Do you love strawberries?


I do.  In fact, it’s my favorite type of fruit.

Strawberry Fields and Hometown Visits

One of my earliest memories is of the strawberry patch growing in my grandfather’s garden in Frankfurt, Germany.

We would visit them once a year for a month when we were young while they lived there. I remember pesky rabbits trying to steal some of the sweet strawberries and my grandfather’s ongoing battle to keep them out.

My hometown, in Southern California, was surrounded by strawberry fields. When you drive down the 101 Highway through Ventura County, you could smell their delicious fragrance.

strawberries straight from the field

What’s even better than smelling the strawberries, is being able to stop by the small produce markets right next to the fields where you can buy large flats of strawberries straight from the field.

Strawberry Fields

The strawberries are beautiful, unblemished and you can’t resist sampling one or two or even three before you make it back into your car.

While I love living in Arizona, I do miss the strawberry fields from my hometown. However, now my second-oldest daughter, Rachele, lives close to the town where I grew up and so I get to visit the fields again and bring home huge flats of delicious, sweet strawberries.

In fact, earlier this week, I stopped by this small produce store and bought some strawberries and took them home and made 20 jars of strawberry jam. I stayed up late last night, finishing up canning the strawberries and had some homemade strawberry jam on my toast this morning – yum!

So, why was I in California?

my grandson

Well, I had a very important reason – my grandson, made his debut!

Of course, my husband and I were prepared to leave at any minute to drive out to California so that we could be there for our daughter when she went into labor, but the entire process didn’t go exactly as we had planned.

In fact, I ended up spending 8 days in California.

I’ll share more of our journey next time – it may be a two-parter 🙂

Summer Adventures: Pick Your Own Strawberries and Cherries

violet silverleaf (Leucophyllum candid)

At first glance, violet silverleaf (Leucophyllum candid) may look like a nice gray shrub with a smattering of purple flowers.

BUT, when you crank up the humidity and add some summer rain into the mix and it really explodes with color…

purple beauty

These shrubs literally stop people in their tracks with their purple beauty.

(Leucophyllum candid) is easy to grow in arid climates and when not in flower, its gray foliage provides great color contrast in the landscape.

Find out more about this Texas native and why you’ll want to include it in your garden in my lates plant profile for Houzz.com:

 

Have you ever seen this shrub growing?  Do you have one in your landscape?

A few weeks ago, I was asked by one of my editors to come up with a list of the top 10 plants that every resident of the Southwest should consider adding to their landscape.

I must admit that the task was a bit daunting at first – not because I couldn’t think of enough plants.  The problem was that my list was much larger.

I had to pare my list down and decided to focus on plants that would grow in zones 7 – 10, which cover much of the desert Southwest.  In addition, they had to be low-maintenance, native, beautiful and easy to grow.

Southwestern Landscape

Southwestern Landscape

After considering all of the criteria, I still had about 20 plants.  So, I added one other criteria of my own – how easy is it to find at your local nursery?  

At the end, I had 10 plants that I was very happy with – but I could have easily added a lot more 😉  

I hope you enjoy reading through this list of 10 essential plants for the desert Southwest.    

*I’d love to hear what plants you would include in your list of 10 favorites.  

10 Top Plants Native to the Desert Southwest

Tour of Sustainable Southwestern Landscape: Part 1

Do you live in an area that has been affected by drought?  

You may be surprised at the answer.  Periods of drought aren’t uncommon for those of us who live in the Western United States, but more recently drought has expanded to some other areas that may surprise you.

10 Tips for Drought Tolerant Gardening

Drought tolerant gardening is rapidly becoming a very popular way to garden.  Contrary to what some people may think, drought tolerant gardens are low-maintenance, easy to care for, use far less resources and can be beautiful.

Agave, mesquite and salvias

Photo: Agave, mesquite and salvias.

Drought tolerant gardens are a great choice for any landscape because they are much more self-sufficient and sustainable than other landscapes. Even if drought has not affected your area, that doesn’t mean that it won’t in the future.   

drought tolerant gardening

*This week, I will be doing a series of radio interviews about drought tolerant gardening for radio stations in Oregon, Texas and Alabama. 

I must admit to being a little nervous since I have not done a radio interview before and I have four to do this week.  I think that it should be easier than being on TV since I don’t have to worry about what I’m wearing or if my hair is messed up 😉

Agave, saguaro, wildflowers and yucca

Photo: Agave, saguaro, wildflowers and yucca.

No matter if you live in California where many areas are experiencing exceptional drought, the Southwest or wherever you live, the principles of drought tolerant gardening are the same.

Landscape filled with drought tolerant plants and limited amount of grass.

Photo: Landscape filled with drought tolerant plants and limited amount of grass.

I recently shared 10 tips for drought tolerant gardens in an article for Birds & Blooms where I serve as the garden blogger, which you can read here.

Whether you implement 1 or all of the 10 tips, you will be increasing the sustainability of your landscape.

drought tolerant gardening

I encourage you to take a little time to read the 10 tips and then come back later this week, when I will share with some of my favorite drought tolerant plants.

Wish me luck on my first radio interview tomorrow.  I’ll let you know how it goes…    

**********************

For more information on drought tolerant gardening, click here.

Have you ever seen shrubs that have been planted too closely together?

overcrowded shrubs

At first glance, it looks like the new plants in the landscape above fit just fine into this area.  

But, what if I told you that those small shrubs grow 6 feet high and wide at maturity?

overcrowded shrubs

As they grow, out come the hedge trimmers and over pruned, ugly shrubs are the result.  

Unfortunately, this is a problem that has reached almost epidemic proportions in areas throughout the Southwest.  

Why else would people prune beautiful flowering shrubs into something that resembles anonymous, green blobs?  

The good news is that you can avoid this from happening in your landscape.  Even if you currently have overcrowded shrubs, you can solve the problem.

I recently wrote an article for Houzz.com on how to avoid overcrowded and the resulting overpruning…  

How to Avoid Overcrowded, Overpruned Shrubs

I hope that you find this article helpful – I’d love to hear your thoughts.

The dog days of summer have arrived, which means that I spend most of my time indoors.  So, I spend time on my garden writing, knitting, trying new recipes and catching up on reading some great books.   I also decided to tackle my photo library.  It is very large and filled with gardening photos, covering everything from close-ups of favorite blossoms, unique containers, DIY projects, vegetable gardening and pictures taken of the beautiful Southwest.

Over the next few weeks, I won’t be doing a lot of gardening outdoors, (if I can help it), so I thought that I would share with you some of my favorite pictures, grouped by subject.

This week, I would like to share with you some of my favorite close-up photos of flowers.

So, to start it off, here is a photograph from one of my most popular blog posts…

Beautiful Southwest - Queen's Wreath Vine (Antigonon leptopus)

Beautiful Southwest – Queen’s Wreath Vine (Antigonon leptopus) 

Aren’t these pink blossoms beautiful?

I took this picture on the Arizona State University campus some years ago.

You can learn more about this vine and why it does so well in low-desert gardens, here.

I hope you come back tomorrow for my next close-up flower photo AND I will be announcing the winner of the giveaway for one of my favorite gardening books, “Hellstrip Gardening”.

Enter now to win a free copy! Hellstrip Gardening Book Giveaway

Life has been quite busy, which has kept me out of the garden much of the time.

Of course, the with the hot temperatures of summer, I probably wouldn’t be spending a lot of time outdoors, regardless of how busy I have been.

I did spend some time weeding my vegetable garden last week and checking on how large my white pumpkin is growing.  However, that will probably be that last time that I do any work there for at least a week.

When I look back at the past 5 weeks, I realize how little I have been in my garden, which makes me grateful that I have a landscape filled with beautiful, fuss-free plants.

Rachele

My second-oldest daughter, Rachele, surprised her brother by coming home for his birthday in late May.

Rachele is in the Navy and is stationed in California.  She enjoys what she does there, but I don’t get to see her near enough.

Enjoying Mackinac Island

Enjoying Mackinac Island 

The beginning of June, I embarked upon a road trip through the upper midwest with my mother (our fourth road trip).

Monsoon Season my daughter Rachele

A week after returning from our road trip, I hit the road again with my family on our annual sojourn to the cool pines of Williams, Arizona.  A bonus was that my daughter Rachele was able to come back out and come with us!

My sister, me and my granddaughter, Lily

My sister, me and my granddaughter, Lily. 

Along with my sisters, brother and their families, we all have a great time staying in several small cabins nestled into the woods.

I had a great time with my kids, sisters and my granddaughter, Lily.

My son, Kai

My son, Kai 

My daughter, Gracie

My daughter, Gracie 

We spent time strolling along Route 66 and enjoying ice-cream at our favorite restaurant, Twisters in Williams.  Nights were filled with board games including a particularly competitive game of Scrabble between me and my son-in-law – he won 🙁

Today, I confess to feeling a bit glum.  Rachele left today after spending 2 wonderful weeks at home.

Monsoon Season - Kai with his niece, Lily.

Monsoon Season – Kai with his niece, Lily. 

Tomorrow, my son Kai goes in for another surgery.  This will be his 8th or 9th (I’ve lost count) surgery overall.

However, unlike most of his previous surgeries, this one won’t be for his hip – it will be done on his left hand.  The doctor will be fusing his thumb joint and performing a tendon replacement.

We are hoping that the recovery from this surgery won’t be as difficult as those experienced after hip surgeries that leave him wheel-chair bound for weeks.

Kai will have to wear a cast for several weeks though.  But, he is a tough kid and it is likely that this surgery will be a piece of cake compared to most of his previous surgeries.

You can read more about Kai and his remarkable story, here, if you like.

My garden should do just fine without me for a while.  It has been enjoying the arrival of our monsoon season and the increased humidity.

I hope you are enjoying your summer.  I’d love to hear about what you have been doing!  

Day 6 of our road trip began with gray, dreary skies and a chilly breeze.  

We decided to spend our time in Madison, Wisconsin by seeing the Olbrich Botanical Gardens, which were rated as the #1 attraction by Trip Advisor.

As we left our hotel, we were faced by roads under construction.  

Olbrich Botanical Gardens

Summer is the time for all road construction throughout the midwest because cold, wintery conditions are not conducive to construction.

Olbrich Botanical Gardens

Once we arrived at the gardens, we were greeted by the sight of containers filled with a combination of edible and ornamental plants.

Red Sail

I love how the blue of the lobelia contrasts with the bright green of the parsley and ‘Red Sail’ lettuce.

Cabbage

Cabbage is one of my favorite edible plants to add to containers.

All of these edible plants can be grown in pots in my southwestern garden, but are planted in fall, not spring like in Wisconsin.

During this trip, we have visited three botanical gardens and have not spent one dime on admission fees.

Why?

Most major botanical gardens have a reciprocal admissions if you belong as long as you are a member of your local botanical garden and they are part of the reciprocal program.

At first glance, the gardens were beautiful and I couldn’t wait to start exploring.

Road Trip Day 6

The gardens have bee hives located in out of the way areas, which are filled with Italian bees that are said to be rather docile.

The bees play an important part in pollinating the flowering plants throughout the gardens.  The honey that is sometimes sold in the garden gift store.

Meadow Garden

The individual gardens are spaced around ‘The Great Lawn’ which is a large circular grass area where concerts are held.

The first garden I explored was the ‘Meadow Garden’.  This garden is sustainable and very low-maintenance.

It is filled with drought-tolerant grasses along with wildflowers and flowering bulbs.  What I really liked about the garden is that it does not need supplemental water or fertilizer.

Maintenance is limited to mowing twice a year.

What I didn’t like about the garden, was the mosquitos.  But, I came prepared and they mostly left me alone.

Road Trip Day 6

Walking on, I wanted to explore the herb garden because they play a huge part in my own garden.  

Road Trip Day 6

The entry to the herb garden is quite formal.  Boxwood hedges border the center garden area.

beautiful container

Edible plants combine with ornamentals for beautiful container plantings.

Road Trip Day 6

 I love flowering chives and how they used them as a border.

Varieties of mint and thyme were nicely displayed and the herb garden also had herbs used for dyes.

*The brown plants in the background are recovering from the severe winter with new green growth slowly coming back.

Road Trip Day 6

This bed of flowering annuals was completed edged in flowering chives.

Thai pavilion

A Thai pavilion dominated the center of the Thai garden, which brought back memories for my mother who spent a few months in Thailand as a young woman.

While tropical plants cannot survive a midwest winter – the plants used in this area had a tropical appearance with large leaves while also being cold-hardy.

Thai Garden

The bridge that connects the Thai Garden to the rest of the garden, crosses over Starkweather Creek, which bisects the garden.

People can canoe or kayak up 5 miles from this side of the bridge.

Lake Monona

Boats can dock on the other side of the bridge and the creek leads out to Lake Monona.

Sunken Garden

This area is called the Sunken Garden, which is gently sloped so that rainwater flows toward the lake.

Road Trip Day 6

The formal water feature was flanked by two container plantings, which were quite contemporary in style.

Japanese iris

The pond had beautiful yellow and purple flowering Japanese iris.

Olbrich Botanical Gardens

Vines were used in different ways throughout the garden.

A tree provided needed support for a clematis vine with its maroon flowers.

Olbrich Botanical Gardens

 Years ago, I tried growing clematis in our first home.  It did grow, but never flowered.  I learned later that it gets too hot in the desert for clematis.

Olbrich Botanical Gardens

Another clematis was flowering next to a beautiful host underneath a tree.

Olbrich Botanical Gardens

I love pink flowers, don’t you?

Olbrich Botanical Gardens

Wisteria was growing up on arbors and I never tire of viewing their lovely flowers and inhaling their heavenly fragrance.

Olbrich Botanical Gardens

The vision of a rose climbing upward always makes me want to go home and grow one up the side of my house.

Paper Birch

Have you ever heard of ‘Paper Birch’ trees?

Their bark peels off in perfect sheets that is sometimes used to wrap around decorative candles.

I have always had a special place in my heart for birch trees.  Growing up in a Los Angeles suburb, we had three growing in our front yard.  I have always loved their white bark and bright-green leaves.

Olbrich Botanical Gardens

Underneath these birch trees was an interesting ornamental grass called dormitor quaking sedge (Carex brizoides).  I like how it lays down making it look like green waves underneath the trees.

Olbrich Botanical Gardens

Walking near the Perennial Garden, I spotted a blue-flowering plant that looked rather familiar.

It turned out to be a blue-flowering variety of autumn sage (Salvia greggii), ‘Blue Note’.

Can you imagine how patriotic a planting of red, white and blue autumn sage plants would look?

Olbrich Botanical Gardens

Here is another lovely edible, ornamental container that caught my eye, using kale.

Olbrich Botanical Gardens

Don’t you just want to sit down and relax in this area?

Olbrich Botanical Gardens

Pale-pink bee balm (Monarda species)was the only flower in this area of the garden, but it was more then enough alongside the ornamental grasses.

Sometimes less is more.

Olbrich Botanical Gardens

Walking on a paved area, I saw a planting of perennials right in the middle.  

Interestingly, there was no border or any clearly delineated space.  Just an opening without pavers where plants seemingly come up in the middle of a sea of pavers.

I kind of like this idea.  How about you?

Olbrich Botanical Gardens

If you have been reading my road trip posts, then you have probably noticed my obsession with peonies, which don’t grow in the desert.

Wherever we go, I see shrubs covered with gorgeous blooms.  

Olbrich Botanical Gardens

Well, Olbrich Gardens were no exception.

I must have taken over 100 photos of all the different blooming peony varieties that they had.

Olbrich Botanical Gardens

From a distance, peonies resemble bushes filled with roses.

However, once you get closer, you notice the the leaves have a different shape and so do the unopened blossoms, which are shaped into balls.

Olbrich Botanical Gardens

Their petals tend to be more ruffled then roses.

Olbrich Botanical Gardens

And, their blossoms are huge!

We spent a lovely morning in the gardens, but it was time to hit the road for our next destination.

On my way out, I noticed an outdoor eating area with centerpieces made from plants that I was quite familiar with…

succulent containers

(Agave americana var. medio picta) was the center point of numerous succulent containers.

It wasn’t unusual to see succulent plants in many of the gardens we visited.  While they do fine in the summer months, they need to be brought indoors and protected during the cold months of the year.

Road Trip Day 6

 After taking 334 pictures of the gardens (seriously), it was time to hit the road.

Whenever possible, we try to stay off of main highways and focus on using smaller highways that run through small towns and countryside.

Road Trip Day 6

The Wisconsin countryside is green.  I mean really green!

Dairy farms dotted the landscape along with beautiful scenery.  We thoroughly enjoyed our journey.

Tomorrow, we spend time along the towns by the Mississippi River before heading toward Minnesota Amish country.

**I wanted to thank those of you who have left such wonderful comments.  I appreciate them so much!

Yesterday, I mentioned the different ways that the residents of Green Bay honor their football team.   Today, as we got ready to leave, we saw a couple more signs of fervent fans.

The breakfast room at the hotel was filled with people wearing Packer football shirts.  There was a young boy, about 10 years old, who had prosthetic legs decorated with Green Bay Packer stickers.

Driving through Green Bay, we also noticed that the trash cans in front of people’s homes were green and yellow.  Green Bay, Wisconsin is the smallest city that has an NFL team and the residents are very proud of their football team.

We left Green Bay and made our way north to Door County, which is a narrow peninsula that rises above Green Bay.  It is dotted with small towns, orchards, dairies and fishing villages.


We spent the morning in Sturgeon Bay visiting the local farmers/craft market and the local museum’s rummage sale.


Have you ever heard of cheese curds? Friends of mine who have visited Wisconsin before, have told me to try cheese curds, which are chunks of solid cheese, which forms from the whey during the cheese-making process.  Once the curds form, they are pressed into molds to form cheese.

In the midwest, cheese curds are a popular snack.  It is said that they ‘squeak’ when you eat them.  To be honest, I wasn’t sure I wanted to eat something that squeaks.  But, this has been a road trip of ‘firsts’ so I bought some curds at the farmers market.

We spent the afternoon driving south toward Madison, Wisconsin just in time to watch the horse race on television.  Sadly, our favorite, California Chrome, did not win, but we did enjoy a simple dinner of food bought at the farmers market earlier today.

cheese curds and carrots

A fresh baguette, cheese curds and carrots make a great dinner while watching the Belmont Stakes horse race.

And yes, the cheese curds do ‘squeak’, but they are delicious!

Tomorrow, we are off to explore and I promise to take lots of pictures!  

When friends heard that I was going to Michigan, every single one of them told me that I must go to Mackinac Island.

To be honest, I was somewhat skeptical of whether or not I would like Mackinac Island.  I tend to not enjoy what some people would call ‘tourist traps’.

I was hopeful that Mackinac Island would be someplace that I would enjoy.  So far, our trip has been filled with fun adventures including a wine tasting and climbing a lighthouse yesterday.

So, we got up this morning, drove to the ferry and took it out to the island – about 20 minutes.

Mackinac Bridge

Along the way, our ferry passed underneath the Mackinac Bridge, which is the 3rd largest suspension bridge in the world and spans 5 miles.   It is designed to move up to 35 feet in windy conditions – kind of scary sounding to me.

Later in the day, we would cross this bridge by bar, as it connects lower Michigan with the Upper Peninsula and our next destination.

Mackinac Island

On our way to the Mackinac Island, we passed a smaller island where the Round Island Lighthouse stood sentinel.

I am rapidly becoming a fan of lighthouses!

Mackinac Island

We started nearing the island and could see the buildings, including a picturesque church and its steeple.

*Pardon the photo quality – I had to take them through the window of the boat.

Our boat landed and we disembarked, anxious to explore the island.

Victorian-style buildings

The main street is flanked by Victorian-style buildings filled with shops, restaurants AND stores offering all types of fudge.

fudgies

Fudge is a really big deal in Mackinac Island.  In fact, the people who live on this island refer to the tourists as “fudgies”.

Road Trip Day 3

There are over 17 different stores that sell fudge on the island.

*We stopped at one and I picked up 1 1/2 pounds of fudge.  I know that is an obscene amount of fudge, but it is easy to get carried away when you read all of the different varieties while the fragrance of fudge is wafting through the air.  To justify my large purchase, I bought a 1/2 pound of peanut butter fudge for my husband and a 1/2 pound of regular chocolate for my kids.  I’m reserving the toffee fudge for myself.

Mackinac Island

For those of you not familiar with Mackinac Island, there are no motorized vehicles allowed on the island.  So, everything is brought in by horse or bicycle, whether it is wine or…

Road Trip Day 3

Plants!

Just 3 weeks, there was still snow in parts of the island, so the planting season is just getting underway.

Road Trip Day 3

It was so interesting seeing plants being hauled in by horse and by…

Bicycle

Bicycle!

Mackinac Island

Other items we saw being brought in by horses included boxed groceries from the mainland, furniture, merchandise for the stores – basically anything that motorized vehicles deliver to us regular folks.

Mackinac Island

Even the police rely on getting around on bikes, but they do have a police car they can use in case of emergency.

Mackinac Island

Firetrucks and ambulances are also allowed to drive the streets of the island.

Having so many horses around, delivering goods and moving people about makes a certain dirty job a necessity…

Mackinac Island

The next time my son complains about having to scoop up the dog poop in our backyard, I will point that he has it easy compared to this guy.

Mackinac Island

We enjoyed browsing through the shops along the main street and I found some gifts for my kids.  

Mackinac Island

I didn’t see any store or restaurant chains except for Starbucks, much to my mother’s delight.

Mackinac Island
Mackinac Island

Summer has definitely arrived and I loved seeing all of the colorful plantings, including this one using a bicycle.  Geraniums (Pelargoniums) and ivy were planted in the front and back baskets.

hanging baskets

I am a huge fan of hanging baskets lining a porch or street, but I don’t have any at home, because it can be a struggle because our dry climate makes it hard to keep the roots moist without constant watering more then once a day.

I did love this particular hanging basket,  which was made up of pink ‘Wave’ petunias, white bacopa and purple verbena.

Mackinac Island

Have you ever seen a prettier post office?

I sat down on a little bench in front and wrote post cards to my kids and sent them off.

courthouse and police station

Even the courthouse and police station put on a floral show with bright-red tulips.

Mackinac Island

There are many old buildings on Mackinac Island and plaques in front of each describe their historical importance.

Mackinac Island

I love this old fence – it has so much character, don’t you think?

Fort Mackinac

Fort Mackinac was founded in 1780 and still stands today.  It is up on the hill that overlooks the main street of the island.

Mackinac Island

Here is the back view of the fort.

Michigan's governor's summer residence

This beautiful building is the Michigan’s governor’s summer residence.

Michigan's governor's summer residence

 Like the fort, it too sits up on the hillside.  The governor spends a few weeks during the summer there – not a bad deal, I must say.

The Grand Hotel

Probably the most famous place on the island is The Grand Hotel, a 5-star hotel, built in 1887.

It is very fancy, beautiful and expensive.  

The Grand Hotel

We didn’t tour the hotel, because of time constraints.  But if you want to learn more about this iconic hotel, click here.

To get a real feel for the island, its people and its history – we decided to take a carriage tour.  The tour begins downtown, but soon goes up into the more uninhabited areas of the island.  

Clydesdale horses

Horses pull carriages full of tourists.  The horses resemble Clydesdale horses and are raised by the Amish.

Approximately 80% of Mackinac Island is a state park.

Mackinac Island
Mackinac Island
Mackinac Island

The carriage took us through the beautiful woods of the island and our tour guide was full of interesting information.

Mackinac Island
Mackinac Island
Mackinac Island

Dead trees aren’t removed, despite the fire danger they pose because the island does not have a lot of topsoil.  So the fallen trees are allowed to decay, adding organic matter to the soil.

Mackinac Island

Arch Rock was an interesting limestone formation that we saw along the tour.

I highly recommend going on a carriage tour after spending time on the main street or else you miss a large part of the island’s identity and beauty.

Mackinac Island

My mother and I had a fabulous time on the island and spent longer there then we had planned.

After returning on the ferry back to the mainland, we picked up our car, headed over the Mackinac Bridge toward the Upper Peninsula, which is not known for the large amount of people who live here.  In fact, in the 2 hours we drove from the bridge, we saw few buildings, homes and people.

Road Trip Day 3

This is where we are – in a small town in the middle of the Upper Peninsula.

Tomorrow, we will drive through the remainder of the Upper Peninsula to Green Bay, Wisconsin and more adventures!