnic table in our side garden. The birds flocked to them and we had six different types of birds visit them regularly, eating the seeds and flesh inside. At one point, there were twelve Inca doves sitting inside of the largest half. I will be sure to do this again in a few weeks as it is so fun to watch the antics of the visiting birds.

pumpkin bread

To finish out my pumpkins post, I have to include a photo of my famous pumpkin bread that I make every year. This is my most-requested recipe from my friends and it is so easy to make and oh so delicious!!! The recipe is unique in that there are no eggs and the texture is so moist and perfect. It makes 6 small loaves, making it a great home-baked gift at the holidays. If you would like to make this delicious pumpkin bread, here is a link to the recipe along with its rather unusual origin story.

How do you like to use pumpkins in fall?

creating edible container garden

UPDATE: This blog post originally was published six-years-ago, and I still like to grow vegetables in pots. It’s hard to believe that my garden helper is now 16 years old and driving a car!

I hope you enjoy it!

Read more

Leafy green plants make great window coverings

Leafy green plants make great window coverings

Do you have windows that face outward toward a view that you would rather not see?  Perhaps it is the view of the house next door or a bare wall, or maybe you need some protection from the sun. To solve this problem, have you ever considered using plants in place of curtains?

In my garden, I have east-facing windows, which heat the house early in the day. When our home was being built, I designed the landscape so that there were plants placed in front of those windows. 

Why would I put plants in front of these windows you may wonder? Well, I needed some sort of shelter from the sun, but I didn’t want curtains that would block my view of the garden, so I chose to add Mexican bird-of-paradiseThis yellow-flowering shrub can be pruned into a small tree, which is what I have done, which still allows me to view the garden beyond while providing some protection from the sun’s rays.

A few years ago, I was working with a client who was an interior designer who had employed this same strategy for adding beauty while shielding her windows from the sun. She had decided that instead of curtains for her windows, she wanted ‘natural, green’ window coverings.

This is the view from her living room where the lush green foliage from the ‘Orange Jubilee’ create interesting shadows inside and she can enjoy the feeling of being surrounded by beautiful plants, even while indoors.

To achieve this, she planted a row of ‘Orange Jubilee’ (Tecoma x ‘Orange Jubilee’) shrubs in front of her windows.
Here is another example of using plants in place of curtains. A single hop bush shrub creates a lovely green screen that protects this west-facing window from the blistering afternoon sun.
Have you ever tried using plants instead of curtains?
Organic Gardening Book Mark Highland

Organic Gardening Book Mark Highland

Organic gardening isn’t just a popular trend; it is a better way to garden. When you think about it, gardening is all about nature – from adding new plants to watching them grow and doing it with an organic approach, it just makes sense. In all my years as a horticulturist, I’ve found time and again that natural methods are often as effective as chemical ones and much better for both us and the environment.

*This blog post contains affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase, I may receive a commission (at no additional cost to you). Thanks for your support in this way.*

A few months ago, I was asked to review the new book, Practical Organic Gardening by Mark Highland, and I eagerly accepted the opportunity.

creating an herb container

Planting herbs in a container

Reading through the book, I quickly realized that this was much more than a book extolling the ideals of organic gardening – it is a comprehensive gardening book that covers a large number of different topics including water-smart gardening, fighting pests, propagating plants, planning your garden, and even how to grow a lawn – ALL done organically.

organic vegetable garden

As the title suggests, the author presents his gardening how-to’s in practical steps and easy to understand language, yet, parts of the book also serve as an excellent reference in regards to the principles and science of organic gardening.

Mulch

I admit that I have limited shelf space for books, so the ones that I choose to keep must offer comprehensive information and be reasonably easy to read. This book is an excellent guide to organic gardening, and if you want to garden more naturally, I highly recommend that you add this to your bookshelf.

Organic Gardening Book Mark Highland

The publisher has offered to allow me to host a giveaway where the winner will receive a free copy of Practical Organic Gardening!!!

To enter, comment below telling me what you like to grow in your garden or natural methods you use in your garden. *For an extra entry, follow me on Facebook or Instagram.

The winner will be announced on Friday, September 27th. Good Luck!

Creating an attractive garden in the desert can be a daunting task, especially in such a different climate with the unique challenges of blistering heat and dryness “where plants go to die.” But, I’m here to tell you that you DON’T need to settle for a yard filled with rock and spiky cactus.

It is possible to have an attractive landscape filled with flowering plants, edible gardens, trees, succulents, (and yes, cactus), all of which thrive in our hot, arid climate. 

I’ve done it and you can too, and it’s much easier than you think. I help individuals like you learn how to create, grow, and maintain a beautiful landscape that thrives in the desert climate. 

Horticulturist-Arizona-Noelle-Johnson-AZ-Plant-Lady

Not surprisingly, SO many people need help that my calendar is overflowing, so I have created a way to help more of you at a fraction of the price of an individual consultation.

I’m so excited to invite you to join my membership site, “Through the Garden Gate” where I come alongside you to help you create, maintain, and most importantly, enjoy gardening in the desert. Instead of individual clients, who pay hundreds of dollars for a 2-hour consultation, I’ll come alongside to help you on your desert garden journey for a fraction of the price of a private consultation at $19.99 per month!

And you won’t be alone. You’ll be joined by a wonderful community of fellow desert dwellers who are on the same journey as you are. So are you ready to further your desert garden knowledge and enhance your enjoyment in the garden?

**UPDATE: Open enrollment to”Through the Garden Gate” MEMBERSHIP is currently closed so that I can focus on and mentor my newest group of members.

BUT…I’ll be opening doors again and if you’d like to be notified when that happens, simply click the image below to get on the waitlist and I’ll keep you posted!

Years ago, I found myself in your shoes when I arrived in Arizona as a young bride with no idea how to make a lovely outdoor space, much less grow plants in such a hot, dry place. Needless to say, in short order, I killed all my new plants as well as the beautiful rose bushes that had come with my house.

Was I discouraged? Yes!

But, I was determined to figure out how to grow, maintain, and enjoy my desert garden. And so my personal garden journey began, leading me to obtain my degree in Horticulture from Arizona State University and later, as a certified arborist.

In my 20-year career as a horticulturist, I’ve done it all – worked on golf courses, managed landscapes with my crew, designed hundreds of landscapes as a designer, and serving as a personal landscape consultant for countless clients. And yes, I’ve killed my share of plants in the process. BUT, I learned from my mistakes, and I can help you avoid them.

Most people think that having a lovely landscape is hard and do more maintenance than they need to. For example, did you know that:

  • Most desert-adapted plants need no supplemental fertilizer
  • Over 90% of homeowners water their plants too often and not deeply enough
  • Not all plants sold in your favorite big box store will survive in the desert landscape (so, it’s not always your fault if a plant dies)
  • The majority of flowering shrubs and ground covers only need to be pruned twice a year – if done the right way

As a horticulturist and landscape consultant, I’ve seen the frustration that my clients go through trying to garden in the desert. My years of experience have shown me time and again that it is easier than you think – it’s just different, which is why I created my membership site, “Through the Garden Gate” where I can help you.

Your membership includes the following:

1. Library of training videos, with new content added every month to help you garden confidently.

2. Plant of the Month downloadable pdf’s spotlighting my favorite plants along with where to plant, maintain, and how to use them in the landscape.

3. Monthly newsletter filled with garden articles, what’s going on behind the scenes, and monthly garden tasks.

4. Exclusive Facebook group for members-only. I’ll be there every day, and I look forward to seeing you there!

5. Group coaching from me, AZ Plant Lady, via Facebook Live every month where I answer your gardening questions, offer encouragement, and helpful tips tailored for participants. 

 

 

Why it Works:

You will learn at your own pace, and I break it down into simple steps with no fancy garden language.

Ongoing learning – new content is added every month.

A passionate community of beginning, intermediate, and experienced gardeners.

Save money, time, and frustration by avoiding common desert garden mistakes.

Most people over-maintain their plants, fertilizing and pruning too often and I’ll show you how plants need far less maintenance than you’d expect.

You’ll have the knowledge you need to grow and maintain plants without all the stress of trying to figure it out yourself.

 

Frequently Asked Questions:

What does “Through the Garden Gate” membership offer that a nursery or landscape professional can’t? A welcoming community, personal support, and unbiased advice with no motivation to sell you unneeded products or maintenance services.

I am brand new to gardening. Will I fit in? Absolutely! No one is born knowing how to garden, and no prior experience is needed. This group is a great place to learn and grow as a gardener.

I already read your blog and follow you on Facebook. What more will I get from the membership? In-depth training in the form of video training, exclusive content in the form of garden video trainingdetailed plant profiles, newsletter, a members-only Facebook page, and group coaching with me, AZ Plant Lady, via Facebook Live. 

I know you live in Arizona. Is the membership designed only for people in your region? The club is open to anyone who is interested in learning how to create, grow, and maintain a garden in the desert. I focus on low-desert gardening for those who live in elevations lower than 3,000 feet in altitude, but members who live in other desert regions can gain helpful information too.

I have gardening experience in a cooler, wetter climate. Can the club help me learn how to garden in the desert? Yes! All levels of gardeners are welcome, and your previous experience will help you learn a little more quickly how we do things differently in the desert garden.

My life is very busy, and I don’t have a lot of time to devote to learning about desert gardening. This membership is for you! The videos are short but informative and the newsletters, and “Plant of the Month” resources are packed with information that takes little time out of your busy life

Do I really get live access to you? Yep! I’ll be using Facebook Live to talk to the membership group through our Facebook page at pre-scheduled times on a monthly basis. If you can’t watch the video live, you can watch the video, which will be posted on the FB page. You can submit your gardening questions ahead of time too so I can be sure to answer them if you can watch live to ask your question.

How do I access the resources? We have an online library with all of the videos, “Plant of the Month” pdf’s, and other handouts. Newsletters will be emailed to you monthly. When you join the club, you will be provided with a link to join our private Facebook group as well as information on how to log on into the online library.

How long does the subscription last? It is designed as a monthly subscription, which means that it can last as long as you would like it to. I will be adding new content each month, which along with the live group coaching, will help you in your garden journey for as long as you want. You can cancel at any time.

 

So, are you ready to join and learn “the dirt on gardening in the desert”? You get all this PLUS group coaching for only $19.99 a month!

I am opening the doors for new members to join “Through the Garden Gate” for just a few days. Sign up beginning September 5th. Doors close at midnight MST on September 10th!! 

I’d love to come alongside you on your desert garden journey! 

I’m back with design notes from the field, where I share observations and recommendations from my work as a landscape consultant. This edition features a new build, metal art, weeds, and shade. I hope that you can pick out helpful tips that you can use in your landscape.

Up first, is a new house that is being constructed in east-central Phoenix. The home that used to stand on this lot was taken down to the foundation and an energy-efficient home is coming up in its place. I was hired by the architect to design a landscape that will fit its clean, modern lines.

Several years ago, I solely worked as a landscape designer, working with homebuilders, creating new landscapes from scratch with a blank palette. Nowadays, as a landscape consultant design is just one aspect of what I do as part of an overall plan within an existing landscape, which also includes maintenance recommendations. Now and then, I create one for new homes, and this one has some fun challenges.

The look the architect wants is simple and uncluttered with room for the new homeowner to add to it if desired. So, I am concentrating on using plants to create a framework. This includes two trees in the front along with two along the west-facing side to provide screening from the road and protection from afternoon sun.

Foundation plants will soften the base of the house while taller shrubs will soften the corners. Ground covers will add low-level interest along with a few agave and cactuses for an accent.

A splash of color will be added by the front entry with the placement of a large, colorful pot filled with an easy to care for succulent.

Often, I am asked for advice on what to do in somewhat unique situations. In this case, the homeowner needed advice for what to do for the wall behind the BBQ, which keeps turning black after grilling. 

I tend to look at problems like this as opportunities for adding more interest to the outdoor space. In this case, I recommended adding garden art in the form of rusted metal botanical panels. There is a local artist in Phoenix who creates metal panels with plant shapes cut out of them. He offers standard pieces but also does custom work. 

The rusted metal garden art will add welcome interest behind the BBQ as well as disguise any blackened area on the wall.

Here is an example of the metal botanical panels from another client’s home, which was where I first encountered the work of this artist. You can learn more about this metal artist here

Weeds will always be a problem in the landscape, like these I saw at a client’s home growing through the patio. The solution to this area is to slowly pour boiling water on weeds growing through the cracks, which will kill them. For travertine, only do this if the stone is sealed. 

To wrap our design notes, here is a landscape where the homeowner wanted to concentrate on plants up close to the house and not add any further out. Now if this front yard didn’t have any trees, the absence of plants would cause it to look barren and washed out. However, the patterns from the branches of the ‘Desert Museum’ palo verde add beautiful patterns on the ground, so you can get away with leaving it bare, which draws attention to the lovely shadows of the branches.

I hope you have enjoyed this latest session of design notes. I’ll have more for you in the future.

**Stay tuned for a special announcement that I’ll be making the beginning of September. I’m working on a new project that will enable me to help you even more to create, grow, and maintain a beautiful outdoor space in the desert. I’ve been working on it for a while and am so excited to share it with you soon!