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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?

Did you ever read the book, The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett?  It was one of my favorite books as a child, and I always imagined myself exploring a hidden garden.



Well, on the second day of our road trip, I was able to explore a very secret garden that very few people have seen.

To be honest, this hidden garden wasn’t on our original itinerary.  We were to travel by boat to the Channel Islands and explore Santa Cruz Island for the day.  But it was canceled at the last minute due to the high winds.  So, we had to find something else to fill our do for the day.  What better than to find a garden to visit?

We did some searching for gardens near the town of Ojai, which was near our hotel and found a reference to the Taft Garden, which is a 265-acre garden that couldn’t be found on a map and wouldn’t come up on a GPS search.


We were given a map with landmarks provided such as a cluster of mailboxes, creek crossings, forks in the road and a big white barn.  With my reliance on GPS, it was somewhat surreal to navigate the way most people used to a long time ago.


The bottom of the map had large, bold print that advised us against sharing the location of the garden with anyone else, so I won’t spill the beans.

Our route meandered through the foothills of the mountains outside of Ojai, and we passed large homes that sat on large acreage.


Three peacocks were perched on a corner watching us drive by.

The road was so little traveled that we only saw one car on our way to the garden.


Groves of oak trees stood in natural areas along our route, which took us across two creeks, pass a large barn and finally to our destination.


The entry to the garden is unassuming so as not bring attention to the fact that it is there.


Our rental car was the only vehicle in the parking lot as we were the only visitors.


Walking toward the visitor center, I was filled with anticipation for what discoveries awaited us along the meandering paths of the garden.  I also like to learn about new plants and how I may be able to incorporate them in my garden as well as in those of my clients.

Stepping inside the small visitor center, you are asked to give a donation of $5.


Then you sign the guestbook.  

Believe it or not, we hadn’t seen anyone else in the garden at this point.


Near the visitor’s center, a lovely bed of colorful plants was on display.  The plants in this garden are primarily from Australia and Africa, and I was familiar with many of them, although a fair few were somewhat foreign to me.


The main path ran along one side of the garden with smaller, winding pathways branching off, encouraging exploration.

Aloe arborescens
This aloe was enjoying the dappled sunlight.


On the right side of the path was a nice collection of agave and prickly pear cacti.  The other side was filled with shrubs native to Australia and many different species of aloe, which are mostly native to South Africa.

Yellow Protea flower

Elk Horn (Cotyledon orbiculata)

One of the things that strike you right away about this garden is that this isn’t you typical botanical garden filled with beds of flowering annuals and perennials.  While there was plenty of plants flowering, many were somewhat unusual, although most could be grown in California as well as many other arid climates.


Scattered throughout the garden were bright red benches, which guests to stop and rest, to enjoy the beauty around them.



Agave is my favorite type of succulent, and they had several varieties including Agave angustifolia and Agave parryi ‘truncata’.  


Toward the center of the garden, is a large group of majestic oak trees that stand amidst an expanse of St. Augustine grass.  Interspersed throughout the lawn were small islands of I believe, clivia plants.


As I mentioned earlier, this Australian grass tree (Xanthorrhoea quadrangulata) is not your everyday plants – but very interesting – I’d say almost like a plant out of a Dr. Seuss novel, don’t you think?



There were so many lovely vistas as well as unusual plants and combinations; I was very busy taking a lot of photos.  However, my legs were quite sore the next day from bending and squatting down for the perfect photo shot – at least I don’t have to feel guilty for not being able to visit the gym on our trip 🙂


Mexican Marigold (Tagetes lemmonii)

Toward the back of the garden stood a large guest house.

A floss silk tree is surrounded with a variety of succulents.

Bright orange aloe blooms around the house.
The house was planted with a large variety of succulents, which were in full flower on this lovely spring morning.
Bougainvillea, yellow iris and a container filled with succulents add welcome color toward the entry.

Artichoke agave (Agave parryi ‘truncata’) and ‘Blue Glow’ agave


Across the lawn from the house, a desert area filled with several agave species, columnar cacti, golden barrels and yucca create a lovely contrast to the darker green plants surrounding them.



The dark pink flowers of rock purslane (Calandrinia spectabilis) grab your attention along with the bright orange flowers of soap aloe (Aloe maculata).

Mexican bush sage (Salvia leucantha) with Mexican feather grass (Stipa tenuissima)

This was by far my favorite combination of plants.  The contrast of textures with the grasses waving in the breeze and the upright purple flowers of the salvia was just breath-taking.



I took a video of how it looks with the wind blowing, which it was quite a lot that day.



In a nearby field, the bright orange flowers of California poppies (Eschscholzia californica) were in full bloom creating a carpet of color that could be viewed from the house.



Up the hill from the house stood a Japanese garden.  The raised terrace was built around a large oak tree, which I appreciated the shade it offered since I didn’t wear my hat 😉



Japanese statues and a Zen area completed this section of the garden.  


In the back of the raised terrace, was a vine-covered walkway with arches that looked out into an enclosed outdoor area.



Between the two arching oak trees was a circular stage.  Majestic oak trees were used to great effect throughout the entire garden.



As I walked back toward the house, I could see one of the gardeners hard at work, pulling weeds from around the succulents.



As we walked back toward the entrance, we took another route along a gravel path lined with tall tree aloes, pink flowering ice plant along with daisies of all colors blooming.



Despite the high winds, it I had a fabulous time in this very secret garden.  It is without a doubt one of my top 5 gardens of all time with its use of beautiful, drought tolerant plants from around the world.


If I had to pick my favorite vista of the garden, it would be the one pictured in this photo…



This is how I envision what heaven will be like.  I hope that God has a nice little garden cottage prepared for me next to a lovely garden like this one.


If you would like to learn more about this secret garden, here is a link to an article written about a few years ago with more photos.


Visits to the garden are by invitation only, and you can contact the garden through their Facebook page here.

Have you ever found yourself driving through a neighborhood past landscapes planted with the commonly planted lantana and oleander shrubs when you see something completely different that catches your attention?

A few weeks ago, I was leaving a client’s home in North Phoenix and started on my way home, when I drove past this beautiful, drought tolerant landscape.


The corner of the landscape was anchored by an ocotillo whose graceful canes added needed height to the landscape.

Palo brea trees add year round green color and yellow flowers are so set appear later in spring.

Globe mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua) adds a welcome spot of orange in late winter and into spring and will bloom again in fall.

Cacti and agave add great texture contrast with their unique shapes.  The Argentine giant cactus (Echinopsis candicans) will produce large, lily-like flowers in spring.


Several species of agave have been used throughout the landscape including Agave species americana, lophantha and victoria-reginae.  With so much variety in the color and sizes available in agaves, there is one for almost any landscape situation.
Several different cacti are tucked in here and there leading one to want to walk around and discover what else is growing in the garden.
The thin, upright succulent stems of candelilla (Euphorbia antisyphilitica) add great texture contrast when planted next to succulents and cacti with thicker leaves/stems.

The main planting area in the center is on a slightly elevated area, which offers a glimpse of the plants located toward the back.  Landscape design that creates areas that artfully take center stage and then recede into the background as you walk through, which creates intrigue and heightens the desire to see what else is present in the garden.

Aloes, which do best in light shade, are scattered throughout the landscape, which add color in late winter into spring.  

In the background, the orange, tubular flowers Mexican honeysuckle (Justicia spicigera) attracts hummingbirds all year long.  

Variegated agave americana adds great color contrast with their bi-colored leaves while Indian fig prickly pear (Opuntia ficus-indica) adds height in the background.  


I love this unusual pathway that zig-zags through the landscape.  Golden barrel cacti (Echinocactus grusonii) are used to greatest effect by grouping them in 3’s.

Large boulders finish the landscape adding mass and texture while not needing any pruning or water. 
It’s important to note that large boulders like this may need heavy equipment to place.  If you want to avoid the hassle and expense of using heavy equipment, you can place 2 medium-sized boulders next to 
each other for a similar effect.

There are several things that I enjoyed so much about this landscape.  One is how they used a large amount of different plant species without it looking ‘busy’.  Also, instead of laying out the entire landscape where you can see everything from the street, this one leads you on a path of discovery when you are treated to glimpses at what is located further in.

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This past week was event filled along with some rather unexpected occurrences for me.  One was that for the first time since early January, my calendar was quite suddenly empty.  I had several landscape consultations scheduled that were cancelled at the last minute by clients and rescheduled for various reasons including a flooded house to a puppy eating a cigar.

It was rather disconcerting to go from trying to keep my head above water to having the gift of extra time on my hands, but I enjoyed it and got some gardening articles finished ahead of looming deadlines.


Last week was also a big milestone for my husband who turned 50.  We celebrated throughout the week, but one of our favorite outings was breakfast at Joe’s Farm & Grill with our granddaughter, Lily.

On a sad note, our friend, neighbor and vet passed away unexpectedly on Friday.  He had treated the furry members of our family for 18 years with love and respect.  We were also blessed to have been his neighbor for over 15 years.  

We will miss his loving care for our animals, seeing him and his wife walk their dogs in the evening and even the lemons he would leave at our door.

After hearing the shocking news of his death, I had a hard time focusing on anything else this weekend and even writing took a backseat – hence the lack of blog posts.  But, it was a blessing to be able to set work aside for few days and let the loss sink in.

My schedule is now filled up again with appointments and the desert is awash in spring color, which is a busy time in the garden. 

I hope your week is off to a good start.