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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Javelina stepping out of an arroyo

Yesterday, I had a rather unexpected encounter with a javelina while taking pictures of a landscape. I think he was as surprised as I was to see him and he retreated back to his arroyo after a couple of minutes. That meeting inspired me to write this post and how they affect the desert garden – primarily what types of plants they like to eat.  

Javelina travel through arroyos (washes)

To state that I was surprised to come so close to a javelina is an understatement. In the over twenty years that I’ve worked in desert gardens, I seldom see these pig-like mammals as they usually sleep through the day underneath mesquite or other desert trees.

Often referred to as ‘wild pigs’ due to their resemblance to a boar, they aren’t pigs, but are a peccary, which is a medium-sized mammal with hooves. Javelina are found throughout the Southwest, but their range also extends to Central and South America. In urban settings, you’ll find them in more naturalized areas.

They frequently travel in herds, although I only saw these two adults on this day. While it can be enjoyable to view them from afar (don’t get too close as they can be dangerous), dealing with the damage that they cause to gardens isn’t fun.

 

Javelina love to eat the pretty things we plant in our desert landscapes such as flowering annuals, and they don’t stop there. The spines on your prized cactus won’t deter a hungry javelina – they go right in and munch on the base of a prized columnar cactus as well as the pads of prickly pear cactus.

When surveying the damage that they cause to the garden, what makes it worse, is that javelina frequently don’t eat what they dig up.

My relationship with javelina is a long one, which began by working to keep them away from the thirty-six tee boxes that I had to plant with flowering annuals seasonally. Not surprisingly, they were drawn to these colorful islands and would dislodge the plants by rooting them up with their snouts before eating them.

My crew and I had some mixed success with spraying squirrel repellent every few days on the petunias, but it was a lot of work and not foolproof.

Javelina will zero in on popular potted annuals such as pansies, petunias, snapdragons, which are like candy to them. While geraniums aren’t their favorite potted flower, they will eat them too if hungry enough.

If you want pretty containers filled with flowers and live in a neighborhood where javelina are present, you’ll need to place the pots in an enclosed area or courtyard where they can’t reach. 

Bacopa

 

Lavender

There are some flowering plants that they usually stay away from and these include Bacopa and Lavender, which can be used in containers.

 

Depending on the time of year, a javelina’s diet changes, based on what is available. In winter, citrus they will grab citrus fruit off of the tree.

In summer, mesquite seedpods are one of their favorite foods.

A Cereus peruvianus cactus that has some bites taken out of its base by javelina.

A fairly common sight is a columnar cactus with some bites taken out of its base, where javelina are present. In most cases, the damage is largely cosmetic and the cactus will be fine. However, to prevent further damage, you can surround the base of the cactus with a wire mesh cage.

While there is no guarantee that javelina won’t eat the plants in your desert garden from time to time, there are some plants that are less palatable to them than others. Here a helpful link for javelina resistant plants, but I must tell you that if a javelina is hungry enough, it will eat the plants on this list – I know this from personal experience. 

The only foolproof way to keep them away from eating your plants is to keep them out with a fence or wall.

Do you have javelina where you live? What type of plants do you notice them eating? Any plants that they seem to leave alone?

 

Anna’s hummingbird with yellow pollen on its head

Hummingbirds and gardens go hand in hand. We plant perennials and shrubs with colorful, flowers hoping to attract these feathered jewels where we can observe their antics closely.  

Ruby Throated Hummingbird – Photo by Bud Hensley

Residents of the southwestern U.S. are fortunate to have several hummingbird species in our area including Anna’s, Costa’s, and Black-chinned. However, these are but a precious few, as there are over 300 species native throughout the Americas.

The Hummingbird Society is an organization that is dedicated to “help people understand and appreciate hummingbirds”. Every year, they create a hummingbird calendar that helps to raise funds for their mission. Each calendar is filled with stunning photos from noted bird photographers.

Cuban Bee Hummingbird – Photo by Aslam Ibrahim Castellon Mauré

Each photograph captures the intricate detail of these tiny birds – the little Cuban bee hummer, pictured above is only 1.6 inches long.

Giant Hummingbird – Photo by Yelena Pegova

The simple act of a hummingbird sipping nectar makes most of us stop what we are doing just to watch these tiny birds. In fact, I enjoy them so much, that I created a container garden to attract more of them into my backyard.

Rare Albino Anna’s Hummingbird Photo by Sally Kimmel

The folks at the Hummingbird Society have offered to allow me to host a giveaway where three people have the opportunity to win a free copy of this excellent calendar.

 

**GIVEAWAY OVER – The WINNERS are: Laura V., Jacki, and Glenda. Congratulations! I’ll be emailing you to get your mailing addresses.

If you didn’t win, you can order your own copy here – they make great gift ideas!

 

SaveSave

You would expect that after living in our backyard for two years, that Aesop, our desert tortoise, would have discovered all there was to see. However, that wasn’t the case. His curious nature led him over to where I was working to pull out plants in the vegetable garden and to his joy and my dismay, he was able to climb up into it.

Getting out was a little trickier, as you can see in the video below.

Looks like we will need to raise the sides of the garden to keep him from eating the leafy greens.

Petoskey, Michigan Lighthouse

While spring break is a time where masses of people escape the cold for warmer climates (like Arizona), we decided to do the exact opposite.  We flew out of warm, sunny Phoenix and headed to cold and snowy Michigan.

Now before you start to question my sanity, I have an excellent reason for bundling up and bracing myself for the cold, windy weather.  My daughter and her family call Michigan their home now, and since then, we try to make it out at least twice a year, and spring break just happened to be the best time to do it.

I always look forward to visits to their town of Petoskey, which sits on the shore of Little Traverse Bay.  It is a popular summer destination, and I spent several weeks here last year helping my daughter move into her new house and add new plants to her garden.

It is always fun pulling out my warm weather gear, which seldom gets used at home.  I knit these fingerless mittens a few years ago and rarely have a chance to wear them.

As a Southern California native and Arizona resident, I must admit that I have relatively little experience with cold weather so, it has been fun exploring the landscape and seeing the effects of winter.  Seeing the bay frozen in time where we waded in with our feet last June was exciting.

At the beginning of our week, the temperatures were in the mid 20’s with a brisk wind, and we were excited to see an unexpected snow shower.

I realize that many of you who have lived in areas with cold winters may be rolling your eyes at this point, but for someone who has always lived where winters are mild, the weather has been a novelty.

However, the novelty quickly wore off this morning when I stepped outside, and it was a frigid 16 degrees, and I learned why people start their cars a few minutes before they get in to let them heat up inside.  But, I braved the few steps from the house to the car, and we were off to my granddaughter Lily’s preschool class where I was to give a presentation on the desert and Arizona.

I brought photographs of the animals, cactuses, and flowers of the desert.  The kids were a great audience and seemed especially impressed with the following pictures:

  • The height of a saguaro cactus with people standing at its base 
  • A bird poking its head out of a hole in the saguaro
  • Cactus flowers
  • Aesop – our desert tortoise

I was struck by how different the desert is from the Michigan landscape and felt honored to expand their horizons.

On the way back from pre-school, we were tasked with bringing the classroom pet, ‘Snowball’ the guinea pig home where he will stay with Lily for spring break.  Doing little tasks such as this bring back happy memories of when our kids were little.

We will be home soon, and spring is a busy time for me.  I have new plants coming in the mail (straight from the grower) for me to test in my Arizona garden, I’ll be showcasing two new plants from the folks at Monrovia, and in a couple of weeks, I’ll be traveling again – this time to Savannah, Georgia for a fun project that I’m excited to share with you soon.

*What are you doing for spring break?

Life has been awfully busy lately.  So much so, that it has affected me from doing blogging as regularly as I like to do.  So, I would like to take a little time to let you know what I have been up to this past month.

Work has seen me driving me from one corner of the Phoenix metro area to the other, meeting with clients and helping them to create beautiful outdoor spaces.  In fact, I broke my record for the most landscape consultations in a single month.  Now that the holidays are here, work has slowed down a little.

A beautiful succulent, Euphorbia trigona

A beautiful succulent, Euphorbia trigona

One thing that I enjoy about visiting new clients is that I get to see impressive specimen plants like this Euphorbia trigona that flanked the entry of the Phoenix home.

euphorbia_trigona_arizona

This is a truly beautiful succulent that lends a tropical look to the landscape.  It is very frost tender and must be protected when temperatures dip into the 30’s.  I’d say it’s worth the effort for a plant like this.

Coyote

Coyote

Encounters with wildlife happens often during my work.  However, seeing a coyote in the middle of the day is rather rare.  As I was driving home from a consultation, I saw this beautiful coyote walk across the street.  I stopped my car and it stood off to the side of road while I took a few pictures with my phone.

coyote_arizona-001

While I’ve seen a number of coyotes over the years, most often their appearance reflects the hardship of living in the desert.  However, this coyote was the healthiest one that I’ve encountered.

coyote_arizona

I think that it enjoyed the attention that I was giving it as it stood still for several seconds before walking off into the desert.

img_9442

Christmas is my favorite season of the year.   I enjoy shopping for the perfect gift, decorating the house, baking my favorite desserts, singing along to Christmas music in the car, and rejoicing in the reason for Christmas.

img_9229

Earlier this week, we filmed a video segment for our church’s upcoming Christmas Eve services.  We were asked to share the story of our daughter Ruthie’s adoption along with her cousin Sofie.  They were best friends in the orphanage when my sister and her family adopted Sofie back in 2006.  One year later, my husband and I went to China and adopted Ruthie.  So, they are not just best friends, but cousins.

img_0052-jpg

We taped the video at my sister’s house, which took over 3 hours.  The segment will probably only be 3 – 4 minutes in length, but I can hardly wait to see their story shared and hope that it will inspire others.  I will be sure to share it with all of you at that time.

I hope that you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving and are enjoying this holiday season.

 

 

The newest member of our animal family is unique in that he isn’t furry and just happens to carry his house on his back.

 
I’d like to introduce you to “Aesop”.
 
Aesop is a desert tortoise who make their home in the deserts of the Southwest .
 
You may be wondering why someone would want to adopt a desert tortoise and how the process works.
 
As for the why, as a child, my best friend’s family had a tortoise who lived in their backyard.  His name was “Lopez”.  I always enjoyed watching him munching on grass as he slowly made his way through the backyard.
 
 
In my career as a horticulturist who has spent a lot of time in the desert, I’ve come in contact with these special animals including helping one cross a busy road.
 
Due to loss of habitat in the desert as well captive tortoises breeding, there are many looking for homes.  
 
My husband and I had always liked the idea of getting a tortoise, but with our dogs having free run of our backyard, it wasn’t feasible.
We recently created a dog run along our rather large side yard, so our dogs no longer have access to the backyard.  So, our dream of acquiring a desert tortoise could be fulfilled.
So how do you get a desert tortoise?
 
First, if you live in Arizona, California, Nevada or New Mexico, you visit your state’s Game & Fish Department’s website, where you learn about desert tortoises and then fill out an application.
 
Guidelines on creating a tortoise shelter is found on the website, which must be completed before you till out the application.  
 
The application itself is fairly simple.  You need to take photographs of your backyard space and tortoise shelter, which you submit along with the application.
 
Once you are approved, you are invited to pick up your new tortoise.
 
 
My husband, daughter and I headed out to the nearest desert tortoise adoption facility, which for us was at the Arizona Game & Fish Department’s facility off of Carefree Highway in Phoenix.
*There are several other adoption facilities throughout other areas in Arizona and other Southwestern states.
 
 
We arrived on an adoption day where they were trying to have 50 desert tortoises adopted.
 
We showed them our application, gave a donation and went inside the gates.
 
 
There were several adult tortoises, sitting in boxes just waiting for someone to pick them and take them home.
 
But, we passed them by so that we could see the baby tortoises.
 
 
There were several young tortoises walking around in a plastic swimming pool
 
 
The smaller tortoises in this photo were about 3-years old.
 
 
This tiny tortoise was the size of a cookie and was 1-year old.
 
We weren’t in the market for a baby tortoise, since our new home for our tortoise was not enclosed and we were afraid that they would get lost.
 
It was fun to see them though and get a better understanding on how slowly these reptiles grow.
 
 
We walked back to the row of boxes to examine the adult tortoises inside.  
 
 
There were a few young females, which we decided against since they can carry sperm for up to 4 years and we didn’t want the chance of having baby tortoises.
 
 
And another tortoise who had three legs.  He got along fairly well on his three limbs and we asked whether he was a male or female.
 
 
At that time, we were given a lesson on how to tell the difference between males and females.
 
 
The underside of males are slightly concave while females had a flat underside.  This tortoise was a male.
 
While we liked this one very much, we were worried that the may have trouble navigating the concrete curbing around our lawn, filled with Bermuda grass, which is a favorite food of desert tortoises.
 
 
As we moved down the row of tortoises, we finally found one that was perfect.
 
 
This male tortoise was a good size and was very active…for a tortoise 😉
 
 
 
We took our tortoise and loaded him up in the car.
 
I don’t know who was more excited, my husband or my daughter, Gracie.
 
When you adopt a desert tortoise, you don’t ‘own’ them.  You are caretakers and aren’t allowed to take them outside of the state where you adopted them from.
 
Tortoises live up to 100 years, so people often hand them down to friends of family members.  Of course, you can always take them back to the facility where you adopted them from.
 
 
Once we arrived home, we showed Aesop his new home.
 
We created it out of an old plant container that we cut in half and buried with several inches of soil, which helps to insulate it against extreme cold and heat.
 
 
Aesop was curious about his new home.
 

We decided to name him “Aesop” in a nod to Aesop’s fable, “The Tortoise and the Hare.”

After a minute of looking in his shelter, Aesop headed out to explore his new habitat and then wWe stood and watched him slowly walk around.
 
 
He nibbled on a few red bird-of-paradise leaves as he walked by.
 
 
Grass is a favorite food of tortoises and he was happy to walk on our lawn.
 
**The unevenness of our lawn is a rather recent development since our 13-year old son is learning how to mow.  As you can see, he has a bit more practicing to do before he gets it right.
 
 
Exploring the areas against our block wall, Aesop soon found my globe mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua), which is found on lists of plants that they like.  Our desert willow will also provide him with some of his favorite flowers too.
 
In the 3 days since we adopted him, he had spent a lot of time exploring the entire backyard including the patio and the areas underneath our shrubs and vines.
 
In the morning and late afternoon, we see him grazing on our lawn, taking a stroll on the patio before heading to his favorite spot…
 
 
Underneath our purple lilac vines, where he likes to spend the night.
 
We have fun walking outdoors and looking for him to see where he is.
In October, Aesop will hibernate until spring, but in the meantime, we will enjoy the privilege of hosting one of these desert animals.

**For more information on desert tortoise care and how to adopt them, click here.** 

Have you ever seen a desert tortoise or know someone who has one?

SaveSave

Do you like hummingbirds?

If so, you may want to make sure that you have some autumn sage (Salvia greggii) growing in your garden – it is a hummingbird magnet.

While red is the most common color of this small shrub, it also comes in other colors including shades of pink, purple, coral and white.

It has has a long bloom period in low desert gardens, beginning in fall and lasting until late spring. When growing in the flat desert, plant it in a filtered shade for best results.  Prune back by 1/2 its size in early March.