Posts

flowering perennial firecracker penstemon
flowering perennial firecracker penstemon

Firecracker Penstemon (Penstemon eatoni)

Have you ever noticed that spring has a way of surprising you in the garden? That is indeed the thought that I had earlier this week as I walked through my front landscape.

After spending a week visiting my daughter in cold, wintery Michigan, I was anxious to return home and see what effects that a week of warm temperatures had done – I wasn’t disappointed.

I want to take you on a tour of my spring garden. Are you ready?

pink blooming Parry's penstemon

Parry’s Penstemon (Penstemon parryi)

Penstemons play a large part in late winter and spring interest in the desert landscape, and I look forward to their flowering spikes.

flowering echinopsis Ember

Echinopsis hybrid ‘Ember’

One of the most dramatic blooms that grace my front garden are those of my Echinopsis hybrid cactuses. I have a variety of different types, each with their flower color. This year, ‘Ember’ was the first one to flower and there are several more buds on it.

blue flowering shrubby gerrymander

Shrubby Germander (Teucrium fruiticans)

Moving to the backyard, the gray-blue foliage of the shrubby germander is transformed by the electric blue shade of the flowers. This smaller shrub began blooming in the middle of winter and will through spring.

Calliandra red powder puff shrub

Red Powder Puff (Calliandra haematocephala)

This unique shrub was a purchase that I made several years ago at the Desert Botanical Garden‘s spring plant sale. If you are looking for unusual plants that aren’t often found at your local nursery, this is the place to go. This is a lush green, tropical shrub that is related to the more common Baja Fairy Duster. However, it only flowers in spring and has sizeable red puff-ball flowers. It does best in east-facing exposures.

flowering annuals Callibrochoa

Million Bells (Calibrachoa)

I am trialing a new self-watering hanging container that was sent to me free of charge by H20 Labor Saver for my honest review. I must say that I am very impressed. Growing plants in hanging containers is difficult in the desert garden as they dry out very quickly. But, this is a self-watering container, which has a reservoir that you fill, allowing me to have to water it much less often.

In the container, I have Million Bells growing, which are like miniature petunias. They are cool-season annuals that grow fall, winter, and spring in the desert garden.

severely pruned yellow bells

Yellow Bells recently pruned

Not all of my plants are flowering. My yellow bells shrubs have been pruned back severely, which I do every year, and are now growing again. This type of severe pruning keeps them lush and compact, and they will grow up to 6-feet tall within a few months.

onions arizona vegetable garden

Onions growing in my vegetable garden

This past fall, my daughters took over the vegetable garden. I must admit that it was fun to watch them decide what to grow and guide them in learning how to grow vegetables. They are already enjoying the fruits of their labor and onions will soon be ready to be harvested.

blossom of meyer lemon

Meyer Lemon blossom

My Meyer lemon tree hasn’t performed very well for me and has produced very little fruit in the four years since I planted it. I realized that it wasn’t getting enough water, so I corrected that problem, and it is covered in blossoms – I am so excited!

fragrant chocolate flower

Chocolate Flower (Berlandiera lyrata)

Moving to the side garden, chocolate flower adds delicious fragrance at the entry to my cut flower garden. It does well in full sun and flowers off and on throughout the warm season.

purple flowering verbena

Verbena in bloom

In the cut flower garden, my roses are growing back from their severe winter pruning. Although the roses aren’t in bloom yet, my California native verbena is. This is a plant that I bought at the Santa Barbara Botanical Garden – I don’t remember the exact name, but it does great in my garden.

ripening peaches

Young peaches

I have some fruit trees growing in the side garden including peaches! I can just imagine how delicious these will taste in May once they are ripe!

flowers of apple tree

Apple tree blossoms

While the peaches are already forming, my apple trees are a few weeks behind and are still flowering. It surprises people that you can grow apple trees in the desert garden and they will ripen in June – apple pie, anyone?

I hope that you have enjoyed this tour of my spring garden. All of these plants are bringing me joy.

*What is growing in your garden this spring that brings you joy?

Apple harvest time starts early in the desert Southwest.  In my low desert garden, it arrives precisely in the first half of June.


As I mentioned in my earlier post, this year’s apple harvest was to be a special one because for the first time, my own apple trees would provide a sufficient harvest without us having to pick the trees on the family farm.



On a bright and sunny June morning, I headed out into the potager (my kitchen garden) along with four teenagers and a 3-year old to pick apples.

We harvested 4 large bags full of sweet, tart apples from my ‘Anna’ and ‘Dorsett Golden’ apple trees, which are the varities that do best in hot, desert climates.

So, what did we plan on doing with all these apples?

Well, besides eating them raw, the plan was to make an apple pie with a cinnamon sugar crust, apple chips and applesauce.


Now, you may think that making an apple pie would be the last thing that a teenager would want to do.  But, my kids along with my niece, look forward to this day every year.

I make one pie a year, so we make an occasion of it.

Before we get any further, I’d like to tell you about the participants in today’s apple adventure.

Ruthie – my 17-year old daughter
Gracie – my 13-year old daughter
Sofie – my 16-year old niece
Gracie C. – 17-year old friend of my daughter
Lily – my 3-year old granddaughter


While Ruthie and Sofie were peeling apples, Gracie C. worked on thinly slicing the apples.


Lily and Gracie had fun watching the peeling and slicing and were waiting patiently for their turn to help.


Lily’s job was to help mix the apple slices in a bowl filled with water with some lemon juice to keep the apples from browning.


Once the apples were ready, we made the pie crust.  I use a mixture of both butter and vegetable shortening in my pie crust.  


I taught the girls how to make a decorative pie crust edge using their fingers.


This may have been their favorite part.

To add an extra special touch to the pie, we brushed it with egg wash and then sprinkled cinnamon sugar on the top.


Here is the finished product, ready to bake in the oven.  
*I’d like to note that I do not claim to be a professional food photographer like my sister.  I use no special lighting and didn’t take the time to clean the counter before taking the photo 🙂

 The kids had so much fun making the pie and couldn’t wait to eat it once it we took it out of the oven, which explains why I have no ‘after’ photos of our pie!

Now that our annual pie was finished, we got to work on our second apple recipe – Cinnamon Sugar Apple Chips.


Apple chips are ridiculously easy to make and they are addictive!


All you need to do is to slice them very thinly – a mandolin works great, if you have one.  There is no need to peel or core the apples, which makes this an easy recipe – simply remove any stray seeds from the slices. 

Lay the apple slices on a cookie sheet lined with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper.


Lily had fun with the apple slices with holes in the center.


We sprinkled the apples with cinnamon sugar, but this an optional step – you don’t have to add any cinnamon sugar.

Bake the apples in a 200 degree F oven for 1 hour and then turn the apple slices over and bake for another hour.

The apples should be crispy and melt in your mouth.  A word of caution – they won’t last long!

***********************


While this photo protrays three normal teenage girls, their story is anything but average.

Their story together began years ago, before they were adopted and came to the U.S.

All of these girls grew up together in an orphanage in China.  They formed deep bonds with each other and became each other’s family in the absence of parents.  They often referred to themselves as “orphanage sisters”.

Unlike many adoptions, the girls waited until they were older to be adopted.  Sofie and Gracie C. were adopted in 2006 and Ruthie in 2007.

Along with several other “orphanage sisters”, who were also adopted, we had a reunion several years ago in Colorado and since then, both the parents and kids have stayed in touch.

Gracie C. flew into town to visit with Ruthie and Sofie and it was so wonderful seeing them together again!


**You can read about our adoption journey to get Ruthie, here.**
Springtime in the garden is my favorite time of year.

Cool-season flowers are still in bloom while summer-bloomers are getting started.  The garden is awash in colorful flowers, vegetables, young fruit AND a few bugs and suckers.

I have two areas in my backyard where I grow edible plants.  Today, I invite you to take a tour of the largest edible garden, which is located along the side of my house.

Apple trees – April 2014

At the back of the garden, are two apple trees that I planted last year.  

They have grown so quickly.  This is what they looked like last year…

Newly planted apple trees – February 2013

What a difference!
I’ll admit that this area looks rather barren.  There used to be flowering shrubs up along the wall, which we took out in order to plant edible plants.


Usually, you have to wait a few years before you apple trees will produce fruit, so I was very surprised to see small apples forming.


This is what they look like now.  The apples will ripen in June and I am all ready to make homemade applesauce, which tastes so much better then store-bought.  
I wrote a post about how to make applesauce, which you can view here.

Blackberry flowers

Against the wall, behind the apple trees, are a row of blackberry bushes.

One of my favorite childhood memories are those of the blackberry bushes we had growing in our backyard in Southern California.  We would try to pick all we could before our dog would eat them.

Blackberry bushes are surprisingly easy to grow and there are thornless varieties available.  Unfortunately, some of my blackberry bushes are not thornless 😉

They are covered with flowers and small fruit.  BUT, I also saw something else on my berries…


Orange/black bugs covered a few of my berries.

I hadn’t seen this type of bug before, so I got to work on researching what these were.  Turns out they are the juvenile form of stink bugs – not good.

Evidently, they are fairly resistant to organic pesticides.  You can pick them off and squish them.  


The chives, garlic, parsley, thyme and sage are doing very well in my herb container.  However, the purple petunia is beginning to fade due to warming temperatures.  So, I will pull it out soon.

Flowering Sage

I don’t add flowers to my herb container during the summer.  I usually let my herbs flower, like my basil and sage.


At the same time we planted our apple trees, I also added two peach trees.  I was surprised that this tree produced 19 small peaches just months after we planted it last year – that is not normal.  I used them along with peaches from my mother’s trees to make peach jam.

This year, the same tree has decided to put it energy into growing just 2 peaches – which is normal.  They are huge!  I love to look out my kitchen window and see the fruit slowly ripening.

While admiring the peaches on my tree, I noticed something that did NOT make me happy…


Can you see what the problem is?  SUCKERS!  And I don’t mean the sweet candy that your grandma used to give you.

Fruit trees are grafted onto rootstock and occasionally, the rootstock decides to send up its own branches.  They are called ‘suckers’ because the ‘suck’ up the nutrients that would otherwise got to your fruit tree.  

To learn how to recognize and get rid of suckers, click here.


Underneath my apple and peach trees, I have garlic growing.  Garlic is a very helpful plant.  In this case, it helps to repel borers, which are beetles that lay eggs on the bark.  After the eggs hatch, the larvae bore their way into the trunk of the tree, often killing it.


Small fruit is beginning to form on my orange tree.  Like other fruit trees, it can take a few years before producing substantial amounts of fruit.

Our orange tree has been in the ground for 2 years and we got three oranges last winter.  I was so excited that I wrote an entire post about it.


Looking toward the vegetable garden, my artichoke plant is busy.  It has 9 small artichokes growing.  

I have a confession to make…

I don’t like eating artichokes.

But, the plant itself is very attractive and is often grown as an ornamental because it is a perennial and lives for more then 1 year.

I do have plans for these artichokes though.

– I will cook a few for my husband, who loves them.

– I will dry a few for fall arrangements.

– And, I will allow some to bloom – the flowers are gorgeous!


The purple violas in my rusty, old watering can will soon fade as the heat rises.

I do not plant anything in it during the summer months because it is too hot.  The soil temperature in small containers, literally ‘cooks’ the roots of plants.  Stick with planting larger pots for the summer and let your smaller containers take a break.


At the beginning of this post, I showed you a picture of my edible, side garden from the opposite side, near the wall.

This is the other view, looking in.  Toward the left side, are two ‘Summertime Blue’ Eremophila shrubs.  

Can you guess the last time that they were pruned?

3 years ago!

I love these shrubs and their bright-green foliage and purple flowers.


Bell-shaped, lavender flowers appear spring through summer.  This is a great ‘fuss-free’ shrub for the garden.  It is hardy to 15 degrees and thrives in full sun.  A definite must for the southwest garden.  

For more information about ‘Summertime Blue’, click here.

************************

Well, that is what is happening in one area of my garden.  

I invite you to come back next time, when I will show you my other edible garden, which is in full flower.  *I will also share with you the rest of our adventure when we hosted three young girls for the weekend from the Ugandan Orphan’s Choir.


In the past, I have shown parts of my garden, but never a comprehensive look.  So, I thought I would share with you a more comprehensive look at my garden.


First, I’d like to show you my newest part of my garden, which is located on the side of my house – just outside of my kitchen window.  


This part of the garden is looking remarkably good considering that it is still winter.  For those of us who are fortunate to live in the Southwest, we didn’t really experience much of a winter this year.
In fact, I recall only 1 week of freezing temps and that happened back in December.




This is the largest of my three vegetable gardens.  It is hard to believe that it didn’t exist 2 years ago.

I had always dreamed of having a nice side garden and because ours is rather large, there were many possibilities.  So, we decided to create an edible garden in this area.
You can read our planting journey, here. 

This year, I planted Swiss chard for the first time and don’t know why I didn’t do it sooner – I love this plant!

Well, I don’t really like it cooked (but I’m weird that way).  I do like to use it in salads along with leaf lettuce.  My kids even eat it!

I think it also looks really pretty too with its brightly-colored stems.

In the corner, is my single artichoke plant.


It was about 6 inches high when I planted it last fall.  Needless to say, it has grown so fast.  I can’t wait to see the artichoke buds (the part you eat) begin to form.

I will harvest some of the artichokes, but also plan to allow some to turn into flowers, which are beautiful and fragrant.

I like the idea of using artichokes as ornamental plants as well as for eating.


In the center of this vegetable garden sits a stump from a eucalyptus tree that we had to cut down to make space for this particular garden.

An old watering can sits onto of the stump and I fill it with cool-season annuals.  This year it is purple violas and alyssum.

In summer, the watering can sits empty, because it is too hot for plants to grow in it.  Roots will literally ‘cook’ in small containers during the summer.  I think it looks just fine without plants for part of the year.


The second crop of radishes of the season are just beginning to come up.  There is still time to plant radishes before it gets too hot.


Behind the vegetable garden are two apple trees.  They are growing so well during their first year.  I will have to wait a couple more years before I get any apples, so I’m trying to be patient.

I planted garlic around the base, in order to help keep borers away.

Not shown – behind the apple trees are blackberry bushes.  I had a great crop of last spring.  I plan on making blackberry jam this year!


Along the garden wall is one of my favorite shrubs called ‘Pink Beauty’ (Eremophila laanii), which is evergreen in my zone 9a garden and has pink flowers in winter and spring.  

It rarely needs pruning as long as it has enough room to grow – mine stands at 9 feet tall.

Next to is Pink Trumpet Vine and Yellow Bells shrubs, which serve two purposes.  The first, is that the cover up an ugly, bare wall.  Second, they help to cool the garden down because the shrubs keep the wall from re-radiating heat that it absorbs in the day.


The buds on my peach tree have not begun to swell yet, but it is just a matter of time.


My other peach tree is covered in blossoms.  Planted just last winter, it produced 19 peaches for me last year.


My herb container sits in front of the vegetable garden and is filled with lovely, purple petunias.  I like to add flowers to my herb pots for an extra splash of color.


I hope you enjoyed the tour of my side garden.

Next time, I will show you the main part of my backyard and maybe a peek at the ‘other’ side yard, which I never show anyone.

What is growing in your garden this February?  
I’d love to hear about it.

If you have been following along with my last couple of posts (Part 1 and Part 2), then you know that I have been showing some of the highlights of this year’s Arcadia Edible Garden Tour.


Well, here is the last installment, showing some of our favorite highlights from the last few gardens we toured.



I was looking forward to visit Caroline’s garden.  She blogs about growing and cooking great food at Boho Farm and Home.


The first thing you notice as you enter her back garden is that you start to feel relaxed amidst the beauty and shade.



Who wouldn’t want to spend time enjoying a beautiful summer’s day in the shade?



Galvanized tubs are all the rage for planting vegetables gardens, flower, etc.  I may need to get one for my garden…



I love the wire mesh arch connecting both of these raised vegetable beds at Boho Farm.  I can just imagine growing Scarlet Creeper vines up and over this arch.



The vegetable beds were full of delicious vegetables, which Caroline serves to visitors.



I like her fence, don’t you?



Her apple trees are espaliered along the fence.



Throughout the gardens at Boho Farm were artichokes mixed with ornamental plants.  Artichokes are a beautiful plant, so why not combine them with the rest of your garden?


Our last stop was a home where I was inspired to create my own trellises…

This scarlet creeper vine, which are very easy to grow in the summer, is growing up a vine made up of rebar and wire mesh.  


How simple would that be to make?  I think my husband and I are up for it.


Rebar is the hot trend in garden art right now.  I love trends that are cheap – you can’t get much cheaper then rebar.



Of course, we saw more apples growing.  They won’t be ripe until mid June.


Which reminds me – it is almost time for me to haul out my canning supplies and get ready to make peach, plum and strawberry jam.  You can read about my adventures in canning hereif you like.


Of course, I will also make some applesauce too using apples from my mother’s trees.  My apple trees are too young to be producing apples yet.  I’ll probably have to wait a few more years.


As you can see, we had a wonderful morning together and I came home with some new plants and a few new ideas for my garden.




Would you like to go on this tour next year?


The Arcadia Edible Garden Tour has been held the past 2 years in early May.  Tickets sell out quickly, so start looking for them on Sweet Life Garden’s blog in early April.

Who knows…we may bump into each other next year!

Okay, I know that I am terribly late in blogging about Christmas.  As a result, you will probably not be surprised that I didn’t get organized enough to send out Christmas cards this year either 😉

But, we did have a wonderful Christmas.  Much of Christmas day was spent at Double S Farms, where my mother, my sister and her family live.  

It was a beautiful day and I stole out into the garden to take photos of all that is growing….

My mother’s vegetable garden is growing like crazy….
We always enjoy fresh broccoli from her garden in winter.  We all love it….even the kids.
Curly Parsley with Marigolds planted nearby to discourage pests.
My mother makes a delicious salad using her Romaine lettuce.  I promise to share our family’s special salad dressing recipe sometime soon.
Lemons are ready for picking at Christmas time.
So are the grapefruit…
The apple trees are almost bare.
The chickens are oblivious to all the festivities.
Although their coop is decorated with a Christmas wreath 😉
My mother’s beautifully decorated table.  Notice the table gifts are decorated with a feather from the chickens.
We had a wonderful day and a delicious dinner.  It was so much fun enjoying each others company and the fact that now we all live within 20 minutes of each other.
This Christmas was extra special to me because of my new granddaughter, Lily….
She is just so darling and makes me so happy.
Not so special was turning 46 the day after Christmas…
My nephew, Finley getting ready to help me blow out my candle 🙂
Although, I must say that I was so grateful to have my family all around to spend my birthday with.
I must say, that I feel pretty good being 46….so far 😉

**************************

We are finishing up our special project that I mentioned earlier.  This project is for my mother’s 70th birthday, which is coming up this week.  I can’t wait to share it with you all once we are done!

I hope you are having a good week.

This is the conclusion to a story that I wrote back in January about a dog and her battle with ‘forbidden fruit’.


Sodapop, who belongs to my youngest sister, Chicken Farmer, and her family – is the main character of this story.  Sodapop is the daughter of my dog, Missy (that really has nothing to do with the story, however).  


The ‘forbidden fruit’ for Sodapop was an apple.  However, it was not your ordinary apple….it was an old, shriveled up apple hanging on the top of an apple tree.




We weren’t sure what it is about this shriveled apple that made her want it so badly.  But most likely, it probably because it was out of her reach and that is what drove her crazy….

 

She was sorely tempted by the sight of the dried up apple and she did her best to reach it, jumping as high as she could, breaking small branches in the process.



As if one forbidden fruit was not enough….there were more hanging in the tree, taunting her.




But try as she might, all she ended up with were small apple branches for all her troubles.

 
It was small compensation for a lot of work….




*FAST FORWARD TO SUMMERTIME*


Now it is summer and the apple trees are now laden with delicious apples.  Now Sodapop has more apples then she knows what to do with.  First, she enjoyed eating the apples hanging on the lower branches of the apple trees.



However, now that most of the lower apples have either been eaten by her or picked by the residents of Double S Farms, Sodapop has had to content herself with eating the apples that have fallen from the tree….



I wonder if ‘forbidden’ apples taste better then ‘unforbidden’ apples?


**UPDATE – We recently learned that eating too many apples can be dangerous for dogs because their seeds contain small amounts of cyanide.  So, the apple trees will soon be fenced off to keep the dogs out.**


I hope you are all having a great week so far.  We are hoping for a start to our summer rainy season later this week and are keeping our fingers crossed 🙂

A few weeks ago, my brother-in-law asked me to come out to the family farm (Double S Farms) asked me to come over and help him to prune their numerous fruit trees.  I had been wanting to work on them because they had been sorely neglected by the previous owners of the farm.
These three peach trees produced a large amount of fruit that we all enjoyed last summer.  However, they had been badly pruned over the years and their branches reached so high into the sky, that it was impossible to reach all of the fruit.

Why did we decide to prune them you may ask?  Well, besides the fact that they had been disfigured by bad pruning, the other benefits would be numerous.  There would be increased fruit production, strengthened trees, earlier fruit production and easier  maintenance.
 
Our tools – Loppers, Pruning Saw, Hand Pruners and Pole Saw.
The two types of pruning cuts that we used were thinning and heading cuts.  The first type – thinning cuts, removes branches back to the larger branch they are growing from.  So, we concentrated on removing all crossing branches and those growing into the center of the tree.  We did this because peach and plum trees should have an open center.

The second type of cut we used – heading back, removes part of the branch, pruning back to a outward facing bud.  So we made sure that our cuts, were pruned back to an outside facing bud and cut at a 45 degree angle.
 
 Farmer Dad, working hard making a thinning cut with a pruning saw.

Pruning should be done while the trees are still dormant, which is January here in the desert.  

Since dwarf forms of peach trees do not exist, pruning is the only way to shorten the tree in order to reach the fruit and also to be able to fit a net over the tree to protect them from the birds eating the fruit.  Unfortunately, a lot of fruit was lost to the birds last year.
 
  
As we pruned, evidence of bad pruning was evident.  The photo above shows an incorrect pruning cut, while the bottom one is the right way to prune.  You want to prune back to the trunk to the branch collar.  

Peach and plum trees can take heavy pruning, but we removed only 20% of the trees branches.  Next year, we may do more if needed.  We felt that is was better not over-prune and stress the trees.
 
You can tell why it is important to prune back to the branch when you see how the cut branch above died back because it was not pruned close enough to the branch it came from.
Once we were finished with the peach trees, we started on the two apple trees in the backyard.  Both of these trees were better maintained and so we removed a few of the lower branches and made some heading cuts.

 
Pruning cuts back to the trunk.  You can see the branch collar, which is a specialized area that surrounds branches.  Do not cut the branch collar, but make your pruning cut just before.
 
Making heading cuts to the apple tree.
Apple trees only require light pruning.  They have a different shape then peach trees and do not have an open shape.  Rather, they should have many interior branches.  So, the majority of pruning we did were some heading cuts and just a few thinning cuts.

You know, there is just something so fulfilling after spending the day pruning and seeing the instant results of your work.  A couple of weeks later, I took the following pictures of the now flowering trees we had pruned.

Peach blossoms reach towards the sky.
 
The apple trees are now covered in blossoms.

Next year, we will probably do some additional corrective pruning for the peach trees in order to further fix the damage done by the previous owners.  But for now, we are sitting back and enjoying their beauty and looking forward to peach jam and apple butter this summer.

Yesterday was a glorious winter day accompanied with warmer then usual temperatures; 68 degrees F.  I went over to Double S Farms to help my brother-in-law (Farmer Dad), prune the fruit trees – (the fruit trees had sadly been neglected and mistreated by the previous owners, so we had to quite a bit of corrective pruning).

I brought along, my now repaired camera, intending to take pictures of how to prune fruit trees for a later post.  Once I arrived, I was so happy to see early signs of spring all around me….

A single peach bud, just beginning to show a flash of pink.
Snap Peas beginning to grow in the vegetable garden.
 
The grapefruit tree is heavily laden with delicious fruit.
The “Formerly Overgrown, Neglected Rose – Glamis Castle” beginning to leaf out.
 
The apple trees were full of buds and I was able to find this glimpse the pink petals impatiently waiting to burst out.
 
Double S Farms resident Costa’s Hummingbird, was happily perched on top of the almond tree watching over our activities.