Have you ever discovered a garden in a surprising place?

A few years ago, I found myself driving through the historic neighborhoods of the Encanto district in downtown Phoenix. I had finished up a landscape consultation in the area and decided to drive through the nearby neighborhoods in the historic district.  

My initial goal was to see if I could find the home my grandparents owned in the 1940’s. While I didn’t find the home, I did find a house that stopped me in my tracks.

 
 
What first drew my eye was this parking strip (also known as a ‘hell strip’) between the sidewalk and street, filled with a bounty of flowering annuals and perennials.
 
I couldn’t believe this was growing blocks away from the skyscrapers of downtown Phoenix. 

And so, I whipped out my phone and started to take pictures. The bright colors of California poppies, red flax, and plains coreopsis caught my eye, while in the background I noticed the old, Veteran’s Memorial Coliseum where the Arizona State Fair is held every fall.

 
 
As I made my way up the planting bed, I saw more colorful, annual flowers intermixed with globe mallow, ‘Thundercloud’ sage and red yucca.
 
 
One flower that I did not expect to see in the desert garden, not to mention downtown Phoenix, was larkspur with its deep purple spikes.
 
 
Multi-colored bachelor’s button flowers grew among scarlet flax and plains coreopsis.
 
As I stood admiring the effect that all these flowering plants had on the street landscape, I happened to meet the son (James) of the owner of the house. He was busy working out in the garden and was flattered at my interest in the garden he had created. 
 
Last fall, James took three packs of wildflower seeds (multiple varieties) and threw them on the bare parking strip, added some compost on the top and watered well. Over the months, he has watched them come up and was thrilled at how the hell strip had been transformed.
 
He then offered to show me what he had done to the backyard – I could hardly wait to see it after seeing what he has done on the outside.
 
(A few of the photos are a bit blurry. I’m not sure what went wrong with my phone’s camera, but you can still get a sense of the beauty in the backyard.)
 
 
The backyard consists of a lawn split in two by a large planting bed with hollyhocks.
 
 
I love hollyhocks and have grown them in the past. They self-seed and flower for me every spring.  All I give them is a little water – that’s all they need.
 
 
The small patio in the back of the house is filled with an old-fashioned table and chairs, which fit the age of the home perfectly!
 
The pathway separates the two lawn areas and leads to the garage in the back. It was created using concrete molded into geometric shapes.
 
 
Bermuda grass is allowed to grow into the cracks for an interesting look.
 
 
The patio is edged with flowering annuals such as blanket flower, bachelor’s button, and yellow daisy (Euryops pectinatus).
 
 
In this blurry photo, a large crown-of-thorns plant was thriving in a tiny container. Believe it or not, it is 20 years old and thriving in a very small pot. According to James, he waters it twice a week in summer and weekly throughout the rest of the year.
 
 
Two Chinese elm trees provide dappled shade on a beautiful spring day.
 
 
A small potting bench stands in front of the wooden fence painted a greenish-chartreuse color, which blends well with the garden.
 
A fountain is in the center of this grassy area and adds the refreshing sound of water.
 
How relaxing would it be to enjoy this outdoor space, even in the middle of summer with all of its shade?
 
 
I bade a reluctant goodbye to the back garden and ventured back out to the parking strip. James then showed me where he had planted wildflowers next to the detached garage.
 
 
 
Bright pink and vibrant orange – doesn’t that remind you of the 70’s?
 
 
These tall poppies were planted from 3-year-old seed that James was going to throw out. I’m certainly glad that he decided to plant them instead.
While old seed won’t germinate as well as young seed, you’ll often still get some seeds to sprout – just not as many.
 
It is unexpected surprises like this that make life interesting. This garden was fairly small but beautifully tended to.  Ironically, most of what was growing in it grew from seed with little effort.

Okay, correct me if I’m wrong, but wasn’t it October 1st just a few days ago? It’s hard to believe that November is already here. You know what that means – Christmas is just around the corner.

Last month was a busy one in the garden.  While there are not as many tasks to be done in November, there are still a few things to do.

Globe Mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua)
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Continue planting cold-tolerant trees, shrubs, and perennials.  These include Angelita Daisy (Tetraneuris acaulis), Blue Bells (Eremophila hygrophana), Globe Mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua), Pink Fairy Duster (Calliandra eriophylla), and Valentine Bush (Eremophila maculata).  All of these plants do well in full sun.

Wait until spring to tropical flowering plants such as Lantana, Bougainvillea, and Yellow Bells since these frost-tender young plants are more likely to suffer damage from winter temperatures.
 
Chaparral Sage (Salvia clevelandii)
 
Other shrubs to consider planting now include Chaparral Sage (Salvia clevelandii) and Mexican Honeysuckle (Justicia spicigera). Each of these do well in an area that receives filtered sun.
Mexican Honeysuckle (Justicia mexicana)
 
Mexican Honeysuckle is one of my favorites because it thrives in light shade, is frost-tolerant AND flowers much of the year.
 
Snapdragon Penstemon (Penstemon palmeri)
 
Perennials are a great way to add color to the landscape and Penstemons are some of my favorites.  Parry’s and Firecracker Penstemons are seen in many beautiful landscapes, but there is another that I love. Snapdragon Penstemon (Penstemon palmeri) is not often seen but is stunning. It grows up to 4 ft. tall blooms in spring and its flowers are fragrant.
 
It’s not always easy to find but is well worth the effort. Use it in an area that gets some relief from the afternoon sun.
 
‘Regal Mist’ (Muhlenbergia capillaris ‘Regal Mist’)
You may have seen this colorful ornamental grass blooming this fall. Pink Muhly (Muhlenbergia capillaris) is a lovely green, ornamental grass in spring and summer. Once cooler temperatures arrive, it undergoes a magical transformation.  Burgundy plumes appear in fall, turning this grass into a show-stopper.
 
‘Regal Mist’ in winter.
In winter, the burgundy plumes fade to an attractive wheat color.
 
 
There is still time to sow wildflower seed for a beautiful spring display. My favorites are California Poppies, California Blue Bells, and Red Flax.
 
My edible garden is usually filled with delicious things to eat in fall.
Herbs are easy to grow and most will thrive throughout the winter. The one exception is Basil, which will die once temperatures dip below freezing. Harvest your basil before the first frost arrives. You can dry it and put it into spice jars or freeze it into ice cubes.
 
 
Thin vegetable seedlings. This is easiest to do using scissors and snipping them off at the soil line so that you don’t disturb the roots of the remaining seedlings.
 
Check your seed packet to determine how far apart the seedlings should be.
 
 
Many vegetables can be planted in November. Leafy greens like bok choy, lettuce, kale, mustard greens, and Swiss chard can be added. Sow carrots and radishes.
 
 
I am so happy to be able to make salads from my own garden again instead of relying on a salad from a bag.
 
 
If you haven’t done so yet, this is the last month to plant garlic in your garden. It is easy to grow, and I grab a few heads of garlic from the grocery store to plant.
 
Broccoli and cauliflower transplants can still be added to the garden this month. Onions, peas, and turnips can also be planted in November.  
 
If you haven’t already done so, adjust your irrigation schedule to water less frequently then you did in the summer months. More plants die from over-watering than under-watering, even in the desert Southwest.
 
I find that monthly gardening task lists keep me on track in the garden. This book is a great resource for Arizona gardeners:
*What will you be doing in your garden this month?

Last week, I was cleaning out old files that I had stored in a box from my years working as a horticulturist on golf courses, and I found this photo of me standing in a bed of wildflowers.

It was taken during my first year after graduating with my degree in horticulture in 1999. Throughout the golf course, was feature areas and I took this empty one and planted wildflowers including succulent lupine, red flax, and desert marigold (not blooming yet).

When I look at the picture, it brings back many memories of garden victories, along with a few failures – I call that life (garden) experience. 

*What were you doing in 1999?

Do you like red yucca (Hesperaloe parvifolia)?

Landscapes throughout the desert southwest come alive in spring and early summer as the coral-colored blooms of red yucca burst forth.

There are a few reasons that this succulent is a popular plant.

For one, its grass-like foliage add texture to the garden, even when not in flower.

Second, it needs little maintenance – simply prune off the flowers when they fade.

The flowers are quite beautiful.

While the most common flower color for this fuss-free plant is coral, there are two other colors that I would like to introduce you to.  

While not a new color, there is a yellow variety of red yucca available.

It is the same as regular red yucca, except for the color.

Imagine the creamy yellow flowers against a dark-painted wall such as brown, green or purple?

Gorgeous!

Here is a color of red yucca that is relatively new…  

This is a new variety of red yucca called ‘Brakelights’.  Its flowers are a darker red then the normal coral flowers.

I am always interested in differently colored varieties of my favorite plants.  It is an easy to add interest to your garden when people see a different color then they expect.

What color of red yucca is your favorite?