Indian Mallow (Abutilon palmeri)

I always enjoy seeing well-designed landscapes that make use of many of my favorite arid-adapted plants. A couple of months ago, I had the opportunity to explore lovely landscape areas that existed within an imaginary land with real plants that were used to provide a sense of reality to this fictional place.

I invite you to explore these areas along with me and look for clues as to where it is.

Globe mallow, Mexican honeysuckle, and Indian mallow

This is a gorgeous layering of three different shrubby plants. Indian mallow (Abutilon palmeri) anchors the background with its gray-green leaves and yellow flowers. In the middle stands Mexican honeysuckle (Justicia spicigera), which has lovely foliage and orange flowers that appear throughout the year. Globe mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua) adds nice color contrast with its foliage and orange flowers in the foreground. All of these are drought tolerant and thrive in desert gardens.

Continuing our exploration, we walk by a desert planting filled with young saguaro cactus, ocotillo, and a little yucca. It almost made me feel like we were in Arizona.

The beautiful green foliage of a jojoba shrub (Simmondsia chinensis) stood out against the reddish walls of a ‘canyon’.

 

Mexican fence post cactuses (Pachycereus marginatus) along with other cereus cacti add a lovely vertical element.

Naturally-themed areas are filled with a plant palette that places you in the desert Southwest. But, we were several hundred miles away from the real desert.

Have you guessed where we were yet? Here is another clue:

Information signs reveal the different kinds of plants in this imaginary land. Your final clue is the name of the plants as well as the shape of the small prickly pear pad.

We were exploring the town of ‘Radiator Springs’ which came to life in the movie ‘Cars’ and its sequels. These are my favorite Disney movies because they take place in my own backyard.

I was pleasantly surprised at how well this imaginary town was constructed and the plants used to create a look of authenticity. However, there were some notable exceptions to having live plants throughout Radiator Springs.

Old-fashioned rear lights were used to create imaginary flowers at the Cozy Cone Hotel. 

Other car parts serve as components of this cornucopia.

While I was distracted by both the real and imaginary plants, other visitors were thrilled by the appearance of the inhabitants of Radiator Springs.

Have you ever visited Cars Land at California Adventure? If you get the chance, you may be surprised to find inspiration for your desert garden.

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I adore roses. For those who have followed me for a while, this comes as no surprise. I’ve grown roses for almost thirty years, and they are the one plant responsible for inspiring me to get my degree in Horticulture. 

So, why am I taking out a rose? Have I gone crazy? 

‘Olivia Rose’

Let me give you a little background. For the past few years, I have grown new rose varieties in my Arizona garden, given to me by David Austin Roses to see how they perform in the low desert regions of Arizona and each year, and I report which varieties do well. These types of roses are easy to grow, have a beautiful old-fashioned flower shape, and are highly fragrant. Once people grow a David Austin rose, they seldom go back to other kinds.

This year, I am working on a project, with the assistance of the folks at David Austin Roses, which spans two rose gardens, located in very different climates. The first garden is mine, located in Arizona, and the second belongs to my daughter, who lives in northern Michigan. The project consists of each of us growing two identical varieties of roses and a different one that is reported to do better in our respective climates.

Before planting new roses, I had to get my rose garden ready for new roses, which meant that one had to go. And so, I asked my husband to dig out one of the roses from the garden.

The rose bush I chose to remove didn’t do very well and only looks nice three months of the year, while those remaining do much better. So, the decision was easy.

 

Soon that garden was ready, and the roses arrived from David Austin. I always experience a feeling akin to Christmas morning whenever new roses come in the mail.


It never ceases to amaze me how something so beautiful has such a humble beginning.

I soaked the roses for 24 hours and then planted them. Two months later, they are covered in buds, and I can’t wait for them to open.

As for my daughter’s garden, she isn’t quite ready to be planting any roses as it is sitting under a layer of snow so she will be planting hers in a month or so.

I’ll keep you updated throughout the rose project and highlighting the differences and similarities of growing roses in a hot and cold climate. 

Next, I will share with you the varieties growing in my garden along with pictures of their first blooms. Have you ever grown David Austin roses?

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I am always on the lookout for design inspiration, 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:

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

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:

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.

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

CIRCULAR STEP STONES:

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:

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?

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When you ask most people what they want in their garden, their most common answer is, “color”. One of the best plants that I like to recommend for warm-season color is coral fountain, also known as firecracker plant (Russelia equisetiformis). It has beautiful, cascading foliage that resembles the movement of water.

Deep orange flowers begin to appear in spring, the attract both humans and hummingbirds. As you can see, this is not a plant for subtle color – it is dramatic.

Coral fountain paired with elephants food (Portulacaria afra).

 It looks great when paired with succulents like artichoke agave (Agave parryi ‘truncata’), elephants food (Portulacaria afra), or lady’s slipper (Pedilanthus macrocarpus). For additional interest, you can plant it alongside yellow-flowering plants from the low-growing gold lantana (Lantana ‘New Gold’) or angelita daisy (Tetraneuris acaulis) all the way to the tall yellow bells (Tecoma stans stans).

In my garden, I have three of them growing underneath the filtered shade of my palo verde tree. If you’d like to learn more about coral fountain to see it would be a good fit in your garden, please read my earlier post

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My garden has been transformed with yellow showers of flowers, courtesy of my palo verde trees. It’s a delightful time of year with warm spring temperatures and colorful landscapes filled with flowering shrub, perennials, and trees.

However, nothing heralds the arrival of spring in the desert Southwest like the golden yellow flowers of palo verde trees. I have three ‘Desert Musuem’ palo verde trees spread throughout my garden – one in the front, in the side garden (our dog run), and in the backyard.

 

The flowers do spread everywhere, which bothers some people, but I like to focus on the lovely yellow flowers transform things in the garden, like my artichoke agave where the flowers nestle inside its rosette.

 


One of my favorite views of the garden is looking out the patio door to the side garden where the branches of my palo verde tree frame the view.

There are several different species of palo verde and each one has a slightly different color flower, form the pale yellow of the foothills palo verde (Parkinsonia microphylla) to the deep yellow of ‘Desert Museum’ (Parkinsonia hybrid ‘Desert Museum’).

Here is more information about palo verde trees from an earlier post. Do you enjoy the blooms of palo verde trees?

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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For those of us who live in the desert Southwest, we know that geography plays a huge part in what we can grow in our garden. Today’s post is by Alex, who talks about the different factors that affect our gardening practices.

If you’ve ever planned a garden or fretted over the health of one of your plants, you’ve probably heard of hardiness zones. A plant’s growing or hardiness zone is a measurement by the US Department of Agriculture that determines what plants will grow well in a certain area’s region. It looks at average temperatures as well as other climate information to give a general recommendation of what plants will grow within the zone.

A region’s temperature is the most obvious factor, but there are plenty of other aspects of your geographical location that can help or harm your plants. Here are some of the conditions that you ought to keep in mind when planting this Spring.

Amount and Frequency of Rainfall

Despite similar temperatures, the plant life growing in Arizona will look completely different than the Southern states that receive much more rainfall. Plants have adapted to thrive in their native habitat; that means the plants flourishing in a wet climate may not be cut out for a location that receives less rain or experiences times of drought.

If you’re hoping to grow a plant outside of its normal climate, you’ll be forced to plan for the amount of water it will need. That means staying on top of weather reports and keeping a close watch of the plant’s health on a daily basis.

And even then, some plants live in misty areas. Those conditions are nearly impossible to replicate outdoors.

Quality and Type of Soil

In a broad sense, there are different types of soil that hold water differently and offer unique challenges. Sandier soils have a difficult time retaining water, giving little time for the plants to absorb what they need. Siltier soils hold water perhaps too well; these areas can seem muddy after heavy rainfall. Clay drains well and handles water effectively, but it can cause troubles for your garden if it gets too dry.

Different regions will have a predominant soil type, affecting which plants will work best for your garden. From a more localized prospective, however, there will be changes in nutrients and soil composition. The bacteria and fungi that reside in the soil will be different. Everything from the soil type to these microorganisms can influence how plants will grow. 

Cloud Coverage

In their native climates, plants have adapted to their conditions by needing the conditions that they are exposed to. This is especially true with the conditions of light.

Many plants nowadays are described as “full sun,” “part sun,” or “shade.” These descriptors explain how much sunlight the plant needs or can tolerate, but this can be flexible depending on your location.

Places closer to the equator are perpendicular with the sun’s rays and receive much stronger bursts of sunlight. The higher you get in latitude, the more intense changes there are in sunlight exposure; the light available is less direct and the length of the days vary more throughout the year.

These sorts of guidelines provide a general standard for what your plants can handle, but your personal location can vary even more when you consider general cloud coverage. If you’re living in a place that sees a lot of clouds even when it’s not raining, your plants will be less likely to suffer from too much sunlight exposure. On the other hand, there are plants that require direct, intense sunlight to thrive.

Variables like tree coverage and neighborhood density – how near houses are to each other – can also affect your plants’ sunlight situation.

Wind

Some geographic locations are very windy. These plants generally have stronger root systems and thicker foliage to resist the elements. On the other end of the spectrum, forested plants are used to growing with tree coverage to block the wind. If you live in a windy place with not much cover – like a beach, for example, plants that are delicate and unused to the area will not fare well.

When it comes to choosing plants for your garden, start with those hardiness zones; they’ll go a long way in informing your choices. However, don’t neglect your own situation. By considering your location – and even the location your plants will be facing – you can prepare a garden that thrives during all seasons.

Alex Briggs is a contributing author for Cascade Tree Works.

 

**There are two days left to enter the giveaway for the ‘The Colorful Dry Garden’. So, if you haven’t entered, now is your chance. 

I love using color in the garden, which is why I welcomed the opportunity to review the book, ‘The Colorful Dry Garden‘ and host a giveaway.

In my work as a horticulturist and landscape consultant, I find that people often have the mistaken impression that desert landscapes are destined to be brown and barren, but nothing could be farther from the truth. There are many plants that offer vibrant color to outdoor spaces while thriving in an arid climate.

Horticulturist, Maureen Gilmer, makes her home in the Palm Springs area, in the midst of the California desert, and she has put offered her expertise in creating colorful dry gardens in her latest book.

Her book is broken up into two different parts, with the first taking you through the steps of how to convert your landscape into one that saves water. Whether you want to do a total renovation or do it in phases, the book provides you with helpful guidance.

Part two has a comprehensive list of plants that add welcome color to the arid landscape. However, unlike many plant lists, the author groups plants into groups that focus on their role in the garden such as structure (shrubs), canopy (trees), accent plants, and those that add beautiful texture.

I have reviewed a large number of books that deal with gardening in a dry climate and ‘The Colorful Dry Garden’ approaches it a bit differently by focusing on color, design, plant function, as well as real steps on how to transition your landscape to one filled with water-saving, colorful plants.  

I enjoyed reading through the book and feel that it deserves a spot in your garden library. 

**The folks at Sasquatch Books are giving away a free copy of ‘The Colorful Dry Garden’ for readers of my blog. To enter, leave a comment telling me what your favorite colorful plant is. I will announce the winner on March 22nd.

Please feel free to share via social media or email, using the buttons below. 

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Javelina stepping out of an arroyo

Yesterday, I had a rather unexpected encounter with a javelina while taking pictures of a landscape. I think he was as surprised as I was to see him and he retreated back to his arroyo after a couple of minutes. That meeting inspired me to write this post and how they affect the desert garden – primarily what types of plants they like to eat.  

Javelina travel through arroyos (washes)

To state that I was surprised to come so close to a javelina is an understatement. In the over twenty years that I’ve worked in desert gardens, I seldom see these pig-like mammals as they usually sleep through the day underneath mesquite or other desert trees.

Often referred to as ‘wild pigs’ due to their resemblance to a boar, they aren’t pigs, but are a peccary, which is a medium-sized mammal with hooves. Javelina are found throughout the Southwest, but their range also extends to Central and South America. In urban settings, you’ll find them in more naturalized areas.

They frequently travel in herds, although I only saw these two adults on this day. While it can be enjoyable to view them from afar (don’t get too close as they can be dangerous), dealing with the damage that they cause to gardens isn’t fun.

 

Javelina love to eat the pretty things we plant in our desert landscapes such as flowering annuals, and they don’t stop there. The spines on your prized cactus won’t deter a hungry javelina – they go right in and munch on the base of a prized columnar cactus as well as the pads of prickly pear cactus.

When surveying the damage that they cause to the garden, what makes it worse, is that javelina frequently don’t eat what they dig up.

My relationship with javelina is a long one, which began by working to keep them away from the thirty-six tee boxes that I had to plant with flowering annuals seasonally. Not surprisingly, they were drawn to these colorful islands and would dislodge the plants by rooting them up with their snouts before eating them.

My crew and I had some mixed success with spraying squirrel repellent every few days on the petunias, but it was a lot of work and not foolproof.

Javelina will zero in on popular potted annuals such as pansies, petunias, snapdragons, which are like candy to them. While geraniums aren’t their favorite potted flower, they will eat them too if hungry enough.

If you want pretty containers filled with flowers and live in a neighborhood where javelina are present, you’ll need to place the pots in an enclosed area or courtyard where they can’t reach. 

Bacopa

 

Lavender

There are some flowering plants that they usually stay away from and these include Bacopa and Lavender, which can be used in containers.

 

Depending on the time of year, a javelina’s diet changes, based on what is available. In winter, citrus they will grab citrus fruit off of the tree.

In summer, mesquite seedpods are one of their favorite foods.

A Cereus peruvianus cactus that has some bites taken out of its base by javelina.

A fairly common sight is a columnar cactus with some bites taken out of its base, where javelina are present. In most cases, the damage is largely cosmetic and the cactus will be fine. However, to prevent further damage, you can surround the base of the cactus with a wire mesh cage.

While there is no guarantee that javelina won’t eat the plants in your desert garden from time to time, there are some plants that are less palatable to them than others. Here a helpful link for javelina resistant plants, but I must tell you that if a javelina is hungry enough, it will eat the plants on this list – I know this from personal experience. 

The only foolproof way to keep them away from eating your plants is to keep them out with a fence or wall.

Do you have javelina where you live? What type of plants do you notice them eating? Any plants that they seem to leave alone?

 

Palo Blanco (Acacia willardiana)

Today’s post is written by guest blogger, Emily, who writes about sustainable gardening.

Getting to landscape your own yard is exciting, and it can prove to be really fun! You can decorate your yard with the plants you love in whatever way you want them to look. There’s no end to all the ways that plants can bring life and beauty to your backyard, but what types of plants you have to choose from can be narrowed down because of where you live.

Even beginner gardeners know that plants are affected by the amount of sunlight and kinds of temperatures they deal with on a regular basis. Some plants do better in warmer climates than others. If you live in the southwest, you know that hot, dry weather is something your plants are going to have to be prepared for. Check out some of the best trees you can pick from for your yard that will thrive in the rising temperatures of the southwest.

Your Best Options

This tree list is for those who want to look through a list of potential trees without having to do a bunch of research and get disappointed when they find out that the tree they like won’t work in their yard. Extreme heat doesn’t mean that you’re limited to only a few kinds of trees. You can have large, beautiful trees that have thick foliage and provide lots of shade. You can also have fruit trees if you’re interested in growing your own food. Read on to see which trees might fit with what you’re looking for.

Stately pine trees along a historic Phoenix street

  • Aleppo Pine – Choosing to grow the Aleppo pine might be right for you if you’re looking for an ornamental tree. It has a distinct trunk and can grow up to 80 feet tall. This tree is a great addition to a yard that looks like it’s missing some character.

Desert Willow (Chilopsis linearis)

Willow Acacia (Acacia salicina)

  • Acacia Tree – If you’re looking for a tree that’ll grow quickly, the Acacia might be for you. These trees are bright with green, yellow or white colors and live for around 20-30 years. They’re also known for stabilizing soil with their roots, which is perfect for erosion-prone areas.

Texas Mountain Laurel (Sophora secundiflora)

  • Texas Mountain Laurel: A shrub that disguises itself as a tree, the Texas Mountain Laurel is a beautiful plant that provides lots of shade. It can grow to 15 feet high and when in bloom, it’s covered in massive purple flowers. Take note that the seeds it produces are poisonous if ingested, so those with outdoor pets or small children should watch this tree carefully.

‘Santa Rosa’ Plum Tree

  • Santa Rosa Plum – Fruit lovers, rejoice! You can still plant a variety of fruit trees in desert climates. The Santa Rosa Plum tree does particularly well in full sun as long as it’s watered regularly. Expect delicious summer fruit after an average full growth cycle of four years.

Grapefruit Tree

  • Citrus Trees – Many homeowners choose to grow a variety of citrus trees in the southwest because they do so well. Lemons, oranges, grapefruit and lime trees are especially common in yards since they naturally take to the weather.

Give It Time

Whatever tree you choose will need time to grow to its full maturity. This will be a different length of time depending on what kind of tree you decide to go with. Always talk with local gardeners to make sure you know what you’re getting into. On the other hand, you should also be prepared to make some mistakes! You’ll learn how best to care for your tree with time, so don’t feel like you have to know everything about your type of tree before you plant.

Jump Right Into It

The more you research, the more you may feel overwhelmed. This is normal for beginner gardeners, but learning how to grow your own tree really isn’t that difficult. It’s just a new way of gardening! And don’t think you’re alone. Ask around in your community to see if there are any gardening groups you can join, and if not, you can look online too. There are people ready to help guide you with your gardening passions so you can grow the trees of your dreams, no matter which kind you settle on.

Bio:

Emily is an avid gardener. She writes in the sustainability field and loves getting to try new composting methods to grow food with less waste. You can read more of her work on her blog, Conservation Folks.

**For more tree profiles that will add beauty to your desert garden, click here for earlier posts where I share some of my favorites.

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