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Have you ever renovated the interior of your house? Seeing the old, outdated elements peeled away and replaced with new paint, flooring, etc. can leave you feeling refreshed and even excited. Well, I get to do that with outdoor spaces, assisting clients with already established landscapes, create an updated look. The key to this is NOT to tear everything out and begin from scratch – instead, it’s a delightful puzzle deciding what should remain and what is best removed and replaced.

I get so much satisfaction helping people create an attractive landscape, and even more when I get to see them several months later once the plants have a chance to begin to grow. Last week, I was invited to re-visit a new landscape that I designed, exactly one year after it was completed and was very pleased with the results.

I’d love to show you photos of the finished product, but first, let’s look at what I had to work with.

As you can see, the interior of the house was also undergoing renovation when I first visited. The front yard consisted of two palm tree stumps, a few agave, overgrown gold lantana, and boulders.

The landscape rock was thinning and mixed in with the river rock while the asphalt from the street was crumbling away.

The parts of the landscape that I felt could be reused were the boulders and the gold lantana. Also, the river rock could be re-purposed. All of the rest was removed.

To create the structure for the new landscape elements, additional boulders were added, and the existing contouring was enhanced by elevating the height of the mound and a swale in the front center. The circular collection of rip-rap rock serves to mask the opening of the end of a french drain which helps to channel water from the patio.

A saguaro cactus and totem pole ‘Monstrose’ (Lophocereus schottii ‘Monstrose’) were placed for vertical interest and the gold lantana that were already present were pruned back severely to rejuvenate them and others were added to create visual continuity. Along with the cactuses, other succulents like artichoke agave (Agave parrying var. truncata) and gopher plant (Euphorbia biglandulosa) were incorporated to add texture with their unique shapes.

The existing river rock was removed, washed off and replaced along with the crumbling edge of the street, helping it to blend with the natural curves of the landscape.

Anchoring the corners with a grouping of plants is a very simple way to enhance the curb appeal of a home. This collection of volunteer agave and old palm tree stumps weren’t doing this area any favors.

This corner was built up slightly, creating a gentle rise in elevation. A large boulder joined the existing one, and a beautiful, specimen artichoke agave was transplanted here from the owner’s previous residence. Angelita daisy (Tetraneuris acaulis) will add year-round color as they fill in. ‘Blue Elf’ aloe were planted to add a welcome splash of color in winter and spring when they flower.

Moving into the front courtyard, the corner was filled with an overgrown rosemary shrub. The dwarf oleander shrubs were also taken out as they were too large for the smaller scale of this area.

Mexican fence post cactus (Pachycereus marginatus) helps to anchor the corner and will grow at a moderate rate, adding more height as it grows.

Year-round color is assured with angelita daisies and ‘Blue Elf’ aloe, which won’t outgrow this area.

Moving toward the front entry, this area is somewhat underwhelming. The natal plum (Carissa macrocarpa) adds a pleasant green backdrop and is thriving in the shade, so should stay. However, the Dasylirion succulent should never have been planted here as it needs full sun to look its best.

The solution in this area is quite simple. Pruning back the natal plum to a more attractive shape makes them an asset. A lady’s slipper (Pedilanthus macrocarpus) adds height and texture contrast and will grow in the bright shade. We kept the trailing purple lantana (Lantana montevidensis), for the color that it provides. Rip rap rock was placed to add some interest at the ground level.

Moving toward the backyard, another old rosemary shrub was removed from the corner in the background and replaced with ‘Blue Elf’ aloe and angelita daisy, repeating the same planting from the corner area in the courtyard, helping to tie these separate areas together.

Aloe vera (Aloe barbadensis) were added along the shady side of the house where their spiky shape creates interesting shapes. The key to keeping them attractive is to remove new growth around the base as it occurs.

The corner of the backyard is a very high-profile spot and faces the golf course. The homeowner’s wanted to get rid of the dwarf oleander hedge to improve their view. Clumps of agave look slightly unkempt as volunteer agave were allowed to remain and grow. The gold lantana does add ornamental value as does the small ‘Firesticks’ (Euphorbia tirucalli ‘Sticks on Fire’) and can be reused.

One of the clumps of agave was removed, which opened up this area and allowed us to add two aloe vera, which will decorate this corner with yellow blooms in winter and spring. The existing gold lantana provides beautiful color spring through fall. The centerpiece of this group of plants is the water feature.

It’s been over 20 years that I’ve been doing this, and I never get tired of seeing the transformation. I love being a part of it and combining the old with the new for a seamless design.

Thank you for allowing me to share this particular project with you!

Do you use any lotion that contains aloe vera?


While most of us think of the medicinal qualities of aloe vera – particularly how they provide relief from burns, it’s beauty and drought tolearance makes it well worth adding to our “Drought Tolerant and Beautiful” category.



Aloe vera (Aloe barbadensis) thrives in drought tolerant gardens and produces lovely, yellow flowers in spring, much to the delight of hummingbirds everywhere.

Want to learn more about this succulent beauty?  Check out my latest plant profile for Houzz.



How about you?  
Have you ever grown aloe vera?

Have you seen the Chihuly art display at the Desert Botanical Garden?  


What did you think?

Do you love seeing his beautiful artwork displayed in the garden?

Or, are you of the opinion that it detracts from the plants and their more subtle beauty?

For those of you not familiar with Dale Chihuly, he is a famous, glass artist whose work is displayed throughout museum and botanical gardens throughout the world.

Chihuly glass displayed on the ceiling of the lobby at the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas.

I have many friends who are huge fans of seeing Chihuly’s art displayed throughout the garden.



There are others though, who feel that the art overshadows the surrounding plants.

My three youngest kids and granddaughter.  Note the flowering Aloe Vera and the orange Chihuly art in the background.
Last month, my husband and I took our kids & granddaughter to the Desert Botanical Garden.


While they thought that the glass artwork was ‘cool’, the kids were more excited about visiting the Butterfly Pavilion and in my granddaughter’s case – smelling all the flowers.
I am a strong proponent for including color in the garden, usually by adding plants with variegated foliage and/or flowering plants.

Of course, a brightly-colored wall or container is also a great way to introduce color to the garden.

My personal opinion is that art in the garden should be complementary and not overshadow the plants.  In most areas, I feel that the Desert Botanical Garden got the right balance, but there were a couple of areas where I felt the art overwhelmed their surroundings.

While walking through the garden, I did enjoy seeing unexpected sightings of the glass, artfully displayed alongside some of the plants.


For many visitors, the Chihuly exhibit is the highlight of their visit to the garden.


I must admit that while I did admire the art, the horticulturist in me tends to focus more on the plants.

But, that didn’t stop me from having my picture taken next to some of the beautiful art 🙂

I would love to hear your thoughts on the Chihuly exhibit at the Desert Botanic Garden (or any other garden).

**If you want to see the Chihuly Exhibit, you’d better hurry – the last day is May 18th.

What do you think of when someone mentions ‘sustainable landscaping’ to you?  


Do visions of stark landscapes with a few dried out plants and cactus come to mind?  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Sustainable landscapes are beautiful, low-maintenance and drought-tolerant.

Scottsdale Xeriscape Demonstration Garden
Last week, I spent an entire day visiting some great sites throughout the greater Phoenix area, which have some great examples of sustainable landscaping.  

Now if you are thinking that I did this all by myself, you would be wrong.  My friend and fellow southwest-blogger, Pam Penick, came up for a visit from Austin, Texas to see how we do sustainable landscaping here in Phoenix.

Our first stop was a visit to Arizona State University’s Polytechnic Campus in the East Valley.  

A row of Palo Blanco (Acacia willardiana) trees stand along the side of an arroyo that catches rain water.

The campus is located on a former Air Force Base and it was decided that the lackluster appearance of the location needed a huge facelift.

The new academic complex consists of several buildings connected by separate courtyards – each with great examples of sustainable landscaping.

Chinese Pistache (Pistacia chinensis) trees, Jojoba (Simmondsia chinensis) shrubs and potted Aloe vera (Aloe barbadensis)

Each courtyard had inviting, shady areas along with sunny spots so that whatever the season, students were drawn to enjoy the outdoors.

All the plants were arid-adapted and relatively low-maintenance.


Concrete cisterns collected sporadic rainfall and the overflow is directed toward a swale that collected excess storm water.  Plants along the swale benefit from the extra water.

Most of the area within the courtyards was covered in stabilized, decomposed granite (DG) that allows rainwater to permeate and keeps the ‘heat island’ effect away in the absence of excess concrete.

Gabion wall with Lady’s Slipper (Pedilanthus macrocarpus)

Gabion walls are filled with river rock that had been saved from the previous site and were used throughout the complex to create low walls.  One of my favorite succulents, lady’s slipper, looks great when planted against walls like this one.

Aloe Vera planted in rows underneath Palo Blanco trees.

I must admit that I have not been a huge fan of aloe vera plants.  But, after seeing how effectively they were used throughout the courtyards, I have changed my mind.

They are so striking when used in masses like this.  Of course, I realize that this is their best season and soon they will be done flowering, but even when out of flower, the striking texture of the leaves would still look great in this area.

Aloe Vera

Here is another photo of the aloe vera – I’m really loving this plant now.

Anna’s Hummingbird and Aloe Vera flower.

The hummingbirds were very busy feeding from the flowers of the aloe.

The concrete that was removed during construction was repurposed into step stones, benches and retaining walls.

Called ‘urbanite’, this recycled material is becoming increasingly popular and is one great choice for hardscapes.

If you are renovating your landscape and concrete removal is part of that – think about reusing it in the landscape.  Want to use ‘urbanite’ and don’t have any broken concrete?  You can sometimes find it available on Craigslist.


Palo verde trees were in full bloom and used to great effect with the straight, modern lines of the building.


One of the reasons that I love palo verde trees so much (I have three in my own garden), is that they have great branch architecture – meaning that they shape of the branches and how they grow is beautiful.


During heavy rainfall, excess water runs from the cistern down the swale, watering the plants alongside it.

River rock removed during construction was saved and reused for the cisterns and the swales.


The outside of the buildings were covered with grape ivy, which help to keep the building cooler as it helps shield the building from the sun’s rays.


The walkway the ran alongside the buildings was planted with Sonoran desert natives such as Palo Verde and Creosote.


Along the walkways, arroyos were created to help channel storm water in this area that was previously covered in concrete and would flood frequently.


Mesquite trees were salvaged for use in this area and smaller shrubs and cacti were planted along the arroyo.

There are many different elements of this landscape that contribute to its sustainability – the use of recycled plants and materials, areas formerly flooded now direct storm water toward cisterns and plants, reduced concrete areas decrease the heat island effect, and finally arid-adapted plants decrease the need for supplemental water.

*I attended school at the main campus of ASU in Tempe.  Since then, my major (Urban Horticulture) has been moved to the Polytechnic Campus.  How I wish that I had had the opportunity to study at this beautiful campus!

This landscape was designed by Ten Eyck Architects who won an ASLA award for the sustainable design of the landscape.  To learn more about this well-designed landscape, click here.

Pam and I had a wonderful visit and this was just the first stop on our tour!

Next time, I will show you the next spots along our journey including some innovative landscapes that need no supplemental water, while still looking beautiful.