Did you know that you can have plants blooming in your landscape every month of the year? In the desert garden, this is definitely true!

One of the most popular programs that I teach at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix is ‘Flowering All Year’. During the presentation, I teach students how to incorporate plants in their gardens so they can enjoy colorful blooms all year long.

Sadly, many desert dwellers miss this opportunity. Drive down a typical neighborhood street in winter, and you will have a hard time finding plants in bloom except for colorful annual flowers. As you’ll note, the focus in our gardens is typically on plants that flower through the warm season.

So, how can we change that? It’s quite simple – add plants that will flower in winter. Believe it or not, there are quite a few plants that fit the bill. 

I invite you to come along with me on a virtual tour of the plants I showed to the students in the class as we walked through the garden in mid-February.

*Before we embark on our walk, I have a confession to make. Usually, I arrive early before my classes to see what’s in bloom so I can plan our route. But, my daughter’s bus arrived late that morning, so I was running a bit late. As a result, I didn’t know what we would see. Thankfully, there was plenty to see.

Plants for Cool-Season Color:

 

Purple Lilac Vine (Hardenbergia violaceae)

The vibrant, blooms of Purple Lilac Vine never disappoint. Blooms appear in mid-winter, adding a welcome relief to colorless winter landscapes. Here it is planted in a tall raised bed and allowed to trail downward. In my garden, it grows up against a wall with a trellis for support.

Whale’s Tongue Agave and Mexican Honeysuckle underneath an Ironwood tree

 

Mexican Honeysuckle (Justicia spicigera)

Several perennials and small shrubs do best in the desert garden when planted in filtered sunlight. Desert trees like Ironwood, Mesquite, and Palo Verde are excellent choices for producing filtered sunlight. Mexican Honeysuckle doesn’t do well in full sun. As a result, it thrives under the shade of this Ironwood tree. I love the texture contrast in this bed next to the Whale’s Tongue Agave.

Weber’s Agave (Agave weberi) and Desert Marigold (Baileya multiradiata)

Desert Marigold is a short-lived perennial that resembles a wildflower. Yellow flowers appear throughout the year on this short-lived perennial. I like to use them in wildflower gardens or natural desert landscapes because this yellow bloomer will self-seed.

Firesticks (Euphorbia ‘Sticks on Fire’) and Elephants Food (Portulacaria afra)

Shrubs, vines, and perennials aren’t the only plants that add winter color in the landscape. Colorful stems of the succulent Firesticks add a splash of orange all year. I am a fan of the use of blue pots in the garden, and here, it adds a powerful color contrast with the orange.

‘Winter Blaze’ (Eremophila glabra)

 

Lush green foliage decorated with orange/red blooms is on display all year long with this Australian native. Several types of Eremophilas add cool-season color to the landscape, and this one deserves more attention. There must be a blank space in my garden for one… 

Blue Bells Eremophila and Mexican Fence Post Cactus

 

Blue Bells (Eremophila hygrophana)

Blue Bells is arguably one of my most favorite plants. It resembles a compact Texas Sage (Leucophyllum spp.) but doesn’t grow as large AND blooms throughout the year. For best results, plant in full sun, but well-drained soil is a must.

Valentine Bush (Eremophila maculata ‘Valentine’)

My favorite choice for winter color is Valentine Bush. Red/fuschia blooms begin to appear in January and last into April. For maximum color impact, use them in groups of 3 – 5. They are low maintenance – prune back to 1/2 their size in mid-April after flowering. No other pruning is required.

Aloe ferox

Winter into spring is a busy time for Aloes, and many species do well in the desert garden. Most require filtered sunlight to do their best, but ‘Blue Elf’ Aloe does well in both full sun and bright shade.

Trailing Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)

People from colder climates are often surprised to note that rosemary flowers. In the desert, we are fortunate that we get to enjoy their blue flowers from winter through spring – the bees like them too!

Shrubby Germander (Teucrium fruiticans ‘Azurea’)

Toward the entrance to the garden, I was delighted to see Shrubby Germander. A star in my own garden, this shrub has flowered all winter long and will continue to do so into spring. The blooms are a lovely periwinkle color.

Chuparosa (Justicia californica)

As our walk was wrapping up, the bright red blooms of a Chuparosa shrub caught our eye. A hummingbird was busily drinking as much nectar as he could. I like to use this shrub in landscapes with a natural theme as it has a sprawling growth habit. It flowers through winter into spring and an important nectar source for hummingbirds.

Of course, blooming plants aren’t the only way to add color to the garden. Garden art can play a vital part in adding interest. The Desert Botanical Garden is host to a traveling art exhibit with various animals made from recycled plastic. This group of meerkats greets visitors to the garden.

I hope that you enjoy this virtual tour of winter color in the garden and will add some to your own.

What plants do you have that flower in winter?

 

‘Tangerine Beauty’ Crossvine (Bignonia capreolata ‘Tangerine Beauty’)

Spring in the desert is the most beautiful time of year with the majority of plants in the landscape bursting out with flowers. It’s also a very busy time for me with landscape consultations, speaking engagements, work in the garden, and family life. I love to document the happenings in my life by taking photographs with my phone, and I’d like to share a sampling with you. It’s a fun combination that includes colorful plants, spiky pots, snakes, roses and the prom!

No matter how busy I may be, the sight of a beautiful plant stops me in my tracks. It doesn’t matter how rushed I may be; I will always stop and take a photo. That’s what happened when I spotted this row of ‘Tangerine Beauty’ crossvines on our way into church. Even though we were running a few minutes late (as usual) I had to pause to admire the beauty of the lovely blooms and take a photo.

‘Tangerine Beauty’ does very well in the low desert garden. It has lush green foliage and orange/pink flowers that hummingbirds love. It needs a trellis or other support to climb up on and does well in full sun to filtered sun, but avoid planting along a west-facing wall as it may struggle in reflected sun.

entryway-desert-gardening-flowering-annuals-geraniums

As I mentioned earlier, I do a lot of speaking on a variety of gardening topics at the Desert Botanical Garden, public libraries, and also to garden groups. Upon my arrival to give a presentation at the Paradise Valley Country Club, I was greeted by this beautiful bed filled geraniums, foxglove, and yellow daisies. The spiky shape of agave adds welcome texture contrast in this area.

agave-planted-in-containers-arizona

Across the way, I spotted this dramatic example of spiky succulents growing in pots. Agave are excellent container plants, and their spiky shapes look fabulous along this wall. The plantings underneath the wall are well chosen as they do well in areas with full sun and reflected heat.

Here is a very different entry to another presentation I was to give at the Cave Creek Branch of the Phoenix Public Library. Two identical caution signs flank the raised metal bridge, which makes you look carefully before approaching. I know that libraries work hard to get kids to read, but these signs just might scare them off 😉

David Austin Olivia Rose

‘Olivia Rose’

Back home, the rose garden is in full bloom with my favorite ‘Olivia Rose’ completely covered in fragrant, delicate pink color. She flowers more than every other rose in the garden and for the longest, ensuring her favored status.

red David Austin rose Darcey Bussell

‘Darcey Bussell’

The best performing red rose in the garden is ‘Darcey Bussell,’ and she never disappoints as I view her vibrant blooms from my kitchen window.

David Austin rose Lady of Shalott

‘Lady of Shalott’

This rose is a relative newcomer to my rose garden. ‘Lady of Shalott’ was planted in the winter of 2018 and didn’t produce many blooms in her first year, which is typical of most new roses. However, this year, she is covered with roses in delicate shades of pink and peach.

On the home front, spring means that it’s time for the prom. I can hardly believe that my son is old enough – it seemed like it was just yesterday when I came home with a darling little two-year-old boy from China.

Kai’s favorite color is red, can you tell? It takes confidence to wear a bright color like this, and he does it so well. He is the youngest of four sisters, so this was my first time helping a boy get ready for a school dance. Honestly, it is a lot simpler – all he needed was help with his tie and his boutonniere.

I love spring and all the busyness that comes with it. How about you?

I am always on the lookout for new and different ways that gardens are designed and the materials that they use. Recently, I was scheduled to teach a class at the Desert Botanical Garden, and as I headed toward the classroom, I admired the modern design of the building but, it was the vine-covered wall that caught my interest.

This unusual wall was made up of masonry block, like many garden walls in the desert Southwest, but this one was decidedly different. It was made from broken masonry blocks repurposed from a wall that had been removed elsewhere. Some brilliant person realized that instead of filling up landfill space, that the broken blocks could still function as a garden wall. 

The salvaged wall provides the perfect surface for queen’s wreath (Antigonon leptopus) vines to crawl up on with their twining tendrils taking advantage of the nooks and crannies within the wall.

The sprays of flowers, leaves, and stems create beautiful shadows along the pavement below. Shadows are an element of garden design that is often overlooked. However, don’t underestimate the effect that the shapes of the shadows from cactuses, succulents, and even vines can add to a bare wall, fence, or even on the ground.

Years ago, I used to carry a small digital camera in my purse for unexpected opportunities to take pictures of a particular plant, or design idea. Nowadays, this is just another reason that my smartphone is perhaps my most valued tool.

 

I love using vines in the garden.

I have pink bower vine growing in my entry, purple lilac vine growing up the walls in my back garden and pink trumpet vine by my vegetable garden.

But, did you know that you can grow some vines as a groundcover?

Purple Lilac Vine (Hardenbergia violaceae)

Years ago, I started using purple lilac vines as groundcovers in the feature areas along golf courses.

I was surprised at how well they did.  We pruned them back once they were finished flowering and then a little if needed.

Eleven years later, they are still growing along the golf course and look great.

Purple lilac vine is my favorite vine.  The reasons are that they bloom in February and have beautiful, green leaves throughout the entire year.  They do need a trellis for support if growing along a wall.

Unlike their common name, however, they don’t smell like lilacs.  

Even when not in flower, their bright green foliage adds beauty and a visually cooling element to the landscape.

**When purchasing vines, I recommend buying them during their bloom season because they aren’t always stocked in the nursery when they aren’t in flower.

A word of caution when growing vines.  Some vines can become invasive – particularly in humid areas with mild winters.  However, this is rarely a problem in the desert Southwest because of our arid climate.

I am here to showcase a lesser-known plant for you to try in your garden.  

In winter, the garden can often look blah and colorless. But, it doesn’t have to be that way in the desert garden. There are many plants that bloom in winter.

And so, I am very excited to show you this lesser-known plant.  

Are you ready?  Drum roll please…

Isn’t it beautiful?

This Australian native is known by different common names with Purple Lilac Vine(Hardenbergia violacea) being commonly used in our area of the Southwest.

It is not actually a lilac, but because we cannot grow lilacs in the low desert, this is a wonderful substitute.

My first experience in using Purple Lilac was over 20 years ago where I used it in a feature area on one of the golf courses I worked for.

Although traditionally, used as a vine, I used it as a ground cover and believe it or not, it did beautifully.

One of the best attributes of this vine is that it blooms during the month of February in our zone 9 gardens.

Now be honest, there is not much going on in your garden in winter, is there? Wouldn’t it be great to have gorgeous purple flowers blooming when little else is?

Here are more reasons to try out this vine in your garden:

  • It flowers in winter.
  • When not in flower, attractive leaves cover the vine year round.
  • Fairly low-maintenance.  Prune to control size if needed.  Supplemental fertilizer is usually not needed.
  • Requires a trellis or other support to grow upwards.
  • Hardy to zone 9.

Under normal winter temperatures, it doesn’t suffer frost damage.

It decorates a bare wall beautifully or can screen out an unattractive view.

When people ask me if I recommend a particular plant, I tell them that the highest recommendation that I can give is is if I have that plant growing in my garden.

You see, I do not have the patience to grow a plant that struggles and/or takes too much maintenance.  It also has to look beautiful most of the year.

So if you ask me if I truly like this vine, I answer by saying that I have four growing in my backyard 🙂

**One complaint that I have hear often is that it can be hard to find in your local nursery. Don’t worry, most nurseries normally have them in stock when they are in flower in winter.  

**It’s important to note that although the flowers look a bit like lilacs, they are not particularly fragrant. But, they are so beautiful, it’s hard not to care.