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. 

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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One of the many blessings of living in the desert is that you can garden all year.  That means that you can have beautiful color all year, even in the winter (above).

Drive down the street during the summer, and you will see flowering plants in the common areas and gracing the front yards of everywhere you look.  Texas Sage, Bougainvillea, Lantana, and Tecoma species dot the landscape.

 

Why then do people not include plants that will provide color in the winter?  You can take the same drive as you did in the summer and see nothing but green blobs and nothing else (below).  The landscape below is an unfortunate victim of ‘poodle’ pruning.  We are so fortunate to live in an area with relatively mild winters, so why not take advantage of that fact in your garden?

 

I mean, who thinks that this looks nice?  Countless times, when I am meeting with clients, they ask, “My landscape is so boring.  What can I do to make it look better?”  The majority of the time, I hear this from winter residents.  Their landscape is a riot of color in the summer when they are gone.  But, in the winter when they are there, they have green blobs and little else.

The landscape (above) has potential.  The solution to a somewhat boring landscape is easy.  Add winter-flowering plants to the landscape.

 
When I create a landscape design for a brand new landscape, I make sure to include a variety of plants that flower at a different time of the year.  This ensures year-round color.  If you have an established landscape, add a few winter-flowering plants.  That is all it takes.
 
For beautiful winter color,  I recommend trying the following:
 
Valentine (Eremophila ‘Valentine)
Valentine flowers beginning in December, around Christmas 
 
 
Purple Lilac Vine (Hardenbergia violaceae)
Flowers in February, absolutely stunning flowers 
Angelita Daisy (Tetraneuris acaulis)
Formerly Hymenoxys acaulis 
Flowers all year 
 
Globe Mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua)
Blackfoot Daisy (Melampodium leucanthum)
 
Parry’s Penstemon (Penstemon parryi)
Desert Senna (Senna artemisiodes ssp. sturtii)
Formerly (Cassia sturtii)
  
Baja Fairy Duster (Calliandra californica)
Flowers all year
Damianita (Chrysactinia mexicana)
 
Firecracker Penstemon (Penstemon eatonii)
Mine is beginning to bloom now
 
Pink Autumn Sage (Salvia greggii)

 As you can tell, there are countless plants that you can use for winter color.  If you are only a winter-resident, then you may choose only to have plants that flower in winter.  As for me, I love lots of color year-round.  My favorites are Purple Lilac Vine, Firecracker Penstemon, Valentine, and Angelita Daisy.

 
Whether you live in the Tropics or Canada, this same principle is true for any climate you live in – make sure your garden provides color for you when you are there.

I want to share with you three amazing plants that I encountered on Saturday, each with pink flowers, yet each one so different from the other.  I spent the afternoon at the Arboretum at Arizona State University (my alma mater).  Many people are surprised to find out that they have a wonderful arboretum that encompasses the entire main campus.  I had a wonderful time just walking around and taking pictures of beautiful trees and plants, my husband patiently trailing behind me with the kids.

OK, first the pretty…

 Queen’s Wreath, Coral Vine (Antigonon leptopus)
Queen’s Wreath is a beautiful vine that is native to Mexico and Central America.  Stunning pink sprays of flowers appear in spring and last until the first frost.  The most common variety has vibrant pink blossoms.  However, there is a scarlet variety ‘Baja Red’ and also a rare white variety as well.  Bees are attracted to the flowers, and the leaves are an attractive heart-shape.

Queen’s Wreath can grow in full sun including areas of reflected heat.  It will also grow in light shade although flowering will be reduced.

This beautiful vine will die back at the first frost, but it’s roots are hardy to 20 degrees F.   In the spring, it quickly grows back and requires a trellis, fence or an arbor for support.
**When we bought our first home in Phoenix, there was support made up of twine tied between two Palm trees.  We had no idea why, but it sure looked ugly.  Well, before we had time to remove it, beautiful, light green, heart-shaped leaves began climbing up the twine support and quickly covered it.  Then gorgeous sprays of pink flowers promptly followed, which was a pleasant surprise.
Next, the amusing…..
 

Chinese Lantern Tree, Sickle Bush (Dichrostachys cinerea)

I had to laugh when I saw this flower.  I think it looks like it is having a bad hair day.  You can see why some people call it Chinese Lantern tree because the flowers do resemble them and it sounds better than calling it “Bad Hair Day Tree.” 

The tree itself is relatively unremarkable.  The flowers are not distinct.  It is native to the tropical areas of Africa, parts of Southeast Asia and Australia.  It grows well in full sun or filtered shade.  In wet, tropical areas, it can be invasive.  However, in our dry climate, that is not a problem.

 Seed Pods

**Okay, I have to admit, that I had to look up information on this Chinese Lantern tree – I hate admitting that.  I do not profess to know about every type of plant; this is easily evidenced by my travels to colder climates where I know about only a fraction of what the plants are there.   But this one was in my backyard.  I had never seen this type of tree before and had never learned about it either.  So, I went through my countless dry climate plant books hoping to find what type of tree this was, and only one book had it listed, (which made me feel better).  It is not common here in Arizona, but I guarantee that I will never forget it.

Now finally, the unique
Floss Silk Tree (Ceiba speciosa, formerly Chorisia speciosa)
The flowers of this tree make you stop in your tracks – they are that beautiful and unique.  Unfortunately, the flowers were all gone except for the one above, which was almost ready to fall.  The flowers are produced primarily in fall and winter months.  Some trees will produce flowers once they drop their leaves in winter, while other varieties flower both with and without the leaves being present.  Although the flowers are a striking feature, there is more

Their trunk is covered with cone-shaped thorns.

This beautiful tree does well in full sun or part shade.  They do grow quite large, up to 40 ft. Wide and 50 ft. Tall.  Silk Floss trees are native to Brazil and Argentina.
**So, I was done for the day.  I had two memory cards full of photos, sore feet, and a patient husband and kids, walking with me to the car.  I was about to get in when I saw the Silk Floss tree next to the parking garage.  So my husband, who knows me all too well, wordlessly unpacked the camera so I could take the last few photos.  Occasionally see these trees around the Phoenix area, but rarely, so I was thrilled to get these pictures.
I hoped you enjoyed my visions of pink.  I will post more of my expedition at a later time.  I’m pretty sure it will take me a long time to catalog all of the photos I took.

Has this happened to you?  You walk through the nursery, and you spot “the perfect plant.”   You can envision it in your yard and know precisely where you will put it.  


After coming home and planting it, you pat yourself on the back for finding such a great plant.  Time passes, and your beautiful plant starts to grow, and grow and grow.

Texas Sage ‘Green Cloud’ (Leucophyllum frutescens ‘Green Cloud’) 1-gallon
Approximately 1 ft. Wide and tall. 
 
 
Texas Sage ‘Green Cloud’ pruned like ‘cupcakes.’
 
Fast forward a year or two now it looks bad unless you constantly prune making it high maintenance.  Now your beautiful plant no longer looks so lovely (above and below).  It now looks more like a ‘cupcake’ because you have had to prune it back to keep it small enough for your space.  


No more flowers, no nice foliage…

More ‘cupcakes.’

Unfortunately, there is an epidemic in our area of homeowners and landscapers who prune flowering shrubs so that they end up looking like ‘cupcakes’ or ‘poodles’ just so that they fit into their allotted space.  More about that in another post…
Texas Sage ‘Green Cloud’ in its natural shape.
They can grow up to 8 ft. high and wide but can be easily maintained at a more moderate 4′ x 4′.
Texas Sage Flower 
Also with flowers this beautiful, why plant it somewhere where you will have to prune them off so that it can fit?  
 
So our lesson is…. be sure to READ THE LABEL of plants before you buy them, which should list how large they will grow, along with the correct sun exposure.  If it’s not listed, ask the nursery salesperson for this information, or use your smartphone to get the information.  


Then you can go home and place your new “perfect plant” where they will have plenty of room to ‘stretch out’ and dazzle you with their beauty. 


**Allowing enough room for plants is just part of what it takes to grow attractive shrubs.  Pruning is the next part of the equation.  Click here for guidelines on how to properly prune your flowering shrubs.

Do you ever wonder what plants look good together?  Below are pictures of some of my favorite plant combinations along with some general guidelines that I follow when designing a garden.

Sometimes red and pink colors always compliment each other.  Introducing yellow flowering plants provide a high color contrast that brings out the red and pink colors.  Above is a golf course landscape that I planted with Valentine shrub (Eremophila ‘Valentine’), Parry’s penstemon (Penstemon parryi) and desert marigold (Baileya multiradiata) against the backdrop of foothill palo verde trees.

 

Parry’s agave (Agave parryi) with purple trailing lantana (Lantana montevidensis)

Also, succulents paired with perennials almost always compliment each other with their contrasting shades of green and textures.  Other recommended succulent and perennial pairings include desert spoon (Dasylirion wheeleri) alongside black dalea (Dalea frutescens), prickly pear species with penstemon or try octopus agave (Agave vilmoriniana) with purple or white trailing lantana.

Autumn Sage (Salvia greggii ‘Red’)
   
Blackfoot Daisy (Melampodium leucanthum)

I use plants with white flowers as a backdrop for plants with red, pink and purple flowers; I like the way the white flowers emphasize the other colors.

‘Rio Bravo’ Sage (Leucophyllum langmaniae) & Red Bird-of-Paradise (Caesalpinia pulcherrima)

Most of the time the pairing of purple flowering plants with those that have orange flowers always looks great.  When deciding what colors look good when paired together, it helps to look at a color wheel.  In general, the colors that are opposite each other look great when paired together because their colors contrast so well.  Other orange, purple plant combinations to try are cape honeysuckle (Tecomaria capensis) with (Leucophyllum species), or  Mexican honeysuckle (Justicia spicigera) with purple lantana. 

Angelita daisy (Tetraneuris acaulis) and parry’s penstemon (Penstemon parryi)
 

Also, I believe that any garden looks better with some yellow flowering plants.  As I mentioned earlier, the color yellow makes the other plants look better, (think of the color wheel).   I have had clients that have said they do not like yellow until I show them how much better their other plants look when we introduce just a few yellow flowering plants to their landscape and they quickly change their mind.

 
Yellow Bells (Tecoma stans stans)
Bougainvillea ‘Barbara Karst’
 

I often recommend the following for those who are looking for large shrub combinations.  Okay, I realize that many people either love or hate bougainvillea. Personally, I love them.  I have two bougainvilleas and since I don’t have a swimming pool, so I am not bothered by their litter. Their beautiful and vibrant colors are amazing.

I pair my bougainvillea with yellow bell shrubs.  Their colors contrast nicely, and they screen out the back wall of my garden.  I give them plenty of room to grow, and they produce beautiful flowers spring through fall.  If you do have a swimming pool and don’t like bougainvillea, how about trying orange jubilee (Tecoma hybrid ‘Orange Jubilee’) and Texas Sage (Leucophyllum frutescens) together?
 
Weber’s agave (Agave weberi) and purple trailing lantana
 
I have just one more tip –  if you want to pair flowering plants together to enjoy the contrasting colors, make sure that they bloom at the same time of year.  It is so easy to visit the plant nursery and see the pretty photos of flowers on the different plants and pick what ones you think will look great together only to discover later that one flower in the fall while the other blooms in spring and so you never see their flowers at the same time.
 
So, visit your local nursery and try some of the suggested plant combinations or see what beautiful plant pairings you come up with for your garden.
Blue Palo Verde (Parkinsonia florida)

When people think of the Sonoran desert, hillsides studded with saguaro cactus and cholla often come to mind.   But interspersed between the cactus, you will find the iconic palo verde trees with their beautiful green trunks and branches.

The word “Palo Verde” means “green stick” in Spanish, referring to their green trunk, which is a survival mechanism in response to drought.  
 
Palo verde trees are “drought deciduous,” which means that they will drop their leaves in response to a drought situation.  Their green trunks and branches can carry on photosynthesis, even in the absence of leaves. 

‘Desert Museum’ Palo Verde (Parkinsonia hybrid ‘Desert Museum’)

Palo verde trees act as a “nurse plant” to young saguaro cacti by protecting them from the cold in the winter and from the intense sun in the summer.  Beautiful, yellow flowers are the product in the spring.    

  ‘Desert Museum’ Flower
There are three species of palo verde that are native to the desert Southwest; blue palo verde (Parkinsonia florida), formerly (Cercidium floridum), foothill palo verde (Parkinsonia microphylla), formerly (Cercidium microphyllum) and ‘desert museum’ palo verde (Parkinsonia x ‘Desert Museum’)
 

Another species of palo verde that is prevalent in the landscape are called palo brea (Parkinsonia praecox), formerly (Cercidium praecox).  They have a dusty green trunk and branches that twist and turn.  Their cold hardiness range is around 15 to 20 degrees F.

Palo Brea
PALO VERDE USES: Palo verde trees serve as beautiful specimen trees where their green trunks, branch structure, and flowers serve as an attractive focal point in the landscape.  They are drought tolerant, once established and provide lovely filtered shade year-round.  
 
When deciding where to place your tree, be sure to take into account that they need a lot of room to grow, mature sizes are listed below.  
 
Palo Verdes don’t do well when planted in grass and will decline over time.  Locate away from swimming pools due to flower litter in the spring.
Because of their more massive thorns and branching tendency to point downwards, palo brea trees aren’t recommended in areas close to foot traffic.  
  
Mature Sizes:
Blue Palo Verde – 30 ft x 30 ft
‘Desert Museum’ Palo Verde – 30 ft high x 40 ft wide
Palo Brea – 30 ft x 25 ft
Foothills Palo Verde – 20 ft x 20 ft
As with many desert trees, Palo Verde trees have thorns, except for the ‘Desert Museum’ Palo Verde.  

Foothills Palo Verde
PALO VERDE MAINTENANCE:  Prune to elevate the canopy and maintain good structure.  Avoid hedging and “topping” trees as this stimulates excess, weak growth.
 
MY FAVORITE: As a landscape manager, horticulturist and arborist, I have grown and maintained all of the palo verde species mentioned, and I truly enjoy them all.  However, at home, I have 4 ‘Desert Museum’ trees.  In comparison to the other species, their trunks are a deeper green; they produce larger flowers, are thornless and grow very quickly in the desert.  Also, they require little, if any, tree staking when planted.