Do you love the beauty of bougainvillea? Many of us will agree that bougainvillea is beautiful, but many homeowners hesitate to grow them for a variety of reasons. The most common that I hear is that they get too big and as a result, too messy.

While both statements are certainly true, wouldn’t it be nice to enjoy the beauty of bougainvillea while minimizing its size and messiness?

Let’s face it; summers in the desert can be brutal and bougainvillea are one of the lush green, flowering shrubs that thrive in intense heat and sun. So, why not consider adding one in a high-profile area where you can enjoy their beauty throughout the warm season?

Growing bougainvillea in pots limits their overall size, and with smaller shrubs, there is less mess. It also makes it easier to protect them from frost damage in winter by moving the container to a sheltered location, such as underneath a patio or covering them with a sheet.

Bougainvillea make excellent container plants. In fact, many gardeners who live in cold climates, only grow them in pots and move them indoors in winter. I met a gardener in Austin, Texas who treats bougainvillea like an annual plant, planting a new one every year to replace the old one lost to winter cold. Thankfully, we don’t need to do add a new one every year.

Growing bougainvillea in pots is easy to do. Select a location in full sun where it will promote the most bloom. Bougainvillea are one of the few flowering plants that can handle west-facing exposures. 

Provide support for them to grow upward if desired. You can also grow bougainvillea as more of a compact shrub form if you wish.

Water deeply and allow the top 2 inches to dry out before watering again. Bougainvillea does best when the soil is allowed to dry out between watering.

Apply a slow-release fertilizer in spring, after the danger of frost is passed. You’ll want to reapply fertilizer every three months until September.

Growing bougainvillea in pots keeps them small enough to make it feasible to cover them when freezing temperatures occur.    

So, if you like container gardening, consider growing bougainvillea in a pot.

Spring in the desert brings a flurry of activity out in the garden – much of it involving container gardening.
 
As they say, in late spring, it’s “out with the old and in with the new.” In the desert garden, it’s when cool-season flowering annuals are traded out for those that can handle the hot temperatures of summer.  
 
Examples of cool-season annuals are pansies, petunias, and snapdragons, which are grown fall through spring. BUT, they won’t survive hot, desert summers. So, in late April, it’s time to plant flowering annuals that can take the heat. My favorites include angelonia, ‘Blue Victoria’ salvia, and vinca.
While flowers are a popular pot filler, there are so many other things that you can do with growing plants in containers.
Here are some of my favorites:


Jazz up the appearance of your containers by painting them a different color.

 
 
Let’s face it – beautiful containers can be expensive while inexpensive plastic containers are a bit boring. I like to dress up my plastic containers by adding a coat of paint.  
 
Many spray paints can be used on plastic and last a long time. I have several painted pots in my garden that add a welcome splash of color.
 

Grow herbs and vegetables along with flowers in pots.

 
Leaf lettuce and garlic grow along with flowering petunias.
 
Did you know that you can grow vegetables in pots? I love doing this in my garden. In the fall, I plant leaf lettuce, spinach, and garlic in my large pots alongside flowering petunias. When March arrives, I like to add basil, peppers along with annuals.
 
Winter container garden with spinach, parsley and garlic growing with pink petunias.
 
For pots, I recommend you use a potting mix, which is specially formulated for containers and holds just the right amount of moisture.  
 
Container plants need to be fertilizer. You can use a slow-release fertilizer or a liquid fertilizer of your choice.
 
Cucumbers growing with vinca and dianthus.
 
In spring, vegetables such as cucumbers, bush beans, and even zucchini can grow in containers paired with flowers. 
 
*If you would like to try growing edible containers, click here for more info.
 

Plant succulents for a low-maintenance container.

 
 
My favorite filler for containers in the desert garden is cacti and succulents. They do very well in pots and need less water than those filled with flowering annuals and perennials.
 
Desert Spoon (Dasylirion wheeleri).
Succulents are an excellent choice for planting in areas where water is not easily accessible. While they will need supplemental water, they don’t need water every day, making them a better choice for these areas.
 
 
In general, succulents are lower-maintenance as well, so they are an excellent choice for the ‘fuss-free’ gardener.
 
Use a potting mix specially formulated for cactus & succulents, which will drain well.
 
Fertilize succulents spring through fall using a liquid or slow-release fertilizer at 1/2 the recommended strength.
 
*For more information on how to plant succulents in containers, including how to do it without getting pricked, click here.
 

Fill the bottom space of large pots with empty, plastic containers. 

 
 
Let’s face it – potting mix is expensive and makes your pots very heavy. If you have a large pot, your plant’s roots most likely will never reach the bottom – so why waste soil where you don’t need it?
 
Fill up the unused space with recycled plastic containers and then add your potting mix. You will save money, AND your container will be much lighter as well. 
Whether you are new to gardening, an experienced pro, or have a small or large garden space – I invite you to reimagine what you can do in a container!

Did you know that you can have plants blooming in your landscape every month of the year? In the desert garden, this is definitely true!

One of the most popular programs that I teach at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix is ‘Flowering All Year’. During the presentation, I teach students how to incorporate plants in their gardens so they can enjoy colorful blooms all year long.

Sadly, many desert dwellers miss this opportunity. Drive down a typical neighborhood street in winter, and you will have a hard time finding plants in bloom except for colorful annual flowers. As you’ll note, the focus in our gardens is typically on plants that flower through the warm season.

So, how can we change that? It’s quite simple – add plants that will flower in winter. Believe it or not, there are quite a few plants that fit the bill. 

I invite you to come along with me on a virtual tour of the plants I showed to the students in the class as we walked through the garden in mid-February.

*Before we embark on our walk, I have a confession to make. Usually, I arrive early before my classes to see what’s in bloom so I can plan our route. But, my daughter’s bus arrived late that morning, so I was running a bit late. As a result, I didn’t know what we would see. Thankfully, there was plenty to see.

Plants for Cool-Season Color:

 

Purple Lilac Vine (Hardenbergia violaceae)

The vibrant, blooms of Purple Lilac Vine never disappoint. Blooms appear in mid-winter, adding a welcome relief to colorless winter landscapes. Here it is planted in a tall raised bed and allowed to trail downward. In my garden, it grows up against a wall with a trellis for support.

Whale’s Tongue Agave and Mexican Honeysuckle underneath an Ironwood tree

 

Mexican Honeysuckle (Justicia spicigera)

Several perennials and small shrubs do best in the desert garden when planted in filtered sunlight. Desert trees like Ironwood, Mesquite, and Palo Verde are excellent choices for producing filtered sunlight. Mexican Honeysuckle doesn’t do well in full sun. As a result, it thrives under the shade of this Ironwood tree. I love the texture contrast in this bed next to the Whale’s Tongue Agave.

Weber’s Agave (Agave weberi) and Desert Marigold (Baileya multiradiata)

Desert Marigold is a short-lived perennial that resembles a wildflower. Yellow flowers appear throughout the year on this short-lived perennial. I like to use them in wildflower gardens or natural desert landscapes because this yellow bloomer will self-seed.

Firesticks (Euphorbia ‘Sticks on Fire’) and Elephants Food (Portulacaria afra)

Shrubs, vines, and perennials aren’t the only plants that add winter color in the landscape. Colorful stems of the succulent Firesticks add a splash of orange all year. I am a fan of the use of blue pots in the garden, and here, it adds a powerful color contrast with the orange.

‘Winter Blaze’ (Eremophila glabra)

 

Lush green foliage decorated with orange/red blooms is on display all year long with this Australian native. Several types of Eremophilas add cool-season color to the landscape, and this one deserves more attention. There must be a blank space in my garden for one… 

Blue Bells Eremophila and Mexican Fence Post Cactus

 

Blue Bells (Eremophila hygrophana)

Blue Bells is arguably one of my most favorite plants. It resembles a compact Texas Sage (Leucophyllum spp.) but doesn’t grow as large AND blooms throughout the year. For best results, plant in full sun, but well-drained soil is a must.

Valentine Bush (Eremophila maculata ‘Valentine’)

My favorite choice for winter color is Valentine Bush. Red/fuschia blooms begin to appear in January and last into April. For maximum color impact, use them in groups of 3 – 5. They are low maintenance – prune back to 1/2 their size in mid-April after flowering. No other pruning is required.

Aloe ferox

Winter into spring is a busy time for Aloes, and many species do well in the desert garden. Most require filtered sunlight to do their best, but ‘Blue Elf’ Aloe does well in both full sun and bright shade.

Trailing Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)

People from colder climates are often surprised to note that rosemary flowers. In the desert, we are fortunate that we get to enjoy their blue flowers from winter through spring – the bees like them too!

Shrubby Germander (Teucrium fruiticans ‘Azurea’)

Toward the entrance to the garden, I was delighted to see Shrubby Germander. A star in my own garden, this shrub has flowered all winter long and will continue to do so into spring. The blooms are a lovely periwinkle color.

Chuparosa (Justicia californica)

As our walk was wrapping up, the bright red blooms of a Chuparosa shrub caught our eye. A hummingbird was busily drinking as much nectar as he could. I like to use this shrub in landscapes with a natural theme as it has a sprawling growth habit. It flowers through winter into spring and an important nectar source for hummingbirds.

Of course, blooming plants aren’t the only way to add color to the garden. Garden art can play a vital part in adding interest. The Desert Botanical Garden is host to a traveling art exhibit with various animals made from recycled plastic. This group of meerkats greets visitors to the garden.

I hope that you enjoy this virtual tour of winter color in the garden and will add some to your own.

What plants do you have that flower in winter?

What type of plants comes to mind when you are planning what to plant in your containers?
 
I’m willing to bet that purple hopbush (Dodonaea viscosa ‘Purpurea’) and bush morning glory (Convolvulus cneorum) probably weren’t the first plants that came to mind.
 
Admittedly, I tend to think of using plants known for their flowers or succulents in my containers.  That is until a trip to California that I took this past April.

 

In the Napa Valley region of northern California, sits Cornerstone Sonoma, which describes itself as “a wine country marketplace featuring a collection of world-class shopping, boutique wine rooms, artisanal foods, art-inspired gardens.”
 
Believe me; it is all that and more.  There was so much to see, but what caught my attention were some unusual, yet beautifully planted containers.
 
Purple hopbush (Dodonaea viscosa ‘Purpurea’), shrubby germander (Teucrium fruiticans), and violas.
There were square steel containers filled with plants that are well-known for their foliage and are seldom used in pots.
 
I was intrigued, especially when the plants used were also popular in the desert Southwest.
 
There were quite a few things about this type of container planting that appealed to me.
 
One, it is low-maintenance – no deadheading required.  Just some light pruning 2 – 3 times a year, to control their size. Second, the plants are all drought tolerant (with the exception of the violas). Lastly, I like seeing new ways of doing things and using plants prized for their foliage in containers is something we don’t see too often.  
 
Fast forward a few months, and I decided to rethink what to add to the large, blue planter by my front entry.  So, I thought, why not try the same arrangement?
 
 
Granted, the plants are smaller than those I saw in California, but given a few months, they should grow in nicely.
 
As you can see my new plants are rather mall, however, the purple hopbush will grow taller and its evergreen foliage will add shades of purple and green to this space. Furthermore, this shrub is one of those highly-prized plants that do well in both sun and filtered shade.
 
The silvery-gray foliage of bush morning glory creates a great color contrast with the darker greens of the other plants. While it may not flower much in this semi-shady corner, I want it for its silvery foliage.
 
In addition, I want to use a plant that has bright green foliage, so I have a single foxtail asparagus fern (Asparagus densiflorus Myers), which will thrive in this semi-shady exposure. 
Maintenance will be relatively simple with periodic pruning to keep wayward branches in check. Fertilizing in spring and late summer with a slow-release fertilizer such as Osmocote will be all that’s needed to keep my container plants happy.
 
Do you have any plants with attractive foliage that you would use in containers? 

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.

container-red-geraniums

Red Geraniums and White Bacopa

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’
 
Much of my inspiration for using succulents in containers come from those at the Desert Botanical Garden as shown in the photo above and below.
Agaves are some of my favorite succulent plants and the smaller species do very well in containers.

In an article I wrote for Houzz, I list my ten favorite small agaves for Houzz that are suitable for growing in pots.

I hope you enjoy it and find one that is perfect for you!
 
 

 

‘Tangerine Beauty’ Crossvine (Bignonia capreolata ‘Tangerine Beauty’)

Spring in the desert is the most beautiful time of year with the majority of plants in the landscape bursting out with flowers. It’s also a very busy time for me with landscape consultations, speaking engagements, work in the garden, and family life. I love to document the happenings in my life by taking photographs with my phone, and I’d like to share a sampling with you. It’s a fun combination that includes colorful plants, spiky pots, snakes, roses and the prom!

No matter how busy I may be, the sight of a beautiful plant stops me in my tracks. It doesn’t matter how rushed I may be; I will always stop and take a photo. That’s what happened when I spotted this row of ‘Tangerine Beauty’ crossvines on our way into church. Even though we were running a few minutes late (as usual) I had to pause to admire the beauty of the lovely blooms and take a photo.

‘Tangerine Beauty’ does very well in the low desert garden. It has lush green foliage and orange/pink flowers that hummingbirds love. It needs a trellis or other support to climb up on and does well in full sun to filtered sun, but avoid planting along a west-facing wall as it may struggle in reflected sun.

entryway-desert-gardening-flowering-annuals-geraniums

As I mentioned earlier, I do a lot of speaking on a variety of gardening topics at the Desert Botanical Garden, public libraries, and also to garden groups. Upon my arrival to give a presentation at the Paradise Valley Country Club, I was greeted by this beautiful bed filled geraniums, foxglove, and yellow daisies. The spiky shape of agave adds welcome texture contrast in this area.

agave-planted-in-containers-arizona

Across the way, I spotted this dramatic example of spiky succulents growing in pots. Agave are excellent container plants, and their spiky shapes look fabulous along this wall. The plantings underneath the wall are well chosen as they do well in areas with full sun and reflected heat.

Here is a very different entry to another presentation I was to give at the Cave Creek Branch of the Phoenix Public Library. Two identical caution signs flank the raised metal bridge, which makes you look carefully before approaching. I know that libraries work hard to get kids to read, but these signs just might scare them off 😉

David Austin Olivia Rose

‘Olivia Rose’

Back home, the rose garden is in full bloom with my favorite ‘Olivia Rose’ completely covered in fragrant, delicate pink color. She flowers more than every other rose in the garden and for the longest, ensuring her favored status.

red David Austin rose Darcey Bussell

‘Darcey Bussell’

The best performing red rose in the garden is ‘Darcey Bussell,’ and she never disappoints as I view her vibrant blooms from my kitchen window.

David Austin rose Lady of Shalott

‘Lady of Shalott’

This rose is a relative newcomer to my rose garden. ‘Lady of Shalott’ was planted in the winter of 2018 and didn’t produce many blooms in her first year, which is typical of most new roses. However, this year, she is covered with roses in delicate shades of pink and peach.

On the home front, spring means that it’s time for the prom. I can hardly believe that my son is old enough – it seemed like it was just yesterday when I came home with a darling little two-year-old boy from China.

Kai’s favorite color is red, can you tell? It takes confidence to wear a bright color like this, and he does it so well. He is the youngest of four sisters, so this was my first time helping a boy get ready for a school dance. Honestly, it is a lot simpler – all he needed was help with his tie and his boutonniere.

I love spring and all the busyness that comes with it. How about you?

UPDATE: This blog post originally was published six-years-ago, and I still like to grow vegetables in pots. It’s hard to believe that my garden helper is now 16 years old and driving a car!

I hope you enjoy it!

Read more

A boot planter adds a touch of whimsy to a patio table.

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.

Wooden picture frames filled with live plants adorn a fence.

I fell in love with the gazebo in Colleen Jamison’s backyard. Filled with comfortable furniture and even a chandelier, I hope to create something similar in my back garden someday.

A candelabra graces a side table underneath the shade of the gazebo while mirrors reflect other areas of the garden.

The simple inclusion of a mirror reflects the other side of the garden and creates the illusion of a larger outdoor space. This works well in shady areas.

A unique handle for a door – a hand cultivator welded to the garden gate.

A stone head spouts a full head of hair made from Mexican feather grass (Nassella tennuisma).

Keeping with the “Keep Austin Weird” campaign, a garden doorway is graced with a skull and a prickly pear cactus.

A curved garden path leads visitors on a journey of discovery with large concrete balls dotting the way.

An upside down planter hangs from a tree with flowering impatiens. I don’t know how the plant stays in without falling out, but it’s cool!

A large colorful, container is the focal point behind a swimming pool. Pots don’t need to have plants inside them to add beauty to the garden. Pots can serve as an outdoor decorative element.

Four pear trees form an arbor over a rustic dining table. The trees were planted 5 years ago and trained onto a basic structure created from rebar.

Color doesn’t only from plants in Pam Penick’s garden – she adds interest with vibrant hues using planters, cushions, and outdoor carpet.

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.

Metal stars are on display, framed by star jasmine vine (Trachelospermum jasminoides).

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.

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

Is your landscape style more free-form and natural or do you embrace a more modern, contemporary kind of garden with straight lines and right angles? On a recent visit to Austin, I had the opportunity to visit the home of landscape designer, B. Jane, which looks as if it came straight from the pages of a magazine with its resort-style design. If you had a garden like this, why leave home when you can vacation at home in a contemporary, low-maintenance garden?

The front of B.’s garden is graced by a large crepe myrtle, located between her two front windows, which help to frame her view from the house. The flat pads of a prickly pear cactus add rich texture contrast among the softer shapes of perennials.

An agave nestles between asparagus fern and silver ponyfoot (Dichondra argentea), which is a ground cover, which I saw throughout the gardens we toured in Austin. It is a type of Dichondra, and I liked it so much, that I brought some home and now have it growing in one of my large containers by the front entry. Silver ponyfoot creeps along the ground or can be used to trail over the sides of pots.

A live oak tree (Quercus virginiana) is planted in a circular section covered in decomposed granite. Asparagus fern adds softness around the outer edges, again, creating nice texture contrast.

Walking toward the backyard, I was quite taken with the square step stones and dark grey beach pebbles – this is a great look that is worth replicating.

As you can see from the potted plants on the patio table, simplicity reigns in this garden, which is filled with native or adapted plants that flourish with little fuss. Low-maintenance doesn’t mean that a garden is dull – often the truth is just the opposite as you will see as we continue on our tour.

A rectangular pool runs along the center of the backyard, and colorful balls reflect the colors used throughout the landscape, which is a brilliant way to draw attention to them. A ‘Sticks on Fire’ succulent (Euphorbia tirucalli ‘Sticks on Fire’) basks in the sun, which is a plant that does beautifully in hot, arid climates.

Now, we are at the point in the tour where I became seriously envious. This is B.’s office, which is separate from her house – she simply walks by her beautiful pool on her way to work in the morning and enjoys a glorious view of her garden while she works. Have I ever mentioned that I work in my dining room – that is, until my kids leave home and I get my own office (room).

A group of containers filled with a variety of plants including hibiscus, rosemary, and basil(yes, basil) adds interest to this corner by the pool.

Bamboo is used to help provide privacy from neighbors and shrub roses add a welcome pop of color.

Even the dog has its own space in B.’s garden with a patch of grass and his own fire hydrant!

Isn’t this a lovely seating area? I love the splash of red and the bamboo backdrop.

Just the perfect spot to sit with my friend, Teresa Odle, who blogs at “Gardening In a Drought” and also just happens to co-write with me and two other writers, for our new blog, “Southwest Gardening”.

I must admit that I am drawn more toward more naturalistic gardens, filled with curves and staggered plantings but, I love the contemporary lines of B. Jane’s garden and its resort-like vibe. You can find out more about B. Jane and her creations here.

I like quirky things that are unexpected and outside the daily ‘normalness’ in our lives. That is why I have fallen in love with the city of Austin, Texas, which prides itself on being “weird.” Another reason this Texas capital city appeals to me is their beautiful gardens and rich gardening culture, and my friend, Pam Penick’s shady, colorful garden personifies the uniqueness that is found throughout Austin.

Pam Penick (facing front wearing a hat) greeting garden visitors.

On a recent visit to Austin, I took part in the Garden Bloggers Fling, where garden bloggers from the U.S., Canada, and Great Britain, gather and tour gardens within a particular city. This year’s Fling was held in Austin, and one of the gardens I was most excited to see was Pam’s.

As two long-time bloggers in the Southwest, Pam and I have been friends for several years and I was fortunate to have hosted her in Arizona four years ago, while she was researching for her latest book, “The Water-Saving Garden.” For years, I’ve wanted to visit her garden and now was my chance.

Pam’s garden flourishes underneath the filtered shade of beautiful oak trees. However, the shade does present some challenges in that there aren’t a lot of colorful plants that will flower in shady conditions. But, Pam expertly works around that obstacle, using her unique design style that she describes as mostly contemporary.

Concentrating flowering plants in the few areas that receive bright sun is one way to add needed color to a shady landscape. Here, the bright colors of this autumn sage (Salvia greggii) contrast beautifully with the blue-gray leaves of a whale’s tongue agave (Agave ovatifolia). While both of these plants flourish in full sun in this Texas garden, they do best with filtered or afternoon shade in the low desert region.

In the absence of flowering plants, texture is introduced with the use of spiky agave and yucca plants. Elements of color are added using garden art such as these blue balls.

I love blue pots, and I’ve found a kindred spirit in Pam, who has them scattered throughout her landscape.

As you walk through the garden, you need to pay attention as Pam adds lovely detail in unexpected places, like this rusted garden art.

There are garden trends that are unique to specific areas of the country, and I found several of what I call, ‘pocket planters’ hanging on walls. Right at eye-level, it is easy to explore the tiny detail of these small containers.

Walking along the driveway, toward the backyard, the soft shape of bamboo muhly (Muhlenbergia dumosa) adds a beautiful blue backdrop, and in front, a container filled with Dyckia and a blue heart adds interest.

A sage green garden gate led the way into the backyard.

A potting bench sits along the wall in the side garden where four “Moby Jr.” whale’s tongue agave are planted, which come from Pam’s original “Moby” agave – I have one of the babies growing in my front garden.

Masonry blocks are artfully arranged into a low wall and filled with a variety of succulents.

The garden sits on a slope, which provides a lovely view from the upper elevation where a blue painted wall adds a welcome splash of color as well as a touch of whimsy with the “Austin” sign.

The shadows from an oak tree make delightful patterns along the wall while planters add a nice color element.

Gardening in Austin isn’t for wimps. They have to deal with thin soils that lie atop rock, which is quite evident along the back of the garden.

Blue bottle trees are a popular garden ornament throughout the South as well as other areas of the U.S. Here; they serve the same purpose as a flowering vine would.

 

As I got ready to leave, I walked among the deck that overlooked the pool where I am greeted by more examples of Pam’s unique garden style. I can honestly say that I’ve never seen octopus pots anywhere in my garden travels, until now. 

I had a wonderful time exploring this shady oasis and the innovative ways that Pam has introduced colorful elements. I invite you to check out her blog, Digging, which is one of my favorites.