Creating an attractive garden in the desert can seem overwhelming with our dry climate and intensely hot summers that seemingly last forever. Can anything green and pretty grow in a barren, brown landscape covered in rock?

The answer is YES!

Yes, the desert is a very different place to create, grow, and maintain a garden, but it can be done and you DON’T need to settle for a yard filled with rock and spiky cactus.

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. 

As a horticulturist and landscape consultant, I’ve been helping individuals like you learn how to create, grow, and maintain a beautiful landscape that thrives in the desert climate for the past 20 years.

As you might expect, there are a lot of people who need my help, and my work calendar is overflowing with appointments with individual consultations.

This got me to thinking of a better way for me to reach a larger group of people, like you, who struggle to create an attractive landscape in a hot, arid climate. I’ve been working on a special project for the past three months to address this problem, and I’m almost ready to tell you all about it!!!

I’ll be honest; this is the biggest thing that I’ve done since I launched my blog 9 years ago and I am feeling both excited and nervous at the same time.

The official launch date is Wednesday, September 5th. I will be releasing all the details via the blog, social media, and through email to my subscribers.

HERE IS A SNEAK PEEK AT MY NEW LOGO:

My close friends and family have heard me talk about little else the past few months and it will be a relief to finally share it with all of you!!!

P.S. If you haven’t already, sign up for my subscriber list (located on the top of the sidebar) for the latest updates.

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!

I must admit that I don’t spend much time outside in my garden in August as I quickly become a sweaty mess and the heat sucks out all my energy. So, I turn to other pursuits to occupy my time. Only one week into this month and I’ve painted trees, had a chance encounter with a roadrunner and welcomed a new princess.

While I usually indulge my creativity out in the garden with design, I had an opportunity to channel it onto canvas during a team-building event for my husband’s work.

The event was held at an art studio that hosts group art painting sessions and as I approached the blank canvas, paint brushes and paint, I felt a combination of excitement and apprehension. I’ve never painted on canvas before and the last time I’ve put brush to an easel was in kindergarten.

The instructor stood in front of the class, and we were to replicate a particular painting, and there was an example of the finished piece of art, and the instructor guided us step by step as she began painting her blank canvas.

It was enjoyable, and I’m living proof that you don’t have to be an artist to enjoy the experience. However, as a certified arborist, I did feel a little bit of pressure when painting in my trees but, reminded myself that this was more impressionistic art.

A couple of days later, I was visiting my niece at our local hospital when I spotted a roadrunner walking toward the front door. We don’t see them very often where I live in suburbia, so I stood and watched what it was doing.

I just recently taught a class on gardening for birds at the Desert Botanical Garden, so I was full of facts about this type of bird, which is a member of the Cuckoo family and I started reciting them to my husband who was watching the roadrunner with me.

For those of us who grew up watching the cartoon feature Wiley Coyote and the Roadrunner, the coyote never seemed to catch the roadrunner. However, in reality, coyotes can reach a top speed of over 30 mph while roadrunners can only run up to 15 mph.

Roadrunners are found throughout the entire Southwest and are spreading as far to Louisiana – so now you have two fun facts to share with your friends.

Here is a photo of another roadrunner that I spotted several years in front of a hospice facility, coincidentally across the street from the same hospital. You’ll notice the red and blue coloring on the side of its head, which is visible during mating season.

I’ve watched these large birds run and catch lizards and snakes in the desert, and it’s always a treat when I get to see them up close.

Hospital visits aren’t typically fun outings, but the exception is when you are visiting new parents. My nephew and his wife just welcomed a precious little girl into the world, and I am now a great aunt. We have had eight boys born into the family, yet only one girl in the past 25 years, so we are so excited to have another “princess” to love and dote on. Bring on the pink!

In a few short weeks, my focus will once again be in the garden, but for now, I’m enjoying the cool indoors. 

How about you? Have you ever gone to an art studio for a painting class or seen a roadrunner up close?

I am always on the lookout for new and different ways that gardens are designed and the materials that they use. Recently, I was scheduled to teach a class at the Desert Botanical Garden, and as I headed toward the classroom, I admired the modern design of the building but, it was the vine-covered wall that caught my interest.

This unusual wall was made up of masonry block, like many garden walls in the desert Southwest, but this one was decidedly different. It was made from broken masonry blocks repurposed from a wall that had been removed elsewhere. Some brilliant person realized that instead of filling up landfill space, that the broken blocks could still function as a garden wall. 

The salvaged wall provides the perfect surface for queen’s wreath (Antigonon leptopus) vines to crawl up on with their twining tendrils taking advantage of the nooks and crannies within the wall.

The sprays of flowers, leaves, and stems create beautiful shadows along the pavement below. Shadows are an element of garden design that is often overlooked. However, don’t underestimate the effect that the shapes of the shadows from cactuses, succulents, and even vines can add to a bare wall, fence, or even on the ground.

Years ago, I used to carry a small digital camera in my purse for unexpected opportunities to take pictures of a particular plant, or design idea. Nowadays, this is just another reason that my smartphone is perhaps my most valued tool.

 

Our desert tortoise, Aesop, has been a fun addition to our life ever since we adopted him three years ago. He typically becomes quite active beginning in June, after a very long winter’s nap. As a result, his curious nature has him coming out to see us when we venture out into the garden. The kids like to pet his shell while I stroke Aesop’s head.

Aesop sleeps just over six months out of the year, so we treasure the summer months when he is active. A couple of weeks ago, he came over to visit me on the backyard patio, and I noticed how dirty his shell was – likely due to hibernating in a hole all winter long. So, I decided that he needed a bath.

I wasn’t sure if he would like it or not – my dogs don’t and try to get away whenever they see me holding the hose, but Aesop seemed to enjoy his bath.

He stood perfectly still until it was over and then turned to me as if to say, “that’s all”?

A couple of minutes later, he was stretched out, relaxing after his refreshing bath.

I must admit that I never realized how entertaining having a desert tortoise as a pet could be and Aesop continues to surprise us with his curious nature and antics.

 

On a cold February morning, alongside my mother and sisters, I found myself at The Magnolia Silos, created and made famous by the much-loved hosts of HGTV’s ‘Fixer Upper’ program. 

We were on a girls road trip through Texas, and as fans of the show, The Silos in Waco were a must-see destination. 

The day we arrived was brisk, and we headed straight to the bakery, which is well-known for its delicious cupcakes and pastries. So, while my travel companions saved me a place in line, I headed straight for the decorative window boxes along the front and side of the bakery.

To be honest, I didn’t expect to see much in the way of greenery or gardens in winter, and so I was pleasantly surprised to see the lovely plantings underneath the windows.

Edible plants were mixed with ornamental plants, creating a blending of soft, complimentary shades, which suited the cloudy day.

The rosemary pruned into little topiaries created the perfect backdrop for the white, ornamental kale.

There is almost always a line around the bakery, but we were fortunate only to have to wait for 10 minutes before entering. In the meantime, we were handed a bakery menu where we could select what we wanted ahead of time.

I picked the ‘Shiplap’ cupcake – because, where else was I ever going to have the opportunity to get one anywhere else? It was delicious!

This sign within the bakery echoed the sentiments of all who entered and came out with a box of much-coveted cupcakes.

Once outside of the bakery, we headed for the main store where four magnolia trees were espaliered to the left of the entrance.

Don’t let the relatively empty facade fool you – it was filled with shoppers inside. 

A grouping of lavender greeted us as we climbed the steps into the store.

 

Hanging tight to my wallet while trying to figure out how much I had budgeted for shopping, I entered the store.

It was immediately evident that Joanna has a deep love for gardening and plants although all those inside the store were artificial greenery and flowers.

Back outdoors, my sister and I posed for a picture before we headed over to the garden area.

The garden is surrounded with beds filled with roses that had recently been cut back and tulips just beginning to emerge.

The Magnolia Seed & Supply shop is filled with garden decor along with seeds available for purchase. 

Raised beds are filled with leafy greens. I like the wooden branches used to support the frost cloth.

To the side of the store was a little greenhouse with a planter full of gorgeous kale. 

I must admit that I’ve never thought of kale as ‘gorgeous’ before, but it was in this case.

On our way out, we took a photo of the silos surrounded by families and kids playing on a large expanse of artificial turf using old-fashioned lawn games provided for their use.

A quick stop for a photo.

I hope you enjoyed exploring the green spaces of The Magnolia Silos with me. I certainly did!

SaveSave

I am so excited to share with you the debut of a new blog, called Southwest Gardening that covers the entire SW region, which is often ignored in traditional garden media. 

The blog is written by a team of four garden experts, of which I am honored to be one. Each of us lives in a different gardening climate of the SW, and together, we are excited to share our knowledge to help all of you who live and garden in this arid region of the country.

Here are the team members:

Ann McCormick from Texas who writes the blog, Herb n’ Cowgirl

Teresa Odle from the high mountains of New Mexico who is the author of Gardening In a Drought

Jacqueline Soule from the desert region of Tucson who contributes to the blog, Savor the Southwest

and

Noelle Johnson (me) from the low deserts of central Arizona.

I hope that you will take an opportunity to visit Southwest Gardening where we will share ways to have “fun with plants in a dry climate”.

*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.*

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Our New Year’s celebrations are usually spent at home, eating an extra nice dinner and enjoying game night playing our favorite board game, Ticket to Ride. Basically, it involves trains and moving across the U.S. I’ve never played a game that I like more and our friends and family agree.

New Year morning involves making deliciously sweet monkey bread and settling down to watch the Rose Parade with my mother and the kids. I remember going to the parade with my grandparents when they lived only blocks away and I enjoy reliving that memory every year when I watch a new one each year.

In regards to my garden, holiday activities mean that I don’t go outside in the garden much, but I do concentrate on my indoor garden that is located on my kitchen windowsill. I have amaryllis; a miniature rose, a single hyacinth bulb and a couple of succulents growing. But it doesn’t mind since the colder weather means that my plants don’t need much attention.

Even though it is winter, I will be concentrating my attention on the outside garden as January is the best time to prune back my roses as well as apple and peach trees. This is also the best time to add new roses and I have a fun project coming up with the folks at David Austin Roses, which I will share with you in a few weeks. 

Over the holidays, I was often asked about garden products that I recommend, so I have created a list of my favorites that I use myself. You can view them here, or by clicking the photo above.

I hope that you find the list helpful. There is a wide variety of items from books, garden wear, fertilizers, tools, and so much more. It is also a great way to help support the blog at no extra expense to you if you purchase an item.

 

I have a special project that I’ve been working for the past several months. It is almost ready to debut, but until it does, I’ll give you an early peek at part of the logo:

I promise to let you know all the details very soon!

With the dawn of the New Year, I am excited about possible changes to my back garden (maybe grass removal), new roses, lots of travel, a new venture, and of course, writing this blog, which is so near and dear to my heart.

What are you excited about in this coming year?

 

The holiday season is a time where I try to balance out the preparations for Christmas with time to sit back and enjoy the particular elements that only occur this time of year. On that note, I’m happy to report that I’ve finished shopping for gifts, which are all neatly wrapped underneath the tree or on their way to recipients who live far away. I must admit that I have never finished this early before and it is a bit disconcerting as I keep feeling as if I’m forgetting something important.

 

Last weekend, my mother treated us to an outing to The Nutcracker, by Ballet Arizona and the Phoenix Symphony Orchestra. 

We arrived a bit early, which gave us the perfect excuse to walk through the downtown area. Years ago, I worked in a tall office building as a landscape designer, but it had been a long time since I had spent any time there.

I was delighted to discover a tall Christmas tree in the center of an ice-skating rink – yes, there is ice-skating in downtown Phoenix.

Walking further on, we saw a unique use of umbrellas as art.

My younger daughters couldn’t figure out why the umbrellas were hanging upside down, but I quite liked the artistic effect.

A row of yellow bell shrubs (Tecoma stans stans) added a welcome splash of lush green and yellow color. While you’ll see them grown as a shrub, here they are pruned into small trees. Underneath is the groundcover yellow dot (Wedelia trilobata).

Once inside the Phoenix Symphony Hall, we admired the colorful Christmas trees. It was all quite festive, and my daughters were excited to watch their first ballet performance.

My mother and daughter, Gracie.

Although Gracie has autism, and many things cause her acute anxiety, she was doing very well as she had always wanted to see The Nutcracker.

 

My sister-in-law, daughters, and me!

There is one thing about the performance that I haven’t mentioned yet. My cousin’s daughter is one of the dancers in this ballet. She is a ‘snowflake’ in Act 1, and a ‘wildflower’ in Act 2.

This is all I can show you of the stage as photos of the performance aren’t allowed.

It was marvelous, and everyone enjoyed themselves. After the performance, we met my cousin’s daughter at the stage door, (Gracie hoped that she would still have her costume on). She was so happy that we had come to see her performance and I was struck by the fact that all the dancing genes in the family went to her (as well as her mother) – I certainly didn’t get any 😉

On our way back to the car, we passed by a striking vertical garden, filled with chuparosa (Justicia californica), octopus agave (Agave vilmoriniana), and yucca. Even though the chuparosa was a bit too overgrown, the overall effect was lovely.

Back home, things are rather quiet in the garden, with one exception:

 

 

My Halloween pumpkins that I filled with birdseed are still creating quite a buzz with the neighborhood birds. We have had Alber’s towhees, curved bill thrashers, finches, Inca doves, and sparrows come for a visit. It’s been a real treat watching them out the kitchen window. The pumpkins will probably have to be thrown out in another week, but it’s been nice to find a way to reuse them.

Lastly, we’ve been busy baking cookies for upcoming holiday events as well as to give to friends and neighbors. Snickerdoodles are by far our favorite, and they are so easy to make with ingredients that you probably already have in your pantry.

The recipe I use is an old one. I received it at my wedding shower, back in 1986, from a college friend. It has never failed me and cookies are delicious. I’ve had many requests to share it, so here it is:

*Please feel free to print it out and start your own annual Snickerdoodle cookie tradition.

If I had to pick the busiest month of the year, it would be November.

Life is filled with the kid’s school activities, plant sales, speaking engagements, and a lot of WORK helping people update their outdoor spaces. But, is also a time where my garden is reveling in the cooler temperatures of fall and I start to make some tweaks to it. I love the quote, “That a garden is never finished” and that is certainly true of mine, hence the little green flags indicating new plants that need irrigation run to them.

Earlier this month, I was a special guest expert at a local plant sale that raises money for community services. I enjoyed coming up with creative combinations for those who were shopping and answering their questions about the best exposure for the different plants offered for sale.

A few days later, it was all about creative container gardening as I spoke to a group of interested gardeners at a local branch of the Phoenix Public Library. While I like to talk about gardening to groups, there is always a little fear before it begins when you stare at a sea of empty seats and pray that they will be at least half filled by the time it starts. I must say that I was thrilled when they had to bring in extra chairs for my talk. Yeah!

Fall is my favorite time of year in the garden when the summer bloomers are still producing colorful flowers and my cool-season plants are beginning to show off as well. 

You know what else I like about November? It means that Christmas is just around corner! I wonder how early I can get away with putting up Christmas decorations?