As a garden writer and horticulturist, I am often asked to review new gardening books, which is one of my favorite things to do; especially if the books are about growing plants in the desert.

Years ago, there were precious few books that dealt with the unique challenges and solutions to creating a beautiful outdoor space in a hot, arid climate. Nowadays, there are several books that focus on desert gardening, but most just scratch the surface of how to do it. When I was contacted by The Desert Botanical Garden to see if I would review their new book, Desert Landscape School: A Guide to Desert Landscaping and Maintenance, I said yes.

The origins of the book arose from the Desert Landscape School at the gardens, which offers classes for individuals who are interested in specializing in certain aspects of desert landscaping. Graduates earn a certification in one or more areas, including desert plant palette, planting and maintenance, and desert design. A large group of experts was brought together in the creation of this book, including many that work in the garden.

 

Thumbing through my copy, I looked to see how the information was laid out and whether it addressed common landscape dilemmas that are unique to desert gardening. As you may expect, a book from this prestigious garden didn’t disappoint. I found myself reading through its pages and reliving my early days as a horticulturist learning not only the basics of arid gardening principles but also strategies and tips for growing plants that I didn’t learn until later.

This book is for those who want to learn the reasons why we garden the way we do in the desert to more fully understand it. There is also valuable information regarding plant selection, design, sustainability, installation guidelines, and how to properly maintain the landscape. 

I’ve always said that “gardening in the desert isn’t hard, it’s just different” and the book offers practical tips that make growing plants in an arid climate, easier. For example, connecting tree wells using swales and gravity to allow rain water to flow to where it’s needed instead of down the street.

For those of you who have read my blog for awhile, you won’t be surprised to learn that I was interested in the pruning and maintenance section, as I am passionate about teaching people correct pruning practices. One illustration that grabbed my attention was the right and wrong way to prune palm trees.

Badly pruned palm trees

I had taken this photo a couple of weeks ago of palm trees that had been pruned incorrectly with too many fronds removed. Overpruning weakens the tree and leaves it open to other stresses, which the book addresses.

The structure of the book is set up so that each section can be read on its own, so readers can focus on what they are interested in learning most. Of course, I recommend reading the entire book as it contains invaluable information which leaves the reader well-informed and confident in their ability to garden successfully in the desert southwest as well as other desert regions.

Desert Landscaping & Maintenance is truly a one-of-a-kind book that serves the role of several desert gardening books in one, and I highly recommend getting your hands on a copy of this brand new desert gardening guide.

Right now, the book is available for purchase for visitors to The Desert Botanical Garden or you can buy it online.

It’s one of my favorite times of year in the garden – my peach trees are heavily laden with delicious, sweet fruit ready for picking.

Many people are surprised to learn that you can grow peaches in Arizona, but they do very well. However, they do ripen earlier than in cooler climates. May is peach season here in the desert.

My peach trees sit outside my kitchen window, and I’ve been keeping my eye on them to see when they were ready to harvest.  Finally, the day arrived, and I brought out my bushel basket and got to picking.

One peach tree can provide you with most of the peaches you need. Last year, I made peach blueberry jam, which was so good, that it didn’t last long. Today, I’m planning on making regular peach jam, but I can always buy peaches from the store at another time to make other variations if I choose to.

Every May, I haul out my water bath canner, canning jars, and spend 2 hours making delicious peach jam.

Growing peaches and making jam isn’t difficult or expensive, but there are guidelines to follow. I made a video of the process, from what type of peach trees do best in the desert, how to tell if your peaches are ripe, and how to make jam.  I hope you enjoy!

https://youtu.be/jEcyAzCB-W4

Red globe mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua)

Did you know that some flowering, desert perennials are grown easily from seed? It’s true. Many of the plants in my garden are volunteers that grew from seed from my established plants.

I have several ‘parental’ plants in my front garden along with their babies that have come up on their own with no assistance from me.

Pink globe mallow 

My favorite perennials that grow from seed are my colorful globe mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua).  The most common color seen in globe mallow is orange. However, they also come in other colors such as red, pink, and white. You can purchase the less common color varieties, but they can be hard to find at your local nursery.

White globe mallow

When I first designed my garden, I bought pink, red, and white globe mallows. These plants are now over 17 years old and produce a large number of seeds once flowering has ceased.  Because these colors can be hard to find, people ask me to sell them seeds that I harvest each year from my colorful perennials.

Light pink globe mallow

Harvesting seeds from spent flowers is easy to do. Once the flowers begin to fade in spring, I look for tiny, dried out seed pods, which is where the seeds are contained. I then pick them off and place them in a little bag.  It’s important to keep the colors separate so if someone wants red globe mallow, they won’t be growing pink or white ones.

Desert marigold (Baileya multiradiata), firecracker penstemon (Penstemon eatonii), and verbena (Glandularia spp.)

There are other desert perennials that come up easily from seed, such as the ones pictured above in a garden I visited a few years ago. 

So how do you grow these drought tolerant perennials from seed? Surprisingly, it’s not hard to do, and if you go to a lot of trouble and fuss over them, they probably won’t grow. So starting them in little pots and transplanting them isn’t the best way to go about it. Instead, sprinkle the seed throughout the landscape, allowing some to fall a foot away from a drip emitter or near rocks. You want to mirror the natural conditions where they sow their seed in nature. Warning: this only works in areas where pre-emergent herbicides are NOT used. 

Growing these perennials from seed is very inexpensive, but some patience is needed while you wait for them to sprout.  Not all will come up, but those that do, will add beauty to your garden and before you know it, you may be harvesting seed to share with your friends.

What type of plants have you had come up in your garden from seed?

Do you grow garlic in your garden? If so, you know that it takes a long time to grow with planting in October and harvesting it in May.  During the long growing period, the leafy green tops of the garlic plant are all that is visible while the garlic bulb is growing below ground.

But, did you know that the garlic greens can be used in some of your favorite dishes? Here is how I use them…

It’s always fun to find new ways to enjoy the vegetables in your garden. Have you ever tried garlic greens or other non-traditional parts of vegetables?

For tips on how to grow your own garlic, click here.

Friendship Sage (Salvia ‘Amistad’)

Talk to most homeowners about what they want in their garden and they will usually reply “color”.  I am no different and when I was given the opportunity to try out two new plants, courtesy of the folks at Monrovia, I jumped at the chance to showcase more examples of their plants, which are available at Lowe’s or at your local garden center.

I would like to share with you two plants that will add a pop of color to your garden.

The first is Friendship Sage (Salvia ‘Amistad’). Recent visitors to my garden couldn’t take their eyes off of the vibrant purple flowers and the lush green foliage of this new plant.

This particular salvia does best in filtered shade and should be kept away from full sun, especially in hot, inland areas.  Hardy to zone 9, it is suitable for climates with mild winters.  

I would recommend pairing it with yellow-flowering perennials like angelita daisy (Tetraneuris acaulis), or gold lantana (Lantana ‘New Gold Mound’). I can hardly wait to see the hummingbirds flock to the tubular blooms.  Flowering occurs in spring, summer, and fall.  However, in hot climates, flowers may disappear in the summer only to resume in fall.

Hummingbirds will flock to the tubular blooms so be sure to place friendship salvia where you can view it up close.  Flowering occurs in spring, summer, and fall.  However, in hot climates, flowers may disappear in the summer only to resume in fall.

Salvias have always been a huge favorite of mine and I am so happy to have this new addition to the garden.

*Learn more about this and other colorful plants at Monrovia.

‘Little Janie’ Gaura

The second perennial that I’d like to show you is a variety of pink gaura.  ‘Little Janie’ gaura (Gaura lindheimeri ‘Little Janie’) produces masses of small, pink flowers, which are shaped like butterflies.

They thrive in full sun to light, filtered shade and are drought tolerant.  

Gaura have a long bloom period, beginning in spring and lasting through fall.  They are also very cold and heat tolerant and can be grown in zone 6 gardens (-10 degrees F.) while easily handling summer temperatures over 100+.

I like to group 3 gaura together and plant them next to boulders or plant them in perennial beds along a front entry.  

My new ‘Little Janie’ gaura has lots of buds, ready to open up to reveal their pretty, pink flowers.  They look great next to purple-flowering plants such as Blue Bells (Eremophila hygrophana) or purple trailing lantana (Lantana montevidensis).

These are just two of the beautiful plants from Monrovia that you can find at Lowe’s or your local nursery.  Simply look for plants in the green ‘Monrovia’ containers.

*Learn more about Monrovia and their ‘Grow Beautifully’ campaign to help you create a colorful outdoor space.

Petoskey, Michigan Lighthouse

While spring break is a time where masses of people escape the cold for warmer climates (like Arizona), we decided to do the exact opposite.  We flew out of warm, sunny Phoenix and headed to cold and snowy Michigan.

Now before you start to question my sanity, I have an excellent reason for bundling up and bracing myself for the cold, windy weather.  My daughter and her family call Michigan their home now, and since then, we try to make it out at least twice a year, and spring break just happened to be the best time to do it.

I always look forward to visits to their town of Petoskey, which sits on the shore of Little Traverse Bay.  It is a popular summer destination, and I spent several weeks here last year helping my daughter move into her new house and add new plants to her garden.

It is always fun pulling out my warm weather gear, which seldom gets used at home.  I knit these fingerless mittens a few years ago and rarely have a chance to wear them.

As a Southern California native and Arizona resident, I must admit that I have relatively little experience with cold weather so, it has been fun exploring the landscape and seeing the effects of winter.  Seeing the bay frozen in time where we waded in with our feet last June was exciting.

At the beginning of our week, the temperatures were in the mid 20’s with a brisk wind, and we were excited to see an unexpected snow shower.

I realize that many of you who have lived in areas with cold winters may be rolling your eyes at this point, but for someone who has always lived where winters are mild, the weather has been a novelty.

However, the novelty quickly wore off this morning when I stepped outside, and it was a frigid 16 degrees, and I learned why people start their cars a few minutes before they get in to let them heat up inside.  But, I braved the few steps from the house to the car, and we were off to my granddaughter Lily’s preschool class where I was to give a presentation on the desert and Arizona.

I brought photographs of the animals, cactuses, and flowers of the desert.  The kids were a great audience and seemed especially impressed with the following pictures:

  • The height of a saguaro cactus with people standing at its base 
  • A bird poking its head out of a hole in the saguaro
  • Cactus flowers
  • Aesop – our desert tortoise

I was struck by how different the desert is from the Michigan landscape and felt honored to expand their horizons.

On the way back from pre-school, we were tasked with bringing the classroom pet, ‘Snowball’ the guinea pig home where he will stay with Lily for spring break.  Doing little tasks such as this bring back happy memories of when our kids were little.

We will be home soon, and spring is a busy time for me.  I have new plants coming in the mail (straight from the grower) for me to test in my Arizona garden, I’ll be showcasing two new plants from the folks at Monrovia, and in a couple of weeks, I’ll be traveling again – this time to Savannah, Georgia for a fun project that I’m excited to share with you soon.

*What are you doing for spring break?

There is nothing quite so refreshing as the fragrance of lemons as you slice through their yellow skin.  Lemons are a very popular fruit tree for those of us who in zones 8 and above and their lush green foliage and yellow fruit add beauty to the garden.  

If you have been thinking of adding a lemon tree to your landscape, March is the best time of year to plant new citrus in the garden as it gives them time to become established before the heat of summer arrives.

I am often asked about what type of lemon is best for the garden.  My personal choice is ‘Meyer’ lemon for a number of reasons.  You may have heard of this type of lemon tree, but what you may not know is that it isn’t a ‘true’ lemon – it’s actually a naturally occurring hybrid of a lemon and ‘Mandarin’ orange.  This results in a pseudo-lemon that is sweeter and less acidic than true lemons such as ‘Eureka’ and ‘Lisbon’.

See why you should consider planting a ‘Meyer’ lemon tree in your backyard in my latest article for Houzz.com.  (Click on the photo below to read the article).

*What type of lemon tree to you grow?

Today as I was downloading photos from my phone, this one caught my eye.  It is a picture of an artichoke agave (Agave parryi ‘truncata’) along with her babies.  For some reason, it spoke to me about family relationships.  Some of her tiniest children are venturing a bit too far like our kids do as toddlers when they walk into the street without any fear.

Some of her tiniest children are venturing a bit too far like our kids do as toddlers when they walk into the street without any fear.  Then there are those slightly older babies who I like to describe as ‘tweens’ who still enjoy their mother’s protection while looking outward into the world.

Then there are those slightly older babies, nestled under their mother’s protective leaves, who I like to describe as ‘tweens’ who still enjoy their mother’s protection while looking out toward the wonders of the world.

The medium-sized agave baby is the teenager who enjoys the illusion of independence while still being attached to their mother by an underground root – kind of like relying on their parents for allowance, paying for their phone, and driving them where they need to go.

I especially love the largest of the babies and the relationship to its mother as it speaks of my relationship with my two oldest daughters.  They are individuals, yet they enjoy being close to their mom and go to her for advice and even enjoy hanging out together.  

Black Spine Agave (Agave macroacantha)

Many species of agave propagate themselves by producing ‘pups’, which are attached to the parent plant by an underground stem.  These new agave can be removed and replanted elsewhere in the landscape.  It’s not hard to do and I wrote about how to do this, which you can read here.  

Have you ever replanted an agave baby?

Mister Lincoln hybrid tea rose

I love roses.  So much so, that at one time I had over forty different varieties growing in the garden of my home in Phoenix.

Fast forward 25 years later, and I live in a different house with a different garden.  While I don’t have quite as many roses as before, I still do have a special place for several of my favorites.  

After growing over fifty varieties of roses, I do have a favorite one, which is ‘Mister Lincoln.’  There are so many reasons to grow this rose including dark red, velvety petals along with incredible fragrance.

I planted this bush in my newest garden last year, and I was delighted to see a single, large red bloom decorating my winter garden.  What is so special about this single rose is that there are no other flowers currently blooming in this area of the garden, which makes it even that more special.

The leaves of my apple trees are falling in the background, and much of my garden is sleeping. However, this single Mister Lincoln rose brightens my winter garden bringing welcome beauty on a cold winter’s day.

Cool-season vegetable transplants

One of the things that I enjoy about living in the Southwest is the ability to garden throughout the year.  Well, that may be a slight exaggeration – I don’t especially like gardening in July or August.  During those months, I simply like to view my garden out the window from the air-conditioned comfort of my home.  But, you’ll often see me outside spending January in the vegetable garden through the winter months.  

So far, this year’s cool-season garden hasn’t been very impressive.  In fact, it was quite disappointing.  Our drip irrigation system wasn’t watering this particular vegetable bed well because the tiny holes had become clogged from mineral deposits left behind by our notorious hard water.  As a result, a handful of romaine lettuce transplants survived, but none of the seeds that I planted in early October germinated except for the radishes and a couple of carrots.  

To make it worse, when I discovered the problem last fall, I was so busy trying to keep up with my landscape consulting that I didn’t fix the irrigation troubles.  Spring and fall for horticulturists is much like tax season for accountants, and little else gets done.

Well, I felt bad looking out at my sad little vegetable bed, so I cleared my calendar to give it a little TLC earlier this week.  First on the list was to pull out the lettuce plants, which had bolted and were ready to be taken out.  I was able to get a few radishes, much to the delight of my youngest daughter who loves them.

Before planting, I added a 4-inch layer of compost to help refresh the soil.  There wasn’t any need to mix it in with the existing soil – in fact, it’s better if you don’t do that.

Like many people, I find working out in the garden therapeutic and the stresses of day to day life simply melt away.  What made this day even better was that my husband came out to help me.  At this point, I should mention that he isn’t one of those men who loves to work out in the garden.  Oh, he does a great job at it, but he doesn’t like it – at all. Poor guy, he had no idea that the woman he married 30 years ago would turn out to be a plant lady who lives, eats, and breathes all things related to the garden.  

My darling husband took an entire morning out of his busy schedule to help me in the garden, fixing the drip irrigation system in my garden.  Forget flowers, if spending a morning out in your wife’s vegetable garden fixing irrigation doesn’t shout “I love you,” I don’t know what does.

The drip irrigation system in my vegetable garden is made up of a main poly drip line that runs up the center of the garden.  Micro-tubing, with small holes along the length, are then looped along the length of the main drip line.  We pulled out the old micro-tubing and replaced it.  

Once the irrigation repair was finished, it was time to add plants.  Luckily, there is still plenty of time to plant cool-season favorites.  To get a head start, I bought romaine lettuce, Swiss chard, and spinach transplants.  The rest I would grow from seed.  Irish Eyes Garden Seeds is one of my favorite seed companies.

Another seed company who I have used over the years is Burpee.  I remember perusing my dad’s Burpee seed catalog when I was a child and planning on which ones I would order for the little plot of land that he gave me in the back garden.  

I still order seeds from Burpee and was pleasantly surprised to receive a gift from them this Christmas – an advent calendar where each door opened up to a seed packet filled with one of their new 2017 plant introductions.  What an ingenious marketing tool!  Every morning, I felt like a kid again waiting to see what new seeds I would find behind the door.  

I selected ‘Dragon Tail’ radish, where you eat its purple seed pods and NOT the roots.  It is a version of an Asian heirloom radish and has a more delicate flavor than regular radishes.  I am very excited to see what this one does in my garden.  ‘Rido Red’ radish and ‘Bend and Snap’ snap peas also found a spot in the garden.

Marigolds and nasturtiums are always present alongside cool-season vegetables as they attract beneficial pollinators, discourage harmful insect pests, and just make the garden look pretty.  Imagine my delight when I saw new varieties of my favorite flowers in the advent calendar.  ‘Strawberry Blonde’ marigolds and ‘Orange Troika’ nasturtiums will add welcome beauty to my vegetable bed.  There were other seeds in the calendar that I plan on using including ‘Bend and Snap’ snap peas.  I plan on giving some of my seeds to my mother for her garden.  Burpee has a list of their new 2017 introductions, which you can access here.  I’d love to hear if you grow any of them.

Next to the vegetable garden is my young ‘Meyer’ lemon tree.  We planted it two years ago, and this is its first ever fruit.  Young citrus trees can take a year or two, after planting, before it produces fruit and I look forward to years of delicious fruit from mine.  

Meyer lemons aren’t true lemons.  They are a cross between a regular lemon and mandarin orange, and this gives them a sweeter flavor and a deep yellow skin.  The story behind Meyer lemons includes overseas exploration, threatened extinction, and Martha Stewart.

Well, that is what is happening in the January vegetable garden.  What is growing in your winter garden?