One of the many blessings of living in the desert Southwest is the ability to grow vegetables out in the garden all year long. Today, I thought that I would give you a peek into my winter vegetable garden.

Over the past couple years, my vegetable garden had become slightly messy with a mixture of herbs, vegetables, and flowers growing in disorganized masses. Now, anyone who knows me will tell you that I am not a perfectionist – far from it. But, I realized that I am more likely to maintain and harvest my vegetables when they are neatly laid out in rows. 

So in August, I ripped out everything from the garden except for a new Spanish lavender plant.

Once September arrived, my husband helped me to replace a few of the wood sides that had gradually rotted. I was happy to note that they had lasted over five years.

We then amended the soil with 2 parts of mushroom compost and 1 part aged steer manure. This was my first time using mushroom compost. I wish I could say that it was because I had read about how good it was, but the truth is that the store was out of my favorite brand of compost, and mushroom was what was available. So, we used it.

Blood and bone meal were then sprinkled to provide organic sources of nitrogen and phosphorus.

A new irrigation system was installed in the form of micro-soaker hoses. We bought a kit from our local big box store, which was easy to install. 

Now for the fun part, sowing seeds!

The folks at Botanical Interests provided me with seeds, free of charge, to try out in my garden. I’ve used their seed for years, and they have a large selection of flowers, herbs, and vegetable seed that is of the highest quality.

My favorite cool-season crops are leaf lettuce and kale. I’ve had great luck growing kale, with the same plants lasting for over two winter seasons.

The earliest crop that I’ve harvested were bush beans that I planted in September from seed. Botanical Interests suggested I grow ‘Jade’ and ‘Royal Burgundy’ varieties. Both were delicious, and I discovered that the purple color fades when roasted.

The mild winter has my basil thriving. A client gave me this unique variety of basil called, Mrs. Burns Lemon Basil. It is an heirloom variety, and it is growing beautifully.

Three-inch little heads of cauliflower are just beginning to form. For some reason, I don’t have much luck growing broccoli, but I do grow a mean cauliflower.

While I did reduce the number of flowers in the vegetable garden, I grew a brand-new variety of marigold from seed called ‘Moonsong Marigold Deep Orange.’

My strawberry plants are beginning to flower and produce tiny fruits.

My avoidance of bagged salad greens is still in place as the garden is still producing plenty of leafy greens.

Finally, a peek into the future, with carrots growing vigorously. 

Do you grow vegetables? I highly recommend it. Even with the busyness of life and the stresses that it brings, it just melts away as I take a few minutes to walk through the garden observing new growth, some welcome surprises, and most importantly, the delicious flavors that it adds to our favorite dishes.

Disclosure: I was provided seed from the folks at Botanical Interests free of charge for my use and honest opinion.

It’s Day 3 of our garden gift ideas and today it’s all about books.

Gardening in the Southwest can be challenging because many of the traditional gardening rules and plants just don’t work here and traditional garden literature often ignores the unique opportunities and challenges that our arid climate presents. A good book that focuses on our distinct region can become an invaluable tool. As a garden writer, I know many garden authors and have been asked to review many books, and I include my top eight with you.

As a garden writer, I’ve been asked to review some garden books and know several of the authors personally and can attest to their expertise in gardening in the Southwest.

*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.*

 

1. Southwest Fruit & Vegetable Gardening

Our dry climate is an ideal region for growing fruits and vegetables because we have fewer insect pests and disease than more temperate areas. From apples, peaches, to citrus – many types of fruit can be grown here. Vegetable gardening is a favorite pastime of mine, and due to our relatively mild winters, we can grow them throughout the entire year. Tucson native, Jacqueline Soule, teaches you how to create your own edible, southwestern garden. Click here to order. 

2. Gardening In The Deserts of Arizona

Mary Irish is one of my favorite authors and worked for years at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix. Her books are what I like to refer to as the ‘bible’ of growing ornamental plants in the Southwest. From lists of plants that grow well in our climate to how to maintain them each month, this book is a must-have for new (and old) desert gardeners. She has written several books, but this is a good one to start with as it breaks down how to care for your garden. I met her at a conference in California and found her utterly charming and down to earth. Click here to order. 

3. Lawn Gone

Austin, Texas resident, Pam Penick, is well known for her blog, Digging, as well as her frequent contributions to a variety of gardening magazines. Her approach is saving water in the garden by removing or minimizing lawn areas, with an emphasis on simple and creative design solutions. I am fortunate to call Pam my friend and have toured gardens with her in Arizona and California. I’ve owned this book for several years, and it still ranks as one of my favorites. Click here to order. 

4. Potted

Earlier this year, I was contacted by Annette and asked to review her book. She and Mary own a trendy garden shop in Los Angeles that focuses on outdoor accessories and design services. As its title suggests, this book focuses on instructing readers on how to create unique containers using everyday items. The results are eye-catching and add a welcome design element to garden spaces. This book is for those on your list who like to be on the cutting edge of gardening trends. Click here to order. 

5. Growing Vegetables in Drought, Desert, and Dry Times

If you or someone on your gift list like to grow vegetables, this is an invaluable book which speaks specifically to growing an edible garden in an arid climate. Tips for maximizing your harvest while managing water is an important skill to learn and the author draws upon her experience of living and gardening in the desert regions of California. Grouping this book along with packets of vegetable seeds and a raised bed kit, would be a much-appreciated gift for a beginning vegetable gardener. Click here to order. 

6. Homegrown Herb Garden

Herbs are very easy to grow and flourish in arid climates. I grow them in pots, in my vegetable garden, as well as indoors. One of the authors, Ann McCormick, also known as the ‘Herb n’ Cowgirl’ has a blog by the same name. This book provides helpful growing tips along with how to use them to flavor your favorite dishes making it a great choice for the gardener and cook on your list. Click here to order yours.

7. Trees and Shrubs for the Southwest

Many gardening books contain smaller lists of plants, but this Mary Irish book has comprehensive lists of shrubs and trees that flourish in the Southwest. It delves beyond the often repeated plant palette of bougainvillea, oleander, and Texas sage, and goes further into the impressive variety of plants that can grow here. This book is a thoughtful choice for those who want to learn more about the plants that can grow in our arid climate. Click here to order.

8. The Water-Saving Garden

This book holds a special place for me because of the author, Pam Penick, who made a journey to visit me in Arizona while researching her book. We spent an entire day together visiting gardens throughout the greater Phoenix area (including mine), covering over one-hundred-fifty miles. Many of the photos that she took that day are in the book, which as its title suggests, focuses on how to create lovely gardens that don’t need a lot of water. Click here to order. 

All of these books will serve to inspire and teach the gardener on your list, how to create a beautiful garden that will thrive in the arid Southwest climate.

Want more ideas? Check out Day 1 and Day 2 of my garden gift ideas. 

Tomorrow, I’ll share my picks for garden gifts for kids. 

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Do you grow herbs? I do. 

Herbs are easy to grow and thrive in arid climates and shrug off the heat. I’m the first to admit that I don’t like messing around with fussy plants and so herbs fit right in with my gardening style.

Toward the end of summer, my garden is overflowing with herbs – especially basil. I certainly have more than I can use right now, so I like to preserve my herbs in a variety of ways so that I can enjoy the fresh flavor of summer throughout the winter months.

One of the easiest ways to store herbs is by freezing them using olive oil or water. You can see my post on how to freeze herbs here

Herb salts are a newer way to keep the fresh flavor of herbs alive. The ingredients are simple, and they are a unique way to add a delicious taste to your favorite recipes. See how easy they are to make in this blog post

Finally, the most popular method for preserving herbs is to dry them. Some types of herbs are easier to dry than others, and there are different methods for drying herbs. I invite you to read my latest article for Houzz.com where it’s all you need to know about drying herbs. I hope you enjoy it!


Do you dry or freeze your herbs? Which herbs work best for you?

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.*

I enjoy traveling around the country, exploring gardens. Throughout my travels, I am constantly amazed at the unexpected gardens that I stumble upon. Recently, I was in Buffalo, New York for the annual GWA Conference. I arrived a few days early in order to spend time with my BGF (Best Garden Friend), Andrea who came all the way from Australia to attend. We set out from our hotel in the morning to see more of the downtown area of the city.

It was a hot and humid day, but we were not deterred. We passed by a farmers market down the road from our hotel where fresh produce from area farms, was laid out to tempt passersby.  

I enjoy seeing fresh seasonal produce but lament that fact that other than fresh fruit, I am limited as to what I can use without a kitchen when I am traveling.

Most farmers markets also feature plants for sale and it’s a great way to see what grows in that area.

After leaving the farmers market with a bag of blueberries, we continued our walk toward the lake side where we encountered a lovely urban community garden. The Learning Garden is located underneath an overpass and adjoins a park.

The garden serves as an outdoor classroom for Erie Community College.

Three of the sides of the garden bounded by a fence, leaving an open gateway for visitors to explore the garden.

Raised beds were filled with a variety of vegetables and herbs along with a few ornamental flowers. Tomatoes are found in almost all of the beds and this garden clearly had an Italian theme with its basil and parsley.

Intermingled with many of the edible crops were whimsical garden signs like this one nestled within a bed of kale.

This sign expresses the joy of gardening for me and I believe for many others as well. As you can see, they aren’t difficult to make and I may enlist the woodworking skills of my husband to make some for my own garden.

Andrea and I took a moment to rest our sore feet while enjoying the scenery of the garden and the busy bees roaming from flower to flower.

The raised beds followed no distinct pattern that I could ascertain – but regardless, they looked great and were obviously thriving. Vegetables were the main focus with flowering annuals such as snapdragons and alyssum adding color.

I want this sign in my vegetable garden – do you think the neighborhood cats can read?

A small greenhouse is located behind massive cucumber vines. My cucumber vines have never looked that good…

I enjoy garden art made from repurposed materials, such as this ‘spoon-fork’ flower – a definite touch of whimsy.

What do you do when you run out of room in your raised beds? Plant vegetables in fabric containers, of course!

In a sunny corner, an unusual pair of wooden chairs sat, facing each other. What a great piece of furniture for those who enjoy good conversation, like we do!

We spent over an hour exploring the garden before leaving. It was a completely unexpected garden discovery and one that I will remember for a long time.

Once we left the garden, we decided to search for a place to eat lunch. Did we select a unique eatery or small cafe for lunch?

Nope.

I’ve heard great things about Tim Hortons and we don’t have them where I live and they aren’t in Australia, where Andrea lives either, so we decided to eat lunch there to see what all the buzz was about.

 Okay, this isn’t the healthiest lunch, but I did get my pretzel bun club sandwich without mayonnaise and it was delicious.

For dessert, we ate their famous cake batter-flavored donut holes – oh my, they were wonderful! It’s probably a good thing that we don’t have one nearby or my waistline would suffer greatly.

I hope you have enjoyed our Buffalo garden travels so far. You can click here to read about our adventures at the test garden filled with colorful annuals. Next up, a garden from the pages of Harry Potter!

 

**You can follow Andrea’s gardening adventures on her blog.

 

I have a problem in my garden.  The suspects who wreak havoc on my vegetable gardens are furry, have tails and whiskers.  On the surface, they are very cute, but wild on the inside and shy away from contact with humans, except for the neighbor who feeds them.

 

Now before we go further, I must tell you that I like cats – a lot.  I don’t mind them in my backyard and enjoy watching them stretch out in the sun on a winter’s day or enjoying the filtered shade from my trees in summer.  What I don’t like is that they use my raised vegetable beds as a litter box.

To help deter them, I added a motion control sensor that is attached to my hose, which sprays anything that gets too close to the garden (including me if I forget to turn it off before working in the garden).  This has helped, but there is still half of the garden that the cats continue to use as a toilet.  Not a place I want to grow vegetables.  

I had done research on plants that may repel cats, and the herb ‘rue’ (Ruta graveolens) kept coming up.  The problem was, I had a hard time finding it as it’s an old-fashioned herb, and isn’t used much anymore.  

Nursery visits have become more frequent for me lately as I am preparing for a visit from a magazine and a wedding that will be held in out backyard.  So, I’ve been giving my garden a little more attention, and that means plant shopping!

While I was browsing through the aisles at the nursery, I spotted a tray filled with rue plants.  I must admit that I could hardly contain my delight and bought seven without a second thought.  Of course, I also came home with several other plants for the garden too.

I was so thrilled to have found some rue and have a chance to see if it would keep the cats out of the garden.  The dried leaves from rue are also purported to keep cats away, so I can harvest the leaves and use them in other areas if I need to.

The plant itself is attractive with lacy foliage, and the leaves smell just fine to me – cats just don’t like it – hopefully.

I am somewhat hopeful that this will do the trick, but I am also a bit cautious as not all surefire solutions work.  I’ll be sure to let you know if it works to keep the cats out of the vegetable garden.

**Have you ever had a problem with cats in your garden?  What did you do to get rid of them?

 

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*This post contains affiliate links for a product that I have used. If you click on the affiliate link and buy the product, I will receive a small commission at no additional cost to you. Affiliate links help to support this site. Thank you for supporting Ramblings From a Desert Garden.

 

The Christmas season is in full swing and if you are like me, you are busy shopping for the perfect gift for that special somebody in your life.  My gift list is rather long with five kids, three grandchildren, my husband, siblings, nieces, nephews, and my mother.   As a result, quick trips to the store have been inserted into my busy schedule.  This includes dropping by the store on date nights with my husband.

Whittling down my Christmas list online has become my favorite way of finding special items for loved ones.  Just a few minutes sitting at the computer (or on your phone) and you’re done.  It turns out that you can buy just about anything online and that is certainly true of items for gardeners in your life.

As a horticulturist and garden writer, I get to see a lot of products with a garden theme.  So, in anticipation of Christmas and to help you with your shopping list, I am going to feature creative gift ideas, for the next few weeks, for those in your life who like to grow things.

The folks at Dryden Trading Company asked me to try their Vintage Wooden Window Garden Planter Box Kit and sent me one free of charge for me to review.

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VINTAGE HERB KITS

I’m particularly excited about this gift idea as I enjoy growing herbs throughout the year. I grow herbs outdoors all year in my Arizona garden, but I’ve also grown them indoors on my kitchen windowsill, which is why I was excited to try this all-in-one indoor herb kit.

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The kit arrives in a very nice rustic, wooden box complete with lid.  There are several colors available and I chose the white one.  Everything you need is inside the box – plastic planting tray, soil, seeds, plant markers, chalk, and instructions.  All you need to supply is water.

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1. Add soil to the plastic planting tray.  The soil doesn’t completely fill the tray – but not to worry, this is Wonder Soil.

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2. Add water to the soil.  Immediately, the soil began to expand making sounds like those you hear when you add milk to Rice Krispy cereal – kids would love to watch this stage.

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As you can see, the soil now reaches to the top of the plastic tray.  

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3. Plant herb seeds. The kit comes with five packages of herb seeds with enough seeds left over to plant a second crop.  You can always plant your own seeds as well.  I planted all five varieties of herb seeds, although I must admit that I don’t like cilantro.  However, people in my family do, so I planted it.

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4. Add plant markers.  Popsicle sticks with blackboard paint are a very cute way to identify the newly planted herbs.  As I mentioned before, the vintage herb kit includes everything you need, even a stick of chalk.

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Seeds are planted, plant markers are in, and now it’s time to find the right spot for my new planter.

dryden_trading_company_herb_kit_grow_herbs_indoors-125. Place in an area where the herbs will receive at least 6 hours of sun.  I have a sunny kitchen window which works perfectly.

I am looking forward to seeing little green herbs poke up through the soil.  Better yet, I can hardly wait to use them to flavor my favorite dishes.  

If you have someone on your Christmas list who likes to garden or cook with fresh herbs, this would be an excellent gift idea.   You can visit their website to see the different options for ordering a vintage herb garden for a loved one or yourself.

**Come back soon for more gift ideas for those who love to garden.

 

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Do you like to use fresh herbs when you cook?

What if you could just step outside your door and snip some herbs without having to go to the store?   
Have you seen how expensive fresh herbs are at the supermarket by the way?

A few days ago, when I taped some “How To” gardening segments, I was asked to do one on how to plant a container herb garden.   

This is the herb container garden that I created on-camera and I thought you might like to create your own.
 
Here is how to do it:
 
1. Place your container in an area that receives at least 6 hours of sun.
 
Basil
 2.  Fill your container with planting mix, which is sterile, has a light texture and is specially formulated for container plants.  It retains just the right amount of moisture for plants. Potting soil can become soggy.
3. Add a slow-release fertilizer, such as Osmocote, and work it into the top 2-inches of soil.
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4. Plant your herbs. Oregano, rosemary, sage, and thyme are easiest to grow when you start out with transplants. Basil grows easily from seed, but can you also use transplants.
 
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5. Water deeply. Do not wet the foliage when you water them as they prefer to stay dry.
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6. Herbs like to dry out between watering. To check when they need water, simply stick your finger down to 1-inch deep – if the soil is moist, don’t water. However, if it’s almost dry, then water deeply until water runs out the bottom drainage hole.
Purple Basil (Not the healthiest specimen, but it was the only one they had – it was over-watered at the nursery).
7.  Don’t add any additional fertilizer after planting.  Herbs don’t like extra fertilizer since it causes them to grow larger leaves with fewer oils, which is what gives them their flavor.
 
I am going to place my new herb container in front of my new vegetable garden.  
 
Later, I plan on drying some of my herbs, which I will share with you.