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palo verde tree bougainvillea backyard landscape

Do you have parts of your backyard landscape that you would like to change? 

Perhaps you have areas you like, but there are plants you are tired of or are struggling with.

I want to show you what I did in my backyard, where I blended both old and new elements.

First, a little history:

I was fairly happy with with the areas bordering the walls of the backyard. They are filled with colorful shrubs such as Bougainvillea, Coral Fountain, and Yellow Bells.

However, the center of my backyard space was dominated by a large lawn, which we had removed last year.

The decision to replace the grass was made with a focus on plants that I love and would blend well with the existing plants.

The focal point is a new flagstone seating area with Adirondack chairs arranged around a portable firepit. Around this area, boulders add height and texture. Angelita Daisy, Artichoke Agave, Blackfoot Daisy, and Pink Muhly grasses surround the seating area, which adds year-round color and texture.

In another area, a gentle mound stands planted with a ‘Bubba’ Desert Willow tree. Purple Trailing Lantana grows around the tree and will soon cover the entire mound in a mass of purple blooms.

At this point, the new plants are still rather small. However, plants grow quickly in the desert climate and, in another year, will soon reach their mature size.

The result? A backyard landscape where the new and old will blend seamlessly together.

I must admit that I am delighted with how it turned out. It took me a long time to decide what to do with this area – it is so much easier to design someone else’s yard than your own.

I look forward to seeing it evolve and promise to share it with you 🙂

Progress! One-Year Post Desert Landscape Renovation

bougainvillea is beautiful

Do you love the beauty of bougainvillea? Many of us will agree that bougainvillea is beautiful, but many homeowners hesitate to grow them for a variety of reasons. The most common that I hear is that they get too big and as a result, too messy.

While both statements are certainly true, wouldn’t it be nice to enjoy the beauty of bougainvillea while minimizing its size and messiness?

Grow Bougainvillea in Pot

Let’s face it; summers in the desert can be brutal and bougainvillea are one of the lush green, flowering shrubs that thrive in intense heat and sun. So, why not consider adding one in a high-profile area where you can enjoy their beauty throughout the warm season?

Growing bougainvillea in pots limits their overall size, and with smaller shrubs, there is less mess. It also makes it easier to protect them from frost damage in winter by moving the container to a sheltered location, such as underneath a patio or covering them with a sheet.

container plants

Bougainvillea make excellent container plants. In fact, many gardeners who live in cold climates, only grow them in pots and move them indoors in winter. I met a gardener in Austin, Texas who treats bougainvillea like an annual plant, planting a new one every year to replace the old one lost to winter cold. Thankfully, we don’t need to do add a new one every year.

Growing bougainvillea in pots

Growing bougainvillea in pots is easy to do. Select a location in full sun where it will promote the most bloom. Bougainvillea are one of the few flowering plants that can handle west-facing exposures. 

grow bougainvillea

Provide support for them to grow upward if desired. You can also grow bougainvillea as more of a compact shrub form if you wish.

Water deeply and allow the top 2 inches to dry out before watering again. Bougainvillea does best when the soil is allowed to dry out between watering.

container gardening

Apply a slow-release fertilizer in spring, after the danger of frost is passed. You’ll want to reapply fertilizer every three months until September.

Growing bougainvillea in pots keeps them small enough to make it feasible to cover them when freezing temperatures occur.    

So, if you like container gardening, consider growing bougainvillea in a pot.

Creative Container Gardening Tips

Sometimes, one area that many homeowners struggle with is what to plant in their side yards. It can be an awkward place with little sun and not much room for plants to grow. Most of these narrow spaces along the side of our home are little more than “yards,” but there is potential to turn them into “gardens.” On a visit to a client’s house, I saw a great example of this, where the homeowner had created side gardens.

Bougainvillea with Star jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides) in side garden

First, her first side garden was planted with upright Bougainvillea shrubs against the wall with Star jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides) planted in between. I liked the symmetry of the alternating plants and how they covered the wall so well – I’m not a fan of a view of a bare wall outside my window.

Most of the time the star jasmine produces small white fragrant flowers in spring, and the bougainvillea produces vibrant blooms spring through fall. Also it’s neat about this plant combination is that the base of the wall in a narrow side garden rarely gets much sun, and star jasmine does well in the shade. After all, bougainvillea does best in sunny spots, and the top part of them gets just enough sun to promote blooms.

Yellow oleander (Thevetia peruviana) and 'Orange Jubilee' (Tecoma x 'Orange Jubilee') in side garden

In the other side of the garden, Yellow oleander (Thevetia peruviana) trees grew along the wall toward the back and ‘Orange Jubilee’ (Tecoma x ‘Orange Jubilee’) shrubs covered the wall closer up creating a lush green backdrop.

I did make two suggestions in regards to this side garden. Remove the ‘Orange Jubilee’ shrubs growing in-between the yellow oleander trees. Right now, they make that area look overcrowded, and you cannot see the beauty and symmetry of the tree trunks against the wall.

Also, If you never see your side garden or it serves as your utility area, understandably, you may not want to spend time and money on adding plants. However, I do recommend focusing on placing plants directly across from any windows that face into that area, because who wants to look out onto a bare wall?

What do you have growing in your side garden?

Caterpillars Eating Shrubs , Yellow Bells (Tecoma stans stans)

Caterpillars Eating Shrubs , Yellow Bells (Tecoma stans stans)

Do you have caterpillars lurking beneath the leaves of your shrubs?

If they look like the yellow bells shrub, pictured above, probably not.

Caterpillars Eating Shrubs

Caterpillars Eating Shrubs

But, if your leaves look as if a vampire came along and sucked them dry, then they are there, whether you can see them or not. Other telltale signs include little black pellets, which are caterpillar ‘poop’. 

Damaged bougainvillea leaves

Damaged bougainvillea leaves

Bougainvillea can also fall prey to hungry caterpillars, who leave behind ragged holes and edges.

So, what do you do?  Nothing?  Or should you pull out all the stops to get rid of them?

I address these questions and more in my latest video:

 
 
 

One of the most difficult places in the landscape to grow plants is in areas that receive full sun as well as reflected heat.

Reflected heat occurs when sidewalks, walls, and patio decks absorb the heat during the day only to  re-radiate that heat back out.

As you can imagine, when you couple the intensity of areas that get full sun AND reflected warmth, it can be hard to find plants that can not only survive, but add beauty to these spaces.

Thankfully, there are a number of attractive plants that will thrive in these hot spots.

I recently shared 10 shrubs, in my latest article for Houzz, that can handle full sun as well as reflected warmth.

Do you have a plant that you like that does well in full, reflected sun?

**For additional shrub suggestions, I recommend Mary Irish’s book, Trees and Shrubs for the Southwest.





 

Do you enjoy winter?

I do. Surprisingly, the desert Southwest has definite seasons and winters can get cold with temps dipping into the 20’s.

Frost-damaged natal plum

Photo: Frost-damaged natal plum

Unfortunately, the cold temperatures can wreak havoc on our frost tender plants such as bougainvillea, lantana and yellow bells – to name a few.

Let’s face it, no one likes the sight of brown, crispy, frost-damaged plants in the landscape.  Often, our first impulse is to prune off the ugly growth – but, did you know that you can actually do more damage by pruning it off too early?

Learn what plants are most commonly affected by frost damage, when to prune and how in my latest article for Houzz.com

 
 
 
 
 
 

 

I hope your week is off to a great start!

What has your winter been like?

Has it been unusually cold or warm?  If you live in the Southwest, you have undoubtedly experienced a warmer then normal winter.  

As a result, many plants that are usually dormant in winter, are green and blooming even though it is still technically February.

I started wearing sandals 2 weeks ago, but I still haven’t broken out my shorts yet.  

Last week, I showed you my edible garden, (also known as a kitchen garden), which is located on the side of our house.

Today, I wanted to show you a peek at what is happening in the back garden during this warm winter.

back garden

This is one part of the back garden.

This was my first vegetable garden.  Because this garden is close to the house, I like to plant vegetables that are harvested frequently such as leaf lettuce, tomatoes and cucumbers.

To the right, you can see my pink trumpet vine.  Behind is a hollyhock getting ready to flower. Against the wall is purple lilac vine in full bloom and peeking through the slats of the fence are nasturtium leaves.

Abraham Darby' rose bush

I have two large rose bushes and the ‘Abraham Darby’ rose bush has a few lovely blooms.  You may notice that this rose has a rather old-fashioned appearance.  This is one of many David Austin shrub roses.

After growing 40 hybrid tea roses in the garden of our first house, I have found that I like shrub roses.  They are easier to take care of (need less pruning) and are very fragrant.

pink trumpet vine (Podranea ricasoliana)

The pink trumpet vine (Podranea ricasoliana) growing up against the pillar of my patio has beautiful, pink flowers.

Normally, it suffers some frost damage during the winter, but during this warm winter, I have had pink flowers all winter long.  The flowers normally show up in spring and fall and are truly stunning.

I went out into the garden and cut the flowers for a lovely bouquet yesterday.

This plant grows quickly and can be grown as either a vine or a sprawling shrub.  

coral fountain (Rusellia equisetiformis)

Another plant that usually shuts down for winter is coral fountain (Rusellia equisetiformis).  I love the arching branches of this perennial and its orange/red blossoms.

My Back Garden

One plant that still looks like winter, is my bougainvillea.

A few days ago, I asked you on my facebook page if you love or hate bougainvillea.  I had an overwhelming response with most of you saying that you liked it.

I have two bougainvillea.  I used to have more, but while I love the beauty of bougainvillea, I don’t particularly like to prune them, so two words for me.

My Back Garden

The blue sky is really the perfect backdrop for the orange, tubular flowers of orange jubilee (Tecoma x Orange Jubilee).

For those who want a tall shrub that grows quickly, then orange jubilee is a great choice.

I recommend using it against a bare wall or to screen out pool equipment.

In fact, I visited a client who used orange jubilee as ‘green curtains‘ for her home.

purple lilac vine (Hardenbergia violaceae)

Right now, my purple lilac vine (Hardenbergia violaceae) has taken center stage in the back garden.

Growing up my south-facing wall, they burst forth in a profusion of purple blooms every February and last into March.

The whiskey barrel planter is a holding area where I have planted my extra plants.  I’m not sure what I will do with it later.

My Back Garden

In addition to growing purple lilac vine up walls, I also like to grow it as a groundcover too.

*This vine is easy to find in nurseries in winter and spring, when they are in flower.  However, you can have a hard time finding it in summer and fall.  So if you want one, get it now.

Behind my purple lilac groundcover vine, I have red bird-of-paradise (Caesalpinia pulcherrima) growing.

But,  because it is dormant in winter, it isn’t much to look at right now – but I’ll show you how lovely they are this summer.

My Back Garden

Hollyhocks have a special place in my garden.  I love these old-fashioned flowers and their flowers are truly stunning in spring (they flower in the summer in cooler climates).

They self-seed and come up every year for me.  In a month, the flowers will start to burst forth and I can hardly wait.

The hollyhocks are located next to my smaller vegetable garden and receive enough water from the garden without me having to give them supplemental water.

My Back Garden

Another old-fashioned favorite flower are nasturtiums.  These flowers have a place inside of all of my vegetable gardens.

Not only are they beautiful, nasturtiums also repel bad bugs from bothering my vegetables.  Another bonus is that their leaves and flowers are edible.

The bloom in late winter and through spring.  I let them dry up in summer before pulling them out. They do drop some seeds, so I always have new ones coming up the next year in the garden.

My Back Garden

I have several pots in front of my smaller vegetable garden.  In them, I plant a combination of vegetables and flowers, including bacopa, which trails over the edges of pots.

My Back Garden

There are carrots and leaf lettuce growing in my second vegetable garden.

I step outside into the garden whenever I need a few carrots for dinner and they taste so delicious.

My Back Garden

In the same garden, I am growing celery for the first time.  I must say, that I am quite impressed at how well it is growing and can’t wait to taste it.

Last week, I mentioned showing you a part of my garden that I have NEVER shown anyone.

This is my side yard – NOT a garden…

My Back Garden

This is the space where we store garden equipment, trash cans and our garden shed.  I also have my compost bin in this area.

You can see only half of the side yard in this photo, but you aren’t missing anything by not seeing the rest.

Another purple lilac vine grows along the fence, which hides part of the side yard and a large ‘Desert Museum’ Palo Verde provides welcome shade.

Our second bougainvillea is located along the wall.  It is never watered and it has been 3 years since it has been pruned.  As you can see, it does just fine being ignored.

And so, I hope you have enjoyed peeking into parts of my back garden.  Of course, I haven’t shown it all to you – just the parts that are blooming.

In a few months, I will show the other areas when they are in bloom.

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

So, what is blooming in your garden this month?

Do you have a favorite winter/spring blooming plant?  

sustainable landscape

When most people think of a ‘sustainable landscape’, they view one that is boring, filled with few plants which is why they are often surprised to see how beautiful they are.

Over the past couple of weeks, we have talked about small steps that you can take toward a more sustainable landscape and today, we will finish up our series with a few more steps you can take in your own garden.

Re-think what you plant in pots.

Leaf lettuce, garlic, parsley growing along side petunias

Leaf lettuce, garlic, parsley growing along side petunias.

If you are like most people, you have a few pots that you fill with flowering annuals, which you fertilize on a semi-regular basis.

But, how about thinking outside of the box about what we add to pots.

For example, did you know that many vegetables do great in pots and are also attractive?  I like to grow vegetables in my pots and add a couple of annual flowers in for a little color.

A Few New Ideas for Sustainable Landscapes

While some flowering annuals can be a bit fussy (pansies, for example) – herbs are not.  They look great in pots, are on hand whenever you need a bunch of fresh herbs for cooking and they don’t need as much water and fertilizer as flowers.

Crown-of-Thorns, Lady's Slipper, Elephant's Food and a cactus

Crown-of-Thorns, Lady’s Slipper, Elephant’s Food and a cactus.

Succulents make beautiful pots with their varied textures.  Because the store water inside, they do not need as much water as other container plants.

A Few New Ideas for Sustainable Landscapes

A helpful tip for planting a large container – fill the bottom third with recyclable plastic bottles.  Most plant’s won’t reach to the bottom of large containers and it is a waste of money to fill up the entire pot with expensive potting soil.  Another bonus is that it also makes your pot a bit lighter.

Use natural or recycled materials when possible.

Gate made from old Ocotillo canes and tree branches

Gate made from old Ocotillo canes and tree branches.

Often, when we are adding elements to our landscape, we overlook the many things that are recycled or natural that can fill that need.

For example – did you know that you can create a ‘living’ fence made from Ocotillo canes?  It’s true! I have seen them my local nursery.

Pathway made from recycled, broken concrete

Pathway made from recycled, broken concrete.

If your landscape needs a path – instead of buying new pavers or step stones, use recycled, broken concrete.  Or use natural stone products like flagstone.

Sustainable Landscapes

It is hard to overstate how boulders can help a landscape go from ‘okay’ to ‘fabulous’.

Boulders add both height and texture without needing any water or pruning.  In addition, boulders make plants look better when they are planted alongside.

Sustainable Landscapes

Eliminate or decrease the use of pesticides.

Leaf-roller caterpillar damage on Yellow Bells shrub

Leaf-roller caterpillar damage on Yellow Bells shrub.

Our first reaction when seeing insects damage on our plants is to run for the nearest pesticide in our misguided attempt to rescue our plants.

But, did you know that most plants can handle some damage from insects without any problem?

In fact, once damaging insects take up residence in our favorite plants – soon after new bugs come along that devour the bad bugs.

Bougainvillea Looper Caterpillar damage

Bougainvillea Looper Caterpillar damage.

If you see something is eating the leaves of your plants, you have several options that are not harmful to the environment:

– Ignore it

– Prune off the affected foliage

– Pick off the insects (or spray off with water).

– Apply an organic pesticide such as insecticidal soap or BT (Bacillus thuringiensis).

You can also help to prevent damaging insects by planting ‘companion’ plants, which bad bugs do not like.  For example, planting garlic around roses helps to keep aphids away.

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

I hope you have enjoyed this series of posts on sustainable landscaping.  My hope is that I have helped to inspire you to make some changes to your landscape to make it more sustainable.

I’d love to hear your thoughts or any ideas that you have done in your own garden to make it more sustainable.

For a complete listing of these posts with links, click here.

When you envision a drought-tolerant landscape, does a landscape covered in colored gravel with a cactus or two come to mind?

Drought-Tolerant Landscape

Believe it or not, this type of landscape style was popular back in the 70’s and some people have never moved beyond this outdated trend.

Well, let us fast-forward to present day when a drought-tolerant landscape can look like this…

beautiful landscape

I drove by this beautiful landscape, filled with succulents and other drought-tolerant plants on a recent trip to Santa Barbara, CA.

I love the magenta-colored brachts of the Bougainvillea, the green spiky Spanish Bayonet Yucca (Yucca Aloifolia) along with the gray/blue of Century Plant (Agave americana).

The orange flowers of Aloe arborescens are also a favorite of mine.  I also like how the blue/gray leaves of the ‘Blue Chalk Sticks’ variety of Ice Plant (Senecio mandraliscae) provides a cool color contrast.

You may be surprised to discover that this beautiful, drought-tolerant landscape is part of an entry to a large estate and that there is another side filled with drought-tolerant plants.

Rosmarinus officials 'Prostratus

On this side, you can see Trailing Rosemary (Rosmarinus officials ‘Prostratus’) spilling over the front with Tropical Bird-of-Paradise (Strelitzia reginae) right behind.

A low-growing pink Bougainvillea shows off its bright colors along with the spiky orange flowers of the Aloe nearby.

Look closely, and you can see the paddles of a Prickly Pear cactus (not sure what species) and the variegated spikes of Agave americana ‘Variegata’.

Drought-Tolerant Landscape

In this last view of this spectacular garden, we see a California Pepper tree (Schinus molle), which is quite familiar to Californians.  (We had these trees lining our neighborhood street where I grew up in Southern California.)  They are found in the low-desert areas of Arizona, but it is rare to see them.

In the background, you can see two very different types of palm trees.  The large one is a Canary Island Date Palm (Phoenix canariensis) while the skinny one is a Mexican Fan Palm (Washingtonia mexicana).

If you look closely, you can see the flowering stalk of an agave as well as the upright columns of a Cereus cactus.

To the left of the mailbox, there is a Jade plant growing, a flowering Crown of Thorns (Euphorbia millii), which I also have growing in my garden.

So, if you think that having a drought-tolerant landscape means looking like this…

Drought-Tolerant Landscape

It doesn’t!

The majority of plants in the lovely garden in California, can be grown in desert climates.

So, which drought-tolerant landscape would you prefer – a colorful one or one that is boring?

Last weekend, our family loaded our suitcases into the car and headed out to Southern California to visit my second-oldest daughter, Rachele, who is stationed there at a Navy base.

I was excited to see Rachele, but also to visit that part of California since it is near where I grew up and also where I met my husband while attending college.

On Saturday morning, we left our younger kids with Rachele and ventured up into the hills outside of Santa Barbara in order to visit our college.

Westmont College

Westmont College is located on side of the mountains in the small town of Montecito.

Most people haven’t heard of Westmont.  It is a small Christian, liberal arts college with an enrollment of 1,200.  

beautiful gardens

The college is set among beautiful gardens that echo the Spanish/Mediterranean style.

Believe it or not, I was not interested in the gardens or plants when I attended Westmont.  I was more focused on having fun, dating and passing my classes. At the time, I was decidedly “undecided” in what I wanted to major in.

Southern California

I spent 2 years at Westmont before I got married and moved to Arizona.

Now, whenever I am visiting Santa Barbara, I like to take time to visit the beautiful gardens of my former alma mater.

I’d love to take you on a little tour of my favorite spots and share some memories…

 Southern California

This is the main administration building, which used to be the mansion that stood on this estate.

 Southern California

This is where my husband and I met.  We both had part-time jobs in adjoining offices and I thought he was awfully cute and nice.

fountain

My favorite part of the building was the courtyard outside with its fountain.

water fountain

I love the detail of the water fountain.

photo with my friend

Years ago, I posed for this photo with my friend, Mary by the same fountain.

 Southern California

I love the look of stone finials, don’t you?

pink azalea and the hibiscus

It may have been the end of December, but there were still blooms to be seen like this pink azalea and the hibiscus, below…

 Southern California

I couldn’t help but think of those whose gardens are frozen and/or covered in snow right now.  The Mediterranean climate is truly wonderful – this area rarely experiences temps below freezing.

old bougainvillea

An old bougainvillea grew up among the stair railing.

old bougainvillea

I can only imagine how old this bougainvillea is.

 Southern California

I love garden gates, don’t you?

 Southern California

Especially when you notice the detail.

While the converted mansion and its surroundings were beautiful, the college has its share of plain, boring dormitories.

 Southern California

This was my freshmen dorm where I lived on the third floor.  The dormitory looked much the same as when I attended except that there were video cameras and electronic door locks with card readers.

While the dorm wasn’t too impressive, the view from my room was…

Channel Islands from my window

I could see the ocean and the Channel Islands from my window.

 Southern California

Up above the dorm, on the mountainside was an old tea garden that was part of a large estate.  Students would climb up and explore the ruins.

 Southern California

As we left the dorm, we walked along the path lined with Simplicity roses toward a building where I must admit that I did NOT spend much time…

 Southern California

This is the large boulder located by the library.  Students could be found sitting on top studying or catching some rays.

Chaparral Sage (Salvia clevelandii)

There was a Chaparral Sage (Salvia clevelandii) flowering next to the boulder.  This shrub can be grown in the desert, if given some afternoon shade.

I hope you have enjoyed the tour so far.  

Next time, I will show you the small chapel nestled within the trees, a small pond, a stunning garden filled with flowers and the area that was burned in a large wildfire a couple of years ago.