Valentine bush and feathery cassia

One of the things that I enjoy about living in the Southwest are the beautiful outdoor spaces. In particular, I am struck by the color and beauty in the winter landscape.

Now, for those of you who follow, know that I often take photos of ‘problem’ landscapes I drive by.

Well, not this time!  I was so distracted by the beauty around me that I didn’t notice any landscape mistakes.

I hope you enjoy them as much as I do and are inspired to create your own!

 
Valentine bush (Eremophila maculata ‘Valentine’) is hands down, my favorite shrub.  I love its bright red color, which decorates the landscape from January through April.  Even when not in bloom, the foliage looks lovely.
 
Golden barrel cacti (Echinocactus grusonii) with their sunny yellow color are a great choice. I use them often in my landscape designs due to their drought tolerance, low maintenance (they need none) and the yellow color they add throughout the year.
 
Large desert spoon (Dasylirion wheeleri) add great contrast with their spiky texture and gray-blue coloring.
 
This is a great pairing of plants that I plan on using in future designs.
 
 
The yellow, fragrant flowers of feathery cassia (Senna artemisioides) are famous for their winter color. Nothing else brightens a dreary winter’s day as much as the color yellow. The silvery foliage of this cassia adds great color contrast and give off a silvery glow on a breezy day.

In the background, you see the pink blooms of pink fairy duster (Calliandra eriophylla). Their uniquely shaped blooms look like a feather duster and hummingbirds find them irresistible. 

Bursage (Ambrosia deltoidea) is a native groundcover that needs little water and provides nice color contrast.

 
This combination was well done but planted too closely together.
 
Against the backdrop of yellow-flowering feathery cassia, a pair of boulders are decorated with blue bells (Eremophila hygrophana). These shrubs have lovely gray foliage and produce purple/blue flowers all year long.  This is a newer plant introduction getting a lot of attention. 
 
A golden barrel cactus offers great contrast along with a pair of agave.
 
 
Here is one of my favorite landscapes in this particular community.  I like the combination of cacti, flowering shrubs, and perennials that create a pleasing landscape.
 
A trio of flowering firecracker penstemon (Penstemon eatoni) easily catches your eye. They are one of my favorite perennials in my own garden and flower January through April in the low desert.
 
 
In another landscape, firecracker penstemon is used as part of a wildflower planting, backed by desert spoon and purple trailing lantana.
 
 
Ornamental grasses add great interest to the winter landscape and pink muhly (Muhlenbergia capillaris) is one of my favorites. Their burgundy plumes, which appear in fall fade to an attractive wheat color in winter. Soon, they will be pruned back to 3 inches in preparation for a new growth cycle.
 
 
Some landscapes look attractive using a minimum amount of plants.  The key is to use a variety of different plants – not just shrubs or cacti.  In this one, a blue palo verde (Parkinsonia florida) overlooks a planting of purple trailing lantana (Lantana montevidensis) and desert spoon.  While the lantana is frost tender, the canopy of the tree provides it some protection from frost.
 
 
It’s important to anchor the corners in your landscape – particularly those next to the driveway. Here is an example of how to combine plants that look great throughout the year. When warmer temps arrive  ‘New Gold’ lantana (Lantana ‘New Gold’), bursts forth with colorful blooms that last until the first frost. In winter, golden barrel cacti attract the attention and keep you from noticing the frost damaged lantana. 
 
 
This street planting also attracted my attention with the row of little leaf (foothill) palo verde (Parkinsonia microphylla) trees, Valentine shrubs and purple trailing lantana. I should note that lantana doesn’t usually flower much in winter, but in mild winters, they do.

An almost leafless mesquite tree stands sentinel over a planting of red-flowering chuparosa (Justicia californica). This shrub has lovely green foliage and tubular flowers that drive hummingbirds crazy with delight.

As you can see, the Southwestern landscape is filled with beauty and color, even in winter.  Unfortunately, many homeowners only use plants that bloom spring through summer. This leaves them with a boring landscape through the winter months for several months. So, celebrate the winter season by adding a few of these cool-season beauties to your garden!

A boot planter adds a touch of whimsy to a patio table.

I am always on the lookout for new ideas to use in outdoor spaces and on a recent trip to Austin, Texas, I toured 17 different gardens and came away filled with garden inspiration Southwest style. 

A garden’s style is a reflection of the owner and because everyone is unique, so is the way that they decorate their landscape. I confess that I saw several ideas that I felt representative of my taste and am contemplating replicating them in my garden or recommending them for my clients.

I hope you find things that you will want to incorporate into your landscape.

Wooden picture frames filled with live plants adorn a fence.

I fell in love with the gazebo in Colleen Jamison’s backyard. Filled with comfortable furniture and even a chandelier, I hope to create something similar in my back garden someday.

A candelabra graces a side table underneath the shade of the gazebo while mirrors reflect other areas of the garden.

The simple inclusion of a mirror reflects the other side of the garden and creates the illusion of a larger outdoor space. This works well in shady areas.

A unique handle for a door – a hand cultivator welded to the garden gate.

A stone head spouts a full head of hair made from Mexican feather grass (Nassella tennuisma).

Keeping with the “Keep Austin Weird” campaign, a garden doorway is graced with a skull and a prickly pear cactus.

A curved garden path leads visitors on a journey of discovery with large concrete balls dotting the way.

An upside down planter hangs from a tree with flowering impatiens. I don’t know how the plant stays in without falling out, but it’s cool!

A large colorful, container is the focal point behind a swimming pool. Pots don’t need to have plants inside them to add beauty to the garden. Pots can serve as an outdoor decorative element.

Four pear trees form an arbor over a rustic dining table. The trees were planted 5 years ago and trained onto a basic structure created from rebar.

Color doesn’t only from plants in Pam Penick’s garden – she adds interest with vibrant hues using planters, cushions, and outdoor carpet.

Summer in my desert garden is a time to enjoy its beauty from the air-conditioned comfort of my home. Yet, it’s also when I plan and dream of what I would like to add to it when the weather cools in fall.

Metal stars are on display, framed by star jasmine vine (Trachelospermum jasminoides).

While garden inspiration was in plentiful supply during my visit to Austin, it can also be found in other places such as a roadside planting, a local business’s landscape, a favorite magazine, or perhaps even in your neighbor’s front yard. I encourage you to keep your eyes open to possibilities of what you can do with your outdoor space.

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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. 

Cereus cactus, golden barrel cactus, and firecracker penstemon

Is your outdoor space looking rather drab? If so, you aren’t alone – many landscapes can appear somewhat dull, especially if there is a lack of color. But, it doesn’t have to stay that way.

One of my favorite aspects of my job as a landscape consultant is to help my clients to transform their garden from drab to colorful and it is quite easy to do. 

I invite you to join me as I revisit with a client two-years after I created a planting plan for her existing, lackluster landscape. 

BEFORE – Corner of Driveway

Initially, this area did little to add to the curb appeal of the home. Overgrown red yucca plants and a cholla cactus created a ‘messy’ and boring look to this high-profile spot in the landscape.

AFTER

Removing the old plants and adding angelita daisy (Tetraneuris acaulis) and gopher plant (Euphorbia biglandulosa), creates colorful interest while adding texture. Before, the boulders were hidden behind the overgrown plants, so now they serve as an excellent backdrop for the new additions. 

 

The corners of the driveway are one of the most viewed spots in the landscape and are often the first part people see when they drive by. It’s important to anchor them visually with plants that look great all year and preferably produce colorful flowers or have an attractive shape or color. I always like to add boulders to help anchor both corners as well.

These areas are also critical in that they create symmetry, connecting both sides of the landscape, which is done by using the same types of plants on each side.

 

Although there is no ‘before’ photo for the entry, here is an example of plants that will add year-round color because of their overlapping bloom seasons. ‘Blue Elf’ aloe blooms in winter and on into early spring while ‘New Gold Mound’ lantana will flower spring through fall, as the aloe fades into the background. A ponytail palm (Beaucarnea recurvata) brings a nice vertical element to this spot and will grow taller with age.

BEFORE

Along the front entry path, a tall cereus (Cereus peruvianus) cactus adds a welcome vertical element while the golden barrel cactus (Echinocactus grusonii) creates excellent texture contrast. However, something is missing in this area, in my opinion.

AFTER

A colorful element was what was missing in this area. A single firecracker penstemon (Penstemon eatonii) adds beauty while also attracting hummingbirds.

BEFORE

On the corner of this lot was a palo brea tree with a large desert spoon and turpentine bushes. Overall, there was nothing exciting in this spot.

AFTER

The turpentine bushes were removed to make way for a set of gopher plants, which served to tie in this corner of the garden with the areas next to the driveway. These succulents flower in spring and add nice spiky texture throughout the rest of the year.

Purple and white trailing lantana (Lantana montevidensis) serve to create a colorful carpet throughout the warm months of the year. This type of lantana can struggle in full sun in the middle of summer in the low-desert garden but, thrive underneath the filtered shade of a palo verde tree.

When working with an existing landscape, I relish the challenge of determining what existing plants still add beauty to the outdoor space, or have the potential to if pruned correctly. Sometimes an ugly, overgrown shrub can be transformed into something beautiful if pruned back severely. Often, it’s up to me to decide what goes and what stays. Then, the real fun part begins, which is selecting what areas need new plants and what ones will work best.

I find that many people think that to renovate a landscape, you need to get rid of most of the plants and put in a lot of new ones. But, this is rarely the case. All you need to do is keep the plants that will continue to add to the curb appeal or create a beautiful, mature backdrop for new plants and new plants should be concentrated in high-profile areas where their impact will be maximized.

What would you like to get rid of in your landscape and what would you keep?

Noelle Johnson, AKA, ‘AZ Plant Lady’ is a horticulturist, landscape consultant, and certified arborist who lives and gardens in the desert Southwest. While writing and speaking on a variety of gardening topics keeps her busy, you’ll often find her outside planting vegetables, picking fruit from her trees, or testing the newest drought-tolerant plants. 

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Globe mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua)

Living in the desert southwest has many advantages, including being able to have a landscape filled with blooming plants all winter long when gardens throughout much of the country are brown or covered in a layer of snow.

Over the weekend, I stepped out into my garden to see how my plants were doing and took photos of those that were flowering.

**I’ve provided links to earlier blog posts where you can learn more about these plants and see if they deserve a home in your landscape.

First, were the globe mallow, which are just beginning to produce their colorful blooms. While the most common type produces orange flowers, they do come in other colors as well. I have red, pink, and white ones in my garden. You can learn more about this plant in an earlier blog post.

Angelita Daisy (Tetraneuris acaulis)

Despite its small size, angelita daisy is a small powerhouse in the landscape that blooms off and on all year long. They thrive in full sun and look great when grouped next to boulders. During my walk through the garden, I discovered that this one has a volunteer Parry’s penstemon (Penstemon parryi) growing next to it. I’ll leave it alone as they will look great together.

Firecracker Penstemon (Penstemon eatonii)

This perennial delights hummingbirds with its red-orange blooms that appear in January and last well into spring. There are many different kinds of penstemon, which thrive in drought-tolerant gardens and firecracker penstemon is by far, my favorite. 

Blackfoot Daisy (Melampodium leucanthum)

The delicate flowers of this ground cover don’t look like they can survive the intense heat of the desert garden, but blackfoot daisy thrives all year long with little fuss. I have mine growing alongside boulders and at the base of cactuses. I haven’t been able to determine exactly when they are supposed to bloom because mine always seem to be flowering. 

Purple/White Trailing Lantana (Lantana montevidensis ‘Purple’ and ‘Alba’)

This groundcover form of lantana is a popular staple in the drought-tolerant landscape, but you seldom see it with two different colors. In winter, it is usually touched by some frost damage, but our weather has been unusually warm, so it is still flowering. Normally, you see all white or all purple, but not both together. While there is a variety called ‘Lavender Swirl’; it can be hard to find and somewhat expensive. I’ve replicated the same look in my garden, which I share in this earlier blog post.

‘Sparky’ Tecoma

Here is the newest addition to the front garden. It shouldn’t be blooming this time of year, but again, with the mild winter, it is getting a head start on spring. ‘Sparky’ tecoma is a new plant that is a cross between yellow bells and orange bells. The flowers are apricot in color with deep maroon centers. This shrub was created by an ASU professor, who named it after the school’s mascot. I am very excited to see it reveal its lovely flowers on either side of our large front window.

Do you have any plants that bloom in winter? Inside or outside, please share what is happening in your garden this month.

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Firecracker Penstemon

Do you know someone who possesses a green thumb? Usually, it’s someone that has a beautiful garden that stands out among their neighbors, which is filled with thriving plants that are flourishing. 

While you may think that people with green thumbs are born and not made, I’m going to let you in on a BIG secret – behind every green thumb are many dead plants.

 

It’s true. There isn’t a single avid gardener who has never experienced a plant dying on them. Of course, green thumbs may be hesitant to reveal this fact because dead or failing plants are usually pulled out before anyone notices.

I’m not exempt from this either. I’ve got a dead plant or two, currently in my garden that are doing nothing but collecting leaves at their base and I’ve had countless plants die on my watch.

Newly planted ‘Blue Bell’ (Eremophila hygrophana) shrubs

Believe it or not, it’s the fact that plants have died in the garden that helps a person to become a good at growing them. While your first inclination is to get frustrated about the loss of a plant, it helps to look at it as a gardening lesson.

“Each dead plant is an opportunity to learn about what went wrong and how to avoid it in the future and become a better gardener in the process.”

There are several factors that can affect whether or not a plant does well where it’s planted.  These include the following:

  1. Is it well-adapted to your climate?
  2. Was it planted in the right exposure (sun, filtered sun, or shade)?
  3. Did it receive the proper amount of irrigation?
  4. Was it maintained correctly (pruning, fertilizing)?

 

New ‘Blonde Ambition’ (Bouteloua gracilis)

Researching plants before purchasing them will help you to avoid many potential problems, but often the best way to learn how a plant will do is to grow them yourself.

Of course, it’s never a good idea to put a shade-loving plant in full sun, or vice versa as you’ll probably be replacing it soon.

As a horticulturist, I experiment in my garden with newer plants that have come onto the market. I recently planted several ‘Blonde Ambition’ (Bouteloua gracilis) grasses. I’ve heard a few different things from people who have grown it regarding the best exposure for it – one says that filtered sun is a must while the other states that it can handle full sun. So, I am trying them out in my front yard to see for myself where they will receive filtered shade until the afternoon when they will be blasted by the sun. 

*One fun bonus of being a horticulturist and a garden writer is that growers often send me their plants for free so I can let them know how they grow in a low-desert garden.

A new Parry’s penstemon (Penstemon parryi) finds a home next to my gopher plant (Euphorbia biglandulosa).

Other things that can affect how new plants will do are nearby plants – specifically trees.

One month later.

A tree that creates dense shade will make it difficult for many flowering plants to do anything but grow foliage at the expense of flowers. However, filtered shade from desert natives such as mesquite and palo verde create an ideal environment for many blooming plants that enjoy a little respite from the full sun.

New varieties of autumn sage with the brand new lavender ‘Meerlo’.

Sometimes, there isn’t much information available on new plant introductions and how they will do in an area with extreme weather such as our hot, dry one.  I was given the plants above to see how they would do in my Arizona garden. I knew that the salvia would need some shade to do its best in the low desert, but the lavender was a mystery. I’ve seen some other species of lavender doing well in full sun while others doing well in filtered shade.

As you can see, the ‘Meerlo’ lavender did very well in my zone 9 garden even though the actual information on the plant tag states that it does best in zone 8 and below. What it has not done is flower, which I attribute to the shade it needs to survive my hot, dry garden. But, I’m okay with that as I love the fragrance and color contrast that it adds.

This is a lesson that I could have only learned by trying out this plant. While it could have died, it didn’t and I’ve learned from the experience, which adds to my overall garden knowledge. 

So, the next time you find a dead plant in your garden, see if you can figure out why it died and learn from it. Sometimes plants die when they should be thriving with no apparent reason. Nature isn’t always predictable and sometimes you may have no answers, but you’ll be surprised at what you can learn and before you know it, your thumb may slowly turn ‘green’.

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Sweet potato vine trail underneath a planting of lantana and ‘Victoria Blue’ salvia.

I’ve spent a busy week on the road traveling back and forth throughout the central and northern parts of Arizona. 

While my road trips were for pleasure, there were some work elements involved, viewing the newest trends of high desert landscaping, and taking photos of pretty plants.

Planters filled with green and black sweet potato vines trail over the railing at Tlaquepaque with Mark Twan (Samuel Clemens) sitting underneath.

During the first part of the week, I spent a few days in Sedona. This colorful, high desert town holds a special place in my heart. It is where my husband and I spent our honeymoon, and we make a point of coming back up to visit every few years.

A must stop destination for us are the shops are Tlaquepaque, which is modeled after an old Mexican village. Fountains and courtyards are scattered throughout the stores, inviting visitors to sit and enjoy the dappled shade while listening to the gentle sounds of water features.

To be honest, I do enjoy perusing the galleries and shops, but the main draw for me is the beautiful container plantings. Sweet potato vine, lantana, ‘Katie’ ruellia, and salvia are artfully arranged within the containers.

A ‘Painted Lady’ butterfly drinking nectar from a lantana.

Butterflies and hummingbirds are also frequent visitors to Tlaquepaque.


Area hotels also feature lovely examples of plants that thrive in the dry heat like the trumpet vine and yucca, above.

While in Sedona, we made side trips to Flagstaff and Cottonwood before it was time to travel back home.

After one night home, it was back into the car and off on another journey. This time, we brought our kids with us for a destination wedding in Skull Valley, which is a half hour outside of Prescott.

The wedding was held in the middle of the wilderness, reached by traveling over 20 minutes on a curving, unpaved road. Wildlife was plentiful as we spotted a coyote, deer, and a roadrunner, while also smelling a skunk along the way.

It was dusk when the wedding began, and the setting couldn’t have been more beautiful. A cool breeze welcomed guests to the venue that backed up onto the Prescott National Forest. 

The ceremony was beautiful, and the groom got all choked up in the midst of his vows. Guests spent a great time celebrating at the reception, held in an old barn, and we got back to the hotel late.

We took a back way back home, which involved driving some curvy mountain roads, but we traveled through little towns that we had never heard of such as Wilhoit and Peeble Valley. 

I love the fact that even after living here for over 30 years, I still enjoy the beauty of our state and yet encounter new places.

**Do you have a favorite place to visit in Arizona?

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I enjoy traveling – especially when I get to explore new places. Last month, I journeyed to Buffalo, New York where I toured gardens, attended a writer’s workshop, and best of all, spent time with one of my favorite people.

Why Buffalo you may ask? Well, it turns out that this industrial city has beautiful green spaces, whimsical private gardens, as well as test gardens. Each August, the city hosts Garden Walk Buffalo where people from all over the U.S., Canada, and other countries descend to tour over 400 private gardens. I was in Buffalo for the Garden Communicator’s Annual Conference, which is held in a different city each year. Each year, I look forward to the conference where garden tours, educational sessions, and the tradeshow fills our days. It is also a very good time to reconnect with fellow writers.

 

I arrived in Buffalo a few days early to meet up with my BGF (Best Garden Friend), Andrea who flew all the way from Australia to attend. We met two years ago when we attended our first conference and bonded instantly. Throughout the year, we keep in touch via Facebook Messenger and look forward to spending a week together at the conference. 

Our agenda for the first day was to explore the downtown area down the street from our hotel. There were many older buildings, including our hotel, which had been beautifully refurbished, including the city hall and its art deco architecture.

 

The day was sunny, humid, and hot. Desert dwellers like me don’t deal very well with humidity, but that didn’t stop us from exploring.

 

We walked down to Canalside, which is along the banks of Lake Erie. As we explored the area, we walked through beautifully landscaped garden beds. The hosta and coleus were stunning with their contrasting colors.

While I may not be able to grow many of the plants we passed by, it doesn’t keep me from enjoying their beauty and getting inspired to create similar plantings using different plants that thrive where I live. However, there was ONE plant in this bed that currently grows in my garden – pink flowering gaura.

As we continued walking along the water front, splashes of color caught my eye. 

We had stumbled upon a ‘pot of gold at the end of a rainbow’ or in other words, a test garden where the latest flowering annuals are being tested.

Large containers filled with ‘Supertunia’ petunias look as if they are on steroids. But, this type of flower is smaller than regular petunias and flower more abundantly as you can see. The tall spikes of white and purple angelonia add a lovely vertical accent.

White alyssum, black sweet potato vine, and gomphrena make a unique grouping that works. 

I was thrilled to note that many of the plants in the test garden would grow nicely in my desert garden – during the cool season.

More pink gaura was to be seen, blooming in front of masses of Supertunia.

Lantana is a very familiar sight in arid gardens where it can survive outdoors throughout the year. However, in cold winter regions, it is treated as an annual.

Black-eyed Susan vines grew against a wooden fence surrounded by vibrant verbena and double petunias.

I love trellises made from natural materials on hand like this wood, likely fished out from the lake.

Here is another plant that currently grows in my desert garden – Salvia amistad.

Million Bells (Calibrachoa)

After the long trek from our hotel and exploring the test garden, Andrea and I were content after seeing such beautiful plants, but we were also hot, tired, and hungry.

Thankfully, we found this wonderful restaurant a couple of blocks away. The food and service were fabulous, so we came back again for dinner.

I invite you to visit Andrea’s blog where she writes about her adventures gardening in Perth, Australia. Please come back to join me for day two of our adventure where we discover another garden – this one filled with edible plants along with whimsical garden signs.

 

Do you love hummingbirds?  Maybe a better question would be, who doesn’t?

Hummingbird feeding from an ocotillo flower.
Attracting hummingbirds to your garden isn’t hard to do by simply adding flowering plants, rich in nectar that they are attracted to.
 
Female Anna’s hummingbird at my feeder.
 
But, what if your garden space is small or non-existent?  Is a hanging a hummingbird feeder your only option?
 
 
Well, I’m here to tell you that space needn’t keep you from having your own hummingbird garden – all you have to do is to downsize it creating one in a container.
 
If you have a small patio, stoop or even a balcony, you can create your own mini-hummingbird garden in a container.
 
 
For those of you who have think you have no space at all, look up!  
 
 
Hanging containers or window boxes are a great option for those short on garden space.
 
Whether you have small garden space or simply want to increase the amount of hummingbirds visiting your existing garden – creating a mini-hummingbird garden in a container is a great way to do it.
 
Let’s get started.
 
Here are the elements of a hummingbird container garden:
 
LOCATION:
 
 
– Select a location that receives at least 6 hours of sun a day.  
 
Group containers together for greater color impact, which increases the chances of hummingbird visits.
 

– Place containers in areas where you can view the visiting hummingbirds such as an entry, near a window or a back patio.

– Make sure that the containers are visible and allow easy access for hummingbirds to fly in and out.

 
CONTAINERS:
 
 
– The type of container isn’t important – but drainage is.  Make sure pots have holes for drainage.
 

– Select colorful pots for a welcome splash of color (optional).

– Larger pots will stay moister longer, therefore needing to be water less frequently.

 
SOIL:
 
 
– Use a planting mix (not potting soil), which is specially formulated for container plants since it holds onto just the right amount of moisture without becoming soggy like potting soil can.
 
 
– For large containers, save money on expensive planting mix (soil) by filling the bottom third of the container with recycled plastic water bottles and/or milk jugs.
 
WHAT PLANT WHERE?
 
 
While hummingbirds don’t care how you arrange plants in your mini-hummingbird garden – you can certainly arrange plants.
– Place the tallest plant in the center, surrounded with medium-sized filler plants interspersed with trailing ground covers. 
 
 
This planter has the tallest plant (Salvia) located in the center with mid-sized purple coneflower  next to it with ‘Wave’ petunias spilling over the outside.
 

COLOR:

A hummingbird’s favorite color is red, although they will visit flowers of all colors as long as they are rich in nectar.

However, let’s explore color in regards to creating a beautiful container and figuring out what color combos look best.



To this, we will need to visit our friend, the color wheel.

– To achieve a soft blending of colors, select plants with flower colors that are next to each other on the color wheel.

– For a striking contrast, pair flowers with colors that occur on opposite ends of the color wheel.

HUMMINGBIRD ATTRACTING PLANTS:

Salvia coccinea

– Hummingbirds are drawn to flowers that have a tubular shape.

Hummingbird feeding from the yellow flower of aloe vera.

– The color red is their favorite, but as stated earlier, they will visit flowers of all colors.

Young hummingbird feeding from a lantana flower.

– They tend to prefer flowers with little to no fragrance since their sense of smell is poor.

– Plants belonging to the Salvia genus are all very popular with hummingbirds and are a safe choice when creating a hummingbird container garden. 

Soap aloe flowers.

– Flowering succulents are also often visited by hummingbirds as well.

Rufous hummingbird feeding from the flower of a red hot poker plant.

– There are helpful online resources with lists of plants that attract hummingbirds.  Here are two helpful ones:

The Hummingbird Society’s Favorite Hummingbird Flowers

Top 10 Hummingbird Flowers and Plants from Birds & Blooms Magazine

– Other helpful resources are your local botanical garden, master gardener or nursery professional.

Another bonus to planting hummingbird attracting plants is that many of the same flowers attract butterflies too.

CARE:

The key to maintaining healthy container plants lies in proper watering and fertilizing.

Let’s look at watering first:

– Water containers when the top 2 inches of soil are barely moist.  You can stick your finger into the soil to determine how dry the soil is.  

– Water until the water flows out the bottom of the container.

– The frequency of watering will vary seasonally.

Fertilizing is important for container plants – even plants that don’t normally require fertilizer when planted in the ground will need it if in a container.

– Fertilize with a slow-release fertilizer, which lasts 3 months.

– Supplement, if desired, with a liquid fertilizer monthly.

– For succulents, use a liquid fertilizer at 1/2 strength every other month spring through early fall.

UNIQUE TWISTS FOR CREATING HUMMINGBIRD CONTAINERS:

Don’t be afraid to look outside the box when it comes to what can be used as a container.

An old wheelbarrow makes a great container after a making a few holes in the bottom for drainage. *While marigolds don’t attract hummingbirds, there are a few dianthus in this planter that do.
Hummingbirds love water!

Add a water feature in a container that will surely attract nearby hummingbirds.

Add places for hummingbirds to perch nearby or within the container itself.  

This little black-chinned hummingbird was perfectly at home perching on a lady’s slipper (Pedilanthus macrocarpus) stem that was growing in a container.

You can always add a small, dead tree branch within the container itself for a convenient perching spot.

As you can see, the amount (or lack of) garden space doesn’t need to limit your ability to attract hummingbirds using beautiful, flowering plants.

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I spoke about small space gardening at the Hummingbird Festival 2015, and it was an unforgettable experience, filled with educational talks, beautiful gardens and observing hummingbirds up close – I even got to hold one!  To read more about my adventures with hummingbirds, click here.

I hope that you are inspired to create your own mini-hummingbird habitat in a container.

**Do you have a favorite plant that attracts lots of hummingbirds?  Please share them in the comments section.

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Have you ever noticed circular areas missing from your leaves? If so, you aren’t alone. The other day I noticed several of my plants with neat semi-circular sections missing. But, was I worried? Nope, and I’ll tell you why in my latest garden video.

Has this happened in your garden? What plants were affected?