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 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 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 victoria–reginae) to name a few.
‘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 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 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 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.
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.
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.
How do you like to use succulents in your garden?
As a garden writer and horticulturist, I am often asked to review new gardening books, which is one of my favorite things to do; especially if the books are about growing plants in the desert.
Years ago, there were precious few books that dealt with the unique challenges and solutions to creating a beautiful outdoor space in a hot, arid climate. Nowadays, there are several books that focus on desert gardening, but most just scratch the surface of how to do it. When I was contacted by The Desert Botanical Garden to see if I would review their new book, Desert Landscape School: A Guide to Desert Landscaping and Maintenance, I said yes.
The origins of the book arose from the Desert Landscape School at the gardens, which offers classes for individuals who are interested in specializing in certain aspects of desert landscaping. Graduates earn a certification in one or more areas, including desert plant palette, planting and maintenance, and desert design. A large group of experts was brought together in the creation of this book, including many that work in the garden.
Thumbing through my copy, I looked to see how the information was laid out and whether it addressed common landscape dilemmas that are unique to desert gardening. As you may expect, a book from this prestigious garden didn’t disappoint. I found myself reading through its pages and reliving my early days as a horticulturist learning not only the basics of arid gardening principles but also strategies and tips for growing plants that I didn’t learn until later.
This book is for those who want to learn the reasons why we garden the way we do in the desert to more fully understand it. There is also valuable information regarding plant selection, design, sustainability, installation guidelines, and how to properly maintain the landscape.
I’ve always said that “gardening in the desert isn’t hard, it’s just different” and the book offers practical tips that make growing plants in an arid climate, easier. For example, connecting tree wells using swales and gravity to allow rain water to flow to where it’s needed instead of down the street.
For those of you who have read my blog for awhile, you won’t be surprised to learn that I was interested in the pruning and maintenance section, as I am passionate about teaching people correct pruning practices. One illustration that grabbed my attention was the right and wrong way to prune palm trees.
I had taken this photo a couple of weeks ago of palm trees that had been pruned incorrectly with too many fronds removed. Overpruning weakens the tree and leaves it open to other stresses, which the book addresses.
The structure of the book is set up so that each section can be read on its own, so readers can focus on what they are interested in learning most. Of course, I recommend reading the entire book as it contains invaluable information which leaves the reader well-informed and confident in their ability to garden successfully in the desert southwest as well as other desert regions.
Desert Landscaping & Maintenance is truly a one-of-a-kind book that serves the role of several desert gardening books in one, and I highly recommend getting your hands on a copy of this brand new desert gardening guide.
Water features have long had a prominent spot in the landscape, where the both the beauty and sound of water help to create an enjoyable outdoor atmosphere.
However, water features can be high maintenance, messy to clean, and can be problematic in arid climates where water is a precious resource. Because of these reasons, it’s not unusual to see an empty water feature sitting empty without purpose.
In both my garden travels and work as a landscape consultant, I like to discover new uses for water features or ways to mimic the appearance of water, which succulents can fulfill beautifully.
Water features and succulents can add welcome interest, from simulating the movement of water with their shapes to taking the place of water in the basin.
Plumbing hardware can be used, along with succulents, to create an artistic arrangement in the garden such as these galvanized buckets and water pipes.
Succulents can also add a lovely planting around water features like the example above with lady’s slipper (Euphorbia macrocarpus), and it’s unique ‘Medusa-like’ growth habit adds an unexpected design element. It is important to keep succulents far enough away from getting any over splash from the water as they need dry soil to grow in.
Containers filled with succulents can make an attractive backdrop for a water feature as they are low-maintenance and their distinctive shapes add welcome texture.
Visit any nursery, and you’ll notice how popular succulents are, as they make up a larger percentage of the plants on display, tempting people to add them to their gardens.
So go ahead and give your water feature new life with succulents!
I have a love affair with succulents.
There are so many reasons for my passion, but the biggest reason is that they are easy to grow, and a low-maintenance way to add beauty to the garden.
The popularity of succulents is taking off and nursery shelves are filled with numerous varieties to tempt gardeners. Many people are beginning to replace high-maintenance plants with fuss-free succulents.
Succulents can also be a great choice for solving common gardening problems. For example, they make great container plants and require a fraction of the care that flowering annuals do.
I share my favorite ways to use succulents in the garden in my latest article for Houzz. I hope that you find inspiration for solving your garden problems by adding these lovely plants.
Did you know that some flowering, desert perennials are grown easily from seed? It’s true. Many of the plants in my garden are volunteers that grew from seed from my established plants.
I have several ‘parental’ plants in my front garden along with their babies that have come up on their own with no assistance from me.
My favorite perennials that grow from seed are my colorful globe mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua). The most common color seen in globe mallow is orange. However, they also come in other colors such as red, pink, and white. You can purchase the less common color varieties, but they can be hard to find at your local nursery.
When I first designed my garden, I bought pink, red, and white globe mallows. These plants are now over 17 years old and produce a large number of seeds once flowering has ceased. Because these colors can be hard to find, people ask me to sell them seeds that I harvest each year from my colorful perennials.
Harvesting seeds from spent flowers is easy to do. Once the flowers begin to fade in spring, I look for tiny, dried out seed pods, which is where the seeds are contained. I then pick them off and place them in a little bag. It’s important to keep the colors separate so if someone wants red globe mallow, they won’t be growing pink or white ones.
There are other desert perennials that come up easily from seed, such as the ones pictured above in a garden I visited a few years ago.
So how do you grow these drought tolerant perennials from seed? Surprisingly, it’s not hard to do, and if you go to a lot of trouble and fuss over them, they probably won’t grow. So starting them in little pots and transplanting them isn’t the best way to go about it. Instead, sprinkle the seed throughout the landscape, allowing some to fall a foot away from a drip emitter or near rocks. You want to mirror the natural conditions where they sow their seed in nature. Warning: this only works in areas where pre-emergent herbicides are NOT used.
Growing these perennials from seed is very inexpensive, but some patience is needed while you wait for them to sprout. Not all will come up, but those that do, will add beauty to your garden and before you know it, you may be harvesting seed to share with your friends.
What type of plants have you had come up in your garden from seed?
Talk to most homeowners about what they want in their garden and they will usually reply “color”. I am no different and when I was given the opportunity to try out two new plants, courtesy of the folks at Monrovia, I jumped at the chance to showcase more examples of their plants, which are available at Lowe’s or at your local garden center.
I would like to share with you two plants that will add a pop of color to your garden.
The first is Friendship Sage (Salvia ‘Amistad’). Recent visitors to my garden couldn’t take their eyes off of the vibrant purple flowers and the lush green foliage of this new plant.
This particular salvia does best in filtered shade and should be kept away from full sun, especially in hot, inland areas. Hardy to zone 9, it is suitable for climates with mild winters.
I would recommend pairing it with yellow-flowering perennials like angelita daisy (Tetraneuris acaulis), or gold lantana (Lantana ‘New Gold Mound’). I can hardly wait to see the hummingbirds flock to the tubular blooms. Flowering occurs in spring, summer, and fall. However, in hot climates, flowers may disappear in the summer only to resume in fall.
Hummingbirds will flock to the tubular blooms so be sure to place friendship salvia where you can view it up close. Flowering occurs in spring, summer, and fall. However, in hot climates, flowers may disappear in the summer only to resume in fall.
Salvias have always been a huge favorite of mine and I am so happy to have this new addition to the garden.
*Learn more about this and other colorful plants at Monrovia.
The second perennial that I’d like to show you is a variety of pink gaura. ‘Little Janie’ gaura (Gaura lindheimeri ‘Little Janie’) produces masses of small, pink flowers, which are shaped like butterflies.
They thrive in full sun to light, filtered shade and are drought tolerant.
Gaura have a long bloom period, beginning in spring and lasting through fall. They are also very cold and heat tolerant and can be grown in zone 6 gardens (-10 degrees F.) while easily handling summer temperatures over 100+.
I like to group 3 gaura together and plant them next to boulders or plant them in perennial beds along a front entry.
My new ‘Little Janie’ gaura has lots of buds, ready to open up to reveal their pretty, pink flowers. They look great next to purple-flowering plants such as Blue Bells (Eremophila hygrophana) or purple trailing lantana (Lantana montevidensis).
These are just two of the beautiful plants from Monrovia that you can find at Lowe’s or your local nursery. Simply look for plants in the green ‘Monrovia’ containers.
*Learn more about Monrovia and their ‘Grow Beautifully’ campaign to help you create a colorful outdoor space.
People often ask me to post more photographs of my garden on my blog. I must confess that I am sometimes reluctant to do so as I wonder if they expect a ‘perfect’ garden – one that is meticulously maintained and expertly designed.
However, I decided that would show you my garden, even if it bursts a few bubbles of what people expect it to look like.
The landscape that surrounds my home reflects my love for plants that add beauty without needing much attention from me. I don’t tend to rake or blow my leaves and the plants are allowed to grow into their natural shapes without much interference from me.
That is important because I am usually so busy helping others with their landscapes, that I often don’t have enough time to fuss over mine. Pruning once, or at most, twice a year is my standard of a fuss-free plant.
I love color throughout all seasons. So, you are just as likely to find as much color in my winter garden as in the summer.
As for the design of my garden, horticulturists are by nature, collectors of plants. This means that we likely to include many different kinds of plants – often more than you would see in a well-designed garden.
I do enjoy designing landscapes and have done my best in designing my own garden, while incorporating a large variety of plants.
I’ve always felt that a garden should reflect the owner’s personality while also enhancing the exterior of their home. Mine shows my love for color and low-maintenance beauty.
What does your garden reveal about you?
Gardening in a dry climate comes with unique challenges where water is viewed as a precious resource and needs to be used wisely. Does that mean that you cannot have a beautiful garden? Absolutely not! You can have an attractive outdoor space filled with beautiful plants and a vegetable plot as well with proper planning with help from these water-wise books.
Today, I would like to share my final installment for gifts for the gardener by sharing not one, but two books that are worth adding to your gardening library.
*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.*
If you are looking to create a drought tolerant landscape but are in need of ideas and guidance, look no further than The Water-Saving Garden, by Pam Penick.
The book opens with a chapter dedicated to inspiration with several types of water wise gardens highlighted to help the reader determine which one is right for them. Lovely, color photos of landscapes display the incredible beauty of gardens that conserve water.
Designing a water-saving garden entails including several elements such as contouring, permeable building materials, and more to help conserve water and Pam does a great job of talking about each type and how to incorporate into the landscape.
Plants that are native or adapted to survive on little water are the backbone of the water-saving landscape, and most are surprisingly attractive. A substantial list of drought tolerant plants will have you imagining how they will look decorating your outdoor space. Helpful tips for when to plant as well as alternative locations for growing plants are included within the pages of this book, and the author doesn’t stop there – she has an entire section of how to incorporate water or the appearance of water in the landscape with water features and plants.
The Water-Saving Garden: How to Grow a Gorgeous Garden with a Lot Less Water is a book that will help readers create a water-wise landscape filled with beauty and would make a wonderful gift for the gardener in your life or yourself.
Pam has another book, Lawn Gone, which I bought a few years ago, and it sits in a prominent place in my garden library. It’s filled with inspiration and guidelines for a grass-free landscape.
I enjoy my edible gardens very much and so I was excited when Sasquatch Books provided me with a free copy of Growing Vegetables in Drought, Desert & Dry Times: The Complete Guide to Organic Gardening without Wasting Water. I certainly wish this book had been around when I first started. Vegetable gardening comes with its set of challenges like watering efficiently and creating a micro-climate that is favorable to growing vegetables. This book addresses these issues and more.
Whether you are a beginner or have grown vegetables in a different climate, this book is a must have for those who find themselves living in an arid region.
Location, location, location is perhaps the most important part of a successful vegetable garden. Of course, not everyone has the best location and the book talks about what to take into consideration when deciding where to grow your vegetables in addition to ways to modify the dry climate to make it easier for them to grow in a dry climate.
Guidelines for growing vegetables in raised beds and even containers are provided along with how to amend the desert soil so it can sustain vegetables. Perhaps the most informative chapters for desert gardeners are those addressing several ways to irrigate as well as a list of the best varieties of vegetables for arid climates. Additional chapters teach how to control harmful pests and solve common problems.
If you or someone on your gift list is new to the desert or simply want to begin gardening, both of these books are filled with inspiration and guidance.
Do you like colorful flowers and hummingbirds? If so, you may want to consider adding flame acanthus (Anisacanthus quadrifidus var. wrightii) to your garden.
This is a fairly new addition to my garden and the local hummingbirds are so happy to see it in my garden.
It blooms from late spring into fall and I love its airy, bright green foliage.
If you would like to learn more, I invite you to check out my latest plant profile for Houzz.