February is what I like to call a ‘bridge’ month.  In regards to work, it is a transition month for me.  It is the month between January, when work slows down as it’s cold with not much is growing and March, when the weather is delightfully warm and everybody seemingly wants to redo their landscape.  If I could choose the perfect month in terms of work load, it would be February.

Landscape Dilemma: Colorful Container Before and After Landscape

Landscape Dilemma ,Colorful Container Before and After Landscape

Last week, I was visiting one of my favorite clients whose landscape has been a work in progress.  The backyard was finished last year and now, it was time to pay attention to the front.  Of course, I took a few minutes to see how things were doing in the back and my attention was immediately drawn to this colorful container filled with colorful succulents.  The orange stems of ‘Sticks on Fire’ Euphorbia adds welcome color to the garden throughout the year while elephant’s food (Portulacaria afra) trails down the side of the pot.  

I am a strong proponent of using colorful pots filled with low-maintenance succulents in the garden.  Why mess with flowering annuals if you can enjoy vibrant color without the high maintenance?  

Full disclosure: I do have a couple of pots filled with petunias, but the vast majority are filled with succulents 😉

Landscape Dilemma: Colorful Container Before and After Landscape

Landscape Dilemma

One of the most rewarding parts of my job is assisting my clients with their landscape dilemma.  Often, the solution is much simpler than the client imagined.  Last fall, I visited this home which had a large, shallow depression that was filled with dying agave.  The interesting thing was that there was no obvious reason for its presence as no water drained into it.  It definitely wasn’t what the client wanted in this high-profile area.

Landscape Dilemma: Colorful Container Before and After Landscape

So what would be a good solution for this area?   The client wanted to plant a large saguaro cactus in this area, but didn’t want to add a lot of plants.  My recommendation was to get rid of the dying agave and turn the depression into an attractive feature of the garden. 

Landscape Dilemma: Colorful Container Before and After Landscape

This is what it looks like now.  Filling the area with rip-rap rock, adds both a texture and color contrasting element to the landscape. Well-placed boulders with a century plant (Agave americana), Mexican fence post (Stenocereus marginatus), and golden barrel cactus (Echinocactus grusonii) help to break up the large expanse of the shallow depression with their spiky and globular shapes.  Finally, a saguaro cactus was added, which stands sentinel over this renovated area.  

One would never imagine that this part of landcape hadn’t been planned this way when it was first planted years ago.

Valentine's Day

Lastly, February is all about Valentine’s Day.  I sent my granddaughter a care package filled with goodies for Valentine’s Day.  Dinosaur cards for her classmates, a little craft, a hanging mobile, stickers, and of course chocolates – all with a Valentine theme.  

For me, Valentine’s day comes with mostly great memories.  As a child, I looked forward to handing out Valentines to my classmates and getting them in return.  During teenage years, there was one particularly memorable one when I was 17 years old.  My boyfriend didn’t get me anything, however, another boy gave me a card and a flower, which was some consulation.  And to finish off that infamous Valentine’s Day, I came down the chicken pox that very day.  Guess who also got the chicken pox?  The boyfriend who forgot Valentine’s Day.  Now, I look forward spending the 14th with the main man in my life, who after 31 years, still makes me feel special.

*What do you do to celebrate Valentine’s Day?  

Cactus Flowers Color the Desert Landscape

Life has been awfully busy lately.  So much so, that it has affected me from doing blogging as regularly as I like to do.  So, I would like to take a little time to let you know what I have been up to this past month.

Work has seen me driving me from one corner of the Phoenix metro area to the other, meeting with clients and helping them to create beautiful outdoor spaces.  In fact, I broke my record for the most landscape consultations in a single month.  Now that the holidays are here, work has slowed down a little.

A beautiful succulent, Euphorbia trigona

A beautiful succulent, Euphorbia trigona

One thing that I enjoy about visiting new clients is that I get to see impressive specimen plants like this Euphorbia trigona that flanked the entry of the Phoenix home.

beautiful succulent

beautiful succulent

This is a truly beautiful succulent that lends a tropical look to the landscape.  It is very frost tender and must be protected when temperatures dip into the 30’s.  I’d say it’s worth the effort for a plant like this.

Coyote

Coyote

Encounters with wildlife happens often during my work.  However, seeing a coyote in the middle of the day is rather rare.  As I was driving home from a consultation, I saw this beautiful coyote walk across the street.  I stopped my car and it stood off to the side of road while I took a few pictures with my phone.

Coyote

While I’ve seen a number of coyotes over the years, most often their appearance reflects the hardship of living in the desert.  However, this coyote was the healthiest one that I’ve encountered.

Coyote and

I think that it enjoyed the attention that I was giving it as it stood still for several seconds before walking off into the desert.

video shoot

Christmas is my favorite season of the year.   I enjoy shopping for the perfect gift, decorating the house, baking my favorite desserts, singing along to Christmas music in the car, and rejoicing in the reason for Christmas.

video shoot

Earlier this week, we filmed a video segment for our church’s upcoming Christmas Eve services.  We were asked to share the story of our daughter Ruthie’s adoption along with her cousin Sofie.  They were best friends in the orphanage when my sister and her family adopted Sofie back in 2006.  One year later, my husband and I went to China and adopted Ruthie.  So, they are not just best friends, but cousins.

video shoot

We taped the video at my sister’s house, which took over 3 hours.  The segment will probably only be 3 – 4 minutes in length, but I can hardly wait to see their story shared and hope that it will inspire others.  I will be sure to share it with all of you at that time.

I hope that you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving and are enjoying this holiday season.

10 Cold Hardy Succulents That Add Beauty to the Winter Landscape

Landscape Renovation Project

Photo: Landscape Renovation Project

As a mom, grandmother, and horticulturist, the fall season is a very busy season for me.  Whether I’m busy on the work site, hosting a Halloween party, or helping out my mother as she recuperates from a broken leg – there is never a dull moment.

I thought that I would show you just a snippet of the events of the past few weeks.

My mother’s orthopedist knows how to decorate his office for Halloween.

Photo: My mother’s orthopedist knows how to decorate his office for Halloween.

Over a month ago, my mother suffered a very badly broken leg that required surgery.  My very active and independent mother has been working hard with physical therapy and her recovery, but still has a few weeks left in a wheelchair.  As a result, my siblings and I have stepped in to help her where we can.  One of my favorite ways to help out is to take her shopping wherever she wants to go.  Of course, it helps that she and I like the same types of stores.  We got into a lot of trouble in Target’s dollar section buying Christmas decorations and gifts last week.

My granddaughter Lily enjoyed talking to our desert tortoise, Aesop, during her visit to Arizona from Michigan

Photo: My granddaughter Lily enjoyed talking to our desert tortoise, Aesop, during her visit to Arizona from Michigan.

Visits from my oldest daughter and her family are always a highlight for us.

My 3-month old grandson, Leo, slept through most of his first visit to Arizona.

Photo: My 3-month old grandson, Leo, slept through most of his first visit to Arizona.

Every year on October 31st, my siblings and their kids come over for a fun night of Halloween-themed food and trick-or-treating.  It is so much fun to see the little kids get all dressed up for Halloween, including my grandson, Eric.

Eric dressed up like a 'Minion'

Photo: Eric dressed up like a ‘Minion’

While my two youngest kids are almost too old for trick-or-treating, they enjoyed dressing up and going with Eric.

Gracie was a 'bag of ice'

Photo: Gracie was a ‘bag of ice’

Kai was a 'computer error code'

Photo: Kai was a ‘computer error code’

Life hasn’t slowed down in November, which is the busiest month of the year for me as a horticulturist.

Mountain States Wholesale Nursery

Photo: Mountain States Wholesale Nursery

A highlight of this month was a visit to an open house at one of the pre-eminent nurseries of the Southwest.

Mountain States Wholesale Nursery

While you may not have heard of Mountain States Wholesale Nursery, you have undoubtedly seen plants that they have developed, many which may be in your own garden. Flowering shrubs such as ‘Valentine’ and ‘Blue Bells’ have their origins in the fields of this nursery as do many of the newest tecoma and desert willow species.

Landscape Project Installation

I spent a fun-filled day with friends and colleagues touring the facilities and getting a sneak peek at their newest plants in production.  The perfect way to cap off our visit was being gifted with a new plant!

Next up on my agenda was overseeing the installation of one of my landscape projects.

Landscape Project Installation

Photo: Landscape Renovation, Before

My clients, who live in New York City for most of the year, spend their winters and spring in Arizona.  They recently purchased a home with overgrown, excessively pruned shrubs as well as artificial grass with a putting green that they wanted to get rid of.

I initially met with them in April and put together a plan for a landscape that would reflect their style.  Once they came back to Arizona in November, they asked me to come out and oversee the installation.

A mixture of pink muhly (Muhlenbergia capillaris) and artichoke agave (Agave parryi ‘truncata’) are being planted in the area formerly covered by artificial turf.

A mixture of pink muhly (Muhlenbergia capillaris) and artichoke agave (Agave parryi ‘truncata’) are being planted in the area formerly covered by artificial turf.

Many of the old shrubs were removed as was the fake grass.  Contouring was added to help add height and interest to the formerly flat backyard landscape.

Landscape Project Installation

Matt, is the landscape contractor, who I refer many of my clients too.  He has the uncanny ability to find the biggest, best plants – he holds his sources close to his chest, but as long as my clients are happy, so am I.

Landscape Project Installation

I must admit that I am sorely tempted to grab one of his specimen cactus or succulents for my own garden.

Landscape Project Installation

Photo: Landscape Renovation, Before

The client wanted an area for a cactus garden.  So, we took out the shrubs in this corner and added cactus.

Landscape Project Installation

Photo: Landscape Renovation, AFTER

The saguaro cactus isn’t in place yet, but soon will be.  Our goal was to add several different types of cactus and succulents that the client liked, including beavertail, candelilla, golden barrel, Moroccan mound, and torch cactus.  An ocotillo anchors the corner and will eventually leaf out and flower, which usually occurs about a year after planting.

A palo blanco (Acacia willardiana) tree will soften this area without outgrowing this area.

Photo: A palo blanco (Acacia willardiana) tree will soften this area without outgrowing this area.

It is so rewarding to be a part of the process of homeowner’s landscape be renovated into a space that will provide them with years of enjoyment.

Despite the busyness this fall season, I am getting excited for the upcoming holiday season.  How about you?  What is keeping you busy this fall?

One of the most difficult places in the landscape to grow plants is in areas that receive full sun as well as reflected heat.

Reflected heat occurs when sidewalks, walls, and patio decks absorb the heat during the day only to re-radiate that heat back out.

As you can imagine, when you couple the intensity of areas that get full sun AND reflected warmth, it can be hard to find plants that can not only survive but add beauty to these spaces.

Thankfully, there are a number of attractive plants that will thrive in these hot spots.

I recently shared 10 shrubs, in my latest article for Houzz, that can handle full sun as well as reflected warmth.

Do you have a plant that you like that does well in full, reflected sun?

**For additional shrub suggestions, I recommend Mary Irish’s book, Trees and Shrubs for the Southwest.

A Dime Store Magnifying Glass and a Whole Miniature World at Your Doorstep





 

Do you like shopping for plants?  I do.  In fact, I often find myself tempted to buy more plants than I have space for.

10 Things To Know Before Buying Plants

Southwest Nursery

Sometimes, I have come home with a plant I bought on impulse, unable to resist its lovely flowers.

It may surprise you to find out that there are potential pitfalls to avoid when shopping at the nursery such as unhealthy plants, not allowing for enough room in the garden for plants and buying plants that may are ill-suited to your area.

10 Things To Know Before Buying Plants

Before you head out to the nursery to add plants to your garden, I invite you to learn some helpful tips to make it a rewarding visit – from recognizing the signs of unhealthy plants, why smaller may be better and why it’s better to pass over a plant in full bloom for one that isn’t and more.  I promise that following even one of these tips will save you from buyers remorse and an empty wallet.

You can find my ten favorite tips for plant buying in my latest article for Houzz.com.  I hope you find it helpful!

 
 
 

Planning a Beautiful Garden and Saving Money

In my humble opinion, the actual test for many plants is how they perform during extremes.  If a plant looks great in the blistering heat of summer as well as when temps dip below freezing in winter then it deserves a prime spot in the landscape.

Cold and Heat Tolerant Plants, Pink Fairy Duster (Calliandra eriophylla)

Pink Fairy Duster (Calliandra eriophylla)

Thankfully, there are quite a few drought-tolerant, flowering plants that do well with both the heat and cold for those of us who want a beautiful, fuss-free landscape filled with colorful plants.

I shared 10 of my favorite cold and heat tolerant, flowering plants in my latest article for Houzz.  

Hopefully, you will find some new favorites to try in your own garden.

 

A Look Behind and In Front of the Television Camera

Bougainvillea

**Disclosure: This post contains an affiliate link of a product that I use in my garden and I recommend to those who are experiencing similar problems.

A week ago, I was called to see one of my regular clients to see how her landscape was progressing since she had installed a lot of new plants at the beginning of summer.

The majority of her plants looked great considering she had planted them at a particularly tough time of the year.

BUT, what caught my attention was her bougainvillea shrub.

Bougainvillea

The leaves were quite ragged and looked like something had been chewing them.

In addition, there were some small black droppings scattered among the leaves.

The diagnosis was relatively simple…

The culprit was bougainvillea looper caterpillars.

Now, you rarely ever see the caterpillar itself.  It is rather small and looks like a yellow-green to brown colored inch-worm.

The signs are ragged leaves that appear to have been chewed along with the black droppings.

My bougainvillea growing in the back garden.  I haven't seen any signs of caterpillar damage yet.

My bougainvillea growing in the back garden.  I haven’t seen any signs of caterpillar damage yet.

If you see similar damage to your Bougainvillea, don’t panic.  Most Bougainvillea can handle the damage from the chewed leaves.

However, if your Bougainvillea is young, or if the infestation is severe, you can help to get rid of the caterpillars by spraying your bougainvillea with a product containing BT (bacillus thuringiensis), which is an organic pesticide.  I use Safer Brand 5163 Caterpillar Killer II Concentrate, 16 oz in my own garden.

In the case of my client’s bougainvillea, I told her that the damage was not severe enough to warrant any treatment.

Some of you may see similar damage to your yellow bells or orange jubilee shrubs, which I wrote about in a previous post, “Oh No, What’s Happened to My Shrubs”.

**In the future, I will be sharing some gardening problems or design challenges that I encounter during some of my consults and their solutions.

My hope is that they can help you in your own landscape 🙂

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

I hope you have a great weekend.  We will be celebrating my 3-year old twin nephews birthday at our house tomorrow morning.  I’ll may post a picture or two next week from the party.

My daughter, Rachele, is doing well after the first week of her combat training in Mississippi.  But, she did share some funny stories that I will share with you next week too!

Yellow Bells

This beautiful plant is one of my favorite shrubs in the garden – so much so, that I have three.  Yellow bells produce bell-shaped flowers beginning in spring and lasting through the fall months until the first frost.

 Hummingbirds and butterflies are attracted to the flowers.  The vibrant green foliage and colorful flowers make this shrub a welcome addition to any desert landscape. 

Yellow Bells is a large shrub that grows to a height of 4 – 8 ft. and spreads 3 – 8 ft. wide.  You can find its native habitat in the Americas.  There are two different types; Tecoma stans angustata and Tecoma stans stans.  Visually, the most significant difference is in the shape of the leaves.  Tecoma stans stans had a broader leaf and are pictured above and below.

Yellow Bells

USES:

Because of its size, this large shrub makes a great backdrop plant.  I have used it to screen fences, sheds and also planted it up against the house.  Yellow Bells works well as a tall, naturally-shaped hedge.  This shrub thrives in full sun to filtered shade.  They do best in warm-winter areas but can be successful as a summer annual in colder regions.

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

MAINTENANCE:

This shrub is relatively low-maintenance.  It will freeze back in the winter months when temperatures go below 28 degrees F.  Since it blooms on current season’s growth, all that is required is to prune back the frost damage in early spring.  Seed pods are produced and can be removed if desired, which will extend the bloom period and improve the appearance, (the seed pods do not bother me, and I do not remove mine).   After an initial application of slow-release fertilizer when planting Yellow Bells, I have not needed to fertilize further. 

**Occasionally, caterpillars will appear but can be easily removed by spraying some BT (Bacillus thuringiensis) which is an organic pesticide.

Yellow Bells

COMMON NAMES: 

There are many familiar names for these beautiful shrubs.  Tecoma stans angustata is native to the Southwestern US and northern Mexico and goes by the names Arizona yellow bells, yellow bells, and yellow trumpet bush. 

Tecoma stans stans are native to Florida, the Caribbean and parts of South America and also goes by the name of yellow bells and sometimes yellow elder.  Because of the overlap of familiar names, be sure to purchase plants based on their scientific name.

Fall Rose Tips for the Desert Garden