Do you use any power tools to keep your landscape looking its best?

If you are like me, you may have a hedge trimmer and perhaps a leaf blower, or both.  

When I was contacted by the folks at Troy-Bilt to review their newest line of garden equipment that is powered by CORE technology, I was very excited to partner with them and I was provided with the products free of charge. Each piece of this equipment uses a rechargeable battery.  Their equipment line includes a hedge trimmer, leaf blower, string trimmer and a lawn mower.

Due to my previous experience with the quality of Troy-Bilt products, I have high expectations for these new tools will share my experiences with a video.

 
CORE technology means that the “power comes from the motor and not the battery.”  
 
According to Troy-Bilt, “the controller communicates with the CORE motor to monitor how hard it’s working and senses when the motor needs more power and automatically calls for more energy from the battery. So when you need maximum power, CORE answers. The controller efficiently manages the transfer of energy from the battery to the motor to deliver maximum runtime from every charge”.
 
The equipment is simple to put together, and the instructions are clear and easy to follow.  I couldn’t wait to use both of them on a particular problem area in my landscape.
 
 
I have an informal hedge of white gaura growing in my front garden, but within its depths lurks an infestation of bermudagrass.  The grass was left over from when we renovated the landscape and took out the lawn.  As usually happens, sometimes grass can re-emerge, which is what happened here.
 
Unfortunately, I am now at the point that where the grass is threatening to take over my gaura, so drastic measures need to be taken.
 
To solve the problem, I have to prune back the gaura severely so that I can get to the base of the grass and dig it out.  So, I will use the hedge trimmers to prune the gaura back severely and then the leaf blower to help clean up the area afterward.
 
 
Troy-Bilt’s CORE hedge trimmer is effective and not too heavy for me to use comfortably.  I am impressed at how easily it cut through the old stems without getting tangled up.
 
 
I have had the opportunity to test over five different Troy-Bilt blowers over the past few years and this one is my favorite.  It is very powerful, easy to hold, and simple to use.
 
Battery-powered technology paired with Troy-Bilt’s CORE engine creates powerful garden equipment that is easy to use. The power of their tools rivals those with gas-powered engines.  Now, I don’t have to worry about messing around with power cords – no more rolling and unrolling electrical cords, accidentally cutting the cord, or having to constantly move the cord out of my way.  I also don’t miss having to fill gas engines up with fuel.
 
One thing that is important to note is that the battery should only be charged at temperatures between 32 to 104 degrees Fahrenheit.  So, for those who live in areas with extremely cold or hot climates, the battery will need to be charged indoors.
 
All of the CORE power garden equipment operate off of the same battery.  Each tool comes with a battery and charger, but you can order additional tools without the battery if you  have one from other CORE products.
 
To learn more about Troy-Bilt’s line of CORE products and how they work, click here.
 
*I was offered the hedge trimmer and blower free of charge from the folks at Troy-Bilt with the expectation of an honest review.
Desert Willow (Chilopsis linearis)
Trees are a treasure to us that live in the Southwest where the sun can be relentless with its intensity.
 
We all know the delight of stepping into the cool shade of a tree during a hot summer’s day where their canopy provides blessed relief.
 
Honey Mesquite Bosque (Prosopis glandulosa) at the Scottsdale Xeriscape Garden
 
In addition, to welcome shade, trees also add beauty to the landscape with their lovely shades of green leaves, flowers (in some cases), and the way the dappled shade dances along the ground.
 
Palo Blanco (Mariosousa willardiana) formerly Acacia willardiana

There are many trees native to this region that add both shade and beauty to the garden while thriving in our arid climate.

I recently shared a list of my ten favorite, native trees for the Southwest in my latest article for Houzz.

*Do you have a favorite tree?  Please share it with us!

 
The last blooms of red bird-of-paradise (Caesalpinia pulcherrima) in bloom underneath the filtered shade of a desert willow (Chilopsis linearis).  Mexican bird-of-paradise (Caesalpinia mexicana) grows in front of the window.
There is nothing better than enjoying a lovely view of your garden, (while sitting with your feet up), after being out of town for several days.

I’ve spent the past several days in Atlanta, Georgia, touring gardens, learning from educational sessions, networking, and socializing at this year’s annual Garden Communicator’s Symposium.

A few days before I left for the conference, I hosted my dear friend, Andrea, who flew all the way from Australia to me in Arizona for a few days before we both left for Atlanta.

I got in late last night and relished sleeping in my own bed – there is truly no better feeling after a long day of traveling and sleeping in a hotel bed.

I try to keep my schedule light the day after I get home from a trip and today is no different.  So what’s on the schedule today?  Catching up on my favorite television shows while going through business cards from new contacts I met, working my way through the large pile of mail waiting for me, deciding where in the garden to put the new plants I was given at the conference, and deciding what new garden samples to try first in my garden.

What do you do when you come home from a  trip?

Have you ever met someone whom you felt an instant bond with?  If so, you know that it isn’t an everyday occurrence.

Last year, I attended the Garden Writer’s Association Conference for the first time.  I went to the conference not knowing anyone else there, but was excited for the classes, garden visits, and hopes to meet other people who loved and wrote about gardens like I did.

At this point, I should mention that going up to people and introducing myself isn’t easy for me to do, but another garden writer was also attending for the first time who had come all the way from Oz (also known as Australia 😉.  Well, I decided that I needed to go up and introduce myself to Andrea – after all, we had some things in common – she lived in a dry climate and Arizona landscapes made use of many plants native to Australia.  

Well, we formed an instant friendship and found out that we shared numerous similarities – including the fact that we both had recently turned 50, worked as garden consultants as well as garden writers.


Over the next few days, we shared storied about our work and memorable clients while strolling through gardens viewing plants that we both use, despite living on two different continents.  


We would also talk to each other about new plants to try all while sharing the trials and tribulations of gardening in a dry climate.

All too soon, the conference was over, and I headed home with a suitcase of free plants while Andrea flew back to Australia.

After that, we conversed back and forth while making plans to attend the next year’s conference in Atlanta, Georgia.  I thought that it would be a fun to invite Andrea to come and visit Arizona on her way to the conference.  So earlier this week, I found myself at the airport, anxiously waiting for her.  I couldn’t wait to show her my favorite garden spots around Phoenix.

At this point, I should mention that while most people spend time cleaning their house and getting it ready for a special guest, for those of us who are in the landscape business, also have to get our gardens ready for our gardener friends to visit as well.  As a result, my garden was neatly pruned, weeded, and cleaned in preparation for Andrea’s visit.  

The first day, there was no question that the Desert Botanical Garden would be our first destination.  We were blessed with a partly cloudy day with a light breeze to take the edge off of the heat.  Walking along winding paths with stunning examples of cacti, palo verde trees, flowering shrubs, and ground covers, I showed her the beauty of the desert landscape.


Of course, we had to get a picture in front of a saguaro cactus.

Craft Beer in a Jar
After the garden, it was off to get a taste of American food.  So, good BBQ with a jar of local craft beer was next.

Delicious BBQ

Evenings were spent at my house having dinner and allowing Andrea and my kids time to get to visit.


Andrea bought a lovely collection of gifts, not just for my younger kids, but also for my grandchildren.  Eric looks adorable in his Australia hat.

The next day, we visited the Heard Museum and explored the Native American history and artwork, eating delicious smoked hamburgers at a downtown restaurant that is frequented by locals.

Hamburger Works Restaurant

We enjoyed event-filled days and great food, but one of my favorite parts was watching her try her very first Rice Krispy treat.

Now, we are off to the second part of Andrea’s visit – attending the conference where we first met one year ago.

Of course, this isn’t the end of the story of a gardener from Arizona and Oz.  We have plans to write a book together highlighting our experiences and lessons learned gardening in dry climates, 9,667 miles apart.

The next several days will be filled with garden visits, informative classes, a trade show and much more.  I’ll be sure to share the newest and latest garden products with you once I return home next week.

**Click here for Andrea’s blog.**
Do you like rainy days?

Chances are, if you live in the desert Southwest, you rejoice when the clouds roll in, and the rain begins to fall.


After the rain stops, have you ever noticed that plants look fresher and a brighter shade of green?

If so, it’s not your imagination.  The rain actually fertilizes your plants.


Take a moment and think back to your days in high school when you learned that the Earth’s atmosphere is made up of oxygen and nitrogen.

When rain falls, it brings some of the nitrogen down from the atmosphere straight to plants.  This form of nitrogen is easily absorbed by plants and fertilizes them as well as the soil.

How cool is that?


So the next time you enjoy a rainy day, it’s nice to know that your plants do too!
Tangerine Crossvine
Vines are a wonderful way to decorate vertical surfaces with lovely shades of green as well as colorful flowers.

Queen’s Wreath

This is especially valuable in southwestern gardens where vines can help moderate the heat that re-radiates from a wall or used to create filtered shade when they are grown up on a pergola or patio roof.

Pink Bower Vine

I have grown several types of vines during my years living and gardening in the desert southwest and have shared my 10 favorite vines in my latest article for Houzz.


Do you have a favorite vine?

Earlier this week, I was finishing up an appointment in downtown Phoenix and since I had some spare time available, I decided to drive through one of my favorite historic neighborhoods – the Encanto-Palmcroft district.


I always enjoy driving down streets looking at homes built long ago and seeing how they are landscaped.  Some, remain the traditional landscaping with green lawns, neatly pruned shrubs and deciduous trees, like the one above.


I love porches, which aren’t a popular feature in southwestern homes in general.  These homeowners made the most of their small porch with a pair of rocking chairs and colorful Talavera pottery.


Some of the houses had taken on some more modern design elements such as adding raised beds and a small courtyard.


I really liked this raised bed which was filled with plants prized for foliage and not flowers.


While there were still front landscapes filled almost entirely with grass, but some had decreased the amount of grass.  I liked this one where two rectangles of grass flanked the front entry, yet stops at the wooden fence where it transitions to a xeriscape.  It speaks to the historic roots of the neighborhood while injecting a touch of modernity.


Plants such as artichoke agave (Agave parryi ‘truncata’) and lady’s slipper (Pedilanthus macrocarpus) fit in seamlessly with the other more traditional landscape elements in this garden.


This home also retained its lawn but added drought tolerant plants up toward the foundation.  The spiky texture of agave and yucca add a contemporary touch along with texture contrast.

  
Here is a car that you would expect to see when many of these homes were brand new.  

Check out the large Texas olive (Cordia boissieri).

  
This home had a walled-in courtyard added for privacy and a curved path leads up toward the entry.


The pathway leading toward the residence begins at the parking strip and is flanked by river rock.


A couple of the historic homes shed their green lawns and formerly pruned shrubs completely.

Mature specimens of ironwood (Olneya tesota), jojoba (Simmondsia chinensis), and creosote (Larrea tridentata) create privacy for this house.

An informal pathway also bisects this parking strip leading toward the entry path to the house.


The purple door contrasts beautifully with the hunter green color of the house.


The backyard of this desert retreat is surrounded by a fence made of rebar.


Small vignettes are visible through plantings of hopbush (Dodonaea viscosa) and yucca.


As I left the historic district, I spotted a beautiful specimen of a palo blanco tree (Acacia willardiana)

I could have spent several hours exploring the Encanto-Palmcroft historic district, but it’s nice to have a reason to come back again someday.

*You can view another garden in this historic district from an earlier post, A Hidden Jewel In the Middle of Phoenix.


SaveSave

Damianita (Chrysactinia mexicana)

Most of us are familiar with the idea of using ground covers in the landscape and how they can add a welcome carpet of color.  

Goodding’s Verbena (Glandularia gooddingii)

But, you may be surprised to find that they serve another purpose that is especially appreciated in hot climates.  Ground covers help to reduce the heat from the sun.  They do this by preventing the sun from heating up the ground that they cover.  When the ground heats up, it absorbs heat only to re-radiate it outward.  So, using ground covers is just one way to help cool down the landscape by a degree or two. 

I recently shared my favorite 10 native Southwestern ground covers in my latest article for Houzz.
What is your favorite ground cover? 

Are you one of those people who obsessively watches the Olympics?  



I am.  Every two years, I find myself rearranging my schedule and converting our kitchen island into my makeshift office so that I can watch the Olympics.


You would think that my love affair with the Olympics would mean that I am somewhat athletic myself.  Well, other than playing on a softball team when I was 12-years-old, my athletic prowess is rather lackluster.

But, that hasn’t stopped my armchair athleticism from coming out whenever the Olympics comes around.  My passion for the Olympics comes from my mom, who would have my siblings and I watch it when we were kids.  Today, she has made sure that we celebrate it as adults by holding our version of the games.

Summer Olympics 2012

For our last Summer Olympics, we were each assigned to one of four teams: China, France, Great Britain, and the USA.  

This year, we went with the same teams, mostly because we had all the stuff left over from the last time.

Instead of team shirts this year, people looked for other ways to show their team affiliation.  

France

French team captain

Team China (note the Top Ramen noodles and chopsticks in the hair).

My sister decided that she would try ‘cupping’ like Michael Phelps to help her muscles recover faster after each event (not really).

My daughter, Gracie, decided to wear her medal that she won in the Special Olympics earlier this year.

Team Great Britain

As you can see, there was no shortage of fun ways to display our assigned country’s pride.


Last time, I was on Team China.  But this year, I was asked to be an Olympic official, judge, and scorekeeper while my mother ran each event.

My grandson, Eric, was our sole official Olympic observer, because, what’s an Olympics without people to watch?



We began with the Parade of Nations and then gathered for a group photo.


So why were we all gathered today on this hot, summer’s day?

For a chance to win one of these medals.

Let the games begin!


The first event was the ‘Team Captain’s Challenge’, which involved walking as fast as you could holding a mandarin orange on a spoon in your mouth.

I’m telling you; we are very serious about the complexity of our games – ha!


Next, it was time for the ‘High Jump’, which was a kid only event and tested who could jump the farthest off of a step ladder.


Back outside and it was time for ‘Finger Flingers’, which were rubber chickens that you shot off your finger – I think that was the kid’s favorite game.


While competing, we attracted the attention of our friendly, neighborhood police officer.



The ‘Diving’ event involved throwing foam balls into water buckets.


For some parents, it was a particularly anxious time as they watched their children compete, much like a famous U.S. gymnast’s parents?


Indoors again and it was time for the last event, ‘Shooting’.


Using Nerf guns, you had to hit one of three targets.


As many found out, it was easier said than done.


Being an ‘official Olympic observer’ builds up your appetite!


After tabulating the scores, it was time to award the medals.  All were wondering who would win the most medals.


As you might expect, it was so exciting to see the culmination of years and years (hours) of hard work.

Winners of the ‘Captain’s Challenge.’

Winners of the ‘Long Jump.’

‘Finger Flinger’s Winners

The ‘Diving’ event victors

Finally, the winners of the ‘Shooting’ competition
So, who won the most medals?


My 5-year-old nephew, Danny, who could scarcely believe that it was him!


In the last Olympics, he wasn’t old enough to compete.  He has certainly come far in just four years.

We had so much fun that we have decided to hold a Winter Olympic event in two years.  We might expand the number of countries represented and come up with some new winter-themed games.

Do you watch the Olympics?  Have you ever held an Olympics event or party?
“What did you do over the summer?”  It is a frequently asked question as kids get ready to head back to school.  

For some of you, this may be a bit early to ask this question, but my kids started school a couple of weeks ago, so I am in a sort of retrospective mood, looking back at our summer fun.

Much of our summer vacation was spent in Michigan.

Now, if you had told me a year ago that I would be headed to Michigan, the next summer, I’d ask you “Why?”

However, that was before my daughter, and her family moved from Arizona to Michigan, which I wrote about in an earlier post.

So, my husband and I found ourselves on an airplane along with our three youngest kids headed to Petoskey, Michigan, which is located “on the tip of the mitt” as Michiganders like to say.

This was to be our kids first trip to Michigan, and they were understandably excited.

Enjoying a tea party.

Our trip was split into two parts: the first in my daughter’s rental house and the second part, in their new home.

‘Welcome Summer’ festival with the local high school’s steel drum band.


Victorian homes line the streets in my daughter’s neighborhood.


While waiting for escrow to close on their new home, we spent time playing games, walking down to the historic downtown area, enjoying local festivals and of course, eating ice-cream at the local parlor.


This is the type of small town, where life moves at a slower pace, and we enjoyed escaping the demands of our busy lives at home.


I kept busy with my daughter’s lone basil plant, moving it into the sun and out of the shade throughout the days, as their rental house was shaded by a lot of trees.  The basil was to be planted in the new home’s garden.


Petoskey is located on Little Traverse Bay, which opens out into Lake Michigan.  It is a popular tourist destination throughout the summer months, and we had fun exploring our daughter’s new town.  

Because they lived on the shore, a few of our days were spent on the beach wading in the water and searching for ‘Petoskey’ stones.


‘Petoskey stones,’ are found along the beaches in this area.  You’ll find them in gift shops throughout all of Michigan.  The stones contain the fossilized remains of ancient coral, who lived over 350 million years ago.


So, we went on our own search for Petoskey stones.  

My son-in-law is the geology professor at the local college in the area and gave me some pointers on how to identify these unique stones from the others.


You see, the fossilized coral isn’t obvious in unpolished rocks until they get wet.  So, we would look for some likely stones and then dip them into the lake to see what we had.


I must admit that I was pleasantly surprised at how much fun it was to search for rocks and I even found a few small Petoskey stones of my own.


Along the shore of the lake were large lilac shrubs and their intoxicating fragrance perfumed the air.  


My daughter had some in her rental house, so we picked some and used them to decorate the dinner table.


Finally, moving day arrived, and not a moment too soon as a new baby was set to arrive five weeks later.

While my daughter and I spent time checking out the inside of their new home, we were equally as excited to look at the outside.  

Bearded iris, peonies, and daisies were the primary plants in the landscape.

More daisies, bearded iris along with hydrangea and purple coneflower.
Part of the front yard.

A weed-filled raised bed – home of the future vegetable garden.

A fire pit, perfect for roasting s’mores.
The view, off to the side of the backyard, looks out onto a farm and its planted fields.
Enormous maple trees mark the end of their property.  How big were they? That tiny spot of pink is my 4-year-old granddaughter.

Stepping into the woods, surrounding their backyard, you can see their white shed.

Lovely forget-me-nots are growing underneath the trees, all part of their property.
It was so fun exploring their new surroundings.


Before moving day, we spent some time in the garden, pulling out unwanted plants and adding new ones, such as this lavender.

The kids all helped.


The one plant that my son-in-law wanted was an apple tree.  So, in went a ‘Red Delicious’ apple tree.  The kids all had a great time helping while learning about how to plant a tree.


The soil around their house was extremely rocky.  A good-sized Petoskey stone was found on their property.  You can see the how different they look when wet.


After a few days of hard work, moving my daughter and her family into their new house, we all decided to take a well-deserved day off and visit Mackinac Island, which is only a short distance away.


I had visited this lovely place two years ago, but it was the first time for everyone else.



I had told the kids that there are no motorized vehicles allowed on the island (except for a couple of emergency vehicles), but I don’t think it sunk in until we were greeted by views like these.


Exploring the history and beauty of the island took much of the day.

Smelling the lilacs.


We just happened to arrive during the Lilac Festival and the lilacs lining the streets were in full bloom.


A fairy garden in an old wagon.

A pair of unique planters for succulents.


The gardens in Mackinac Island are truly stunning.


Posing for a picture on the island with the Mackinac Bridge, connecting the upper and lower peninsulas of Michigan.

My son-in-law, the geologist, looking at rocks along the shore of the island.


I love visiting this island, and it was so nice sharing it with my family.

As our trip to Michigan was drawing to a close, we visited Mission Point Lighthouse, just outside of Traverse City.


It was a brisk, stormy day, which simply made it more fun.


The kids climbed were able to climb to the top of the lighthouse, before heading to the beach.

As the last day of our vacation arrived, we asked the kids to choose what they wanted to do.


It was unanimous – go to the beach and swim!

We had a fun-filled vacation, exploring a new area while spending time doing activities together as a family.  

**What did you do for summer fun this year?