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Years ago, there was a rather bare landscape area next to a golf course.  


Now, it wasn’t completely barren.  It had a couple of trees, some creosote shrubs and a prickly pear cactus.

But, there were plans to design a butterfly garden in this area. A certain horticulturist I knew, was eager to get started on the project and introduce mostly native, drought-tolerant plants for this garden.  


The horticulturist had been busy transforming other formerly bare areas along the golf courses, adding mostly native, drought-tolerant plants and couldn’t wait to tackle this newest project.

Eight years have passed since then and do you know what happened to that area?

Nothing.

Whether it was due to the recession that hit around that time or the fact the horticulturist no longer worked there – the area had largely been forgotten.


Fast forward to present day and this area is not longer forgotten.  In fact, it is slated to have a newly designed landscape installed this fall.


The horticulturist who had had great plans for this area was called back into to create the design and oversee the installation of the new landscape.

You may have guessed that the horticulturist I have been talking about, is me.

I have been working on the design for this long neglected area and am excited to share with you my plans along with the plants I have chosen and why.


Later, I will bring you along as the landscape is installed and then give you periodic updates as it grows.

I will give you a little preview of my plans, which I will detail in my next post:

– I am keeping the 2 Foothills Palo Verde trees (Parkinsonia microphylla) and most of the Creosote shrubs (Larrea tridentata).


– The Wolfberry tree (Lycium palladium) will also remain since it is a wonderful habitat for birds and you can always hear a lot of birds talking away whenever you approach it.  It is “the place to be” if you area bird and live nearby 😉


– A few Creosote shrubs will be taken out along with a huge, overgrown Prickly Pear, which can be a haven for pack rats.

I hope you will come along with me and see the transformation of this formerly ‘forgotten area’.

Yesterday, I visited the site where I am currently working on a landscape design.


Panoramic photo taken by my iPhone5

The area is along a golf course and is mostly bare except for a few Foothill Palo Verde trees, a Wolfberry tree and some Creosote.

I had completed the rough draft of the design a couple of weeks ago and brought it with me to make sure that what I had on paper would look good in the actual space.

I was happy that there was only a small change for me to make and I will now work on finishing up the design.

It is scheduled to be installed this fall and I will be able to help oversee the project.

The plants I chose are some of my favorites and are present in many of the other landscape areas (that I designed) of this golf course.

I’ll share with you the plant palette on Monday with photos and the reasons why I chose these particular plants.  

Who knows? Maybe you will will want to plant a few of these plants in your own landscape.  Remember, fall is the best time of year to add new plants to your garden.

Hope you all have a great weekend!

Do you ever use a search engine to find answers to your gardening questions?  I remember the old days, before search engines when I had to drive to my local library and look through gardening books and encyclopedias to find the answers to my non-gardening questions.


Okay, now that I have dated myself by admitting that I used to use encyclopedias, I must say that I am quite addicted to finding information in just a few seconds using search engines. 
 

Many people find my blog by entering a gardening question using a search engine.  I am able to see what questions that people type in the search window that leads them to my blog by using an application that tracks my stats.


Some of the searches are humorous while others are totally unrelated to gardening.  But, there are often the same type of questions asked.  So I thought that I would reveal the three most common questions for this month in hopes that it may help some of you as well.


Question #1:


“Can I prune my Texas Sage shrub when it is in flower?”



Answer:
“You could, but why would you want to remove the beautiful flowers?”


Please don’t participate in the epidemic of pruning shrubs into round shapes.  It is not healthy for most desert-adapted shrubs and strips them of much of their beauty.

You can read more about this in an earlier post,

Question #2:
“What is the white stuff on my prickly pear cactus and how do I get rid of it?”
Answer:
Many people assume that it is a fungus.  Well, it isn’t.  The ‘white stuff’ is actually produced by an insect called cochineal scale.  The insects produce the cottony stuff to protect themselves and their eggs while they suck upon the cactus.

The good news is that it is very easy to get rid of it.  A strong jet of water from the hose will remove both the insect and the ‘white stuff’.

There are actually some very interesting information about this insect and how native Americans would use them.  You can read more from this post “Purple Prickly Pear“.

Question #3:
“What plant smells like rain?”


Answer:
Creosote shrubs dot the desert from California to New Mexico.  They have small resinous leaves that smell like rain when wet or crushed.


One of my favorite things to do is to take a few leaves, crush them and then have people smell the intense fragrance that smells just like rain.  

You can read more about Creosote from this earlier post “A Desert Shrub That Smells Like Rain”.

So, what do you think?  I hope this has proved helpful to some of you.  I plan on doing more of this in the future.

Now, I have a question for you….

How many of you have used an encylopedia in the past?

I apologize, but life is kind of crazy this week, so I promise that I will get to back to my ‘Tree Planting’ posts soon.  In the meantime, I would like to share with you one of my favorite posts that I wrote about 1 1/2 years ago.  I was rather new at blogging at the time so most of you probably have not read it.  I hope you enjoy it 🙂

When people think of a desert, most envision a place of intense heat, sparse plants, snakes and lots of sand.  Well, some of that is true, but there is much, much more which I have discovered.  I am not a native desert dweller.  In fact, I was born and raised near the beach in Southern California and I never thought that I would live in the desert.  However, here I am, having lived in Arizona for over 23 years and I wouldn’t have it any other way….

All of the photos were taken in an area about 30 minutes northeast of Phoenix.

The desert that I live in is called the Sonoran Desert and it occupies over 120,000 sq. miles covering parts of Arizona, California and Mexico.  Although deserts around the world do not receive much rainfall, the Sonoran Desert receives more then any other desert in the world.  We have two seasons of rain.  In the winter our storms come from the west from the Pacific coast and the rains are usually gentle.  In the summer our rains come up from Mexico and are called “monsoons”, which means “wind shift”.  These summer storms are sporadic and result in torrential rainfall and high winds.  Often, when we receive these torrential downpours, my kids and I just stand inside our front door, just watching the rain.

By the way…..you know you are an ‘official’ desert dweller when you rejoice whenever it rains.

Because of our dual rainy seasons, the Sonoran Desert has the most animal and plant species of any North American desert.  We have over 2,000 native plant species alone.  In the spring, the desert is awash in wildflowers and cactus blooms.  The rain brings out the distinct, yet pleasing, scent of the Creosote bush (if you rub the leaves in your fingers, it smells like the rain).  I live in zone 8b and we do experience occasional freezing conditions during the winter. 

Interestingly, the western part of the Sonoran Desert, located in California (Palm Springs and surrounding area), is regarded as a sub-desert called the Colorado Desert.  It differs in appearance and in that the soils are sandy, there is less rainfall in the summer and as a result there is less plant density and native plant species.  The Saguaro cactus does not grow naturally in the Colorado Desert.  If you have a chance to drive across the California – Arizona border, you can see the difference as you cross over the Colorado River.  This sub-desert has a beauty of it’s own and I enjoy visiting this part of the Sonoran Desert.
The Sonoran Desert is a fascinating place with cactus and snakes  (I rarely see them), but is also filled with trees, shrubs, flowers and wildlife.  Far from being a barren wasteland, this desert is full of life and beauty.


It is my home….
Young saguaro cactus were peeking out from its bursage nurse plant.

As you walk through the desert, there are many opportunities to view some of the striking cacti and their unique shapes.  What is not initially apparent, are the many examples of plants helping young cacti survive.  However, if you look closely, it is all around you – desert shrubs and trees sheltering growing cacti from the harsh desert climate. 

Young barrel cactus underneath a bursage nurse plant
Despite their tough, prickly appearance, cactus are quite vulnerable.  Of the thousands of seeds that are released by each cactus, only a tiny fraction grow into new cactus plants.  Most would not survive if it were not for “nurse plants.”   These plants provide much-needed protection from the sun, cold temperatures and predators (including humans).  Nurse plants also provide much needed additional moisture for the new cacti.

Mammillaria microcarpa 

It is easy to walk by and not even notice the presence of the small cacti growing underneath nurse plants.  Most of the year, the fishhook cactus (Mammillaria microcarpa), pictured above, are almost impossible to see.  It is only in the spring when they are blooming that you can spot them.

Hedgehog cactus outgrowing it’s bursage nurse plant.

For the smaller cacti species, bursage (Ambrosia deltoidea) most often serves as the nurse plant.  It also often serves as the first nurse plant for saguaro cacti.

 
Two young saguaro cacti outgrowing their creosote and bursage nurse plants
 
Creosote (Larrea tridentata), palo verde, mesquite or ironwood trees often serve as the nurse plants for larger species of cacti.  As it grows larger, it requires more water and nutrients from the soil, which leaves little for the nurse plant.  So frequently, the nurse plant will decline and die as you can see from the photo above.

Young buckhorn cholla emerging from its bursage nurse plant.    

So next time you have the opportunity to take a walk in the desert, look around….you will most likely see examples of this unique relationship of plants helping young cactus survive.