palo verde tree bougainvillea backyard landscape

Do you have parts of your landscape that you would like to change? 

Perhaps you have areas you like, but there are plants you are tired of or are struggling with.

I want to show you what I did in my backyard, where I blended both old and new elements.

First, a little history:

I was fairly happy with with the areas bordering the walls of the backyard. They are filled with colorful shrubs such as Bougainvillea, Coral Fountain, and Yellow Bells.

However, the center of my backyard space was dominated by a large lawn, which we had removed last year.

The decision to replace the grass was made with a focus on plants that I love and would blend well with the existing plants.

The focal point is a new flagstone seating area with Adirondack chairs arranged around a portable firepit. Around this area, boulders add height and texture. Angelita Daisy, Artichoke Agave, Blackfoot Daisy, and Pink Muhly grasses surround the seating area, which adds year-round color and texture.

In another area, a gentle mound stands planted with a ‘Bubba’ Desert Willow tree. Purple Trailing Lantana grows around the tree and will soon cover the entire mound in a mass of purple blooms.

At this point, the new plants are still rather small. However, plants grow quickly in the desert climate and, in another year, will soon reach their mature size.

The result? A landscape where the new and old will blend seamlessly together.

I must admit that I am delighted with how it turned out. It took me a long time to decide what to do with this area – it is so much easier to design someone else’s yard than your own.

I look forward to seeing it evolve and promise to share it with you 🙂

garden in the desert with small tree and plants

Let’s face it. Hot summers are not surprising to desert dwellers. In fact, a typical garden with native and desert-adapted plants will weather intense heat with little fuss.

However, this summer has been one for the books and I’ve seen signs of heat-stress that I’ve never seen before. And yes, within my own garden.

Heat-stressed Rock Penstemon and Golden Barrel Cactus

I must admit that it’s been hard to see certain plants struggling in my garden and I know you may have similar feelings. So, why has this summer been so much more difficult than others?

Pink Trumpet Vine partially defoliated due to the heat

While it is normal to have several days above 110 degrees F., the summer of 2020 is one for the record books. We have experienced not just a couple of stretches of above-normal temps but, several long spans of infernal heat. Damage to plants is often cumulative. This means that the more days of above-average (or below-average) temperatures – the higher incidence of reaction from plants.

Take a walk outside in your garden. You will likely notice some plants that are yellowing, wilting, or have given up and died. However, you may also note that there are some that are doing well.

Why is that? Let me show you some examples from my own garden – the good AND the ugly.

Let’s start with the ugly:

New Mexican Fence Post cactus transplants

In March, much of my backyard was renovated. This included the addition of two separate plantings of Mexican Fence Post cacti. They are located along my back wall and as you can see, one is doing very well while the other makes me cringe when I see the yellowing.

Does the yellowing cactus need more or less water? No. Many succulents yellow in response to summer heat. Of course, this very hot summer has made it more severe. So, why the difference between the two?

The one on the left gets filtered shade in the afternoon from a nearby Palo Verde tree. You can tell that the one on the right doesn’t get any shade but full afternoon sun. In a normal summer, it would be normal to see some yellowing that will return to green once temperatures cool. I am hopeful that will happen. As plants age, they tend to handle heat stress better and as these are young, the stress was especially severe.

Signs of heat stress

In another area of my garden, I have Green Desert Spoon and Hardy Spineless Prickly Pear, which are very heat-adapted. Yet, they do show signs of mild heat-stress that I haven’t seen before. But, they will green back up in fall. Other plants that are struggling include Artichoke Agave, Gopher Plant, and Shrubby Germander.

I am thrilled that my young Desert Willow tree in this photo is thriving despite the heat. I have four others scattered throughout my landscape and all are doing just as well.

Here are some of the good:

Young Baja Ruellia (Ruellia peninsularis) doing very well. The neighbor’s Dwarf Myrtle isn’t.

‘Sparky’ Tecoma shrub (Tecoma ‘Sparky’)
Pink Muhly (Muhlenbergia capillaris). Will soon burst forth in burgundy plumes in fall.
Gold Lantana in full sun all day

Feathery Cassia, Purple Trailing Lantana, and Yellow Bell shrubs are also doing well.

Here are a couple of exceptional performers that get full, reflected sun:

‘Rio Bravo’ Texas Sage
Bougainvillea

There are still six weeks of summer heat ahead of us. So, what should we do for now?

  1. Be sure plants are receiving enough water. You may need to increase the frequency when temps are above 110 degrees.
  2. Don’t fertilize. Feeding plants simply makes them work harder to produce new growth when all they are trying to do is deal with the heat.
  3. Don’t prune away heat-damaged growth until September. While brown leaves are ugly, they are protecting the interior of the plant. Some pruning is recommended in mid-September, which I teach in my Shrub Pruning Workshop.

We don’t know if this summer will be an anomaly or the beginning of a new normal. But, instead of throwing in the towel, I invite you to do the following instead:

Take a stroll through your garden and take note of which plants are doing well and those that aren’t. If this is to be the new norm, it would be a good idea to add more of those that handle the heat well.

b

I am not going to make any major changes in my own garden. Most of my plants have done just fine in past summers. I’ll replace the few plants that died but am hopeful that next summer will be one with average temperatures. If not, then I know what plants have withstood the heat best.

Before we know it, fall will be here, and I for one, can’t wait!

Have you ever had the experience of receiving an unexpected bouquet?

I’ve been blessed to have gotten bouquets throughout my life from my wonderful husband, my children, and in the past – from a boyfriend or two.

But recently, I was presented with a bouquet from an unlikely source.

If you look up the definition of the word, ‘bouquet’, it states “an attractively arranged bunch of flowers, especially one presented as a gift or carried at a ceremony.”

This spring, I was delighted to see that my garden had presented me with an unexpected bunch of flowers – in other words, a bouquet.

This area in my front garden has a lovely Sandpaper Verbena (Glandularia rigida), which is a ground cover with vibrant purple flowers. It blooms spring through fall and thrives in full sun.

I planted the Sandpaper Verbena, however, I didn’t add the other flowers in this area.

Last year, I noticed the white flowers of Blackfoot Daisy (Melampodium leucanthum) growing up in the middle of the Verbena. It came from a seed from a nearby plant that alighted in this area and grew in the presence of irrigation.

I liked the look and as the plants were doing well together, I left them to their own devices.

Well evidently, someone else wanted to join the party. Enter, Angelita Daisy (Tetraneuris acaulis) that came up on its own. I have several throughout the landscape and they do self-seed sometimes.

I absolutely adore colorful plants and I must say, I am so happy with this bouquet growing in my garden. As long as they play nice and one doesn’t try to take over the other, they can remain.

Who knows who will show up in my living bouquet next year?

I have a wonderful treat for you! This week’s blog post is from Dr. Jacqueline Soule.

Chances are that her name sounds familiar and that is because she is a noted plant expert and well-known author of several books on desert gardening.

Jacqueline grew up in Tucson and currently resides there where she enjoys growing low-maintenance plants that add beauty, which thrive in the desert.

I am fortunate to call Jacqueline my friend and we are both part of SWGardening.com I am excited to share with you her post on Germander.

“As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.”

Germander (Teucrium chamaedrys) Photo by Amadej Trnkoczy cc 3.0

Gorgeous Germander 

by Jacqueline A. Soule, Ph.D.

Special for AZ Plant Lady, 03 2020

Germander is a gorgeously green low-water ground cover that grows well in Arizona, is great for pollinators, and happens to be usable as a culinary herb.  

Greeting from another desert garden this week – that of garden writer Jacqueline Soule, who lives in Tucson (Gardening With Soule – in the Land of El Sol).  Noelle has graciously shared her space this week to allow me to introduce you to one herb for your landscaping.  

https://gardeningwithsoule.com/

Germander Has a Long History

This handsome herb was brought to the mission gardens of Arizona in 1698 by Father Kino.  Germanders are native to the rocky hillsides of Greece and Turkey, where they get rain only in the winter.  This means they tolerate dry and hot conditions well!

Germander (Teucrium chamaedrys) growing in a Sedona garden.

Which One to Use?

There are around 100 species of germander!  The one most commonly used in landscaping is the wall germander (Teucrium chamaedrys).  This species has tiny, bright green, rounded leaves.  The creeping germander is the same species, but has been selected over time to be a low ground cover (Teucrium chamaedrys var. prostratum).  Both of these are available at many local nurseries (but not big box stores).

For landscaping, germander offers a gorgeous bright, forest-green.  I confess, I prefer this color in general over the blue-green of rosemary.  Even in poor soil and with little water, germander grows to form a dark green carpet, about 2 feet around per plant, the creeping germander a bare 4 to 6 inches tall.

Germaders grow well in alkaline (unamended) desert soil, in full sun to part shade situations.  Reflected summer light is tad too much for them, so not under picture windows.

Teucrium chamaedrys by Amadej Trnkoczy cc 3.0 002

Fragrant Flowers

Both germander and rosemary have many oil glands in their leaves and are fragrant plants.  But then there are the flowers!  Germander flowers are far more fragrant than rosemary.  Germander blooms are almost honey-scented, like sweet alyssum.  Like rosemary, germander are bee pollinated, by both European honey bees and by our native Arizona solitary bees, with occasional butterfly visitors.

Use In Your Landscape

Both rosemary and germander can be used in roasting potatoes or to add flavor to meat dishes.  I use either herb to scrub down the grill prior to cooking – depends on which needs pruning.  In ancient Greece, hunters would field dress their meat with germander, often found growing wild in the hills.  (It may have anti-microbial properties.)  Germander abounds on Greek hillsides because the strong oils render it unpalatable to wildlife.  I won’t promise it is rabbit proof, but those “wascally wabbits” don’t bother mine.  

Herbs that can be used to create a beautiful, low-water-using, edible, Southwest landscape are numerous. Learn more in this webinar offered March 25, 2020 by the Herb Society of America – only $5 and you don’t have to drive anywhere! Or in April, drive to Carefree, where Jacqueline will speak about “Gardening for Fragrance” on April 18 2020.

Want to learn more from Jacqueline? Check out two of her most popular books –  Arizona, Nevada & New Mexico Month-by-Month Gardening and Southwest Fruit & Vegetable Gardening.

You can follow her on Facebook and Instagram.

Gardeners have long known about white flowering plants and the beauty that they bring to the garden.

The color white is seen by many as a bright, clean color that makes surrounding colors ‘pop’ visually.  Others like how white flowers seem to glow in the evening and early morning hours in the landscape.

Thankfully, there are several white flowering plants that do very well in the Southwestern landscape. In Part 1, I showed you four of my favorites, which you can view here.

Today, let’s continue on our white, floral journey…

Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I may earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.

 

White Evening Primrose (Oenothera caespitosa)
 
The arrival of spring transforms the low-growing green foliage of White Evening Primrose with the appearance of beautiful white flowers. What makes these flowers somewhat unique is that as the flowers fade, they turn pink.
 
White Evening Primrose looks best when used in a landscape with a ‘natural’ theme or among wildflowers.
 
The flowers appear in spring and summer on 10″ high foliage.  Hardy to zone 8 gardens, this small perennial is native to Southwestern deserts.
 
White Globe Mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua ‘White’)
This is a shrubby perennial that is in my own landscape.  While the most common color of Globe Mallow is orange, it does come in a variety of other colors including red, pink and white – all of which I have.
 
The white form of Globe Mallow shares the same characteristics of the orange one – it thrives in full sun and can even handle hot, reflected sun.  The foliage is gray and looks best when cut back to 1 ft. high and wide after flowering in spring.
 
I pair white Globe Mallow alongside my pink ones for a unique, desert cottage garden look.
 
 
See what I mean about white flowers helping other colors to stand out visually?
 
Hardy to zone 6, Globe Mallow grows to 3 ft. tall and wide.  It does best in full sun and well-drained soil.
 
To learn more about this beautiful desert native, click here.

                                    Blackfoot Daisy (Melampodium leucanthum)

 
Blackfoot Daisy is another perennial that looks great in a natural desert-themed landscape.  This ground cover produces sunny, white daisies in spring and fall in desert climates – it flowers during the summer in cooler locations.
 
Hardy to zone 5, Blackfoot Daisy can handle extreme cold when planted in full sun.  I like to plant it near boulders where it can grow around the base for a nicely designed touch. It grows to 1 ft. high and 24 inches wide.
I have several in my front garden and I love their beauty and low-maintenance. They need very little maintenance other than light pruning with my Felco Hand Pruners in late spring to remove dead growth.
 
Little Leaf Cordia (Cordia parvifolia)
 
This white flowering shrub is not used often enough in the Southwestern landscape in my opinion.  It has beautiful flowers, needs little pruning if given enough room to grow, is extremely drought tolerant and evergreen.
 
Little leaf cordia can grow 4 – 8 ft. tall and up to 10 ft. wide. Unfortunately, some people don’t allow enough room for it to grow and shear it into a ‘ball’.
 
You can go 2 – 3 years or more between prunings. It’s best when left alone to bear its attractive, papery white flowers spring into fall.
 
Hardy to zone 8, little leaf cordia does great in full sun and well-drained soil.
 
‘White Katie’ Ruellia (Ruellia brittoniana ‘White Katie’)
 
During a visit to a nursery some time ago, I noticed a white flowering variety of the more commonplace purple ‘Katie’ ruellia and I immediately decided that I liked the white color better.
 
‘White Katie’ ruellia grows to 8 inches tall and 1 1/2 ft. wide in zone 8 gardens and warmer.  It looks great when planted in groups of 3 or more.  You can plant it alongside the purple variety for fun color contrast.  It does suffer frost damage when temps dip below freezing but recover quickly in spring.  
 
This white flowering perennial does best in morning sun or filtered shade in desert gardens.
 
I hope you have enjoyed these white flowering plants and decide to add them to your garden!  
  

Imagine finding yourself stepping back in time, surrounded by small adobe homes and extensive gardens – all in modern-day Phoenix.

 
The Phoenix Homesteads District dates back to the 1930s and is the only adobe neighborhood in Phoenix.  Mature pine trees line the streets interspersed with Mexican fan palms creating a green tunnel that beckons you to explore further.
 
 
Small adobe homes sit on large lots with large, mature trees and shrubs.  
 
The homes were built in the ’30s, and 40’s so residents could grow much of their food and own small livestock.
 
The purpose of my journey to this historic neighborhood was to visit a local artist and her picturesque gardens. 
 
 
This historic garden jewel is located on ‘Flower Street.’
 
I came to visit this special place at the recommendation of a client who told me about a resident artist, Suzanne Bracker, who not only had a beautiful garden but creates wonderful pieces of art.  
As I pulled up to her home, little did I know that the garden was just the beginning of the wonderful things I would see.
 
 
Suzanne met me by the curb in front of her home to lead me on a journey of inspiration and discovery. 
 
 
Just a few steps into the garden, it’s apparent that Suzanne loves to repurpose items in her garden.  The curved pathway at the garden entrance is edged with broken concrete, often referred to as ‘urbanite’.
 
 
The property consists of two 1/4 acre lots. The adobe structure that used to serve as a garage/shed, straddles the original property line. 
 
Queen’s wreath vine (Antigonon leptopus) and lantana grow on large river rocks within wire (gabion walls).  The bright blooms of bougainvillea provide a welcome pop of color.
 
 
An old, gnarled tree root sits among vines and adds both color and texture contrast.
 
 
Peruvian apple cactus (Cereus peruviana) grows through a giant bush lantana (Lantana camara) that is trained up as a small tree. 
 
After only 5 minutes in this artist’s garden, I could tell that I was on a journey of the unexpected and could hardly wait to discover more.
 
The garage/shed is now an artist’s studio where pieces of Suzanne’s work are on display.
 
 
The original adobe wall can be seen inside the studio.  Adobe walls (made from mud and straw) keep buildings cool in summer.
 
 
You can see the bits of straw mixed in with the adobe as well as a small note in a crevice just waiting to be discovered and read.
 
Evidence of Suzanne’s interest in a variety of artistic mediums is immediately apparent.
 

 

From mosaics…
 
 
To paper…
 
 
 Clay…
 
 
 
And jewelry. Her talent is evident in almost everything she touches.
 
As we ventured back outdoors, Suzanne revealed a particular spot she affectionately calls her “graveyard”.
Underneath the shade of a large carob tree, the ‘graveyard’ is an area where the broken clay heads from Suzanne’s clay art find a place to rest. 
 
 
This is a novel way to repurpose items that otherwise would have found its way into the trash.
 
 
Weights from old windows in the house now hang from metal trellises alongside snail vine.
 
 
Small crystals from old chandeliers now decorate the trellis and cast small rainbows wherever they catch the sun’s rays.
 
 
Peach-faced parrots, who live in the wild, stop by the bird feeder under the carob tree.  
 
 
Sprays of delicate purple flowers from a large skyflower (Duranta erecta) shrub, arch over the garden path. 
 
 
Along flagstone pathways, a flash of blue and green color catches my eye. Where most of us would throw out a few leftover glass beads, she uses them for a touch of whimsy.
 
 
As I enter her home, the original kitchen catches my eye – there’s no granite countertops or stainless steel appliances here.
 
 
Although small, this 1930’s kitchen is functional and very cute.
 
Back outdoors, there is still more to see in the garden.
 
 
 
Plants aren’t the only thing that provides color in this garden – the buildings are painted in vibrant shades of blue and purple.
 
 
Old oil cans, a kettle, and creamers find new life as garden art.
 
 
As I walk through the garden, we come upon a shady oasis, underneath the massive canopy of an old Lady Bank’s rose – this is the same type of rose as the famous Tombstone Rose.
 
 
A colorful rooster and his chickens enjoy the shade from the rose.
 
 
Gold lantana grows among round step stones. The sizes and location of these step stones were poured in place. Their shape adds another artistic element to the landscape.
 
 
One of the many enjoyable aspects of this garden are the ‘garden rooms’ interspersed. 
 
Among the garden paths, there’s always something to discover like these old, antique, toy cars.  These were left by the previous owner and Suzanne put them on top of an old tree stump to add another fun element.
 
 
At the end of our garden journey, we pass by a jujube (Ziziphus jujube) tree, which tastes a little like apple.  
 
 
The second house on the property has a lovely Rose of Sharon tree in front along with some interesting garden art.
 
True to the historical roots of this home, the concrete pipes that decorate the front are made from old irrigation pipes used for the flood irrigation This practice is still common throughout parts of Phoenix in older areas. 
 
 
This garden still uses flood irrigation – the same as in the 1930s.
 
 
The blossoms of a small, Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus) add whimsical beauty with its flowers that change color as they age. 
 
 
Gardens that both surprise and inspire us are a real treasure – especially when found in the middle of a city.
 
Suzanne’s garden is a historic jewel. I am grateful for the opportunity to have met her and observe how her artistic talent extends to everything she touches.

It may surprise you to find that it is easier to find plants that thrive in the sun than in the shade.

Especially if you live in the desert Southwest. Why is this, you may ask?

Well, it can be hard to find plants that can handle the intense, dry heat of our climate while flourishing in the shade. While there are a number of lovely plants that can work in shady conditions, it’s hard to know which ones will, which is why I make sure to include my favorites for students in my online gardening class.

So, what do you do if you have a shady spot to fill?

One of my favorites is Yellow Dot (Wedolia trilobata), which is a vining ground cover with lush, dark green leaves interspersed with yellow daisy-like flowers.
Here is a plant that does fabulously in dark shade and will handle brief periods of full sun. 
 
Yellow Dot grows quickly to 1 ft. high and 4 – 6 ft. wide and is hardy to 30 degrees. It’s susceptible to frost damage, which can be easily pruned back in spring.
One of my favorite characteristics of this lush green ground cover is that it has a long bloom period – spring through fall. 
 
It grows beautifully underneath trees, along pathways, and among boulders. You just want to be sure to allow enough room for them to spread.
 
So, if you have a difficult shady spot that needs a plant – try Yellow Dot.
 
How about you?  Do you have a favorite plant that does well in shady spots?  I’d love to hear about it!