Do you like plants that flower throughout most of the year?

How about a plant with evergreen foliage in zone 9-11 gardens throughout the year?

Would you prefer a plant that requires very little pruning?

Texas Olive (Cordia)

If you answered “yes” to these questions, then Texas Olive may deserve a spot in your garden.

This beautiful southwestern native deserves a spot in our ‘Drought Tolerant & Fuss Free’ category.

Texas Olive (Cordia)

Despite its common name, this is not an olive tree. However, depending on your preference, it can be trained into a small tree or a large shrub.

With all of its outstanding qualities mentioned earlier, it deserves to be seen more often in the landscape.

My favorite characteristics are its large, dark green leaves and white flowers that decorate the landscape.

Want to learn more about Texas olive and how you can use it in your landscape?

Check out my latest plant profile for Houzz.  

Great Design Plant: Cordia Boissieri

You can check out my other plant profiles here if you want more ideas for great plants to add to your drought-tolerant landscape.

Gather Flower Seeds, Red globe mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua)

Gather Flower Seeds, Red globe mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua)

Did you know that some flowering desert perennials can be grown easily from seed? Many of the plants in my garden are volunteers that grew from seed from established plants.

I have several ‘parental’ plants in my front garden, along with their babies that have come up on their own with no assistance from me.

Gather Flower Seeds , Pink globe mallow 

Pink globe mallow 

My favorite perennials that grow from seed are my colorful globe mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua).  The most common color seen in globe mallow is orange. However, they also come in other colors, such as red, pink, and white. You can purchase the less common color varieties, but they can be hard to find at your local nursery.

White globe mallow

White globe mallow

When I first designed my garden, I bought pink, red, and white globe mallows. These plants are now over 17 years old and produce a large number of seeds once flowering has ceased.  Because these colors can be hard to find, people ask me to sell them seeds that I harvest each year from my colorful perennials.

Light pink globe mallow

Light pink globe mallow

Harvesting seeds from spent flowers is easy to do. Once the flowers begin to fade in spring, I look for tiny, dried-out seed pods, which is where the seeds are contained. I then pick them off and place them in a little bag.  It’s important to keep the colors separate, so if someone wants red globe mallow, they won’t be growing pink or white ones.

gopher plant and angelita daisy in desert garden

Groundcovers like gopher plants (Euphorbia rigida) and angelita daisy (Tetraneuris acaulis) come up from seed in my front yard. I pull out the ones I don’t want and allow the others to remain.

Desert marigold (Baileya multiradiata), firecracker penstemon (Penstemon eatonii), and verbena (Glandularia spp.)

Desert marigold (Baileya multiradiata), firecracker penstemon (Penstemon eatonii), and verbena (Glandularia spp.)

There are other desert perennials that come up easily in the desert garden from seed, such as desert marigold (Baileya multiradiata), firecracker penstemon (Penstemon eatonii), and verbena (Glandularia spp.).

So, how do you grow these drought-tolerant perennials from seed? Surprisingly, it’s not hard to do, and if you go into a lot of trouble and fuss over them, they probably won’t grow. So, starting them in little pots and transplanting them isn’t the best way to go about it. Instead, sprinkle the seed throughout the landscape, allowing some to fall a foot away from a drip emitter or near rocks. You want to mirror the natural conditions where they sow their seed in nature. Warning: this only works in areas where pre-emergent herbicides are NOT used. 

Growing these perennials from seed is very inexpensive, but some patience is needed while you wait for them to sprout.  Not all will come up, but those that do will add beauty to your garden, and before you know it, you may be harvesting seed to share with your friends.

What type of plants have you come up in your garden from seed?

I am always on the lookout for unique landscape design, seeing how others create beauty in the garden so that I can help inspire you with your outdoor spaces. So, here are some design notes from the field that I found that I hope you will find useful.

REFLECTIONS:

unique landscape design

Often when walking through the garden, I find myself pausing to admire the view of a garden’s beauty reflected on a window.

unique landscape design

It is much like looking at a landscape in a mirror, which expands on its beauty while making it appear even more extensive.

SUCCULENT NOOK:

unique landscape design

On a visit to a client’s landscape, I noted a unique way that they display their succulents. Little nooks were created along the bare expanse of wall, where small pots filled with succulents were nestled inside.

unique landscape design

What a lovely way to break up what would otherwise be a bare wall.

CIRCULAR STEP STONES:

unique landscape design

Pathways are an essential element of the landscape, allowing us to move from one area to the other. Normally, you see square step stones, a continuous path, or flagstone in a variety of shapes forming the path. However, I like these circular step stones, which create a distinctive look. The concrete is poured into molds onsite to make these step stones.

COLORFUL PORCH:

unique landscape design

While strolling among the buildings of the La Villita Historic Village in downtown San Antonio, Texas, I spotted a delightful splash of color on a front porch. Vintage-inspired chairs in vibrant red and turquoise created a welcoming seating area in front of an old, historic home.

I hope that you enjoyed these design elements that speak to me. This is a series of design-inspired posts that I hope to feature from time to time with you. Have you seen any unique design that inspired you?

Revisiting a Newly-Designed Landscape Two Years Later

Budget Gardening

Budget Gardening

For those of us who love succulents, there is a price to pay. These water-wise plants often cost a lot of money. If you have a bottomless wallet, that may not be a problem, but for those of us who live on a budget and want to include these lovely plants in our landscapes, it can be a problem.

succulent plant

Thankfully, there is something that you can do in many cases to turn one succulent plant into several. I’ll show you how I did this when I bought a ‘Blue Elf’ aloe, which I had wanted for a long time.

‘Blue Elf’ aloe is a more compact aloe that is quite popular. Like most aloes, it does best in bright shade or filtered sunlight. Orange flowers appear in later winter and last into spring, adding a welcome splash of color to winter gardens.

Desert Botanical Garden

I visited the Desert Botanical Garden’s fall plant sale the other day and had a list of plants I wanted in my garden. One of my must haves was three ‘Blue Elf’ aloe plants. The holes were already dug, and all I needed were my little aloes.

Budget Gardening

Budget Gardening

The problem was that initially, I could only find 3-gallon specimens for $30 and not the smaller 1-gallon I was hoping to find. Later, I did see them in the 1-gallon size for $20 apiece. Ouch! So, what was I to do? I certainly didn’t want to spend $60 for three 1-gallon plants.

Budget Gardening

I went back to look at those in the 3-gallon containers and noted that there were at least three good-sized clumps of aloe, which was all I needed. So I bought it and took it home.

Budget Gardening

Using a sharp hand shovel, I cut through the root ball, isolating each clump.

Budget Gardening

Out came several nice-sized aloes, ready to be planted. 

Budget Gardening

I planted them in my pre-dug holes, where they will root nicely with some supplemental water.

It turns out that there weren’t just three but five clumps of ‘Blue Elf’ aloe, so I found two more areas to plant them. 

So, instead of paying $60 for three 1-gallons, I got 5 ‘Blue Elf’ aloe for $6 each, which, for succulents, is a great deal!

Another type of succulent where you can sometimes find ‘extra’ plants in a nursery container is agave.

Budget Gardening

At the same plant sale, many different species of agave were on display, ready to be purchased. While not all types of agave make ‘babies’ (pups), a lot of them do. Can you spot the two agave containers in the photo above where there is more than one agave growing?

The next time you are shopping for aloe or agave for your garden, take a close look at them in their nursery containers – you may find two or more plants for the price of one. How cool is that?

Succulents, More Than Just Drought Tolerant

desert garden with flowering plants
Backyard desert landscape with low-water plants.

Did you know that what you plant today has short-term and long-term benefits? It’s true. As water resources become even more precious, planting wisely is more important than ever. You will enjoy the immediate effects of lowering your outdoor water use while enjoying the knowledge that you are creating a sustainable outdoor space for the future.

Another benefit is that low-water plants are beautiful and increase your outdoor enjoyment.

So, let’s discuss four ways of “planting ahead” to ensure that your desert landscape is resilient for years to come.

shady tree over seating area in backyard
Outdoor seating area underneath the shade of a ‘Desert Museum’ palo verde tree.

Plant More Shade

The benefits of shade in the garden cannot be overstated; trees are a great way to achieve that. Trees offer a welcome respite from the hot desert sun while adding beauty to the landscape. Additionally, trees reduce outdoor temperatures underneath their branches, and when placed on the west, east, or south side of your home, will save money on energy bills.

Native and desert-adapted trees don’t use much water, and plants grown under the branches of trees use less water than those planted in full sun.

Look at the areas around your home and see if there are areas where shade be added. If you have a narrow space where trees won’t fit, consider using tall shrubs such as hop bush (Dodonaea viscosa) to provide shade.

 

purple flowering shrub
‘Rio Bravo’ Texas Sage (Leucophyllum langmaniae ‘Rio Bravo’).

Plant More Color

People are naturally drawn to color, and you can improve your home’s curb appeal by adding colorful plants. Desert dwellers have many flowering plants to choose from – from groundcovers, shrubs, and vines. Additionally, we have a year-round growing climate so you can always have something in bloom outdoors.

To maximize the color impact of plants, group the same plants together in threes or fives instead of just one. Place colorful plants in high-visibility areas such as against a wall, the corners of your property, and near the front entry where they are sure to be seen.

Avoid the biggest color mistake and stop excessively pruning flowering plants into unnatural shapes. Most flowering shrubs need pruning once a year or less.

 

flowering shrubs growing in containers
Vibrant pots filled with Baja fairy duster (Calliandra californica), ‘Blue Bells’ emu (Eremophila hygrophana), Mexican honeysuckle (Justicia spicigera), and mealy cup sage (Salvia farinacea) attract pollinators under the filtered shade of a palo verde tree.

Plant More Wildlife

Our gardens can help benefit wildlife by providing food and shelter. A bonus is that you get to view them up close! The easiest way to invite wildlife such as birds, bees, and butterflies is to incorporate plants they are attracted to.

Trees, shrubs, and even cacti can provide shelter, while the blooms from certain plants will provide nectar and seeds. One easy way to encourage pollinators to visit your garden is to replace thirsty flowering annuals in containers and plant flowering shrubs instead. The shrubs will use less water while still providing you with color. 

Baja fairy duster (Calliandra californica) is one of my favorite choices for attracting pollinators such as butterflies, hummingbirds, and larger bird species are attracted to the seeds.

 

colorful ground covers
A front yard that had the lawn removed. Flowering groundcovers such as gopher plant (Euphorbia rigida), trailing lantana (Lantana montevidensis), and angelita daisy (Tetraneuris acaulis) add beauty for much less water.

Plant More Water Saving

Plants don’t use the same amount of water – some need more, while others do fine receiving less while still looking great. You don’t need a yard filled with thirsty plants because many beautiful plants use less water (and I’m not just speaking of cacti and succulents). 

Switch out high-water-use plants and replace them with those that need less water. Groundcovers are an excellent substitute for a lawn – particularly decorative ones. Many low-growing groundcovers have lush green foliage but require a fraction of the water that a lawn does. While they can’t be walked upon, they make a beautiful addition to the landscape, and many add a colorful element and provide a food source for pollinators. Even better, they require very little maintenance.

Planting ahead involves strategically selecting the plants we choose for our desert landscapes. These four ideas will help you create a beautiful yet sustainable outdoor space that will save water and provide a more sustainable future.

Need help choosing the right low-water plants? I invite you to visit AMWUA:Plants or explore the plants in my award-winning book, Dry Climate Gardening, where you will find useful tools to help you implement these recommendations.

Exploring the Largest Therapeutic Garden in Arizona

Discover Arizona’s Largest Therapeutic Garden in Bisbee. Explore healing outdoor spaces and inclusivity at this remarkable resource and heal your soul. On a recent visit to southeastern Arizona, I was invited to visit a special garden in Bisbee, a small community with a big heart.

The Significance of the Founder’s Garden

My husband and I visit Bisbee every spring and enjoy walking through the older part of town with its historic buildings and exploring the mining history.

therapeutic garden Arizona touching the plants

A Healing Oasis in the Desert

During this visit, I was to speak about gardening to a community group and was given the opportunity to tour a recently completed garden. It gave me so much joy.

The Largest Therapeutic Garden in Arizona

So what is so special about this garden? Well, it is the largest therapeutic garden in Arizona. Its goal is to “serve as a space for our community partners—including hospitals, nonprofits, and other organizations—to incorporate into their services plans for individual and group therapy, day programs serving individuals with additional needs, and other forms of healing.”

Designing a Healing Outdoor Space

The garden is a 3.5-acre outdoor space designed by Norris Design of Tucson and was completed two years ago. That was plenty of time for the plants to become established and to get a feel of what the garden will look like as it continues to fill in.

We toured the garden with the CEO of Premier Alliances, and the history of its humble beginnings was fascinating to learn about.

therapeutic garden Arizona sculpture and water fountains
A water feature that is safe to touch and feel while visitors enjoy the sound of water.

Promoting Healing and Inclusivity

In 1962, a group of mothers came together to find and create learning opportunities for their children with disabilities. Back then, few resources were available, so the women took matters into their own hands. They initially raised money by selling homemade cakes.

Over the years, the group evolved into Premier Alliances, which serves people with disabilities in southeastern Arizona. I love how the CEO, John Charley, refers to people with special needs as “People with additional needs.”

therapeutic garden Arizona giant braille sculpture
A with raised dots (Braille) for the sight-impaired.

Inclusivity Through Design

Throughout the garden are wide, winding paths taking visitors along landscape beds with plants that invite you to touch and feel.

Over the years, the group evolved into Premier Alliances, which serves people with disabilities in southeastern Arizona. I love how the CEO, John Charley, refers to people with special needs as “People with additional needs.”

The plants are drought and desert-adapted to handle the cold(er) winters of the high desert and hot summers. Many of the plants are found in low and mid-altitude gardens as well. All are meant as a therapeutic garden in Arizona.

therapeutic garden Arizona nurseries
New greenhouses are ready for growing projects.

Personal Perspective on Therapeutic Gardens

Gardens can be places of calm and healing. Unfortunately, not all gardens are accessible to people who may have limitations. It’s easy for people without special needs to be unaware of the obstacles that stand in the way of enjoying every day experiences, like parks or gardens.

As a parent of a daughter with “additional needs,” I know how important spaces like therapeutic gardens are and their function within the community. 

The therapeutic effects of gardens are for everyone – they reduce stress and enable you to enjoy nature.

therapeutic garden Arizona landscape
A river rock dry bed helps channel water during rain storms. Firecracker and Parry’s penstemon add welcome spring color.

Visiting Founder’s Garden in Bisbee

I encourage you to learn more about the Founder’s Garden in Bisbee and its resources. The garden is open to people with extra needs and the general public, Monday through Friday.

therapeutic garden Arizona  wide walkways
The entrance to Founder’s Garden

Click here to learn more about their mission and how you can visit the garden.

side yard art at Shawna Coronado garden

Elevate Your Side Yard with Creative Solutions

Side yard art in the form of a garden? Yes please! Do you have a side garden or perhaps an empty stretch of landscape along the side of your house?

Many of my clients do, and they desire something attractive to look at when they look outside their windows. Because let’s face it – staring at a bare block wall is boring!

1. Outdoor Side Yard Art: Adding Colorful Flair to Your Walls

It could be that your side yard is narrow or super shady, which makes growing plants difficult.

Well, I’m here to share ample inspiration for your side yard with three ideas for you to consider.

side yard art with canvas art


Bring Your Garden Views Up to Eye Level

Imagine being able to add colorful art to your outdoor walls!

My friend Shawna Coronado has done that in her side garden with colorful prints specifically made to handle the outdoors. If you have boring walls and no space to add plants, an all-weather canvas is an excellent option for adding colorful interest. Or perhaps as a backdrop for lower-growing plants.

Make Side Yard Art Creative

I love visiting her garden and how she uses her artist’s eye to create vibrant vignettes throughout her backyard. Shawna is a noted gardener and author who moved from Chicago to the deserts of Arizona several years ago. I’ve had the privilege to witness how she has embraced desert gardening, and she brings her unique style to her outdoor space.

side yard art with ceramic fish and seashells


2. Maximizing Space with Artful Raised Beds

Shawna loves plants as much as I do and has added galvanized steel raised beds along her entire side yard. The beds are powdered coated with a nice sage-green color which blends well with the desert garden palette.

A combination of succulents, perennials, and vegetables make their home in her raised beds. The narrow space can limit the sunlight plants receive for many side yards when planted in the ground. Using raised beds increases the amount of sunlight they receive.

I love this combination of agave, aloe, mangave, prickly pear, and yucca, which is low water and attractive. Ceramic garden fish appear to swim among underwater plants – I love whimsy like this in the garden!

Shawna Coronado's side yard art garden


3. Expanding Possibilities in Wide Side Yards

side yard art with cactus view

Reimagine your side yard as a canvas of possibilities. If you have a spacious side yard, seize the opportunity to transform it into a flourishing garden oasis with side yard art. Consider the practical elegance of raised beds lining both sides of this often-underutilized space, allowing you to make the most of your gardening potential.

With raised beds, you can cultivate a variety of herbs, vegetables, and flowers, turning your previously overlooked area into a vibrant green haven. But don’t stop there; infuse personality and charm with whimsical garden art, injecting life and creativity into every corner.

Your side yard has the potential to become a harmonious blend of artistry and agriculture, a true testament to the transformative power of outdoor spaces.

Click here to learn more about Shawna’s side garden gallery and where to purchase canvas prints, raised beds, and ceramic fish.

Noelle Johnson author Dry Climate Gardening Book

A Long-Awaited Gardening Book Birthday: Turning 18 Months of Dreams into Reality

Today – the big gardening book birthday – was a day long in coming…

In many ways, it was like a very long pregnancy. 18 months to be exact since my initial discussion with my editor about writing a book on desert gardening.

The journey from idea to book is filled with varying emotions. From excitement, stress, and impatience, to today when I feel pure happiness.

Writing a book is not easy. My reason for doing so is to inspire and guide people who live in dry climates. I want you to create and maintain an outdoor space that brings both joy and beauty.

Empowering Dry Climate Dwellers: Tips, Strategies, and More in ‘Dry Climate Gardening’

Within the pages of Dry Climate Gardening, I help you with specific garden and landscape strategies. I help with plant choice, planting tips, watering strategies, pest control, design inspiration, and lists of my favorite plants.

Wherever you are in your garden journey, I hope you will find help and ideas for your landscape. The truth is that you can have an attractive garden despite living in an arid region.

Dry Climate Gardening: Creating Beautiful, Sustainable Gardens in Low-Water Conditions is available now. Find the book everywhere books are sold. Click here to order yours and celebrate my gardening book birthday with me!

I have picked up a new hobby, which was a bit accidental – birding!

As a horticulturist, birds go along with gardening, and I’ve always enjoyed them. One of my most requested speaking topics is about gardening for birds. However, I have begun to dive deeply into the fascinating birding world.

Birding is Fun with my Family

It may surprise you that the Southwest is one of the top bird-watching destinations. I am fortunate that there is a lovely riparian preserve a few miles from my home where you can see many different species of birds.

It turns out my two sisters also enjoy birding, so the other day, we met up early to go for a morning walk and explore the birds at the Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch, in Gilbert, Arizona.

This photo is of me and my sister Jennifer, who is a year younger than me. She is also the invaluable assistant to ‘AZ Plant Lady’ who would be nothing without her 🙂

It was a cold morning, but the birds were out, and so were we ready with our binoculars. The trails are level and circle eight different ponds. Trees and shrubs are allowed to grow in their natural shapes, providing plenty of shelter for birds, but we could see many in the trees and on the water.

We spotted the red of a Northern cardinal. I am always excited when I see one of these colorful birds because we don’t get many of them.

His mate was close by. Northern cardinals don’t migrate but stay in place all year.

We also spotted the orange breast of a robin but didn’t get a good photo of it.

An Anna’s hummingbird perched on the leafless branch of a shrub. His feathers are puffed up to help keep him warm. I am so grateful that we enjoy hummingbirds in our region all year. While we walked, we could hear hummingbirds everywhere.

From the tiny to the large, Canada geese gently honked as they saw us approach, hoping for food. We saw many other types of water birds, including pelicans – imagine pelicans in the desert! They leave in the summer.

A tiny verdin was busy eating tiny insects in a palo verde branch. I have a nesting pair of verdin in my own garden, and I love to watch their antics as they perch on my flowering shrubs. Verdins are just a little larger than hummingbirds.   

A roadrunner was out for a morning walk, but earlier, we spotted it in a tree. Roadrunners are fun to watch, especially when they catch small lizards.

A curved bill thrasher was enjoying the morning with his mate. I have a pair that visits my bird feeder at home. I like their golden eyes.

My youngest sister, Grace, is a professional photographer and took all these amazing photos. She kindly let me share them with you! You can see more of her stunning photos on her Instagram account, The Reluctant Birder.

I can hardly wait for another ‘sister’ birding walk!

I encourage you to observe the birds who visit your garden or go to some natural areas to view our feathered friends.

backyard desert garden with fall-blooming plants

Embracing the Desert Garden in Fall

Fall is my favorite time of year in the desert garden for two main reasons.

First, fall signals the beginning of the holiday season. And yes, I am one of those people who decorate for Christmas early. Thanksgiving dinner at my house is celebrated with a fully decorated tree in the background.

The Revival of the Desert Garden

Secondly, autumn marks a magical transformation in my garden, as it awakens from the trials of summer. It’s no secret that the scorching heat of the summer months can be taxing on our cherished green companions. However, the arrival of fall ushers in a series of remarkable changes that breathe new life into our botanical friends.

Lush and Vibrant

As keen observers of nature, we’ve likely noticed the remarkable resurgence of our plants during this season. The foliage appears lusher, the blooms more vibrant, and the overall health of our garden seems to rebound. It’s a phenomenon so profound that many desert gardeners affectionately dub autumn as the “second spring.”

This resurgence is no mere coincidence but rather a result of nature’s resilience and adaptation. As temperatures dip and daylight hours become more moderate, our plants find relief from the summer’s harsh extremes. They eagerly embrace this milder environment, seizing the opportunity to flourish once again.

Nurturing the Garden

In the desert, autumn isn’t just a season of change; it’s a reaffirmation of the enduring partnership between gardeners and the natural world. It reminds us that, even in the harshest of climates, with patience and understanding, we can create and nurture thriving gardens that mirror the vitality and resilience of the desert itself.

Foliage Rejuvenation and Vibrant Blooms in Your Garden

Here are some of the differences you may see in your plants this time of year:

  1. Darker foliage has replaced the sun-bleached appearance of some plants due to less intense sunlight.
  2. Flowering increases and the blooms may also appear more intense in color due to less intensity from the sun.
  3. Some plants only bloom in fall, like black dalea (Dalea frutescens), cascalote (Caesalpinia cacalaco), and my favorite pink muhly grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris).

Showcasing the Fall Garden

In the section of my backyard, pictured above, pink muhly and white trailing lantana (Lantana montevidensis ‘Alba’) look especially vibrant in fall.

Pink trumpet vine (Podranea ricasoliana) dominates the back corner and blooms in spring and fall. I always know when cooler temps are on their way when they begin to bloom in September.

However, as autumn transitions into winter, the blooms in this area will slow and fade. A few hardy blooms may remain, but overall, the plants will slow down in their growth and flowering. The exception is my angelita daisies (Tetraneuris acaulis) which will bloom off and on through winter.

Discovering the Delights of Your Desert Garden

In the desert southwest landscape, where scorching sun and minimal rainfall summers challenge even the greenest thumbs, cultivating a thriving fall water-saving garden becomes a true art. Through careful planning and sustainable practices, enthusiasts uncover the secrets of nurturing vibrant cacti, resilient succulents, and colorful desert blooms.

What a joy to learn the delicate balance of conserving water while creating an oasis of life. Beyond the satisfaction of tending to nature’s wonders, desert gardening in the southwest unveils the beauty of resilient, sustainable, and breathtakingly unique landscapes. I invite you to take a walk through your garden and note the changes to your plants. This is a happy time of year in the garden!