Plants can do some spectacular things, and the dramatic process when agave send up their flowering stalk, definitely qualifies. Yesterday, I noticed that my octopus agave (Agave vilmoriniana) had begun to send up its fleshy shoot. 

I must confess that I had mixed feelings about it. My first reaction was excitement in getting to view the impressive growth of the fleshy stem and the flowers that will follow. But then, I felt sad that this signaled the beginning of the end for my octopus agave. 

You see, this agave is the ‘grandbaby’ of the first agave that I ever planted, back in the late 1990’s, making three generations of flowering agave in my Arizona garden.

Eventually, that agave flowered, and I harvested one of the babies and planted it in a pot. Several years later, that octopus agave went through the same process, and I collected two babies.

The two siblings started out growing in a pot, and when they got large enough, I transplanted them out into the garden.

One was planted in a corner but had a short-lived stint in the garden as construction near the wall meant that it had to go.

Its sibling did great in its new spot in the front garden when it was planted in 2010, and now it is getting ready for babies.

The tiny baby agave are barely visible, and the stalk will grow several inches a day.

Octopus agave don’t have a long lifespan and mine average eight years in the ground before they flower. 

In a few months, miniature octopus agave will cover the flowering stalk, which can be easily detached and replanted in the garden. It’s hard to believe that I will be planting the fourth generation of agave in my garden.

*I will keep you updated as it continues to grow and the arrival of baby agave.

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.

It’s Day 3 of our garden gift ideas and today it’s all about books.

Gardening in the Southwest can be challenging because many of the traditional gardening rules and plants just don’t work here and traditional garden literature often ignores the unique opportunities and challenges that our arid climate presents. A good book that focuses on our distinct region can become an invaluable tool. As a garden writer, I know many garden authors and have been asked to review many books, and I include my top eight with you.

As a garden writer, I’ve been asked to review some garden books and know several of the authors personally and can attest to their expertise in gardening in the Southwest.

*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). 

 

1. Southwest Fruit & Vegetable Gardening

Our dry climate is an ideal region for growing fruits and vegetables because we have fewer insect pests and disease than more temperate areas. From apples, peaches, to citrus – many types of fruit can be grown here. Vegetable gardening is a favorite pastime of mine, and due to our relatively mild winters, we can grow them throughout the entire year. Tucson native, Jacqueline Soule, teaches you how to create your own edible, southwestern garden. Click here to order. 

2. Gardening In The Deserts of Arizona

Mary Irish is one of my favorite authors and worked for years at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix. Her books are what I like to refer to as the ‘bible’ of growing ornamental plants in the Southwest. From lists of plants that grow well in our climate to how to maintain them each month, this book is a must-have for new (and old) desert gardeners. She has written several books, but this is a good one to start with as it breaks down how to care for your garden. I met her at a conference in California and found her utterly charming and down to earth. Click here to order. 

3. Lawn Gone

Austin, Texas resident, Pam Penick, is well known for her blog, Digging, as well as her frequent contributions to a variety of gardening magazines. Her approach is saving water in the garden by removing or minimizing lawn areas, with an emphasis on simple and creative design solutions. I am fortunate to call Pam my friend and have toured gardens with her in Arizona and California. I’ve owned this book for several years, and it still ranks as one of my favorites. Click here to order. 

4. Potted

Earlier this year, I was contacted by Annette and asked to review her book. She and Mary own a trendy garden shop in Los Angeles that focuses on outdoor accessories and design services. As its title suggests, this book focuses on instructing readers on how to create unique containers using everyday items. The results are eye-catching and add a welcome design element to garden spaces. This book is for those on your list who like to be on the cutting edge of gardening trends. Click here to order. 

5. Growing Vegetables in Drought, Desert, and Dry Times

If you or someone on your gift list like to grow vegetables, this is an invaluable book that speaks specifically to grow an edible garden in an arid climate. Tips for maximizing your harvest while managing water is an important skill to learn and the author draws upon her experience of living and gardening in the desert regions of California. Grouping this book along with packets of vegetable seeds and a raised bed kit, would be a much-appreciated gift for a beginning vegetable gardener. Click here to order. 

6. Homegrown Herb Garden

Herbs are very easy to grow and flourish in arid climates. I grow them in pots, in my vegetable garden, as well as indoors. One of the authors, Ann McCormick, also known as the ‘Herb n’ Cowgirl’ has a blog by the same name. This book provides helpful growing tips along with how to use them to flavor your favorite dishes making it a great choice for the gardener and cook on your list. Click here to order yours.

7. Trees and Shrubs for the Southwest

Many gardening books contain smaller lists of plants, but this Mary Irish book has comprehensive lists of shrubs and trees that flourish in the Southwest. It delves beyond the often repeated plant palette of bougainvillea, oleander, and Texas sage, and goes further into the impressive variety of plants that can grow here. This book is a thoughtful choice for those who want to learn more about the plants that can grow in our arid climate. Click here to order.

8. The Water-Saving Garden

This book holds a special place for me because of the author, Pam Penick, who made a journey to visit me in Arizona while researching her book. We spent an entire day together visiting gardens throughout the greater Phoenix area (including mine), covering over one-hundred-fifty miles. Many of the photos that she took that day are in the book, which as its title suggests, focuses on how to create lovely gardens that don’t need a lot of water. Click here to order. 

All of these books will serve to inspire and teach the gardener on your list, how to create a beautiful garden that will thrive in the arid Southwest climate.

Want more ideas? Check out Day 1 and Day 2 of my garden gift ideas. 

Tomorrow, I’ll share my picks for garden gifts for kids

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November is a very busy time in the low-desert garden. Cooler temperatures make this best time of year to add plants and as a result, my phone begins to ring off the hook. Many of my clients have established landscapes that they are looking to do some tweaking to the landscape.

This usually consists of identifying what existing plants still add beauty to the landscape, or background structure, from a design standpoint, and then removing those that don’t. New plants are then added that will compliment the older ones.

One easy tip for creating a newer look to the desert landscape is to clean out river rock washes. While it is labor intensive, the process is quite simple. All you need to do is remove all the rocks, wash them off with water from the hose and put them back.

I must admit that I love working outdoors this time of year when the weather is simply lovely.

Here is a colorful surprise that I discovered while visiting a client last month. ‘Loretta’ is an eye-catching piece of garden art and I love her pink arms. She was purchased in San Francisco and is made up of parts from an old bike.

On another note, my grandson, Eric, decided to put on some ‘face cream’. The only problem? It was diaper cream! I think that all of us probably have a story like this one…

I hope that you are enjoying the fall season – I know that I am.

 

Overgrown, old Texas sage (Leucophyllum frutescens ‘Green Cloud’)

You have undoubtedly seen an old, overgrown shrub filled with mostly leafless branches that rarely flower anymore. Or, perhaps it is an aged succulent that has brown patches that are slowly encroaching onto the upper parts of the plant from the base. So, what is the solution for plants that no longer add decorative value to our landscape?

Old rosemary filled with unproductive woody growth

While some woody plants such as Texas sage or oleander can be rejuvenated by severely pruning them back, not all plants respond favorably to this and grow out again. Let’s take a look at some Southwestern favorite shrubs and succulents and talk about whether you should prune severely or when it’s best to replace.

Oleander that has undergone severe renewal pruning in spring.

Many shrubs can be rejuvenated by severely pruning them back, which gets rid of old, woody growth and stimulates the production of new branches, which will flower more (in the case of flowering shrubs). It is helpful to think of severe renewal pruning as the “fountain of youth” for many plants. This type of pruning is best done in spring, once the weather begins to warm up. Shrubs that respond well to this include bougainvillea, jojoba, lantana, oleander, Texas sage, and yellow bells. It’s important to note that not all shrubs will come back from this method, but the pruning didn’t kill the shrub – it only hastened the demise of the plant that was already in progress. If this happens, replace it with another.

Old desert spoon (Dasylirion wheeleri)

There are some plants that don’t respond well to renewal pruning or where that isn’t possible to do in the case of succulents. In this case, the solution is simple – take them out and replace them with a younger version of the same plant. Examples of plants that are better removed and replaced include aloe, desert spoon, red yucca (hesperaloe), rosemary, and prickly pear cactus. When you think about it, the cost isn’t very high, when you consider the beauty that these plants added to your landscape for eight years or more.

Heavenly Cloud Texas Sage several weeks after severe pruning.

When you think about it, the cost isn’t very high, when you consider the beauty that these plants added to your landscape for eight years or more.

*Have you severely pruned back an old shrub and had it come back beautifully? Or, maybe you recently removed and replaced some old succulents?

 

I’m about to show you my messy container plants, which have been sadly ignored for the past few months.

Shocking isn’t it? I’m embarrassed to show this to you, but I’m the first to admit that I’m not a perfect gardener. Sometimes, life gets in the way of garden maintenance tasks, and since I don’t have my own personal gardener on my payroll, my plants sometimes look like this.

While the plants are perfectly happy and healthy, they are messy, and you can’t even tell how many plants and pots there are.

The center pot is filled with a lush green Arabian jasmine (Jasminum sambac) shrub and some overgrown ‘Victoria Blue’ salvia.

Arabian jasmine loves shade and can handle filtered shade too. It’s fragrant white flowers greet visitors who pass by it on the way to the front door. As you can see, it does well when planted in the ground or a large pot.

In this corner, my lovely blue pot is filled with a hop bush (Dodonaea viscosa), bush morning glory (Convolvulus cneorum), and foxtail asparagus fern (Protasparagus densiflorus ‘Meyeri’).

I planted this arrangement of plants last year and was inspired by a collection of containers that I saw in California.

I love the combination of plants known for their foliage and wanted this for my front entry. Needless to say, mine doesn’t look like this and won’t without a little attention from me.

This is my succulent container that is filled with a single ‘King Ferdinand’ agave (Agave ferdinandi-regis) and elephants food (Portulacaria afra).

*The witch decoration is a little outdoor decoration for Halloween.

I started in by pruning the most prominent plant, the Arabian jasmine. Using my hand pruners, I cut it back, removing approximately 2/3 of its total size. The ‘Victoria Blue’ salvia was cut back as well, but it is on its way out as it’s usually used for as a warm season annual, but it may come back and bloom for me before winter arrives.

As I pruned back the overgrown jasmine, I discovered a forgotten trailing plant that I had added several months ago. I can’t remember what it was – perhaps bacopa or scaevola.

That looks so much better! The Arabian jasmine will grow back a little before the cold of winter halts its growth. I lightly trimmed the elephants food and tied up the hop bush to a wooden stake to help promote more upright growth. 

In about a week, I’ll add some flowering annuals to the black pot, and I’m open to suggestions. *Do you have a favorite cool-season annual?

Have you ever visited a garden filled with more than just trees and plants? Different types of garden art can add welcome interest to outdoor spaces along with a touch of whimsy.

It’s the unexpected element of encountering an unusual planter, wall hanging, or recycled items throughout the garden that can add a touch of whimsy that makes a garden unforgettable.

I was inspired by the creative uses of garden decor on a recent visit to Buffalo, and while the plants may be different than what I grow in my Arizona garden, the look can be easily replicated using desert-adapted plants.

Here is a look at my favorites.

A small bistro table is all set for tea along with moss planters in the shape of a purse and high shoe.

Got a dull expanse of wooden fence? Grab some chalk and draw some flowers – this would also work for a block wall fence too.

Old glass dishes make beautiful flowers, don’t you think?

Got an old portable fire pit? Dress it up by filling it with succulents.

Creating artistic pieces from old silverware is quite popular and I quite like this dragonfly made out of butter knives.

An old mirror not only makes a unique wall hanging, but it also reflects the beauty of the garden in front of it.

Old garden benches paired with old watering cans add a new look to this corner of a garden.

Transform an old tree stump by adding a plant on top and wooden planters below.

‘Head’ planters are a trendy whimsical element, and I love the extra splash of color that these add.

Elephants food (Portulacaria afra) would make an excellent ‘hairstyle’ for a head planter.

The elegant beauty of a rusted steel hummingbird.

Faced with the view of an uninspiring blank wooden fence? Break up the monotony by adding planters across the base and through the middle.

Succulents would look great used this way through the middle with potted lantana at the base.

An antique store kettle finds new life as a planter for purple alyssum.

Cool season annuals such as petunias or pansies would go nicely in here. Succulents are a good choice for a year-round planting.

Metal wall hangings are a great way to decorate vertical spaces.

Another stump makes a suitable resting spot for a couple of birdhouses and a colorful ladder.

A simple, yet elegant way to display the blooms in your garden in small glass jars.

Lantana, roses, Texas sage or yellow bell blossoms would look lovely displayed like this for a party.

Are you feeling inspired? I certainly am. I invite you to stroll through an antique shop, a thrift store, or even the garage sale down the street. You never know what will catch your attention and be used to add artistic flair and whimsy to your garden.  

Disclosure: 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.

Do you have a container, or two, filled with flowers or maybe a succulent? Chances are you do. Many of us settle for the bland shades of brown or beige when choosing pots and miss out on an excellent opportunity to add interest and color to our outdoor spaces.

I am a strong proponent ditching boring neutrals in favor of colorful pots with unique shapes and textures in my ongoing attempt to encourage people to think of plant containers as outdoor decor. As a result, I was thrilled with I was contacted by Annette Gutierrez, one of the authors of Potted: Make Your Own Stylish Garden Containers and asked to review her book.

Innertube from an old tire converted into a planter at the Tucson Botanical Garden.

Within the pages of Potted, Annette and her co-author, Mary Gray, inspire as they show the reader how to create unique and unusual containers that create instant interest.

During my garden travels, I seek everyday items that are reimagined and converted into unorthodox planters such as a recycled tire innertube. 

Annette and Mary refer to themselves as decorators rather than gardeners and own a store in Los Angeles, aptly named Potted where they create innovative receptacles for plants using everyday items such as cinderblock, PVC pipe, and even old wood doors to name but a few. 

If you have ever shopped for colorful or unique containers, you’ve undoubtedly experienced sticker shock at the high prices and settled for a boring, but sturdy terra-cotta pot. Over twenty container ideas await the reader, each of which, meet the following criteria:

  • It must be affordable
  • Materials must be easy to find
  • A good DIY project for the average person

I must admit that after finishing the book, I was looking at ordinary items like paint cans and plastic garbage pails in a different light – decorated and filled with plants.

I can hardly wait to get started! How about you?

Disclosure: I received a copy of ‘Potted’ free of charge for my honest review.

Artichoke agave (Agave parryi ‘truncata’), golden barrel cactus (Echinocactus grusonii), and lady’s slipper (Pedilanthus macrocarpus),

Does the idea of having to venture outside, when temperatures are above 100 degrees, to care for your garden have you thinking twice? I must admit that there have been times when I have let the plants in my landscape fend for themselves in summer after setting the irrigation controller. But, there is often a price to pay afterward when you have to play catch up with extra pruning and other maintenance.

There are however many different plants that thrive in summer with little fuss allowing you to enjoy the comforts of your air-conditioned home while viewing your beautiful garden through the windows. Here are some of my favorite fuss-free plants for the summer garden.

Mexican Honeysuckle (Justicia spicigera)

Mexican honeysuckle has lush green foliage and produces tubular orange flowers throughout the entire year. They do best in filtered shade and attract hummingbirds. I like to plant them underneath trees such as mesquite or palo verde.

Learn more about Mexican honeysuckle.

Artichoke Agave (Agave parryi ‘truncata‘)

Artichoke agave is highly prized for its rosette shape, and it’s easy to see where it got its name. The blue-gray color and maroon edges add great color contrast to the garden when it is placed alongside plants with dark and light-green foliage.

Of course, these are but one species of agave that would make a delightful, fuss-free addition to the summer garden. I also recommend cow’s horn agave (Agave bovicornuta), smooth-edge agave (Agave desmettiana), and Victoria agave (Agave victoriareginae) to name a few.

‘Summertime Blue’ (Eremophila ‘Summertime Blue’)

‘Summertime Blue’ is a delightful shrub that needs next to no maintenance throughout the year and decorates the garden with its bright green foliage and violet-blue flowers that appear spring through fall. It grows slowly but will reach approximately 6 feet tall and wide. If given enough room, it can go a year (or two) before needing pruning. While you may have to look around for a nursery that carries it, it’s well worth the effort. It is also usually found at the Desert Botanical Garden’s spring and fall plant sales.

Lady’s Slipper (Pedilanthus macrocarpus)

Lady’s Slipper is a uniquely shaped succulent with thornless stems that have a ‘Medusa-like’ growth habit that is more pronounced in light shade. The upright stems add a welcome vertical element to the landscape, and small orange flowers are produced off and on through spring and fall. They can be grown in containers or planted in the ground and do well in full sun or light shade.

Bush Lantana (Lantana camara ‘Radiation’)

Bush lantana is a familiar sight to many who live in arid climates like ours. This species of lantana is slightly different than the trailing gold and purple lantana. It has larger leaves, grows taller, and has multi-colored flowers that vary according to the variety. Bush lantana is a great choice for a colorful summer garden as they are seemingly heat-proof.

Totem Pole ‘Monstrosus’ (Lophocereus schottii ‘Monstrosus’)

Totem pole ‘Monstrosus’ has become quite a popular addition to the desert garden and it’s easy to see why with its knobby shape. Another bonus is that they are almost always thornless, which makes them suitable for areas near entries or patios where a prickly cactus aren’t welcome. Plant in full sun in a row for a contemporary look or place next to a boulder for a more natural appearance. 

Learn more about totem pole cactus.

‘Heavenly Cloud’ Texas Sage (Leucophyllum langmaniae ‘Heavenly Cloud’)          

‘Heavenly Cloud’ Texas sage is well worth adding to your landscape for its lovely purple blossoms that appear off and on throughout the warm season, often in response to increased humidity. All species of Texas sage do well in summer and can be nearly maintenance-free if allowed enough room to reach their 8 foot tall and wide size as well as left to grow into their natural shape. This particular species blooms more than the more common ‘Green Cloud’ Texas sage.   

       Golden Barrel Cactus (Echinocactus grusonii)

Golden barrel cactus are wildly popular, and it is easy to see why with the globular shapes and yellow coloring. This cactus is quite versatile, able to grow in both sun and light shade. I like to use it in groups of three next to boulders or in a row. They also do well in containers planted singly or along with other succulents.

Learn more about golden barrel cactus.

Red Bird-of-Paradise (Caesalpinia pulcherrima)

Red bird-of-paradise is one of the most iconic flowering shrubs in the low desert regions of Arizona. Also known as mexican bird-of-paradise and royal poinciana, visitors marvel at their beautiful flowers in shades of orange, yellow, and red. The striking blossoms appear in late spring and last into early fall much to the delight of hummingbirds. There is nothing to do to care for them in summer other than to marvel at their beauty.
Learn more about red bird-of-paradise.

Red Yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora)

Red yucca has the appearance of an ornamental grass, but its leaves are succulent. Coral-colored flowers are borne aloft on tall stalks off and on spring through fall – there is also a yellow variety as well. They look great all year, even when not in flower and are well worth adding to your outdoor space.

Learn more about red yucca.

So if you are tired of having to prune and fertilize plants through summer, I invite you to try one of these 10 fuss-free summer plants.                          **Do you have a favorite fuss-free plant for summer?

In the past, succulents were valued primarily for their drought tolerance and found their way into gardens in arid regions. Today, while they are still a great choice for water-wise plants are wise, they offer many other benefits to outdoor spaces including adding colorful flowers and solving common garden problems.

Elk Horn (Cotyledon orbiculata)

I’ve written a series of articles for Houzz focusing on succulents and how you can add beauty to your garden with these versatile plants that will thrive in arid climates. 

I hope you find inspiration through them and look at succulents in a new way.

 

10 Spectacular Flowering Succulents

 

How Succulents Can Solve Your Garden Problems

 

How do you like to use succulents in your garden?