Do you have a neat and tidy front landscape?  One where plants are pruned neatly and at the right time of year.  Where drip lines are covered up and where there is never a weed in sight?

Or maybe you would describe your front garden space as somewhat natural and untamed.  Where plants are late in getting pruned (if at all), drip tubing is exposed and where weeds can be found lurking in hidden corners?

Today, I’d like to share with you a story of two landscapes – the ‘neat and tidy’ neighbors have a perfectly lovely landscape filled with a combination of flowering plants and succulents.  There is always something blooming in their garden in all seasons.

They even planted the outside of their side wall with pinky muhly grasses even though they don’t see this area of their landscape.

Now, let’s look at the second set of neighbors who have a ‘natural and untamed’ garden…  

While this landscape is also filled with flowering plants at all seasons, you’ll notice a weed or two next to the purple trailing lantana, exposed drip tubing and a smattering of dead leaves from the nearby tree.

The plants in the ‘natural and untamed’ landscape aren’t always pruned right away and sometimes grow into nearby plants before being pruned.

If you look carefully, you’ll often find a weed (sometimes two or five) hiding alongside shrubs and underneath groundcovers.

Despite their differences in their landscape maintenance practices, the neighbors are good friends and have lived near each other for over 10 years.

Now that I have created the setting, I’d like to share with you something that happened this week that made the owner of the ‘natural and untamed’ garden absurdly happy.    

As she was driving by her ‘neat and tidy’ neighbor’s house, she noticed something definitely out of place.

At first, she could hardly believe what she was seeing – a weed!  It was something that she had NEVER seen growing in her neighbor’s landscape.

And it wasn’t just a little weed – it was a really big one!

The sight of this unwelcome weed brought a smile to her face as she drove a couple of houses down to her ‘natural and untamed’ landscape filled with more weeds than she would care to admit to hiding among the rambling shrubs and groundcovers.

This tale of two landscapes and a single weed leads me to ask you this question:

Which type of landscape does yours resemble?

Neat & Tidy or Natural & Untamed

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As you may have guessed (or recognized my landscape), one of the neighbors in this story is me and before I wrote this story, I got my neighbor’s permission to show their single, solitary weed.

While I like the idea of having a neat and tidy garden, I am frankly so busy helping others with their landscapes that I don’t always have time to tend mine as much as I would like.

Maybe someday, we will have time to cover up the drip tubing, get rid of all our weeds and prune our plants at the right time of year.

But, I wouldn’t hold my breath….

Do you like discovering new things?

I do. Particularly newer plant introductions. New plant hybrids are always being discovered and I am always on the look out for new ones.  I like to use newer plant introductions in landscapes to help give them a new and updated look. 

Last week, I told you about my partnership with Monrovia plants and selecting two new plants for my garden. 

While shopping at the nursery for plants, there were many different plants to choose from. As I walked through the nursery, I was tempted by lavender but then a display of Monrovia cacti and succulents caught my eye.

This tiny prickly pear grows 8 inches tall and 24 inches wide.

It looked so cute, I almost reached out to touch it, but stopped myself just in time.

Santa rita and purple prickly pear are among my favorite types of cacti. I like their blue gray pads touched by purple. ‘Baby rita’(Opuntia basilaris ‘Baby Rita’) is a great alternative for smaller areas or you can group 3 of them together.  

The next plant I was tempted by was ‘Lucky Crown’ agave(Agave Kissho Kan).  These are small agave that reach 18 inches high and wide.  They have beautiful, variegated leaves with maroon teeth along the edges.

I must admit that I was sorely tempted by both of these plants, but I decided on two different drought tolerant plants.

Have you seen any new plants that you have been tempted by?

To see what two plants I did come home with, click here.

Do you ever find yourself pulling into the drive-thru of a fast food restaurant?

I do.

Lately, I have been very busy with landscape consults as well as working on a large golf course re-landscaping project, which have resulted in more than my share of visits to the local drive-thru.  Add to that my preparations for a local craft fair in November (along with my sister and mom where I am making basil salt, seed bombs and air plants mounted on creosote roots), preparations for an upcoming family reunion as well as hosting my daughter’s baby shower – we will probably be making quite a few more visits to the drive-thru.

Normally, drive-thru restaurants are places where you can see examples of poor design showcasing overplanted and over pruned shrubs that are too large for the narrow landscape spaces by the drive-thru lane.  However, I was truly surprised during one trip through at my local fast food restaurant.

First, let’s look at the landscaping you normally find as you visit the drive-thru…

Over pruned feathery cassia shrubs (Senna artemisioides)

These shrubs would actually work well in this space if you reduced the amount down to three and allowed them to grow to their natural size and form…

Feathery cassia in bloom

Do you think that those overpruned shrubs ever have any flowers appearing in late winter and spring, like this one?

I didn’t think so.

In the Southwest, the types of shrubs that you are most likely to see growing along drive-thru landscapes are oleander and Texas sage species.

Lately, Valentine bush, which is one of my favorite shrubs, has also been showing up more often in these areas.

Again, the problem is too many plants in not enough space.  Couple that with the compulsive need to strip the natural beauty from these beautiful, flowering shrubs in an attempt to create anonymous green shapes and you have the perfect scenario for drive-thru landscapes.

With so many bad examples of landscaping while visiting the drive-thru, I must admit that I’ve become somewhat de-sensitized and purposely ignore it.

However, a recent visit to the drive-thru made me take a second look as I drove past this…

Notice anything different?

The plants actually fit into this space and without over pruning!

There is room for the bougainvillea against the wall to grow and while the lantana could use a little more room – it is looking great too.

What I really liked about this landscape was the use of banana yucca.  Its leaves added great spiky texture and the flowers are just lovely.

*I did notice the overpruned dwarf oleanders in the background, but I’m ignoring them.

Using fewer shrubs and allowing them room to grow is a great start to rethinking the drive-thru landscape.

The next important part is to stop the frequent pruning of flowering shrubs.

I’d love to see a mix of shrubs and succulents in drive-thru landscapes for more interest, less maintenance and that is more water efficient.

For now, I will keep trying to keep my eyes open for another great example of a drive-thru landscape.

But, I think it may be awhile…

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For other examples of drive-thru landscapes, click here.

If you have shrubs that resemble this and would like to have beautiful shrubs with a pleasing natural shape that actually flowers as well as see some other examples of bad pruning – click here for some of my favorite pruning posts.

Do you like palo verde trees?

I must confess that I fell in love with these iconic desert trees with their green trunks and yellow flowers when I moved to Arizona 28 years ago.

Some people may resent the mess that the fallen flowers leave behind in late spring, but I don’t mind – they look like a carpet of yellow.

Blue palo verde (Parkinsonia florida) are on my ‘fuss-free’ list of trees that add beauty to the arid landscape.

How about you?  Do you like blue palo verde trees?

Want to learn more about this desert beauty?  Check out my latest plant profile for Houzz.com:

 
 
 

Have you ever had something happen to you that was such a coincidence that it was hard to believe?  Recently, I had one such experience.

 
It all happened on a beautiful, sunny morning in August…

But first, a little background:

Those of you who have been reading my blog for a long time may remember me sharing about my past job as a landscape designer.  I wrote about my adventures that you can read about, here.  

There were things that I enjoyed about my job and others things that I did not.

However, I did enjoy working with clients and helping design the landscape of their dreams.

*Okay, back to my amazing ‘coincidence’ story.

It was a beautiful, sunny day and I was on my way to an appointment for a landscape consult – (I work for myself now).

As I got off the freeway and started driving through the residential streets, I realized that I had designed a landscape there years ago when I worked for the landscape design company.

As I got closer to my destination, I saw that I was in the same neighborhood.  I promised myself that I would try to find the same house after I was finished with my appointment.

My GPS directed me down the street where my ultimate destination was and soon I found myself sitting in front of the SAME house that I had originally designed back in 2008.

Hard to believe?

My first reaction was “I can’t believe it!”

I had designed hundreds of landscapes and the chances of being called back to the same one by a different owner was so small.

The second reaction was, I hope they don’t hate their existing landscape – if they did, I wasn’t sure I would tell them that I was the original designer.

But then I remembered that my client had told me via email that she and her husband had just moved into their new home and wanted to learn about the plants in their landscape and how to take care of them – they had no idea that I was the original designer.

I knocked on the door and my client greeted me and proceeded to take me into their backyard.

Now 

The first thing I saw was the pathway made up of broken concrete (called ‘urbanite’) that was had already been present the first time…

Then 

I did have pictures of the landscape when it had been newly installed in 2008.

The new homeowner told me that she and her husband had bought the home because they loved the relaxing backyard landscape.

I then told her that I had been the original designer.  She couldn’t believe it either!

Now 

As we walked into the backyard, the details of the design came flooding back.

Would you believe that there used to be a swimming pool in this backyard?  

Then

Back in 2008, we filled in the pool and added mounds, boulders, drought tolerant plants and a palo verde tree. 

Now

The original owners wanted to get rid of their pool, which they hardly used to convert it into a drought-tolerant landscape with a seating area underneath a tree.

I had designed a meandering path from the patio which ended in a seating area made from flagstone.

Then

You can really tell how much the tree and other plants have grown over the past 7 years.

Now

While the overall landscape looked good and I was happy with how the design turned out – but there was an issue.

Most of the plants were brown and straggly – not very attractive and showing signs of under watering.

The new homeowner provided me with the irrigation schedule that the original homeowners had been using and it was easy to see why some of the plants were a bit small for their age and didn’t look great – they were getting too little water.

Then

I helped her adjust her irrigation schedule and assured her that her plants would soon improve in appearance.

Although some of the original plants had been lost due to under watering, I remembered what they were and was able to give her a list of replacements to buy.

As I got ready to leave, the homeowner told me that she couldn’t wait to tell her husband that by sheer coincidence, their landscape consultant turned out to be the original designer.

I drove away with a huge smile on my face because it isn’t often that a residential landscape designer gets to see their designed landscape a few years later.

It made my job feel very rewarding that day 🙂

**For information on watering guidelines for the low desert including how to avoid over & under watering, click here.  

I have been dreaming of converting our backyard into a beautiful, low-maintenance desert landscape.

Right now, it has a large area of grass surrounded by large, flowering shrubs against the wall.  I would have loved to have taken out the grass years ago, but my husband and son protested since they would throw the football back and forth each evening before dinner.

But, now my son is almost 12 and often throws the football over the wall, so now I have been give permission to at least start thinking of converting the backyard.

Often, on my way home from a landscape consult, I will mentally design my new backyard garden.  I have some concrete ideas, but there is still a lot to be decided.

Whenever I see a landscape area that I like, I stop to take a picture.  I have quite a few pictures that I have taken of landscapes that inspire me.

Here are just a few…

Red flowering Chuparosa, growing underneath native mesquite and foothills palo verde trees.  A hedgehog cactus grows by a large boulder.  Mexican bird-of-paradise, trained as trees are growing in the background. 

Goodding’s verbena, chuparosa and brittlebush blooming with creosote bush in the background. 

Desert ruellia provides an attractive background for golden barrel cacti.  This area needs to be pruned once every 2 years. 

Young palo verde tree with potted artichoke agave. 

I am still in the “designing inside my mind” stage, but will soon need to put things down on paper.  I have my drafting supplies ready to go once I am.

Of course, the entire project hinges on having enough money for large containers, big boulders, trees, plants, dirt for mounds and paying someone to rip out our grass.

I would hope to be able to do this next winter, but we will see…

Which one of the landscape areas above do you like best?  

Have you ever given much thought about how sustainable your landscape is?

I must confess that I have been giving it a lot of thought lately.

I am busy putting the final touches on a presentation that I am giving tomorrow on “New Ideas for Sustainable Landscaping”.

The community where I am giving this talk, asked me to speak on this subject in their continuing efforts to become an Audubon International Sustainable Community.

There will be other experts on hand to discuss other ways that people and communities can become sustainable.

My talk will focus on three ways to create a more sustainable landscape:

– Maximize the use of arid-adapted plants.

– Utilize a good, functional design that is environmentally-friendly.

– Appropriate maintenance is practiced.

Next week, I will write a series of blog posts that will focus on these three ideas.

My hope is that you will be able to implement some of these things in your own landscape.

In the meantime, please wish me luck for my talk tomorrow!

When I am driving about town, I tend to look at the landscapes that I pass by.  Usually, I tend to see some “landscape no-no’s”, which I like to share with you now and then.

But, I also take pictures of what I like to call “landscape do’s”.  I realized the other day, that I tend to share with you bad examples of landscapes much more then the good ones, so here are a few that I saw the past couple of weeks…

I love Gold Lantana and how it flowers non-stop spring through fall.  When planted next to boulders, you get a great contrast in textures.

What is even better about this arrangement, is how easy Lantana is to grow.  Unlike many tropical climates, Lantana is not invasive in arid climates.  Just water it regularly and prune it back hard in spring (6″ high), after the last frost.  Periodically prune it back every 2 – 3 months, stopping pruning 3 months before the first frost date in your area.  

Sometimes, I see great examples of desert trees that are properly pruned.

This Texas Ebony (Ebanopsis ebano formerly Pithecellobium flexicaule) is beautiful tree that is prized for its dark green foliage that is evergreen.

It does have thorns and gets seedpods, but it highly prized by those who live in the Southwest.

This nicely designed landscape was located next door to a house where I was visiting a client.

I like how the columnar cacti flank the entry on either side.  Totem Pole (Lophocereus schotti ‘Monstrosus’) is on the left and has the bonus that it is thornless.  Another favorite of mine, Mexican Fence Post (Pachycereus marginatus), which is one of the few cacti that I have in my own garden.

The yellows of the Golden Barrel (Echinocactus grusonii)with their rounded shapes contrast nicely with the spiky fans of Desert Spoon (Dasylirion wheeleri).

**Another bonus about this landscape is that it is extremely low-maintenance.

While stopped at an intersection in Scottsdale, Arizona, I noticed this distinctive landscaped area with contrasting spokes of a wheel fanning out from the sign.

Different sizes of gravel are often used to add interest to the landscape by the contrasts in size.

Agave and Aloe vera make up the plantings in the lighter colored spokes while Golden Barrel are used in the darker rip rap.

Well, these are just a small sampling of the “landscape do’s” that I have seen lately.

I hope you enjoyed seeing them and maybe will be inspired to replicate a couple of these plantings in your own landscape.

This past week, I have been sharing with you my latest landscape project that is located next to a golf course.

I shared with you the tree and shrubs that I had chosen and not it’s time to show you what perennials and succulents that will be going in.

*All the following perennials are drought tolerant and require full sun with well-drained soil.

Damianita(Chrysactinia mexicana) is a fabulous flowering ground cover.

It thrives in locations with hot, reflected heat and handles cold temperatures (down to 0 degrees F) just as well.

In spring and again in fall, masses of bright yellow flowers cover this low-growing perennial.  When not in bloom, it has dark green needle-like foliage.

Newly planted landscape with Purple Trailing Lantana, Parry’s Penstemon, Desert Spoon, Palo Blanco trees and Damianita.

I have used Damianita in other landscapes that I have designed in the past (shown above), with great results.

*The trick to keeping Damianita looking great is to shear it back in late spring.

Firecracker Penstemon(Penstemon eatoni) is my favorite flowering perennial.  The one pictured above, is in my own garden.

I am often asked about this brilliantly colored plant in spring when it is in bloom.

One of the reasons that I love this Penstemon is that is begins flowering in winter, in zone 9b and continues on into spring.  In cooler zones, it begins flowering in spring and lasts into summer.  It handles cold temperatures easily and is hardy to zone 5.

Hummingbirds find the flowers irresistible.  To prolong bloom, prune off the flowering stalks once the flowers begin to fade and you will be rewarded with another flush of bloom.

Angelita Daisies(Tetraneuris acaulis formerly, Hymenoxys acaulis) are what you could call one of my ‘signature’ plants, because I use them often, like the landscape I designed, above.

I find them invaluable in the landscape because they flower off and on throughout the year, with the heaviest bloom occurring in spring.

They easily handle full sun and reflected heat and look great in pots.  I like to plant them next to boulders in groups of 3 or 5 for best effect.   Cold temperatures are no problem either because they are hardy to zone 5.

Maintenance is easy – simply shear the flowers every 8 weeks or so.

Now, so far I have shown you the trees, shrubs and perennials planned for this area.  But, I want to add succulent plants, which are also used as accent plants.  These types of plants add texture to the landscape because their unique shapes contrast well with the softer, more rounded shapes of the shrubs and perennials.

Weber’s Agave(Agave weberi) is a large agave that can grow 5 to 6 ft. high and up to 8 ft. wide.

In large landscape areas, I don’t want to use small succulents because it will be hard to see them unless you mass a lot of them together.  My budget won’t allow for that with this project.

I love how this large agave can stand up on its own.  I like to plant flowering ground covers underneath them.

Plant in full sun or light shade.  Weber’s Agave is hardy to zone 7.  *Agave need supplemental water in our climate to look their best.  I recommend watering twice a month in summer and once a month in spring and fall.  

You can’t get much more unique in shape and coloring then Purple Prickly Pear(Opuntia santa-rita).

I love the gray pads with shades of purple.

The purple color deepens in cold temperatures or in times of drought.  

In spring, yellow flowers cover this beautiful cactus.

Hardy to zone 8, plant in full sun and well-drained soil.

**If you notice white cottony masses on your prickly pear, simply spray it off with a hose.  They are caused by an insect.

Okay, are you ready for my last plant selection for this new project?

It is hard to find a succulent that works harder then Red Yucca(Hesperaloe parviflora).  Despite their common name, they aren’t a yucca.

The lower, succulent leaves resemble ornamental grasses.  In spring coral-colored flowers are borne above the grass-like foliage.

Hardy to zone 7, Red Yucca thrives in full sun.  While drought-tolerant, they do best with supplemental water.

Maintenance is easy – just remove the flowering stalks as they begin to fade.

*There is a common mistake that landscapers often make with this succulent plant.  To make sure this doesn’t happen to you, check out my previous post, “Do This NOT That”.

The last element for my newest project isn’t a plant at all, but it adds height and texture to the landscape without requiring any water or pruning…

Boulders!

I will use boulders interspersed throughout this flat area to add height.  The boulders will have either a succulent and/or flowering perennials planted next to them.

Well, I must say that I am excited to get started on this project.  We will wait until this fall for the planting.

I’ll be sure to take you all along as it progresses.

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7 days until my daughter, Rachele, comes home from the Navy!!!  

In my last post “A Long Forgotten Area Ready for Transformation”, I told you that I would share what plants I was going to have put in this neglected area.

The plants I chose are based on the following:

– I have grown them myself in either my home garden and/or in landscapes I have managed.

– They are relatively low-maintenance.

– Drought-tolerant.

– The plant palette will also ensure year round color, with at least one or more plants being in bloom at a given time.

So are you ready to see what I chose?

Let’s start with the trees…

The area has two large Foothills Palo Verde trees along with a Wolfberry tree, so I chose one other type of tree to add.

Desert Willow (Chilopsis linearis) is one of my favorite desert trees.  It is not a true willow, but is named for the fact that its leaves are willow-shaped.

Colorful flowers appear throughout the summer that add a vibrant punch of color to the landscape.

Hardy to zone 6, Desert Willow requires well-drained soil and full sun or filtered shade.

For more information on Desert Willow along with the different varieties available, check out my Houzz article about this lovely tree.

Now for the shrubs…

Valentine Bush (Eremophila maculata ‘Valentine’) is my favorite shrub of all time. I will never forget the day when I was first introduced to this red-flowering shrub, by Mountain States Wholesale Nursery.  It was 1999 and I was a horticulturist fresh out of college.

I was given 2 Valentine shrubs from Mountain States to plant in the landscape area I managed.  Ever since then, I have been hooked.

Red flowers appear on this shrub, beginning in January and lasting until April.  If you haven’t noticed it before, there isn’t much blooming in winter, which is one of the reasons I love Valentine.

The foliage is evergreen and Valentine are hardy to zone 8.  Better yet, they only need to be pruned once a year – in spring after flowering.

Plant in full sun and well-drained soil.

For more information about Valentine, check out my post about this great plant.

My second choice for shrubs is Baja Ruellia (Ruellia peninsularis).

Now, this isn’t its rather invasive cousin Ruellia (Ruellia brittoniana), pictured below…

Baja Ruellia is what I like to think of as a smaller version of Texas Sage species (Leucophyllum sp).  It doesn’t get as large and has a longer flowering season then Leucophyllum.

The flowers of Baja Ruellia are tubular and appear spring through fall, with the heaviest bloom occurring in spring.

The foliage is light green and rarely suffers frost damage in our zone 9b climate.  Hardy to zone 9, Baja Ruellia should be planted in full sun and well-drained soil.

The third shrub for this area will be Silvery Cassia (Senna phyllodenia).  This Australian native does very well in arid landscapes.

The silvery foliage will provide contrast to the darker greens present in the landscape.  Evergreen to 20 degrees, this shrub flourishes in zone 9 landscapes.

Yellow flowers appear in late winter and into spring.  Pruning is needed after flowering, to remove seed pods in managed landscapes.

Like the other shrubs, Silvery Cassia enjoys full sun and well-drained soil.

The smallest shrub for this area will be Autumn Sage (Salvia greggii).  This plant is hard to zone 7, so remains evergreen during winter here.

Flowers appear fall through spring in the low desert.  The most common colors are red or pink, although there are other colors such as white, lavender and peach. 

I like to use Autumn Sage around trees like Palo Verde, where the filtered shade shelters it from the intense summer sun.  I first saw them planted around a tree at the Desert Botanical Garden and I really liked the way it looked, so I have repeated this design in many of my landscapes.

The Autumn Sage above, was planted by me around a Foothills Palo Verde about 12 years ago and they are still going strong.

I still have perennials and accent plants to show you that I have included in the design and I’ll share them with you next time.

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Life around our household has been busy lately….

School is back in session (for which I am extremely grateful for 😉

My son Kai, has ditched his wheelchair for a walker and will soon be able to walk without it.

AND

My daughter, will soon come home after leaving 5 months ago for the Navy.  She is graduating from her Equipment Operator School next week and will be an official ‘SeaBee’.  She will be on leave for 2 weeks before she reports for combat training in Mississippi, where she will be stationed for a month.

The BEST news is that her permanent base will be in Port Hueneme, which is where she wanted to be.  What is even better for us, is that it is in Southern California, just 7 hours from home!!!

We are getting ready to celebrate her homecoming, which I will share with all of you 🙂