I must admit, that I have been looking forward to this topic and have been pouring over past photos of my landscape consults.  I didn’t realize how many photos that I had accrued over the years of boring gardens so it has taken me a while to put this post together.

My last post asked the question, “Does Your Garden Have the Blahs?”  Is it boring, overgrown, sparse, or just lacks interest?  Well, don’t worry; we will go over some simple steps that you can do to chase the ‘blahs’ away.

Part 1 has to do with deciding what to take out of the garden and what to keep.  Your homework assignment was to take a picture of your garden and then print it out.  Now, get out your red pen and get ready…..

boring gardens

Now at first glance, you may be wondering what is wrong with this front garden.  Well, the homeowners felt their garden was boring and lacked color.   This garden had some attractive plants, but some were too large for their allotted space and had to be pruned continuously.  Other shrubs were not placed correctly and blocked the view of those behind them.

So, I got out my red pen and got started…..

boring gardens

Shrubs that blocked the view into the garden and were too large for their allotted space and so were circled in red and removed.  Those circled in blue were pruned back.

boring gardens

Shortly afterward, you can see the difference removing a few plants and some pruning makes.  The client also added some new plants (not blooming in this picture) that would provide color in the winter when they were in residence.

Here is an example of a gardener who got a little carried away……

boring gardens

This garden is not what I would call ‘blah’, but the homeowner tried to fit all of her favorite plants into a very small area.  All they succeeded in doing was to create a messy planting area, which is not pleasing to the eye.

boring gardens

I counted at least 6 shrubs in this small area.  Because they were so crowded, they had been pruned often to keep them from overtaking each other and removing many of the flowers in the process.  By removing 3 of the plants, the rest would have room to grow into their natural shapes and provide a beautiful focal point to this garden.

boring gardens

This front garden has a grove of beautiful trees.  However, there are four trees crowded into too small a space.  Each individual tree had to be pruned to keep them from running into each other and therefore, you could not enjoy their full size and beauty.  

By removing the circled trees the two remaining trees would be better appreciated since they could then reach their full potential.

boring gardens

This entry area was well designed and only suffered from some old perennials (Angelita Daisies).  Many flowering perennials are short-lived and need to be replaced every few years.  They are relatively inexpensive and add so much interest to the garden.

boring gardens

Unfortunately, many gardeners make the mistake of not replacing their plants and as a result, their garden becomes more and more bare with each passing year, like the one below…..

boring gardens

If your garden looks like this one, you probably do not need to remove anything, since there is hardly anything left.  You can see a drip irrigation line sticking up by the boulder where there used to be a plant.  This is a perfect example of a garden where short-lived plants were removed and never replaced.

Sometimes, the wrong plant is planted the wrong place…..

boring gardens

These are Ficus trees that were planted in a raised planter around a pool.  When they were initially planted, they were small and fit well into this limited space, but no longer.  

boring gardens

This Red Bird-of-Paradise shrubs naturally grows more then 4 – 5 ft. wide and should be removed from this area.

boring gardens

Gold Lantana is beautiful and is usually covered with yellow flowers, but not his one.  It has been pruned, using hedge trimmers, to keep it from encroaching on the water meter, but it had never been severely pruned, which if done each spring, would eliminate this problem.  

There are two different solutions  – the first is to simply prune the Lantana back severely to about 1′ and let it grow out until it is approximately 3′ x 3′.   The other solution is simply to remove it and plant a replacement further away from the water meter.

Many situations simply require occasional severe pruning, which can rejuvenate plants, reduce maintenance and greatly improve their appearance.  So if any of these pictures remind you of your garden – a severe pruning, may be all you need to do.

boring gardens
boring gardens

Severely pruning this Chihuahuan Sage (Leucophyllum laevigatum), will remove the dead interior growth which will be replaced with new, attractive growth that will flower.  By pruning back to approximately 2′ x 2′, you will have an ugly bunch of sticks for a few weeks, but in most cases, they will begin to leaf out again.  **This is best done in the spring time.  Some plants will not recover from this type of pruning, which indicates that they were declining and would not have survived for long even without being pruned.

boring gardens

In some cases, when there is little green growth (above), it is best to just remove the plants and start over.  But, you can always try to cut them back severely to about 2′ in size and see if they come back…..you don’t have anything to lose, so try it and you may be surprised when it comes back.

boring gardens

 There is nothing that needs to be removed in this garden.  But a good pruning would improve the appearance.  All three shrubs should be pruned severely every 2 – 3 years in spring and then allowed to grow into their natural shape.  The Cat’s Claw Vine, (I don’t recommend planting this vine), should also be pruned down to the ground every few years to remove old, woody growth and keep it in check.

boring gardens

Again, I would not remove anything from this garden, but it does need improvement.  It looks like a bunch of round blobs dotted haphazardly around the landscape.  At first you may fault a bad design, but if you take a second look, it is more a problem of incorrect pruning.  Each type of shrub in this landscape grows to varying heights and shapes, when not pruned into round ball shapes.  By decreasing the amount of pruning and banishing the hedge trimmers, the shrubs would grow into their natural shapes would greatly improve the appearance of this landscape.  A little texture would be welcome in the shape of large boulders, accent plants and some mounding perhaps.

**You can read more about recommended pruning for shrubs in an earlier post, “Shrubs Aren’t Made To Be Cupcakes, Frisbees or Pill Boxes.

As you can see, we covered a lot of different boring gardens.  I hope the examples that I have shown help you as you evaluate your own garden and use your red pen.


I will start working on Part 2, which will cover more of the design aspect – specifically, where to place plants in the landscape.  



************************************


On  personal note, life is crazy and busy, but there are two things that I would like to share with you.


First, my nephew (Little Farmer of Double S Farms), swallowed a penny earlier this week and then complained of pain.  It turns out it got lodged in his esophagus and he had to go the children’s hospital where they put him to sleep so they could use a scope to get it out.

my nephew

He did great ๐Ÿ™‚

The second thing that I would like to share is that in exactly 1 week, my brother and sister-in-law will give birth to their twin boys.  I can hardly wait!

How do you know if your garden truly has the blahs?  Well, take the quiz below and see…..

1. Does your garden appear somewhat lackluster lately?  

2. Is the only color present, varying shades of green?  

beautiful garden

3. Do you have fewer plants then when your garden was first planted? 

beautiful garden

4. Are the only shapes in your garden shrubs that been pruned into varying round shapes?  

 5. Can you count the number of plants and trees you have on one hand?  

beautiful garden

Did you answer yes to any of the questions?  If you did, then chances are your garden has a case of the ‘blahs’.  But before you decide to wallow in shame and figure that there is nothing you can do about it….STOP – because it is relatively easy to chase the ‘blahs’ away. Our next post will cover taking inventory in the garden….deciding what to keep and what to get rid of.Did you answer yes to any of the questions?  If you did, then chances are your garden has a case of the ‘blahs’.  But before you decide to wallow in shame and figure that there is nothing you can do about it….STOP – because it is relatively easy to chase the ‘blahs’ away.

By following a few simple steps, you can have a beautiful garden with loads of curb appeal…..okay, at this point, I realize that this post is starting to sound like an infomercial – but I promise, I am not trying to sell you anything ๐Ÿ˜‰

Over the next few days, we will cover simple ways to add interest to your garden.  It is not complicated or difficult to do.  Actually, the same steps can be used for any landscape, whether it is in front of an apartment complex, a restaurant, school, a church, a golf course…..pretty much anywhere.

**Your first homework assignment is to take a picture of your boring gardens, whether it is in front, back or on the side.ย  Print out your picture and bring a red pen….more instructions will follow in the next post.**

My hope is that these posts will help you to achieve a garden full of interest and beauty that you are proud to call your own.

Those who know me quickly learn that I love a bargain.  I get so excited when I find something on sale.  It gets even better when I have a coupon for the sale item.  Finding a good bargain is in my DNA.  I come from a long line of women who love to find great deals.

Well for me, this also extends to the landscape.  Now, it may seem a contradiction when I state to my clients that they can save a lot of money by using large plants.   We all know that large plants cost a lot of money at the nursery.  

I quickly go on to explain to them that I DO NOT recommend buying large-sized plants at the nursery.  In fact, I love finding shrubs in the 1-gallon size at the nursery.  They are much cheaper, which pleases the bargain hunter in me.  What I DO recommend is buying plants in small containers that will grow large fairly quickly.

For example, this 1-gallon Green Cloud Texas Sage cost about $5 dollars at the nursery.

using large plants

I admit, it is not very impressive and it is hard to imagine what it will look like when it grows up.  But, this is a fast growing shrub and in just 2 – 3 years it will look like this….

using large plants

I’d say that you got a pretty good deal for only $5.

A few years ago, I worked for a home builder, helping new buyers design their new landscapes.  By the time I would meet with them, they had spent a lot of their money already on the inside of their new home.  And so, their budget was quite limited in terms of what they could spend on their landscaping.  

I would then create a design for them using trees and shrubs that would grow large and quickly.  This way, they did not have to spend money on a large amount of plants and their garden would still look very beautiful.

Here are some shrubs that grow quickly and will grow large, as long as you don’t over-prune them.  All of them can be purchased as 1-gallon plants.

using large plants

 Orange Jubilee (Tecoma x Jubilee)

using large plants

 Threadleaf Cassia (Senna nemophila)

using large plants

 Hopbush (Dodonaea viscosa)

Bougainvillea

 Bougainvillea

Other advantages in starting out using 1-gallon plants as opposed to 5-gallon or larger is that the smaller the initial size of the plant, the easier it is for them to be transplanted.  Not just for the gardener, but it is also easier for the plant as well.  Larger plants can have a more difficult time dealing with transplant shock.

I have been making some changes in my own garden and have been on the look out for shrubs in a 1-gallon size.  I planted a Chaparral Sage (Salvia clevelandii) last month from a 1-gallon container.  

 using large plants

I admit, that it is quite small.  But, it won’t stay this way for long.  Soon, it will soon reach the size of this 3 year old Chaparral Sage that I planted in a commercial landscape….

 using large plants

While you are waiting for your small shrubs to grow large, you can fill in the empty spaces with annuals that you can later pull out once your shrubs start to grow.

Another new addition to my garden is a new Red Bird-of-Paradise (Caesalpinia pulcherrima).  The nurseries are starting to stock them right now and it is easy to find them in 5-gallon sizes.  I had to look a little more carefully before I found the 1-gallon size.

Beautiful Garden

Okay I admit that I almost have to put on my reading glasses to be able to see this tiny shrub.  But it grows so quickly. 

In just 2 – 3 years, it will look like this….

 using large plants

Not too bad for $4, is it?

Visions of Pink โ€“ One Pretty, One Amusing and the Other Unique

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 prettyโ€ฆ

amazing plants

  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.

amazing plants

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.

amazing plants

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 amusingโ€ฆ..

amazing plants
amazing plants

 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.” 

amazing plants

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.

amazing plants

 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

 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…

thorns

Their trunk is covered with cone-shaped thorns.

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.

Can You Over Water Your Plants in the Desert ?

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.

perfect plant

 Texas Sage ‘Green Cloud’ (Leucophyllum frutescens ‘Green Cloud’) 1-gallon Approximately 1 ft. Wide and tall.

perfect plant

 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…

perfect plant

 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…

perfect plant

 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

 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.

plant combinations

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.

plant combinations

 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.

plant combinations

 Autumn Sage (Salvia greggii ‘Red’)

plant combinations

 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.

plant combinations

 ‘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. 

plant combinations

 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

 Yellow Bells (Tecoma stans stans)

Bougainvillea 'Barbara Karst'

 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

 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.

Iconic tree

  Iconic tree, Blue Palo Verde (Parkinsonia florida)

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

Grab my FREE guide for Fuss-Free Plants that thrive in a hot, dry climate!

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

 ‘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

 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.

Iconic tree

 Iconic tree, 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.  

Iconic tree

 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.