Imagine finding yourself stepping back in time, surrounded by small adobe homes and extensive gardens – all in modern-day Phoenix.
Imagine finding yourself stepping back in time, surrounded by small adobe homes and extensive gardens – all in modern-day Phoenix.
I have a confession to make.
I don’t have any containers filled with flowering annuals. Shocking isn’t it?
There are a few reasons for this, the most important one is that I prefer using relatively fuss-free plants that look great all year in my pots.
I don’t have much patience for high-maintenance containers. In particular, ones with flowering annuals that need frequent irrigation. Not to mention deadheading of spent flowers and having to change them out seasonally. But, I do love the way they look.
My inclination to avoid flowering annuals in my own garden has to do with my past and no, it’s nothing scandalous.
It does have to do with my work in the past. For five years, I was in charge of 45 pots. Each container was always be filled with colorful flowers.
Believe me, keeping all of those pots looking beautiful was a lot of work! Countless trips to the nursery, fertilizing, watering and replacing them twice a year got tiresome. Not to mention that I broke my foot when I tripping on a curb, while loading flats of flowers.
So, it may not come as a surprise that I prefer using succulents in my pots.
|Victoria Agave ‘Compacta’|
In an article I wrote for Houzz, I list my ten favorite small agaves for Houzz that are suitable for growing in pots.
What do your plants look like in the middle of summer? Do they thrive despite the hot temperatures?
Or do they look more like this?
|Langman’s Sage (Leucophyllum langmaniae)|
|Mexican Honeysuckle (Justicia spicigera) and Shrubby Germander ‘Azurea’ (Teucrium fruticans ‘Azurea’)|
“How much water do my plants need?”
I am often asked this question by desert dwellers and my answer is always, “That depends.”
Soil – Clay soils hold onto water longer than sandy soil. They take longer for water to permeate to the recommended depth. The result? Clay soils need irrigation less often than sandy ones but need to be watered for a longer length of time. Phoenix area soil tends to have more clay in them while those in the Palm Springs area are sandy.
Plants – Native or desert-adapted plants need less frequent irrigation versus those that come from tropical climates. Cacti and other succulents do well with infrequent irrigation.
Water Depth – Trees need to be watered deeply while ground covers and succulents do fine at a more shallow depth – shrubs fall in between the two.
Desert Region – Where you live in the desert matters when it comes to water and your plants. The differences include rainfall amounts, when the rain falls, high and low temps, and more. Residents of low-desert cities like Palm Springs and Phoenix need to add water to their plants more often than those who live in higher elevation regions such as Tucson.
Irrigation System – The older your irrigation system, the less efficient it is. This is due to mineral build-up within the system, which affects the amount of water that comes out. Also, old drip irrigation systems tend to accumulate leaks. The average lifespan for a drip irrigation system is 10-15 years.
Yes, it does take a little work to figure out how much and often to water your plants, but these guides are incredibly helpful and will guide you along the way.
Have you ever noticed that spring has a way of surprising you in the garden? That is indeed the thought that I had earlier this week as I walked through my front landscape.
After spending a week visiting my daughter in cold, wintery Michigan, I was anxious to return home and see what effects that a week of warm temperatures had done – I wasn’t disappointed.
I want to take you on a tour of my spring garden. Are you ready?
Penstemons play a large part in late winter and spring interest in the desert landscape, and I look forward to their flowering spikes.
One of the most dramatic blooms that grace my front garden are those of my Echinopsis hybrid cactuses. I have a variety of different types, each with their flower color. This year, ‘Ember’ was the first one to flower and there are several more buds on it.
Moving to the backyard, the gray-blue foliage of the shrubby germander is transformed by the electric blue shade of the flowers. This smaller shrub began blooming in the middle of winter and will through spring.
This unique shrub was a purchase that I made several years ago at the Desert Botanical Garden‘s spring plant sale. If you are looking for unusual plants that aren’t often found at your local nursery, this is the place to go. This is a lush green, tropical shrub that is related to the more common Baja Fairy Duster. However, it only flowers in spring and has sizeable red puff-ball flowers. It does best in east-facing exposures.
I am trialing a new self-watering hanging container that was sent to me free of charge by H20 Labor Saver for my honest review. I must say that I am very impressed. Growing plants in hanging containers is difficult in the desert garden as they dry out very quickly. But, this is a self-watering container, which has a reservoir that you fill, allowing me to have to water it much less often.
In the container, I have Million Bells growing, which are like miniature petunias. They are cool-season annuals that grow fall, winter, and spring in the desert garden.
Not all of my plants are flowering. My yellow bells shrubs have been pruned back severely, which I do every year, and are now growing again. This type of severe pruning keeps them lush and compact, and they will grow up to 6-feet tall within a few months.
This past fall, my daughters took over the vegetable garden. I must admit that it was fun to watch them decide what to grow and guide them in learning how to grow vegetables. They are already enjoying the fruits of their labor and onions will soon be ready to be harvested.
My Meyer lemon tree hasn’t performed very well for me and has produced very little fruit in the four years since I planted it. I realized that it wasn’t getting enough water, so I corrected that problem, and it is covered in blossoms – I am so excited!
Moving to the side garden, chocolate flower adds delicious fragrance at the entry to my cut flower garden. It does well in full sun and flowers off and on throughout the warm season.
In the cut flower garden, my roses are growing back from their severe winter pruning. Although the roses aren’t in bloom yet, my California native verbena is. This is a plant that I bought at the Santa Barbara Botanical Garden – I don’t remember the exact name, but it does great in my garden.
I have some fruit trees growing in the side garden including peaches! I can just imagine how delicious these will taste in May once they are ripe!
While the peaches are already forming, my apple trees are a few weeks behind and are still flowering. It surprises people that you can grow apple trees in the desert garden and they will ripen in June – apple pie, anyone?
I hope that you have enjoyed this tour of my spring garden. All of these plants are bringing me joy.
*What is growing in your garden this spring that brings you joy?
One of the things that I enjoy about living in the Southwest are the beautiful outdoor spaces. In particular, I am struck by the color and beauty in the winter landscape.
Now, for those of you who follow, know that I often take photos of ‘problem’ landscapes I drive by.
Well, not this time! I was so distracted by the beauty around me that I didn’t notice any landscape mistakes.
I hope you enjoy them as much as I do and are inspired to create your own!
In the background, you see the pink blooms of pink fairy duster (Calliandra eriophylla). Their uniquely shaped blooms look like a feather duster and hummingbirds find them irresistible.
Bursage (Ambrosia deltoidea) is a native groundcover that needs little water and provides nice color contrast.
An almost leafless mesquite tree stands sentinel over a planting of red-flowering chuparosa (Justicia californica). This shrub has lovely green foliage and tubular flowers that drive hummingbirds crazy with delight.
As you can see, the Southwestern landscape is filled with beauty and color, even in winter. Unfortunately, many homeowners only use plants that bloom spring through summer. This leaves them with a boring landscape through the winter months for several months. So, celebrate the winter season by adding a few of these cool-season beauties to your garden!
Have you ever renovated the interior of your house? Seeing the old, outdated elements peeled away and replaced with new paint, flooring, etc. can leave you feeling refreshed and even excited. Well, I get to do that with outdoor spaces, assisting clients with already established landscapes, create an updated look. The key to this is NOT to tear everything out and begin from scratch – instead, it’s a delightful puzzle deciding what should remain and what is best removed and replaced.
I get so much satisfaction helping people create an attractive landscape, and even more when I get to see them several months later once the plants have a chance to begin to grow. Last week, I was invited to re-visit a new landscape that I designed, exactly one year after it was completed and was very pleased with the results.
I’d love to show you photos of the finished product, but first, let’s look at what I had to work with.
As you can see, the interior of the house was also undergoing renovation when I first visited. The front yard consisted of two palm tree stumps, a few agave, overgrown gold lantana, and boulders.
The landscape rock was thinning and mixed in with the river rock while the asphalt from the street was crumbling away.
The parts of the landscape that I felt could be reused were the boulders and the gold lantana. Also, the river rock could be re-purposed. All of the rest was removed.
To create the structure for the new landscape elements, additional boulders were added, and the existing contouring was enhanced by elevating the height of the mound and a swale in the front center. The circular collection of rip-rap rock serves to mask the opening of the end of a french drain which helps to channel water from the patio.
A saguaro cactus and totem pole ‘Monstrose’ (Lophocereus schottii ‘Monstrose’) were placed for vertical interest and the gold lantana that were already present were pruned back severely to rejuvenate them and others were added to create visual continuity. Along with the cactuses, other succulents like artichoke agave (Agave parrying var. truncata) and gopher plant (Euphorbia biglandulosa) were incorporated to add texture with their unique shapes.
The existing river rock was removed, washed off and replaced along with the crumbling edge of the street, helping it to blend with the natural curves of the landscape.
Anchoring the corners with a grouping of plants is a very simple way to enhance the curb appeal of a home. This collection of volunteer agave and old palm tree stumps weren’t doing this area any favors.
This corner was built up slightly, creating a gentle rise in elevation. A large boulder joined the existing one, and a beautiful, specimen artichoke agave was transplanted here from the owner’s previous residence. Angelita daisy (Tetraneuris acaulis) will add year-round color as they fill in. ‘Blue Elf’ aloe were planted to add a welcome splash of color in winter and spring when they flower.
Moving into the front courtyard, the corner was filled with an overgrown rosemary shrub. The dwarf oleander shrubs were also taken out as they were too large for the smaller scale of this area.
Mexican fence post cactus (Pachycereus marginatus) helps to anchor the corner and will grow at a moderate rate, adding more height as it grows.
Year-round color is assured with angelita daisies and ‘Blue Elf’ aloe, which won’t outgrow this area.
Moving toward the front entry, this area is somewhat underwhelming. The natal plum (Carissa macrocarpa) adds a pleasant green backdrop and is thriving in the shade, so should stay. However, the Dasylirion succulent should never have been planted here as it needs full sun to look its best.
The solution in this area is quite simple. Pruning back the natal plum to a more attractive shape makes them an asset. A lady’s slipper (Pedilanthus macrocarpus) adds height and texture contrast and will grow in the bright shade. We kept the trailing purple lantana (Lantana montevidensis), for the color that it provides. Rip rap rock was placed to add some interest at the ground level.
Moving toward the backyard, another old rosemary shrub was removed from the corner in the background and replaced with ‘Blue Elf’ aloe and angelita daisy, repeating the same planting from the corner area in the courtyard, helping to tie these separate areas together.
Aloe vera (Aloe barbadensis) were added along the shady side of the house where their spiky shape creates interesting shapes. The key to keeping them attractive is to remove new growth around the base as it occurs.
The corner of the backyard is a very high-profile spot and faces the golf course. The homeowner’s wanted to get rid of the dwarf oleander hedge to improve their view. Clumps of agave look slightly unkempt as volunteer agave were allowed to remain and grow. The gold lantana does add ornamental value as does the small ‘Firesticks’ (Euphorbia tirucalli ‘Sticks on Fire’) and can be reused.
One of the clumps of agave was removed, which opened up this area and allowed us to add two aloe vera, which will decorate this corner with yellow blooms in winter and spring. The existing gold lantana provides beautiful color spring through fall. The centerpiece of this group of plants is the water feature.
It’s been over 20 years that I’ve been doing this, and I never get tired of seeing the transformation. I love being a part of it and combining the old with the new for a seamless design.
Thank you for allowing me to share this particular project with you!
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.
My favorite type of succulent are agave and while there are many different species, I’ll never forget the first one I ever grew. It was an octopus agave (Agave vilmoriniana) that planted years ago while in college studying for my horticulture degree. Even though that was long ago, I have a daily reminder of that first agave plant in the form of one of its descendants growing in my garden today.
This agave is the ‘grandbaby’ of the first one that I grew all those years ago and it was with a feeling of sadness when I noticed it sending up its flowering stalk late in winter, signalling that it was nearing the end of its life. At the same time, there was also a sense of excitement about new birth with the promise of a new generation of agave babies on their way.
The age that an agave is when it flowers varies between the different species, with some living for decades before they send up their towering spikes. With octopus agave, they generally live less than ten years before this wondrous process begins to take place.
Watching the rate of growth of the flowering stalk of an agave never ceases to amaze me – they grow several inches a day.
Golden yellow flowers began to open along the length of the giant stem much to the delight of bees who happily pollinated the blooms.
Pollinated flowers soon gave way to tiny octopus agave along the stem.
And a few weeks later, they were ready to be picked ready to create a new generation of octopus agave for my garden.
There are probably over a thousand small agave growing along the stalk. However, I selected only nine to represent the next generation. I’m not likely to plant all of them in my garden once they are rooted, but it’s a good idea to select a few more than you are planning for in case some don’t make it, or if you want to give a few away.
Each baby agave are referred to as ‘bulbils’. They don’t have any roots yet, but will soon appear when planted.
I filled three pots with a planting mix specially formulated for cactus and succulents, which means that it is well-drained, which is important when growing succulents. Three agave babies went into each pot, which I placed in the backyard in an area that receives morning sun and filtered shade in the afternoon – placing them in full sun all day would be too difficult for them at this stage as they still need to grow roots.
My job now is to keep the soil moist, but not soggy until roots begin to form, which should take approximately 3-4 weeks. At that time, I can start to space out the watering to every five days or so. Eventually, I will move them out of the pot and transplant them into the garden or into a large container (2 1/2 feet tall and wide) where they can make their new home.
I’m not sure where I will plant each new octopus agave, but I will transplant one to where the parent plant used to be, continuing the cycle of life.
The baby boom isn’t over. Soon, I will be welcoming another set of baby agave into my garden as my King Ferdinand agave has also sent up its flowering stalk. This species is somewhat rare in the landscape and takes a very long time before it flowers, so I am very excited to welcome its babies next month.
I am always on the lookout for new ideas to use in outdoor spaces and on a recent trip to Austin, Texas, I toured 17 different gardens and came away filled with garden inspiration Southwest style.
A garden’s style is a reflection of the owner and because everyone is unique, so is the way that they decorate their landscape. I confess that I saw several ideas that I felt representative of my taste and am contemplating replicating them in my garden or recommending them for my clients.
I hope you find things that you will want to incorporate into your landscape.
Summer in my desert garden is a time to enjoy its beauty from the air-conditioned comfort of my home. Yet, it’s also when I plan and dream of what I would like to add to it when the weather cools in fall.
While garden inspiration was in plentiful supply during my visit to Austin, it can also be found in other places such as a roadside planting, a local business’s landscape, a favorite magazine, or perhaps even in your neighbor’s front yard. I encourage you to keep your eyes open to possibilities of what you can do with your outdoor space.