When I moved to the desert Southwest 27 years ago as a young bride, all I saw was a brown landscape, spiky cacti, landscapes covered in little bits of rock and very few trees.

If you had told me that you could grow any kind of fruit tree besides citrus – I would not have believed you.


Fast forward 27 years and I not only appreciate the unique beauty of the desert, but I have enjoyed my 4th annual apple harvest at the family farm.
Certain apple tree varieties grow very well in our climate.  (For information on what varieties do best, here is an earlier post I wrote about apple trees).


Summer is a busy time because of the different types of fruit there are to harvest.  Peach trees ripen first in late May followed by plums.  Early June is spent in the kitchen making peach and plum jams.
In mid-June, the apple trees are ready to be picked.
My daughter Gracie and I headed out to pick some apples.
When we got there, my mother was already busy picking apples and ‘Johnny’ my sister’s 3-legged dog was enjoying eating the fallen apples.
The trees had so many apples that the branches were hanging down under their weight.
Soda Pop, my sister other dog (and the daughter of my dog, Missy) was also enjoying a feast of apples.
Don’t they look delicious?
One of the apple trees had some trouble late last year with borers.  But we caught it early and got rid of them.
We hauled 3 huge bags of apples back home and I got ready to make some delicious things with them, which I’ll share with you next time.
*Below, is some helpful information regarding borers:
Adult borer beetles lay eggs in the crevices of the bark of apple trees – generally in the bottom 2 feet of the trunk.  The eggs hatch and the larvae tunnel their way into the trunk.
Signs of borers are small holes toward the bottom 2 feet of the trunk.  Sometimes you can sawdust poking out of the hole or even a little sap running down the trunk.
Prevention is the best treatment, but if you have apple borers there are a few things you can do:
– Take a wire (I recommend a wire coat hanger) and poke into the hole that the borer made and try to puncture the larvae.  Do this in the summer. You may have to work at this a little, but kids might have fun doing this 😉
– Paint the trunk with white latex pain.  This not only protects the trunk from sunburn, it also prevents borers from laying new eggs AND suffocates the borers already present.
If you have apple trees and want to help prevent borers away – plant cloves of garlic around your tree and let them grow.  Many apple growers report that the smell of garlic keeps the adult borer beetles away.  
By using garlic and painting the trunk of your apple trees, borers are more likely to stay away.

I realize that it is hard to think of doing anything in the garden, much less step outside with the heat wave that we have been experiencing in the Southwest.

The good news is that you can most likely wait to step out into your garden this weekend, once the heat wave breaks.
Check out my latest monthly “To Do” list that I wrote for Houzz.com


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I hope you are doing your best staying cool 🙂

I love visiting other people’s gardens, particularly if they have fruit and vegetables growing in them. So, I was thrilled to be able to go on a tour of local ‘edible’ gardens earlier this month.

This is the second year of the Arcadia Edible Garden Tour, which is made up of a collection of residential gardens in the ‘Arcadia’ area in east Phoenix.  I used to live in this area and it is one of my favorite regions of the Phoenix metro area.
Because my mother loves gardening almost as much as I do, I decided to buy her a ticket too and take her with me as a Mother’s Day gift.
Our first stop was to see Jill’s Sweet Life Garden.  I made sure to visit there first because I had been following her blog and couldn’t wait to see her gardens in person.
As we entered the garden, We headed straight for the raised vegetable beds.
My mother and I love to grow leaf lettuce, so we had to see what varieties were being grown.
One of the reasons that I was excited to go on this garden tour, was to get ideas to use in my own garden.  
Like, using regular wire mesh over the garden.  This would be great to use as a support for shade cloth in summer or frost cloth in the winter.  It is much more attractive then PVC supports.
The trellis is made of rebar and wire mesh and provides an attractive support for vining vegetables.
As many of you know, I love to grow nasturtiums alongside my vegetables.  They aren’t only pretty, they help to keep bad bugs away from my veggies.
This bed had a variety of nasturtium that I was anxious to try ‘Cherry Rose Jewel’ (I found seeds at Botanical Interests).  I will definitely be planting these next year.
As I was busy admiring the raised beds, my attention was drawn upward by a massive trumpet vine that was growing up a Phoenix date palm.
Talk about an unexpected support for a vine – I loved it.
I have been growing a special variety of corn in a half wine barrel.  
Sweet Life Garden had cucumbers growing in a barrel with a beautiful trellis.  
Baker’s Nursery had these wine barrel trellises available, but I’m not sure if they still do.  You could certainly make your own.
In addition to cucumbers, sunflowers were also growing in a barrel.  I may have to try this.
I love growing herbs in pots, but I think Jill’s look better then mine because of the half barrels.  I think I need to get more for my garden.
Tomatoes were growing like crazy with some beautiful heirloom varieties ripening.
Wouldn’t this look beautiful on a sandwich or on a salad?
I think it is important to have seating areas scattered throughout the garden, which invites you to sit and enjoy your surroundings.
Here is another example of the wire mesh being used as a trellis.
For those of you who mourn the fact that they cannot grow leafy greens for their salad in summer – let me introduce you to Malabar spinach.  
Okay, it’s not exactly a spinach but tastes great in salads and tastes like spinach when cooked.
It loves hot temperatures and needs a trellis for support.  I have seeds, but will probably wait until next year to plant mine.
The seeds can be a little hard to find at your local nursery, but you can buy some through Amazon.com for under a $1 – just type in Malabar spinach in the search.
Why limit yourself to growing just vegetables?  
Fruit on shrubs and trees is also fun to grow as you can see from the large peach tree, above and the espaliered apple tree, below.
I especially enjoyed seeing the peach orchard.
My peaches are almost ready for picking 🙂
I have been busy picking the blackberries off of my vines and have been thinking of adding more next winter.  
After seeing the berries at Sweet Life Garden, I will definitely add more to my own garden.
Did you know that there is a thornless variety?  I have one thorny blackberry bush and the rest are thornless.  Guess which kind I like best?
It was time to wrap up our visit because there were more gardens to visit.
Did I mention that they have chickens too?  
On our way out, we enjoyed seeing a variety of products offered by Sweet Life Garden and local vendors.
I had already eaten breakfast, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying a few samples.
The three-cheese black pepper bread came home with me.
We had a great time visiting Jill, at Sweet Life Garden.  
But, our adventure didn’t end there.  There were more gardens to visit.  I will give you the highlights of the other gardens in my next post.
**You can find information about the Arcadia Edible Garden Tour on Jill’s blog, Sweet Life Garden.  Be sure to order early next spring, when tickets are available.

Wouldn’t it be great to have a regional guide for things to do, places to stay and great places to eat?

The EastValleyGuide is a great resource for those who live in Chandler, Gilbert, Mesa and Tempe.

I was asked to write an article for them about the challenges of desert gardening and some simple tips for growing a beautiful, low-maintenance landscape.

I hope you’ll take a minute or two to read it.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about the article 🙂

I am always telling people that….

“Gardening in the Desert Isn’t Hard, It’s Just Different.”
Rain shaft heading straight for us.  Torrential rain began to fall just a 1/2 hour after I took this picture.

You would think that living in the desert – that we don’t get much rain.
While it’s true that we don’t get as much rain as most people, we do experience periods of torrential, summer rains.
That has certainly been true, this summer.
Actually, this week, we have had rain every day – often very heavy. 
I had a landscape consultation yesterday and the back yard was not landscaped – there was just plain dirt, which had turned to mud.
My shoes are still muddy and drying out in the garage 😉

Approaching thunderstorms as seen from Double S Farms.
My garden has enjoyed the rainfall.  I have shut off my sprinklers and drip irrigation because there is a danger of over-watering plants.

My husband is very happy with how nice our back lawn looks.  The rain and high humidity have really brought out its best.  (The entire garden is my domain, except for our lawn – that is my husband’s).
Unfortunately, we aren’t the only ones who have enjoyed our wet, humid summer – so have the mosquitos.  We have gone through 1/2 a bottle of repellent in just 5 days 😉

And so, as the rain threatens to fall again tonight, I will cheerfully sweep the entry and patio for the fourth time this week because I know all too soon the rain will taper off and become an infrequent visitor.

After living in the Desert Southwest for 26 years not, I should be used to this by now…

A beautiful afternoon sky that is soon to be overtaken by…
The monsoon season (rainy season) is officially upon us.  While I like the rain, I don’t particularly like the occasional dust storms that appear ‘out of the blue’ to speak literally.
I guess that I should be grateful that it isn’t an enormous one like we received last year…
That one was a ‘monster’ haboob (another word for dust storm).
But I must admit, that it was an exciting experience…
I wrote about it last year, if you would like to see more photos of this enormous dust storm.

Do you ever feel the need to ‘escape’ for the weekend?

I do.  Especially when summer arrives.  
The hot summer temperatures do not really bother me much because it seldom gets humid where I live – however, I’m a wimp when it comes to humidity.

But, there is just something about hopping into the car and a couple of hours later, arriving at a completely different terrain and climate.

Thankfully, there are many places to visit that are within a 2 hour drive of the Phoenix metro area, where I live.
When my husband and I were much younger and didn’t have a lot of money (not that we have tons of money now ;-)….
we would take day trips up to exciting destinations in Northern Arizona.
Places like Sedona, Jerome, Prescott and Flagstaff were our favorites.  And, the temperatures were usually quite a bit cooler.
We would pack up our two daughters (our youngest three, weren’t here yet), and leave early on a Saturday morning for a day of fun, returning late at night.
A couple of weekends ago, we spent the weekend up in Prescott for Father’s Day.  You see, this Father’s Day was bittersweet, because it is the first one without my father-in-law, who passed away from ALS last September.  
My dad passed away 5 years ago, so we decided to go out of town and do something really fun with the family.
We had a great time and I thought you might want to view our photo album 🙂
The entire Johnson clan.

So where are we?
We visited Montezuma’s Castle on our way up to Prescott.

  It is not so much a castle, but a Indian cliff dwelling that was built 900 years ago.
We had fun walking the 1/3 mile trail around the area.
Of course, it is always nice to get a piggy-back ride from dad 😉

(My son Kai has a disability called arthrogryposis, which can make it difficult to walk long distances.)
We had fun and were soon on our way to Prescott.

Our favorite destination in Prescott is the Sharlot Hall Museum, which includes the first Arizona’s Governor’s Mansion (Prescott was the first state capitol).
Yes…the first Governor’s mansion was a log cabin.

The interior is complete with period furnishings and interactive displays for the kids.

The rest of the grounds have beautiful gardens, a ranch house, school house and a building that houses period transportation…

Kai is not quite ready for school to start yet….

But, he did try to teach us something new 😉

The ranch house had a ‘kitchen garden’ complete with heirloom variety vegetables that they used back in the 1800’s.

Another great attraction of Prescott’s is that they have great shopping – particularly if you like antiques.  So, of course we had some fun looking and buying some pieces.  I will be using some in the garden.
After shopping, we spent time hanging out at the quaint courthouse and its park.  The front walkway was lined with Arizona state flags in celebration of the centennial.
We had a great day and ended it by treating ourselves to ice-cream…

Soon our entire family (grandmas, aunts, uncles and cousins) will escape for our annual trip to Williams, AZ.

**I hope your summer is going well and that you are able to ‘escape’ for at least a day of fun 🙂

My youngest sister is quite cool.  She sometimes likes to do things that I would call “outside of the box”.  I am more of the “stay inside the box” type.  Because of that, I love to live through some of her experiences, vicariously.

A couple of weeks ago, she underwent a truly unique experience that she shared in her blog and she kindly gave me permission to share it with all of you.

I think it’s gutsy and hilarious at the same time and I’m so proud of her….

Do you all remember when my husband gave me a certificate for trapeze
lessons for my birthday? Well six months later, I finally got up the
courage to do it. I was scared out of my mind.

Once we arrived at Trapeze U,
they got my belt on and gave me a quick rundown of what I was expected
to do. Hook my knees over the bar and let go? I was the monkey bar queen
in elementary school. I had this.

I got to the top and stood on what seemed like the world’s tiniest
platform where they clipped me in and gave me another quick rundown of
what to do. (Look how high I am!).

Ready, set, go! (or “hep” as they say in trapeze speak). The following
picture is terrible but I think the hilarious expression on my face says
it all. Black Swan I am not.

I tried with every ounce of strength I could muster but I couldn’t get
my legs up and get my knees hooked over the bar. After hoofin’ it up
that ladder three more times and still not getting it, I was feeling
super spent and super defeated.

My dear friends Laura and Jill were planning to show up and give me
support (you gals rule!) but I quickly texted them both and told them to
stay home. There is absolutely no way I’d want anyone to witness my
lack of trapeze talent. I mean seriously – look at what a mess I was.

At this point, I was ready to quit and quietly watch the other flyers.

Coach Dylan wasn’t having that. He gave me a much needed pep talk and
pointed out that I was making a simple mistake. I was trying to lift my
legs at the wrong moment and the momentum wasn’t working to my

So…I decided to give it one last shot.

And I did it!

Taking Dylan’s advice made the knee hook (or whatever the heck it’s
called) so much easier. There was a small crowd at the class and I could
literally hear the ladies on the side breathe an audible sigh of relief
followed by cheers when I got my knees hooked. I was pretty pathetic
and I’m sure they felt sorry for me. 

I did it a couple more times and each time I was able to get my knees
up. I can’t say that I did it with any style or grace but I was just
stoked to finally be doing it! Towards the end of the class, they
thought that I would be able to attempt another trick. (A little
ambitious of them, maybe?). They explained that I would be doing the
whole knee hook thing again but when I let go with my hands, I’d swing
over to the other instructor and he would catch me. Seriously!?! If I
can barely hook my knees how on earth am I going to pull this off?

So I climbed up to the top of the world’s teeniest platform for the 10th time (I was wiped) and went for it.

I DID IT!!! I seriously did it.  Such an incredible, amazing feeling. I had to sit down and take it all in. 

While I’m pretty sure I’m not going to run off with the circus anytime soon, I would take more classes through Trapeze U
in a heartbeat and am looking forward to signing up again soon. Dylan
and the rest of the staff were amazing – they could clearly sense my
fear and self defeatist attitude and gave me the encouragement and tools
I needed to accomplish something I never thought I’d be able to do. 

You can follow my sister’s blog at 

Usually, I have fun coming up with post titles.  But, at first, this one may seem a bit confusing.  I assure that it will make sense once you are finished reading….

The day before Thanksgiving, my head was full of all the things that I had to get done before hosting a nice dinner the next day with my husband’s family.  

I like the idea of entertaining, but I must confess that I can get a little frazzled getting things done.

So, I was thrilled to be able to get out of the house with my mother, who offered to take me out to visit a very interesting place.

Believe it or not, Arizona has a olive mill.

As we approached the store/restaurant of this working olive mill, we passed by their vegetable garden…

Lettuce, Swiss Chard, Basil and much more was growing, which they use in their restaurant.      

Olive trees dotted the picnic area.

As you walk into the store, you are greeted by this sign.

My mother had a great time looking at all the different types of olive oil, salad dressings and balsamic vinegars that were available for sale.

There was a tasting bar, where you could sample all kinds of olive oil.  I tried most of these and liked the Blood Orange and Meyer Lemon best.  I didn’t particularly like the Vanilla Bean or White Truffle Oil though.

I had fun trying the balsamic vinegars.  I got the Pomegranate White Balsamic Vinegar to use in my ‘top secret’ salad dressing recipe.

There was a large selection of delicious recipes to choose from.  I chose these 3.
I just love a good tomato sauce, don’t you?

Delicious food to temp….

Their huge lunch menu made it hard for me to choose what to order, but I decided upon a roast beef panini.

We had a lovely visit and on our way back to the car, I noticed the large cotton field…

Cotton is grown in many areas in Arizona, but as cities grow, the cotton fields are often found in outlying areas.

So, now does the post title make sense?

I had a wonderful time with my mother and then it was time to get back home and finish preparations for Thanksgiving.

We had a wonderful time at our house with my husband’s family before heading to my sister’s house to have another Thanksgiving celebration with my family.

I hope you all enjoyed your holiday weekend.  I got some great gifts on sale on Black Friday – and I didn’t even leave my house until 9:00 in the morning 🙂

**You can find out more about the Queen Creek Olive Mill by clicking this link.

Did you all have a good weekend?  It was way too fast for me 😉

Last Friday, I had to head a couple hours north of town to do a consult in Sedona, AZ.  Now, north of where I live is always cooler, which is a good thing during the summer.  

On my way there, I started to look for the tiny hillside town of Jerome, which is visible from the highway.  Known as the “largest ghost town”, Jerome is one of my favorite places to visit.

My family and I did visit there last month and I was pleasantly surprised to find beautiful, perennial gardens, window boxes, a garden made up of glass and junk and so much more….

I would like to share my visit with you if I may….

As you can see, Jerome sits on the side of a mountain.
Although many of the historic buildings have been restored and play host to artists, stores and visiting tourists – there are those buildings that have definitely seen better days.
When I saw this building where grass and trees were now growing inside one old rooms, I could just imagine what was housed inside during the 1800’s.
 The town sits on a steep 30% slope.  So, over the years, some of the older buildings have started to slide down the mountainside, including the old town jail.
In fact, when our two oldest daughters were very young, we would visit Jerome and they would have fun crawling around the ruins of the old jail.  Now the jail is completely ruined and our youngest kids can’t get near it.

Now, although I love the town itself and the shopping, I must confess that I was determined to take pictures on this visit.  My goal was to find some gardens and I must say that I was very happy with what I was able to capture with my camera.

I can’t wait to share them with you….

I first came upon a garden that was full of flowering perennials, including this hollyhock (which is technically a biennial, but I’m not going to be technical today).
The garden was also host to roses in addition to the hollyhocks.

There were quite a few bees at work collecting pollen.  Interestingly, I didn’t see any honey bees, just bumble bees.

Okay, I realize that I am focusing a lot on hollyhocks, but they are just so pretty, aren’t they?

Once I was able to tear myself away from the hollyhocks, I did notice some of the other pretty perennials…
Isn’t this Heart-Leafed Golden Alexander wildflower pretty?
I really don’t like extra long common names like this one 😉
It grows in zones 3a – 8b, which means that it won’t grow in my low desert garden, but it is very pretty.  It can be grown from seed and does best in sunny locations.
 I just loved tiered gardens, don’t you?

There were so many beautiful plants to see, but this Red Valerian caught my eye.
Now I have grown Red Valerian (Centhranthus ruber), which is also known as ‘Jupiter’s Beard’.   

I grew this in my first desert garden when we lived in a small house in Phoenix.

It grows in zones 5-10 and can be started from seed.
Eager to see what else there was to discover, I left this beautiful garden and pressed on…

I saw this Trumpet Vine growing on the side of this stone wall.  I have always liked Trumpet Vine, but haven’t grown it myself because it is deciduous in winter (loses its leaves) and I prefer using an evergreen vine such Purple Lilac Vine.

As I was walking, my husband and kids decided to take a break and play at the little park in the center of town.  Now, I only had about 20 minutes until we were to meet, so I hurried to see what else I could discover.
First, I stopped to enjoy the breathtaking view across the valley.  I could see the red mountains of Sedona in the distance…

Then I started walking towards one of the most interesting gardens that I have ever seen.

You know, I’m not sure that you could even call it a garden…

There are plants, but they are arranged around a bunch of ‘artistic junk’. 

I’m not sure why I am drawn to this unique garden, but I find it irresistible.

There are lots of old glass bottles, a steer skull hanging inside of a broken door, and so much more odd things that are hard to describe.
On my way back to meet up with my husband and kids, I spotted some pretty planters along the sidewalk.
I like how this restaurant filler their planter with quite a few herbs.  I think the flowering Verbena looks great alongside the herbs too, don’t you?

I spotted a beautiful Swallowtail butterfly and waited until it landed upon a Dianthus so I could take its picture…

Okay, so my time was up and I was going to be late to meet up with my husband and kids.  So I walked (I really don’t run all that well), back as fast as I could.  I was happy that my husband wasn’t upset at my lateness.  It’s probably because he knows me so well that he adds 10 minutes to the time that I say I will be back 😉

On our way to the car, I noticed a doorway in the side of a wall / staircase.

Now I’m not sure what this doorway was exactly.  But my kids knew what to do with it….

Go inside and explore!

That is until they realized how dark it was inside…..


Thank you so much for coming along with me on our day trip to Jerome.  I have been wanting to share my visit with you for some time.

If you get a chance, check out this link to find out more about this fun ghost town.