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?

 

The pink flowers of Parry’s penstemon (Penstemon parryi) adds welcome color to a spring garden.

I adore flowers of all kinds, but I must confess that my favorite types look as if they belong to a cottage garden, which probably explains why I am wild about penstemons.

There are many different species of penstemon with varying colors, ranging from shades of pink to red with some white ones thrown in.  

Firecracker penstemon (Penstemon eatonii) adds vibrant color to a hummingbird demonstration garden.

All penstemons are native to the western half of North America where they thrive in well-drained soil.  Most grow in higher elevations, and all are drought tolerant.  For those of you who love to grow native plants that are low-maintenance, penstemons are a must-have.

The 4 – 6-foot flowering spikes of Palmer’s penstemon (Penstemon palmeri) lightly perfume the air of this desert landscape.

 I like plants that add a touch of drama to my garden and penstemon do a great job at that when they send up their flowering spikes that tower over their lower cluster of leaves.  Bees and hummingbirds love their flowers and it is fun to watch their antics as they sneak inside the flowers for nectar.

A row of rock penstemon (Penstemon baccharifolius) adds lovely color to this area at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix.

While penstemon may look rather delicate, it is anything but as it can survive temperatures over 100 degrees and temperatures that dip anywhere from 15 degrees Fahrenheit all the way down to -30 degrees, depending on the species.  

The bloom time for penstemon depends on the species as well as the climate they grow in.  For desert dwellers like me, most bloom in late winter into spring.  Each year, I eagerly await the appearance of the first unfolding flowering spikes of my firecracker penstemon (Penstemon eatoni)  to emerge in January.

In my garden, Parry’s penstemon (Penstemon parryi) is another favorite of mine in the garden, and its flowers begin to open in late February.  This year, I am growing pineleaf penstemon (Penstemon pinifolius), which is a new one for me and I am curious to see how it will do.  Another penstemon that I am anxious to try is rock penstemon (Penstemon baccharifolius), which blooms spring through fall.  Lastly, I have added Palmer’s penstemon (Penstemon palmeri) to my garden.  I used to grow it years ago and was happy to incorporate it back into my landscape.

It’s important to note that penstemon grows best when grown in the western half of North America.  The season in which they bloom can vary depending on the USDA zone.  In my zone 9 garden, I begin to appear in January and last through spring. For those who live in colder climates, penstemon will bloom later in spring or even begin flowering in summer.  However, no matter when they bloom, penstemon are sure to add beauty to the landscape with a touch of drama.

**Do you have a favorite penstemon?

Gaillardia

 

Fall has arrived in the desert southwest, despite what the thermometer says.

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After a seemingly endless summer, we have finally made it to the finish line.  This is the season where we experience a ‘second spring’ and venture out into the garden again.

Soil is ready to be amended, citrus fertilized, and some light pruning can be done.

Un-pruned lantana on the left.  Two light pruned lantana are to the right with a pile of clippings.
September is the gateway to a busy time in the garden, but there are a few things that it is still too early to start on yet.

I’ve made a video of what you should do and shouldn’t do this month:


What is your favorite season of the year?

This morning, I was on my way to a landscape consultation for my fellow Arizona gardener, Claudette, who blogs over at Gilbert Garden Girls.


As I always do before driving to an appointment, I entered the address into my car’s GPS and was pleased to see that it would only take 20 minutes to get to her house from mine.
  
However, as I drove down her street, the addresses did not match up with hers.  So, I took out my phone and brought up my trusty Google Maps app and found that my car’s formerly reliable GPS had misdirected me.  Luckily, I was only 1 mile away and so I was only a couple of minutes late, which truth be told, is normal for me.


My unanticipated detour did have a silver lining, though.

I drove by a house that had a beautiful hop bush shrub (Dodonaea viscosa).  


 This evergreen, drought tolerant shrub does wonderfully in our southwestern climate, and it is a frequent addition to landscapes that I design. 

Hop bush is quite versatile and relatively fuss-free, especially if maintained by pruning every 6 months or so, as shown above. 


Here is another example of a hop bush shrub that has been pruned more formally, which it handles well.


 Of course, you can always let it grow into its more natural form as a large shrub.

For more information on hop bush including what its flowers look like and why it’s becoming a popular substitute for oleanders, you can read my earlier blog post – “Drought Tolerant and Beautiful: Hopbush the Alternative to Oleanders.”


Have you ever seen this shrub where you live?  How was it maintained?  As a shrub, hedge or small tree?

Do you have a list of favorite plants?  I do.  Mine is made up of about 12 plants, and they change from time to time.

One of my recent additions to my favorites list is anacacho orchid (Bauhinia lunarioides).



This lovely plant can be trained as a small tree or a large shrub.


Fragrant white flowers appear in spring, and the foliage adds beauty throughout the year.


While I don’t have this plant in my landscape, yet – I have been using it in a few of my latest designs.

If you would like to learn more about this beautiful plant, I invite you to read my latest plant profile for Houzz.



How about you?  Have you ever seen or grown an anacacho orchid?

One of the most rewarding things about my job is having the opportunity to revisit areas that I have designed.  Despite designing landscapes for over 17 years, I never tire of having the opportunity to explore them again to see how the landscape has matured.  When touring the landscapes, I take time to look at what worked and sometimes what didn’t.  I take these lessons with me and implement them in future designs.


Blue Bells (Eremophila hygrophana) and feathery cassia (Senna artemisoides)
Today, I’d like to take you on a tour of a landscape that I designed for a church two years ago.  
I was asked by the landscape committee to create a landscape that would be filled with color during the cool season since that is when the majority of the members are attending.  

BEFORE:




The landscape was filled with over-pruned shrubs, many of which flowered in summer.  In addition, there were a large number of frost tender plants in the landscape that were unsightly when much of the residents were in town.

AFTER:


After removing the shrubs, I added feathery cassia (Senna artemisoides), which blooms in late winter and spring, along with the newer Blue Bells (Eremophila hygrophana) which flowers all year long while staying at a rather compact 3 feet tall and wide size.
BEFORE:


When working with an existing landscape, I always try to keep mature plants that are healthy and fulfill the design criteria.  In this case, a Mexican (Yellow) Bird-of-Paradise (Caesalpinia mexicana), that had been trained into a tree, which has evergreen foliage and flowers in spring and fall.

AFTER:


Blue Bell shrubs and golden barrel cacti (Echinocactus grusonii) completed this planting area.

BEFORE:


In this area, a few shrubs, a barrel cactus and a lonely red yucca hang on from the previously designed landscape, all of which add little interest to the landscape.


AFTER:

Valentine Bush (Eremophila maculata ‘Valentine) and desert spoon (Dasylirion wheeleri)

Contrasting textures and color add interest to the landscape throughout the entire year.  Seasonal blooming creates an entirely different look to the landscape as well.

BEFORE:


As landscapes age, plants can become overgrown and to some, unattractive as was the case with this old desert spoon.  The lysiloma tree was in good shape and the decision was made to keep it.

AFTER:

Angelita daisy (Tetraneuris acaulis syn. Hymenoxys acaulis)

Angelita daisy (Tetraneuris acaulis) is one of my favorite small perennials as its bright, sunny flowers appear throughout the entire year.

Valentine bush and feathery cassia serve as foundation planting.

BEFORE:


Pink fairy duster (Calliandra eriophylla) had been used to create a hedge.  However, while pink fairy duster does flower in winter and spring, it isn’t a suitable choice as a formal hedge.  Rather, it belongs in a natural desert landscape and untouched by hedge trimmers.

AFTER:

Pink Muhly (Muhlenbergia capillaris) in winter.


Pink muhly was added for welcome fall color when its plumes turn a vibrant burgundy color, which fade to an attractive wheat color in winter.  After being pruned in early spring, bright green growth quickly fills back in.

BEFORE:


This is a high-profile corner as it is one of the entries into the church parking lot.  As you can see, there was little to attract the attention of passersby.

AFTER:


Adding a combination of plants that will ensure year round interest no matter whether it’s spring, summer, fall or winter.

Even though the purple trailing lantana (Lantana montevidensis) can die back to the ground in winter, the bright colors of the Valentine bush and feathery cassia will draw attention away from it.

BEFORE:


Three Agave americana were all that sat in this area, which offered little color and virtually no interest.  


I took the existing agave and spread them throughout the landscape, where they can create both texture and color contrast when paired with the softer shapes and darker colors of shrubs.  

One thing that I wish I had done differently was to space the shrubs in this area a little further apart.  This can cause landscapers to excessively prune shrubs into poodle shapes in an attempt to keep them from touching.  Pruning them severely once a year can keep them from outgrowing their space OR removing every other shrub once they become too large can take care of the problem.  

I hope that you enjoyed seeing the transformation of this landscape to one filled with cool season color.

I have had a love affair with roses for over 23 years.




It all began when we bought our first house.  I was a young mother with two girls who was giddy with the possibilities of having her very own spot of garden to grow roses in.

We would take our girls around to the local rose gardens where so could see what types of roses to pick for our new rose garden.

The rose garden was located in the front yard along the side of the driveway.  At the time, money was tight so we ended up purchasing twenty different ‘grade 1 1/2’ roses for $3 each at Home Depot.
‘Grade 1’ roses are considered to be the cream of the crop and the best type to purchase based on the their size and number of canes (stems).

A few months later, my roses were in full bloom and the talk of the neighborhood (we definitely stuck out from the surrounding neighbors since we had taken out a large chunk of lawn to grow a LOT of roses).


Many people ask if I had a favorite rose and the answer is “yes”.  Mr. Lincoln with its deep red blossoms which were incredibly fragrant always stands out in my memory of our first rose garden.  At one time, it reached almost 6 ft. tall and had over 30 blossoms covering it.

Three years later, we had gone from 20 rose bushes to 40 – all a different type of hybrid tea or shrub rose.  I realize that I maybe went a little overboard, but I loved growing roses – no two roses were the same.  

Whenever we were traveling, if there was a rose garden nearby – we would visit it…

The rose garden at Kilkenny Castle in Ireland.

That’s me posing by the roses and the castle.

Santa Barbara Mission rose garden in California

After we sold our home in Phoenix, we moved to the suburbs to be closer to my husband’s job.  As we built our new home, I knew that I did want room for a few roses.


After adopting our three youngest kids, I was eager to share my love for roses with them.  They each picked out their own rose from a rose catalog and helped plant them.  It was a fun experience, complete with finding earthworms in the soil and more.

While their roses did grow, they didn’t have the best location, which was rather shady and so they turned out rather straggly.  Needless to say, they were pulled out a couple of years later.

Even though I didn’t have roses growing in my garden, I still went out of my way to enjoy them whenever I found myself on the road.

International Rose Test Garden in Portland, Oregon.
Stopping to smell the roses in Santa Barbara, CA.

A few months ago, I realized that my love affair with roses never ended and that it was time to think seriously about growing a few again.

A few weeks ago, I shared with you about my decision to grow a few roses in a former vegetable garden that I could see from my kitchen window.  I promised to let you know what type of roses I would plant.

The first one was just planted yesterday.


Not surprisingly, it is a Mr. Lincoln hybrid tea rose.  

While it looks rather humble right now, I have visions of a tall rose busy covered with fragrant roses whose scent comes through my kitchen window.

This is but the first rose in the garden.  There are two more that have been ordered from mailorder rose companies.  I will be sure to share what those are when they come!
I am so happy that I have returned to growing the plant that inspired my passion for gardening years ago.

**Have you ever grown roses?  Do you have a favorite type? If you find yourself overwhelmed by the different types of roses there are to pick from, I have written an article for Houzz, which looks closer at several of the most popular roses in order to help people select the best type of rose for their garden.


I love flowers.  In fact, it was my love affair with flowers that inspired me to get my degree in horticulture.  I figured that life is too short to not do what you love, so working as a horticulturist allows me to be around blooming plants throughout much of the year.


As the weather begins to cool, blossoms begin to lessen, but one of the many benefits of living in the Southwest is that there are always some plants showing off their flowers.


Today, I’d like to share with you just a few of the flowering plants that I saw during the past couple of weeks, which are decorating the fall landscape.


Pink Fairy Duster (Calliandra eriophylla) flowers in spring and fall, is extremely drought tolerant, thrives in full sun and is hardy to 10 degrees F.

Creeping Indigo Bush (Dalea greggii) is a groundcover, which flowers in spring and fall, is drought tolerant, thrives in full sun and is hardy to 10 degrees F.
The Cascalote tree (Caesalpinia cacalaco) flowers in fall and on into early winter, is drought tolerant, thrives in full sun and is hardy to 20 degrees F.  While thorny, there is a new variety with a smooth trunk, called ‘Smoothie’.
Pink Muhly (Muhlenbergia capillaris) is an ornamental grass that flowers in fall, is drought tolerant, thrives in full sun to filtered shade and is hardy to 0 degrees F.

Blue Bells (Eremophila hygrophana) flowers all year long, is drought tolerant, thrives in full sun to filtered shade and is hardy to 17 degrees F.  

These are but a few plants that are still in bloom in November in my zone 9 climate.

How about you?  What is blooming in your garden or neighborhood?

As summer begins to slowly fade and the heat begins to dissipate, the Southwestern garden comes alive.



Plants perk up in the absence of 100+ degree temperatures and people begin to venture outdoors  (without their hats!) to enjoy their beautiful surroundings.

When people talk about their favorite season, many will tell you that spring is the time that they enjoy the most as their gardens come alive, spring forth with new green growth and colorful blooms.

Sky Flower (Duranta erecta)

While spring is a glorious time in the desert landscape with winter blooms overlapping with spring flowering plants along with cactus flowers – it isn’t the only ‘spring’ that the desert experiences.


Fall is often referred to as the “second spring” in the desert Southwest as plants take on a refreshed appearance due to the cooler temperatures with many still producing flowers.  Many birds, butterflies and other wildlife reappear during the daytime hours in autumn.

Desert residents often find themselves making excuses to spend more time outdoors whether it’s taking a longer walk or bringing their laptop outdoors where they can enjoy the comfortable temperatures and surrounding beauty of the landscape.


Fall is also a time where we take a look around our own garden setting and decide to make some changes whether it is taking out thirsty, old plants replacing them with attractive, drought tolerant plants or creating an outdoor room by expanding a patio or perhaps adding a pergola.

Flame Acanthus (Anisacanthus quadrifidus v. wrightii) 

No matter where you live – the East Coast, Midwest, Northwest, etc., fall is the best time of year to add new plants to the landscape as it provides plants with 3 seasons in which to grow a good root system before the heat of the next summer arrives.

What do you enjoy most about fall?  

**Thinking of making some changes to your landscape?  Click here for a list my favorite drought tolerant plants that provide fall blooms.