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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 Seeing the old, outdated elements peeled away and replaced with new paint, flooring, etc.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!

Cereus cactus, golden barrel cactus, and firecracker penstemon

Is your outdoor space looking rather drab? If so, you aren’t alone – many landscapes can appear somewhat dull, especially if there is a lack of color. But, it doesn’t have to stay that way.

One of my favorite aspects of my job as a landscape consultant is to help my clients to transform their garden from drab to colorful and it is quite easy to do. 

I invite you to join me as I revisit with a client two-years after I created a planting plan for her existing, lackluster landscape. 

BEFORE – Corner of Driveway

Initially, this area did little to add to the curb appeal of the home. Overgrown red yucca plants and a cholla cactus created a ‘messy’ and boring look to this high-profile spot in the landscape.

AFTER

Removing the old plants and adding angelita daisy (Tetraneuris acaulis) and gopher plant (Euphorbia biglandulosa), creates colorful interest while adding texture. Before, the boulders were hidden behind the overgrown plants, so now they serve as an excellent backdrop for the new additions. 

 

The corners of the driveway are one of the most viewed spots in the landscape and are often the first part people see when they drive by. It’s important to anchor them visually with plants that look great all year and preferably produce colorful flowers or have an attractive shape or color. I always like to add boulders to help anchor both corners as well.

These areas are also critical in that they create symmetry, connecting both sides of the landscape, which is done by using the same types of plants on each side.

 

Although there is no ‘before’ photo for the entry, here is an example of plants that will add year-round color because of their overlapping bloom seasons. ‘Blue Elf’ aloe blooms in winter and on into early spring while ‘New Gold Mound’ lantana will flower spring through fall, as the aloe fades into the background. A ponytail palm (Beaucarnea recurvata) brings a nice vertical element to this spot and will grow taller with age.

BEFORE

Along the front entry path, a tall cereus (Cereus peruvianus) cactus adds a welcome vertical element while the golden barrel cactus (Echinocactus grusonii) creates excellent texture contrast. However, something is missing in this area, in my opinion.

AFTER

A colorful element was what was missing in this area. A single firecracker penstemon (Penstemon eatonii) adds beauty while also attracting hummingbirds.

BEFORE

On the corner of this lot was a palo brea tree with a large desert spoon and turpentine bushes. Overall, there was nothing exciting in this spot.

AFTER

The turpentine bushes were removed to make way for a set of gopher plants, which served to tie in this corner of the garden with the areas next to the driveway. These succulents flower in spring and add nice spiky texture throughout the rest of the year.

Purple and white trailing lantana (Lantana montevidensis) serve to create a colorful carpet throughout the warm months of the year. This type of lantana can struggle in full sun in the middle of summer in the low-desert garden but, thrive underneath the filtered shade of a palo verde tree.

When working with an existing landscape, I relish the challenge of determining what existing plants still add beauty to the outdoor space, or have the potential to if pruned correctly. Sometimes an ugly, overgrown shrub can be transformed into something beautiful if pruned back severely. Often, it’s up to me to decide what goes and what stays. Then, the real fun part begins, which is selecting what areas need new plants and what ones will work best.

I find that many people think that to renovate a landscape, you need to get rid of most of the plants and put in a lot of new ones. But, this is rarely the case. All you need to do is keep the plants that will continue to add to the curb appeal or create a beautiful, mature backdrop for new plants and new plants should be concentrated in high-profile areas where their impact will be maximized.

What would you like to get rid of in your landscape and what would you keep?

Noelle Johnson, AKA, ‘AZ Plant Lady’ is a horticulturist, landscape consultant, and certified arborist who lives and gardens in the desert Southwest. While writing and speaking on a variety of gardening topics keeps her busy, you’ll often find her outside planting vegetables, picking fruit from her trees, or testing the newest drought-tolerant plants. 

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For those of us who love succulents, there is a price to pay. These water-wise plants often cost a lot of money. If you have a bottomless wallet, that may not be a problem, but for those of us who live on a budget and want to include these lovely plants in our landscapes, it can be a problem.

Thankfully, there is something that you can do in many cases to turn one succulent plant into several. I’ll show you how I did this when I bought a ‘Blue Elf’ aloe, which I had wanted for a long time.

‘Blue Elf’ aloe is somewhat unique among aloe species. They thrive in hot, reflected heat handling full sun where most other aloes turn brown, while yearning for winter. Orange flowers appear in later winter and last into spring adding a welcome splash of color to winter gardens.

I visited the Desert Botanical Garden’s fall plant sale the other day and had a list of plants that I wanted in my garden. One of my must haves was three ‘Blue Elf’ aloe plants. The holes were already dug, and all I needed were my little aloes.

The problem was that initially, I could only find 3-gallon specimens for $30 and not the smaller 1-gallons I was hoping to find. Later, I did see them in the 1-gallon size, for $20 a piece. Ouch! So, what was I to do? I certainly didn’t want to spend $60 for three 1-gallon plants.

I went back to look at those in the 3-gallon containers and noted that there were at least three good-sized clumps of aloe, which was all I needed. So I bought it and took it home.

Using a sharp hand shovel, I cut my way through the root ball, isolating each clump.

Out came several nice-sized aloes, ready to be planted. 

I planted them in my pre-dug holes where they will root out nicely with some supplemental water.

It turns out that there weren’t just three, but five clumps of ‘Blue Elf’ aloe, so I found two more areas to plant them. 

So, instead of paying $60 for three 1-gallons, I got 5 ‘Blue Elf’ aloe for $6 each, which for succulents, is a great deal!

Another type of succulent where you can sometimes find ‘extra’ plants in a nursery container include agave.

At the same plant sale, many different species of agave were on display ready to be purchased. While not all types of agave make ‘babies’ (pups), a lot of them do. Can you spot the two agave containers in the photo above where there is more than one agave growing?

The next time you are shopping for aloe or agave for your garden, take a close look at them in their nursery containers – you may find two or more plants for the price of one. How cool is that?

Have you ever encountered this landscaping challenge? This blank wall is rather boring, and the home behind it dominates the view. So what would you do to fix these problems?

I faced this dilemma last month at a client’s home. The pool was the main focal point of the landscape, and the dull wall wasn’t doing it any favors. In coming up with a solution, we had to select a plant that was relatively low-litter, due to the proximity to the pool and that looked attractive throughout the entire year because of the high-profile location.

Hop Bush (Dodonaea viscosa)

I recommended adding three hop bush (Dodonaea viscosa). These are tall, evergreen shrubs that thrive in arid climates such as ours. 

One of the many things that I love about them is their versatility. They thrive in full sun and light shade, and can be allowed to grow up to 12 feet tall, or maintained at a lower height.

Hop bush can be allowed to grow to their natural shape…

…or pruned more formally.

For the area behind the pool, I recommend having it grow to its full height, which will help provide privacy while the attractive foliage will add a welcome screen of green throughout the year.

Hop bush flowers

Hop bush does produce light green, papery flowers in spring, but they aren’t particularly showy. So, we need to add a color element to the area behind the pool.

One of my favorite ways to add color to any landscape is to incorporate brightly colored containers in shade of blue, purple, or orange. That way, whether plants are in bloom or not, there is always a bright splash of color.

For this area, I recommended adding 3 blue pots, equally spaced.

Now it was time to decide what to plant in each pot. The client wanted a low-maintenance choice that wouldn’t require a lot of water.

Immediately, I remembered touring a landscape that had blue containers filled with ‘Blue Elf’ aloe. Even though the aloe had finished blooming for the year, their spiky blue-gray foliage added nice color contrast.

This small aloe is one of my favorite succulents for several reasons. First, it begins to bloom in late winter, lasting into spring adding welcome color to cool-season landscapes. Hummingbirds can’t resist the flowers either.

This aloe is best showcased when grouped together and thrives in full sun, unlike most aloe which prefer filtered shade. Finally, it is hardy to 15 degrees F. so cold winters seldom bother it.

And so, here is the planting that I suggested to my client that will provide year round beauty and privacy.

*Do you have a favorite plant or group of plants that you like to use against bare walls?

 

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What does your garden look like in early spring?  Does it somewhat boring?  How about adding some color and interest to your garden by adding some water-wise flowering plants?



This week, I had a fun project to work on – in partnership with Monrovia, I was asked to select two types water-wise plants for the landscape. So, I headed out to my local nursery with a mission to select from the different water-wise Monrovia plants available.


Once I arrived at the nursery, I was faced with a number of different Monrovia plant choices from succulents, cacti, shrubs and perennials.  After a some time going back and forth, I narrowed my choices down to these two water-wise, flowering beauties.

Parry’s penstemon (Penstemon parryi) has long been a favorite perennial of mine.  I love the ‘cottage-garden’ look it provides with its pink spikes that appear in late winter and on into spring.


It is quite versatile in the landscape where it can be used in wildflower gardens, planted in a perennial bed or simply placed next to a boulder.
My next plant choice was a flowering succulent. 

Blue Elf aloe (Aloe ‘Blue Elf’) is a newer aloe species that is perfect for small spaces.  It thrives in hot, reflected heat and flowers in late winter on into spring.  



I have been using this small aloe a lot in recent landscape designs (like the one above) including in narrow planting beds, in entries and also in pots.



Both of these flowering plants are water-wise choices and perfect for the drought tolerant garden.


I loaded my new Monrovia plants up and started home.


On the drive home, I could see the flowers from my new plants in my rearview mirror and I couldn’t wait to find new homes for them in my garden.


I played with a number of potential locations in the garden for my new parry’s penstemon, but decided on planting it next to a boulder.  Plants like this penstemon look great next to boulders where their different textures provide great contrast.


I didn’t have to try different spots for my new Blue Elf aloe – I knew that I wanted it for one of my containers in the front entry.  This area gets blasted with hot, afternoon sun, which this pretty little aloe can handle with no problem.

Monrovia plants can be found at Lowe’s garden centers as well as at many local nurseries, which is where I found mine.  You can also order Monrovia plants online.  The quality of their plants is excellent and the only problem you’ll have is choosing from the large variety available.


*This post is sponsored by Monrovia, but my plant choices and opinions are my own.  Visit their website for more water-wise plant choices for your drought tolerant garden.

When I am out and about doing landscape consults, I often take the opportunity afterward to drive around the neighborhood and take pictures of examples of both bad and good landscaping.


Last week, I was near my old neighborhood, which is populated by ranch homes with carports.  Many of the homes were built in the 1950’s and while some had landscaping that dated back to that time – there were also great examples of updated landscapes that complimented the ranch style homes.


This one in particular, stood out to me…


The homeowner updated the facade of the house by adding textured stone and removing the old window shutters in favor of newer window treatments.

But, what I loved was the landscape design.  

I’ll break it down into three parts and why I liked it…


The front raised beds are filled with succulents, including some that will flower.  The octopus agave (Agave vilmoriniana), blue elf aloe  (Aloe x ‘Blue Elf’) and lady’s slipper (Pedilanthus macrocarpus). 

A large container filled with purple and burgundy petunias provide a great splash of color.  

To the left, a palo blanco tree (Acacia willardiana), is leafless, but new green growth will soon appear.  The beauty of this tree lies in its white trunk.

Growing in the grass is an olive tree.  I’m not a huge fan because I hate pruning tree suckers.  But, it looks very nice in this area.


These raised beds are filled with a pair of octopus agave that are flowering.  Many people make the mistake of cutting off the flowering stalk of agave as it begins to grow.  That is a HUGE mistake.  The flowering stalk is the crowning glory of the agave and is beautiful.  Cutting off the stalk will not keep the agave alive.  Once they flower, they begin to fade and then die.  

In this case, simply replace the octopus agave with new ones.

I do like the ornamental grasses in the raised bed.  I think it makes a great alternative to shrubs or even flowering perennials.  

**What I don’t like is the purple fountain grass.  I find that it keeps getting wider and unwieldy.  I do like the Regal Mist (Muhlenbergia capillaris ‘Regal Mist’) that flanks the fountain grass because it has a neater growth habit.


I really like the plantings along the driveway (except for the fountain grass – I’d use ‘Regal Mist’ instead).

The contrast of textures between the octopus agave and the grasses is just wonderful.  Petunias add color and serve as a ground cover as well.

This landscape is a great example of how using frost-tolerant plants can help your landscape look great, even in winter.  It weathered the severe cold snap we had a couple of months ago, just beautifully.

**Compare the next door neighbor’s landscape.  Frost-damaged ficus trees, (which will have to be cut back severely) and poodle-pruned shrubs.

Which landscape design would you prefer?