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.

 

*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 cats in your garden? I do. In fact, I have a few cats who love to spend time in the gardens surrounding my house, and none of them belong to me…technically.

Like many neighborhoods, mine has a feral cat population, and we have had cats come and go – we’ve even had kittens born behind my purple lilac vines. As you might expect, I’ve faced some challenges with cats in the garden, but have recently had several triumphs.

Several years ago, the number of strays in the neighborhood increased due to our neighbor feeding them and some of them began to use my vegetable garden as their toilet. 

My attempt to solve the problem was to plant the herb rue, which supposedly had cat-repelling properties. The local cats didn’t know that as I kept finding little ‘gifts’ in the vegetable garden.

After the rue didn’t work, I purchased a motion-controlled sprinkler head, which went off whenever the cats got too near, and that worked quite well at keeping them away. However, it also would go off whenever any of us walked too close to the veggies.

So last year, I decided to try a fine mesh garden netting to cover the vegetable garden with excellent results. It also had a welcome side benefit of decreasing caterillars because the moths couldn’t get in to lay their eggs.

My pots were also a make-shift litter box for my furry visitors. However, this was quickly rectified by placing paver stones on the bare spots in-between my plants, and they also served to cool the soil and preserve moisture in the pots.

What is it about cats and pots? This is my sister’s cat, ‘Scissors.’

Do you have roof rats? I don’t. I have ‘roof cats.’ Or, cats that like to take refuge underneath my solar panels. Of course, they make sure that I don’t have any rats lurking about.

For the past year, I have three cats who we have adopted. Of course, the cats don’t know that we’ve adopted them. What they do know is that the orange tree is wonderfully shady in the morning, the patio is blessedly cool on a hot summer’s day, and a picnic table is a great spot to gather with your friends. We don’t feed them, but they are healthy and happy.

One of our regulars visiting with our desert tortoise, Aesop.

Our family enjoys watching their antics through the window and allow them to enjoy our garden. I find myself smiling when I view them together. We have three regulars, a red tabby, a black and white cat, and a small black one.

It seems that we’ve come to a compromise – they leave my vegetable garden and pots alone and only occasionally use my rose garden as an emergency pit stop. I must say that the simple pleasure we receive from our ‘adopted’ cats is worth it.

SaveSave

SaveSave

 

Do you have a patch of lawn in your garden? It can be a cumbersome task to keep a grassy area green and healthy, not to mention weed-free. To keep it this way often means applications of “weed and feed” fertilizers that feed the grass while killing the weeds. These are marginally effective, but the chemicals contained within aren’t what I want to use in my back garden – not with my kids and animals using the grassy area. So, I have made peace with the weeds in my lawn with surprising results.

My backyard is relatively large and divided into three sections with the largest area taken up with a bermudagrass lawn area where my kids enjoy playing. My desert tortoise, Aesop, can often be found munching on the grass throughout the summer months and I like the cooling effect and beauty that it adds. I do have plans to replace my lawn in a year or two, but for now, it fills our needs. 

This lawn is 19 years old, and as a result, there are weeds growing within it. Wind spreads weed seed, and if you have a grassy area, it is just a matter of time before you see weeds coming up.

Now, when I say that I have weeds growing in my grass, I’m not talking about just a few here and there…

In fact, you have to look very closely to spot any bermudagrass in this area, which is filled with bright green clover and some nutsedge growing above it. I must admit to being extremely frustrated at the sheer amount of weeds growing in my lawn, but something happened last year, which enabled me to make peace with these unwanted weeds.

We hosted a small wedding in our backyard last summer, and a lot of preparation went into having the garden looking its best. While I initially lamented the fact that weeds were growing in the lawn, I was surprised to see how pretty and green it looked. A few weeks after the wedding, as I looked at the wedding photos, I was struck by how healthy and beautiful the lawn looked. 

I realize your focus may be on how pretty the bride is, but look at how good my grass looks 😉

 

My granddaughter and grandson – I couldn’t resist sharing this photo of them!

After the wedding was over and I had some time to reflect, I realized that my lawn looked great as it had the most important qualities that I wanted – lush green color, no bare spots, and healthy.

And so, I am now free to enjoy my lawn, and I am no longer upset over the weeds present. The key to keep it looking great and not bring attention to any weeds is to keep it regularly mowed. My teenage son mows ours weekly, and we fertilize it in spring and again in fall. At this point, I don’t know how much longer we will keep our lawn as I have a couple of ideas for this area instead, but in the meantime, I will enjoy the lush green of my backyard grass – weeds and all.

How about you? Have you interested in making peace with the weeds in your lawn?

 

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 a self-professed lover of roses and rejoice whenever I come across rose bushes that are thriving in our hot, arid climate and I also enjoy unexpected discoveries in the garden. On a recent visit to new client’s home, I came upon a hidden rose garden in the desert. 

As I walked up to the front door, I was preparing for my consultation with her and noted that her front landscape had a nice framework in place with mature plants.

Upon walking into the backyard, I was greeted by expansive views of the desert, dotted with palo verde trees and saguaro cacti. Like the front, the landscape had good bones but, needed some attention to the subtler points, such as adding color.

After discussing my recommendations for the backyard, we started toward the large side garden, when I caught a glimpse of the owner’s pride and joy – her rose garden.

I experienced pure joy when I saw this lovely garden, filled with colorful roses that were happily growing in a desert landscape. Groups of roses were planted in beds, with amended soil and edged with rocks that created a natural look.

The owner inherited these roses, and she has put her green thumb to good use, but there are other factors that affect her success with roses. 

Tropicana Rose

First, the roses are located in designated beds, with amended soil, such as compost and steer manure. Second, and perhaps most importantly for a desert garden, they are located in an area that has filtered sunlight. While roses can grow in full sun, they can struggle in the summer, and appreciate some relief. Third, she feeds her roses in spring and fall with a rose fertilizer.

Although I lean toward using plants that look great with little fuss, I make an exception for roses. I have grown roses for over 25 years, and now I’m testing new roses for rose growers to see how they do in a low desert garden. 

I firmly believe that if a specific type of plant brings you joy, then it’s worth a bit of extra work, like roses.

As I stood in my client’s rose garden, I looked out onto the saguaro forest that stood outside her backyard wall and was struck at how beautiful this colorful oasis stood in stark contrast with its surroundings.

Growing roses in the desert doesn’t have to be difficult, but there are factors that affect your success. I’ve compiled my rose-growing posts into a single list, which you can access here

SaveSave

Indian Mallow (Abutilon palmeri)

I always enjoy seeing well-designed landscapes that make use of many of my favorite arid-adapted plants. A couple of months ago, I had the opportunity to explore lovely landscape areas that existed within an imaginary land with real plants that were used to provide a sense of reality to this fictional place.

I invite you to explore these areas along with me and look for clues as to where it is.

Globe mallow, Mexican honeysuckle, and Indian mallow

This is a gorgeous layering of three different shrubby plants. Indian mallow (Abutilon palmeri) anchors the background with its gray-green leaves and yellow flowers. In the middle stands Mexican honeysuckle (Justicia spicigera), which has lovely foliage and orange flowers that appear throughout the year. Globe mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua) adds nice color contrast with its foliage and orange flowers in the foreground. All of these are drought tolerant and thrive in desert gardens.

Continuing our exploration, we walk by a desert planting filled with young saguaro cactus, ocotillo, and a little yucca. It almost made me feel like we were in Arizona.

The beautiful green foliage of a jojoba shrub (Simmondsia chinensis) stood out against the reddish walls of a ‘canyon’.

 

Mexican fence post cactuses (Pachycereus marginatus) along with other cereus cacti add a lovely vertical element.

Naturally-themed areas are filled with a plant palette that places you in the desert Southwest. But, we were several hundred miles away from the real desert.

Have you guessed where we were yet? Here is another clue:

Information signs reveal the different kinds of plants in this imaginary land. Your final clue is the name of the plants as well as the shape of the small prickly pear pad.

We were exploring the town of ‘Radiator Springs’ which came to life in the movie ‘Cars’ and its sequels. These are my favorite Disney movies because they take place in my own backyard.

I was pleasantly surprised at how well this imaginary town was constructed and the plants used to create a look of authenticity. However, there were some notable exceptions to having live plants throughout Radiator Springs.

Old-fashioned rear lights were used to create imaginary flowers at the Cozy Cone Hotel. 

Other car parts serve as components of this cornucopia.

While I was distracted by both the real and imaginary plants, other visitors were thrilled by the appearance of the inhabitants of Radiator Springs.

Have you ever visited Cars Land at California Adventure? If you get the chance, you may be surprised to find inspiration for your desert garden.

SaveSave

I adore roses. For those who have followed me for a while, this comes as no surprise. I’ve grown roses for almost thirty years, and they are the one plant responsible for inspiring me to get my degree in Horticulture. 

So, why am I taking out a rose? Have I gone crazy? 

‘Olivia Rose’

Let me give you a little background. For the past few years, I have grown new rose varieties in my Arizona garden, given to me by David Austin Roses to see how they perform in the low desert regions of Arizona and each year, and I report which varieties do well. These types of roses are easy to grow, have a beautiful old-fashioned flower shape, and are highly fragrant. Once people grow a David Austin rose, they seldom go back to other kinds.

This year, I am working on a project, with the assistance of the folks at David Austin Roses, which spans two rose gardens, located in very different climates. The first garden is mine, located in Arizona, and the second belongs to my daughter, who lives in northern Michigan. The project consists of each of us growing two identical varieties of roses and a different one that is reported to do better in our respective climates.

Before planting new roses, I had to get my rose garden ready for new roses, which meant that one had to go. And so, I asked my husband to dig out one of the roses from the garden.

The rose bush I chose to remove didn’t do very well and only looks nice three months of the year, while those remaining do much better. So, the decision was easy.

 

Soon that garden was ready, and the roses arrived from David Austin. I always experience a feeling akin to Christmas morning whenever new roses come in the mail.


It never ceases to amaze me how something so beautiful has such a humble beginning.

I soaked the roses for 24 hours and then planted them. Two months later, they are covered in buds, and I can’t wait for them to open.

As for my daughter’s garden, she isn’t quite ready to be planting any roses as it is sitting under a layer of snow so she will be planting hers in a month or so.

I’ll keep you updated throughout the rose project and highlighting the differences and similarities of growing roses in a hot and cold climate. 

Next, I will share with you the varieties growing in my garden along with pictures of their first blooms. Have you ever grown David Austin roses?

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

My garden has been transformed with yellow showers of flowers, courtesy of my palo verde trees. It’s a delightful time of year with warm spring temperatures and colorful landscapes filled with flowering shrub, perennials, and trees.

However, nothing heralds the arrival of spring in the desert Southwest like the golden yellow flowers of palo verde trees. I have three ‘Desert Musuem’ palo verde trees spread throughout my garden – one in the front, in the side garden (our dog run), and in the backyard.

 

The flowers do spread everywhere, which bothers some people, but I like to focus on the lovely yellow flowers transform things in the garden, like my artichoke agave where the flowers nestle inside its rosette.

 


One of my favorite views of the garden is looking out the patio door to the side garden where the branches of my palo verde tree frame the view.

There are several different species of palo verde and each one has a slightly different color flower, form the pale yellow of the foothills palo verde (Parkinsonia microphylla) to the deep yellow of ‘Desert Museum’ (Parkinsonia hybrid ‘Desert Museum’).

Here is more information about palo verde trees from an earlier post. Do you enjoy the blooms of palo verde trees?

Cereus cactus, golden barrel cactus, and firecracker penstemon

Is your outdoor space looking rather drab? If so, you aren’t alone – many landscapes can appear somewhat dull, especially if there is a lack of color. But, it doesn’t have to stay that way.

One of my favorite aspects of my job as a landscape consultant is to help my clients to transform their garden from drab to colorful and it is quite easy to do. 

I invite you to join me as I revisit with a client two-years after I created a planting plan for her existing, lackluster landscape. 

BEFORE – Corner of Driveway

Initially, this area did little to add to the curb appeal of the home. Overgrown red yucca plants and a cholla cactus created a ‘messy’ and boring look to this high-profile spot in the landscape.

AFTER

Removing the old plants and adding angelita daisy (Tetraneuris acaulis) and gopher plant (Euphorbia biglandulosa), creates colorful interest while adding texture. Before, the boulders were hidden behind the overgrown plants, so now they serve as an excellent backdrop for the new additions. 

 

The corners of the driveway are one of the most viewed spots in the landscape and are often the first part people see when they drive by. It’s important to anchor them visually with plants that look great all year and preferably produce colorful flowers or have an attractive shape or color. I always like to add boulders to help anchor both corners as well.

These areas are also critical in that they create symmetry, connecting both sides of the landscape, which is done by using the same types of plants on each side.

 

Although there is no ‘before’ photo for the entry, here is an example of plants that will add year-round color because of their overlapping bloom seasons. ‘Blue Elf’ aloe blooms in winter and on into early spring while ‘New Gold Mound’ lantana will flower spring through fall, as the aloe fades into the background. A ponytail palm (Beaucarnea recurvata) brings a nice vertical element to this spot and will grow taller with age.

BEFORE

Along the front entry path, a tall cereus (Cereus peruvianus) cactus adds a welcome vertical element while the golden barrel cactus (Echinocactus grusonii) creates excellent texture contrast. However, something is missing in this area, in my opinion.

AFTER

A colorful element was what was missing in this area. A single firecracker penstemon (Penstemon eatonii) adds beauty while also attracting hummingbirds.

BEFORE

On the corner of this lot was a palo brea tree with a large desert spoon and turpentine bushes. Overall, there was nothing exciting in this spot.

AFTER

The turpentine bushes were removed to make way for a set of gopher plants, which served to tie in this corner of the garden with the areas next to the driveway. These succulents flower in spring and add nice spiky texture throughout the rest of the year.

Purple and white trailing lantana (Lantana montevidensis) serve to create a colorful carpet throughout the warm months of the year. This type of lantana can struggle in full sun in the middle of summer in the low-desert garden but, thrive underneath the filtered shade of a palo verde tree.

When working with an existing landscape, I relish the challenge of determining what existing plants still add beauty to the outdoor space, or have the potential to if pruned correctly. Sometimes an ugly, overgrown shrub can be transformed into something beautiful if pruned back severely. Often, it’s up to me to decide what goes and what stays. Then, the real fun part begins, which is selecting what areas need new plants and what ones will work best.

I find that many people think that to renovate a landscape, you need to get rid of most of the plants and put in a lot of new ones. But, this is rarely the case. All you need to do is keep the plants that will continue to add to the curb appeal or create a beautiful, mature backdrop for new plants and new plants should be concentrated in high-profile areas where their impact will be maximized.

What would you like to get rid of in your landscape and what would you keep?

Noelle Johnson, AKA, ‘AZ Plant Lady’ is a horticulturist, landscape consultant, and certified arborist who lives and gardens in the desert Southwest. While writing and speaking on a variety of gardening topics keeps her busy, you’ll often find her outside planting vegetables, picking fruit from her trees, or testing the newest drought-tolerant plants. 

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

For those of us who live in the desert Southwest, we know that geography plays a huge part in what we can grow in our garden. Today’s post is by Alex, who talks about the different factors that affect our gardening practices.

If you’ve ever planned a garden or fretted over the health of one of your plants, you’ve probably heard of hardiness zones. A plant’s growing or hardiness zone is a measurement by the US Department of Agriculture that determines what plants will grow well in a certain area’s region. It looks at average temperatures as well as other climate information to give a general recommendation of what plants will grow within the zone.

A region’s temperature is the most obvious factor, but there are plenty of other aspects of your geographical location that can help or harm your plants. Here are some of the conditions that you ought to keep in mind when planting this Spring.

Amount and Frequency of Rainfall

Despite similar temperatures, the plant life growing in Arizona will look completely different than the Southern states that receive much more rainfall. Plants have adapted to thrive in their native habitat; that means the plants flourishing in a wet climate may not be cut out for a location that receives less rain or experiences times of drought.

If you’re hoping to grow a plant outside of its normal climate, you’ll be forced to plan for the amount of water it will need. That means staying on top of weather reports and keeping a close watch of the plant’s health on a daily basis.

And even then, some plants live in misty areas. Those conditions are nearly impossible to replicate outdoors.

Quality and Type of Soil

In a broad sense, there are different types of soil that hold water differently and offer unique challenges. Sandier soils have a difficult time retaining water, giving little time for the plants to absorb what they need. Siltier soils hold water perhaps too well; these areas can seem muddy after heavy rainfall. Clay drains well and handles water effectively, but it can cause troubles for your garden if it gets too dry.

Different regions will have a predominant soil type, affecting which plants will work best for your garden. From a more localized prospective, however, there will be changes in nutrients and soil composition. The bacteria and fungi that reside in the soil will be different. Everything from the soil type to these microorganisms can influence how plants will grow. 

Cloud Coverage

In their native climates, plants have adapted to their conditions by needing the conditions that they are exposed to. This is especially true with the conditions of light.

Many plants nowadays are described as “full sun,” “part sun,” or “shade.” These descriptors explain how much sunlight the plant needs or can tolerate, but this can be flexible depending on your location.

Places closer to the equator are perpendicular with the sun’s rays and receive much stronger bursts of sunlight. The higher you get in latitude, the more intense changes there are in sunlight exposure; the light available is less direct and the length of the days vary more throughout the year.

These sorts of guidelines provide a general standard for what your plants can handle, but your personal location can vary even more when you consider general cloud coverage. If you’re living in a place that sees a lot of clouds even when it’s not raining, your plants will be less likely to suffer from too much sunlight exposure. On the other hand, there are plants that require direct, intense sunlight to thrive.

Variables like tree coverage and neighborhood density – how near houses are to each other – can also affect your plants’ sunlight situation.

Wind

Some geographic locations are very windy. These plants generally have stronger root systems and thicker foliage to resist the elements. On the other end of the spectrum, forested plants are used to growing with tree coverage to block the wind. If you live in a windy place with not much cover – like a beach, for example, plants that are delicate and unused to the area will not fare well.

When it comes to choosing plants for your garden, start with those hardiness zones; they’ll go a long way in informing your choices. However, don’t neglect your own situation. By considering your location – and even the location your plants will be facing – you can prepare a garden that thrives during all seasons.

Alex Briggs is a contributing author for Cascade Tree Works.

 

**There are two days left to enter the giveaway for the ‘The Colorful Dry Garden’. So, if you haven’t entered, now is your chance.