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.

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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.

 

 

I love English gardens with their lush greenery, colorful blooms, and somewhat untidy appearance, which may be due to my partial English ancestry. While I don’t make it to the British Isles as much as I’d like, there are lovely examples to be found in the U.S. Earlier this month, I had the wonderful opportunity to visit an English garden with Texas flair.

Earlier this month, I was in Austin for the Garden Bloggers Fling, which is an annual gathering of garden bloggers that is held in a different city each year. As you might expect, touring gardens is the focus of the Fling and I couldn’t wait to explore the gardens of this area, largely because we can grow many of the same types of plants in Arizona.

I woke up, excited for our first day of touring, only to be greeted by torrential rain. However, I was undeterred – equipped with my rain poncho and umbrella, 3.5 inches of rain wasn’t going to get in my way of seeing beautiful gardens.

The garden of Jenny Stocker, who blogs at Rock Rose, was my favorite destination of the day. She describes her garden as an “arts and crafts Texas-style garden with an English theme”. Her landscape is broken up into ‘rooms’ with many areas surrounded by walls that frame each room while keeping deer away. Doorways provide a tantalizing glimpse into the next room, encouraging visitors to embark on a journey of discovery.

A dry creek bed meanders through this garden room where it is surrounded by both native and adapted plants that thrive despite a thin layer of soil that lies over rock.

Plants, like this foxglove, droop gracefully under the continuing rainfall and with every step through the garden, my feet were squishing in my wet shoes, but it was easy to ignore the discomfort with all the beauty surrounding me.

A small water feature, complete with water plants and a fish, create a welcome focal point.

Potted plants like this potted brugmansia and golden barrel cactuses add visual interest to an alcove. Did you know that golden barrel cactus are native to Texas and Mexico? Many of the plants we grow in Arizona come from these regions.

An angelic face peeks out from a wall of creeping fig, which grows well in the desert garden in shady locations with adequate water.

An overturned pot spills water into the pool, providing the lovely sound of water while creating a lovely focal point.

The swimming pool was unique in that it looked like a water feature with the surrounding flowering plants, many of which, are allowed to self-seed.

This was my favorite garden room, so I took a video so you can get an overview of the beauty of this area.

In another area of the garden, raised beds were filled with edible plants. In between the beds, were flowering plants that create a welcome softness and attract pollinators, which in turn, benefit the vegetables.

Lovely Verbena bonariensis decorated the edible garden with their delicate purple blossoms.

Jenny makes great use of grouping potted plants together on steps and I recognized ‘Blue Elf’ aloes in a few of the containers, which is one of my favorite aloes that I use in designs.

Stacked stone forms a raised bed that surrounds the circular wall of this garden room where a bird bath serves as a focal point.

Decorative animals were tucked into different spots, just waiting to be discovered by garden visitors, like this quail family.

Here is a great whimsical element that I enjoyed where Mexican feather grass was used to mimick the movement of water for stone fish.

Much like desert gardens, cacti and succulents were used to create unique texture, like this spineless prickly pear (Opuntia cacanapa), which is native to Texas but also grows nicely in my Arizona garden.

The blue-gray color and spiky texture of artichoke agave, contrasts beautifully with the softer textures of lush green perennials.

As we got ready to bid adieu to this Texas-English garden, I walked by an opening in a garden wall where a single agave stood sentinel and was struck by how a single plant can have a significant design impact when placed in the right spot.

This garden was a true Texas treasure and I came away in awe of its natural beauty. However, this wasn’t only the garden that inspired me – there were sixteen other gardens left to explore and I invite you to come back when I’ll profile another of my favorites. 

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.

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I am always on the lookout for design inspiration, seeing how others create beauty in the garden so that I can help inspire you with your outdoor spaces. So, here are some design notes from the field that I found that I hope you will find useful.

REFLECTIONS:

Often when walking through the garden, I find myself pausing to admire the view of a garden’s beauty reflected on a window.

It is much like looking at a landscape in a mirror, which expands on its beauty while making it appear even more extensive.

SUCCULENT NOOK:

On a visit to a client’s landscape, I noted a unique way that they display their succulents. Little nooks were created along the bare expanse of wall, where small pots filled with succulents were nestled inside.

What a lovely way to break up what would otherwise be a bare wall.

CIRCULAR STEP STONES:

Pathways are an essential element of the landscape, allowing us to move from one area to the other. Normally, you see square step stones, a continuous path, or flagstone in a variety of shapes forming the path. However, I like these circular step stones, which create a distinctive look. The concrete is poured into molds onsite to make these step stones.

COLORFUL PORCH:

While strolling among the buildings of the La Villita Historic Village in downtown San Antonio, Texas, I spotted a delightful splash of color on a front porch. Vintage-inspired chairs in vibrant red and turquoise created a welcoming seating area in front of an old, historic home.

I hope that you enjoyed these design elements that speak to me. This is a series of design-inspired posts that I hope to feature from time to time with you. Have you seen any unique design that inspired you?

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Lovely clematis flowers

Do you ever find yourself transfixed by a pretty face (flower)? I have. In fact, I’ve rarely seen a flower that I didn’t like. However, sometimes it’s easy to get fooled by a pretty face, or in this case, a flower.

Over the weekend, I made a quick trip to my local grocery store where I noticed a display of beautiful flowering plants that stopped me dead in my tracks. 

Right by the entry was a collection of lovely clematis vines. Their lush green foliage and large purple flowers were gorgeous and enticed passersby into taking one home.

This made me mad, and I don’t get angry quickly. So, why was I upset? It’s not because I have anything against clematis – I think that they are lovely and have taken some photos of them throughout my garden travels including:

Minneapolis, Minnesota

Olbrich Gardens, Wisconsin

Butchart Gardens, in British Columbia, Canada

Astoria, Oregon

Aberystwyth, Wales

If you have paid attention to where I have taken the pictures of clematis, you may begin to understand why I was upset to see this outside my Phoenix area grocery store. 

The reason is that clematis are ill-suited for growing in a low desert climate. They struggle to survive without a lot of fuss, and you’ll be lucky if you see any blooms. 

The problem is, the average person doesn’t know this and envision how nice the clematis will look in their garden, so they hand over $25 and carry their new plant home with the assumption that the store wouldn’t sell plants that very difficult to grow in their area. 

Sadly, they are wrong. Unless they are a very experienced gardener, who is knowledgeable about clematis, they will have a vine that is barely clinging to life in a few weeks and blame themselves for its condition.

Sequim, Washington

The moral of this story? Don’t be fooled by a pretty face. Avoid impulse buys and research before buying plants for your garden. If you see a plant that you have never seen before, there is a greater chance that it may have difficulty growing in your climate.

For information on how to choose the right plants for your garden, I invite you to read my post, 5 Tips for Choosing Plants From the Nursery

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On a cold February morning, alongside my mother and sisters, I found myself at The Magnolia Silos, created and made famous by the much-loved hosts of HGTV’s ‘Fixer Upper’ program. 

We were on a girls road trip through Texas, and as fans of the show, The Silos in Waco were a must-see destination. 

The day we arrived was brisk, and we headed straight to the bakery, which is well-known for its delicious cupcakes and pastries. So, while my travel companions saved me a place in line, I headed straight for the decorative window boxes along the front and side of the bakery.

To be honest, I didn’t expect to see much in the way of greenery or gardens in winter, and so I was pleasantly surprised to see the lovely plantings underneath the windows.

Edible plants were mixed with ornamental plants, creating a blending of soft, complimentary shades, which suited the cloudy day.

The rosemary pruned into little topiaries created the perfect backdrop for the white, ornamental kale.

There is almost always a line around the bakery, but we were fortunate only to have to wait for 10 minutes before entering. In the meantime, we were handed a bakery menu where we could select what we wanted ahead of time.

I picked the ‘Shiplap’ cupcake – because, where else was I ever going to have the opportunity to get one anywhere else? It was delicious!

This sign within the bakery echoed the sentiments of all who entered and came out with a box of much-coveted cupcakes.

Once outside of the bakery, we headed for the main store where four magnolia trees were espaliered to the left of the entrance.

Don’t let the relatively empty facade fool you – it was filled with shoppers inside. 

A grouping of lavender greeted us as we climbed the steps into the store.

 

Hanging tight to my wallet while trying to figure out how much I had budgeted for shopping, I entered the store.

It was immediately evident that Joanna has a deep love for gardening and plants although all those inside the store were artificial greenery and flowers.

Back outdoors, my sister and I posed for a picture before we headed over to the garden area.

The garden is surrounded with beds filled with roses that had recently been cut back and tulips just beginning to emerge.

The Magnolia Seed & Supply shop is filled with garden decor along with seeds available for purchase. 

Raised beds are filled with leafy greens. I like the wooden branches used to support the frost cloth.

To the side of the store was a little greenhouse with a planter full of gorgeous kale. 

I must admit that I’ve never thought of kale as ‘gorgeous’ before, but it was in this case.

On our way out, we took a photo of the silos surrounded by families and kids playing on a large expanse of artificial turf using old-fashioned lawn games provided for their use.

A quick stop for a photo.

I hope you enjoyed exploring the green spaces of The Magnolia Silos with me. I certainly did!

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Sweet potato vine trail underneath a planting of lantana and ‘Victoria Blue’ salvia.

I’ve spent a busy week on the road traveling back and forth throughout the central and northern parts of Arizona. 

While my road trips were for pleasure, there were some work elements involved, viewing the newest trends of high desert landscaping, and taking photos of pretty plants.

Planters filled with green and black sweet potato vines trail over the railing at Tlaquepaque with Mark Twan (Samuel Clemens) sitting underneath.

During the first part of the week, I spent a few days in Sedona. This colorful, high desert town holds a special place in my heart. It is where my husband and I spent our honeymoon, and we make a point of coming back up to visit every few years.

A must stop destination for us are the shops are Tlaquepaque, which is modeled after an old Mexican village. Fountains and courtyards are scattered throughout the stores, inviting visitors to sit and enjoy the dappled shade while listening to the gentle sounds of water features.

To be honest, I do enjoy perusing the galleries and shops, but the main draw for me is the beautiful container plantings. Sweet potato vine, lantana, ‘Katie’ ruellia, and salvia are artfully arranged within the containers.

A ‘Painted Lady’ butterfly drinking nectar from a lantana.

Butterflies and hummingbirds are also frequent visitors to Tlaquepaque.


Area hotels also feature lovely examples of plants that thrive in the dry heat like the trumpet vine and yucca, above.

While in Sedona, we made side trips to Flagstaff and Cottonwood before it was time to travel back home.

After one night home, it was back into the car and off on another journey. This time, we brought our kids with us for a destination wedding in Skull Valley, which is a half hour outside of Prescott.

The wedding was held in the middle of the wilderness, reached by traveling over 20 minutes on a curving, unpaved road. Wildlife was plentiful as we spotted a coyote, deer, and a roadrunner, while also smelling a skunk along the way.

It was dusk when the wedding began, and the setting couldn’t have been more beautiful. A cool breeze welcomed guests to the venue that backed up onto the Prescott National Forest. 

The ceremony was beautiful, and the groom got all choked up in the midst of his vows. Guests spent a great time celebrating at the reception, held in an old barn, and we got back to the hotel late.

We took a back way back home, which involved driving some curvy mountain roads, but we traveled through little towns that we had never heard of such as Wilhoit and Peeble Valley. 

I love the fact that even after living here for over 30 years, I still enjoy the beauty of our state and yet encounter new places.

**Do you have a favorite place to visit in Arizona?

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

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

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

Here is a look at my favorites.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The elegant beauty of a rusted steel hummingbird.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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