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I am always on the lookout for new and different ways that gardens are designed and the materials that they use. Recently, I was scheduled to teach a class at the Desert Botanical Garden, and as I headed toward the classroom, I admired the modern design of the building but, it was the vine-covered wall that caught my interest.

This unusual wall was made up of masonry block, like many garden walls in the desert Southwest, but this one was decidedly different. It was made from broken masonry blocks repurposed from a wall that had been removed elsewhere. Some brilliant person realized that instead of filling up landfill space, that the broken blocks could still function as a garden wall. 

The salvaged wall provides the perfect surface for queen’s wreath (Antigonon leptopus) vines to crawl up on with their twining tendrils taking advantage of the nooks and crannies within the wall.

The sprays of flowers, leaves, and stems create beautiful shadows along the pavement below. Shadows are an element of garden design that is often overlooked. However, don’t underestimate the effect that the shapes of the shadows from cactuses, succulents, and even vines can add to a bare wall, fence, or even on the ground.

Years ago, I used to carry a small digital camera in my purse for unexpected opportunities to take pictures of a particular plant, or design idea. Nowadays, this is just another reason that my smartphone is perhaps my most valued tool.

 

As a garden writer and horticulturist, I am often asked to review new gardening books, which is one of my favorite things to do; especially if the books are about growing plants in the desert.

Years ago, there were precious few books that dealt with the unique challenges and solutions to creating a beautiful outdoor space in a hot, arid climate. Nowadays, there are several books that focus on desert gardening, but most just scratch the surface of how to do it. When I was contacted by The Desert Botanical Garden to see if I would review their new book, Desert Landscape School: A Guide to Desert Landscaping and Maintenance, I said yes.

The origins of the book arose from the Desert Landscape School at the gardens, which offers classes for individuals who are interested in specializing in certain aspects of desert landscaping. Graduates earn a certification in one or more areas, including desert plant palette, planting and maintenance, and desert design. A large group of experts was brought together in the creation of this book, including many that work in the garden.

 

Thumbing through my copy, I looked to see how the information was laid out and whether it addressed common landscape dilemmas that are unique to desert gardening. As you may expect, a book from this prestigious garden didn’t disappoint. I found myself reading through its pages and reliving my early days as a horticulturist learning not only the basics of arid gardening principles but also strategies and tips for growing plants that I didn’t learn until later.

This book is for those who want to learn the reasons why we garden the way we do in the desert to more fully understand it. There is also valuable information regarding plant selection, design, sustainability, installation guidelines, and how to properly maintain the landscape. 

I’ve always said that “gardening in the desert isn’t hard, it’s just different” and the book offers practical tips that make growing plants in an arid climate, easier. For example, connecting tree wells using swales and gravity to allow rain water to flow to where it’s needed instead of down the street.

For those of you who have read my blog for awhile, you won’t be surprised to learn that I was interested in the pruning and maintenance section, as I am passionate about teaching people correct pruning practices. One illustration that grabbed my attention was the right and wrong way to prune palm trees.

Badly pruned palm trees

I had taken this photo a couple of weeks ago of palm trees that had been pruned incorrectly with too many fronds removed. Overpruning weakens the tree and leaves it open to other stresses, which the book addresses.

The structure of the book is set up so that each section can be read on its own, so readers can focus on what they are interested in learning most. Of course, I recommend reading the entire book as it contains invaluable information which leaves the reader well-informed and confident in their ability to garden successfully in the desert southwest as well as other desert regions.

Desert Landscaping & Maintenance is truly a one-of-a-kind book that serves the role of several desert gardening books in one, and I highly recommend getting your hands on a copy of this brand new desert gardening guide.

Right now, the book is available for purchase for visitors to The Desert Botanical Garden or you can buy it online.

Have you ever met someone whom you felt an instant bond with?  If so, you know that it isn’t an everyday occurrence.

Last year, I attended the Garden Writer’s Association Conference for the first time.  I went to the conference not knowing anyone else there, but was excited for the classes, garden visits, and hopes to meet other people who loved and wrote about gardens like I did.

At this point, I should mention that going up to people and introducing myself isn’t easy for me to do, but another garden writer was also attending for the first time who had come all the way from Oz (also known as Australia 😉.  Well, I decided that I needed to go up and introduce myself to Andrea – after all, we had some things in common – she lived in a dry climate and Arizona landscapes made use of many plants native to Australia.  

Well, we formed an instant friendship and found out that we shared numerous similarities – including the fact that we both had recently turned 50, worked as garden consultants as well as garden writers.


Over the next few days, we shared storied about our work and memorable clients while strolling through gardens viewing plants that we both use, despite living on two different continents.  


We would also talk to each other about new plants to try all while sharing the trials and tribulations of gardening in a dry climate.

All too soon, the conference was over, and I headed home with a suitcase of free plants while Andrea flew back to Australia.

After that, we conversed back and forth while making plans to attend the next year’s conference in Atlanta, Georgia.  I thought that it would be a fun to invite Andrea to come and visit Arizona on her way to the conference.  So earlier this week, I found myself at the airport, anxiously waiting for her.  I couldn’t wait to show her my favorite garden spots around Phoenix.

At this point, I should mention that while most people spend time cleaning their house and getting it ready for a special guest, for those of us who are in the landscape business, also have to get our gardens ready for our gardener friends to visit as well.  As a result, my garden was neatly pruned, weeded, and cleaned in preparation for Andrea’s visit.  

The first day, there was no question that the Desert Botanical Garden would be our first destination.  We were blessed with a partly cloudy day with a light breeze to take the edge off of the heat.  Walking along winding paths with stunning examples of cacti, palo verde trees, flowering shrubs, and ground covers, I showed her the beauty of the desert landscape.


Of course, we had to get a picture in front of a saguaro cactus.

Craft Beer in a Jar
After the garden, it was off to get a taste of American food.  So, good BBQ with a jar of local craft beer was next.

Delicious BBQ

Evenings were spent at my house having dinner and allowing Andrea and my kids time to get to visit.


Andrea bought a lovely collection of gifts, not just for my younger kids, but also for my grandchildren.  Eric looks adorable in his Australia hat.

The next day, we visited the Heard Museum and explored the Native American history and artwork, eating delicious smoked hamburgers at a downtown restaurant that is frequented by locals.

Hamburger Works Restaurant

We enjoyed event-filled days and great food, but one of my favorite parts was watching her try her very first Rice Krispy treat.

Now, we are off to the second part of Andrea’s visit – attending the conference where we first met one year ago.

Of course, this isn’t the end of the story of a gardener from Arizona and Oz.  We have plans to write a book together highlighting our experiences and lessons learned gardening in dry climates, 9,667 miles apart.

The next several days will be filled with garden visits, informative classes, a trade show and much more.  I’ll be sure to share the newest and latest garden products with you once I return home next week.

**Click here for Andrea’s blog.**

Do you like puppies, iPhones and plants?


If so, then this should be a fun post. If you have an android phone, you will like at least two of the ‘P’s’.


Okay, the first ‘P’ stands for ‘puppy’….



Meet the newest addition to our furry family.

This is Polly.  She is an English Labrador Retriever. 

We have been waiting 7 long weeks to be able to bring her home.  She is fearless, friendly and very playful.

We bought her from the same breeder as our black English Labrador Retriever dog, Penny, who joined our family last year.


So, they are already sisters.  Both dogs share the same father.

Penny has been such a joy in our lives and we decided to add another.


Polly was excited to meet her big sister, Penny.  But, Penny was scared of her little sister and ran off with her tail between her legs 😉

She is gradually beginning to warm up to her new little sister though.  For her part, Polly isn’t the least bit scared of her big sister.


Like most puppies, most of her day is spent sleeping and cuddling with us.


Polly joins Penny and our two rescue dogs, Tobey and Max.

I’ll be sure to share more photos of Polly as she grows up.  I really want to take a picture of her and Penny side-by-side, but I’ll probably have to wait a while until Penny gets over being a big scaredy cat.

Crested Saguaro Ribs

The second ‘P’ stands for iPhone.  I took an iPhone photography class last weekend at the Desert Botanical Garden.  As a garden writer and blogger, I take a lot of pictures and while I have a nice DSLR camera – I don’t always have it with me, so I often use my iPhone for a lot my pictures.

Desert Garden Path
The class was very informative and taught me some great tips.  The best part of the class was being able to walk through the garden with our intructor and take pictures of all the beautiful plants and scenery.

Ramada made from natural desert materials.

It is really amazing what good photos you can take with your phone.

Monarch butterfly on lantana.

I was even able to get some close up pictures of monarch butterflies with my phone.

*If you have never taken a class from the Desert Botanical Garden (or your local botanical garden) – I strongly urge you too.  They have a large variety of classes and there is so much to learn about all kinds of things..

Okay, back to our list.  The last ‘P’ is about plants.

Do you know what is happening next weekend?  The Desert Botanical Garden’s fall plant sale!


I can hardly wait!  

I always encourage people, no matter where they live, to visit their local botanical garden’s plant sales because you can be assured that their plants are well adapted for your climate.  In addition, they often have hard to find plants and new color introductions of some old favorites.


Last time, they even had heirloom vegetable transplants for sale.

I wrote about my last visit this past spring, where I picked up three lovely plants, which you can view here.  

I am still in the market for a few more plants to fill in some bare spots in my landscape.  The plant sale runs next Saturday to Sunday.

I’ll be sure to share with you my findings!

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.

Last weekend, my husband and I loaded up our two youngest kids into our truck and headed out to the Desert Botanical Garden’s spring plant sale.

My husband and kids wait patiently at the end of the agave aisle for me.
Now, it is always a dangerous situation whenever I find myself at a plant sale.  I am much like a small kid in a candy store as I am sorely tempted to buy more then my garden can fit.

The sale at the Desert Botanical Garden is huge.  There is so much to look at and see.  There are informative signs next to each grouping of plants with a photo and important details such as how much water they need, recommended exposure and how large they will become.

The main reason that I wanted to come to the sale was in order to keep up with the newest plant introductions and varieties so I could share them with you.

First, here are some familiar plants with unfamiliar colors that stood out to me:

Cape Honeysuckle (Tecoma capensis ‘Aurea’)

Cape Honeysuckle is a popular landscape plant that has beautiful orange, tubular flowers.  The variety ‘Aurea’ has yellow flowers.
*Which color would you prefer in your garden – yellow or orange?

‘Brake Light’ Red Yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora ‘Brake Light’)

Red Yucca is a very popular succulent with its succulent, grass-like foliage and coral-colored flowers that appear in spring and summer.  The variety ‘Brake Light’ has a deeper red flower, which I really like.

Polka Dot Prickly Pear (Opuntia microdasys ‘Albispina’)

The most common variety of this prickly pear has yellow ‘dots’ (glochids) and is often referred to as ‘Bunny Ears’.  The variety ‘Albispina’ had white ‘dots’.

Variegated Pink Bower Vine (Pandorea jasminoides ‘Variegata’)

I have a Pink Bower Vines growing on either side of my front entry.  I love their dark green leaves and pale pink flowers.  This variety that I saw at the plant sale and variegated foliage.  

Agave guiengola ‘Creme Brulee’

I must admit that I was sorely tempted to purchase this agave.  The original was called ‘Whale’s Tongue’ and has a nice blue/gray color.  But, I really like the color of ‘Creme Brûlée’ better – it seems to ‘glow’.

 Purple Autumn Sage (Salvia greggii ‘Purple’)

Autumn Sage are some of my favorite plants to use in areas with filtered sunlight.  I never get tired of seeing hummingbirds visit their tubular flowers.  Most commonly found with red and pink flower colors, there are other varieties that produce white, salmon and of course, purple.

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So, what do you think about these different-colored varieties?  Are you a ‘traditionalist’ or are you a ‘trend-setter’?

I did end up purchasing one of the plants that I’ve shown you.  Next time, I will let you know what one I picked. 

I have much more to show you from the plant sale including some plants that you have never heard of, but that would be beautiful in your landscape – including my new favorite flowering shrub. 

So, come back for a visit, but be warned – you may end up being tempted into running out and buying one of the new plants I will be showing you.

I woke up this morning, ready to write a blog post about what to do in the garden for the month of December.


However, that was BEFORE I checked my inbox to see a flood of great gardening Cyber-Monday deals that I just had to share with you.


Here is my favorite…



I look forward to getting Phoenix Home & Garden Magazine every month and there are great gardening articles inside.

Even if you don’t live near Phoenix, this is a great gift idea for any gardener who lives in the Southwest.

*I already renewed my subscription at this great price today 🙂

If you like magazines, here is another great subscription deal…


Phoenix Magazine also has a Cyber-Monday deal with subscriptions for $7.  

**I got one of these too!

Have you ever been to the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix?  It is a real treat and they always have something going on besides viewing fabulous gardens – art exhibits and informative classes.

I have taken classes there before and always come away inspired.


For Cyber-Monday, they are offering 20% off of memberships.  

A membership to the Desert Botanical Garden is always the perfect gift.  Be sure to enter the code “CYBERMONDAY” to get your 20% off.

**ALL THESE DEALS ARE FOR TODAY, DECEMBER 2ND ONLY!!!**


Let your friends know by sharing this link on Facebook or Twitter.

I hope you are able to cross a few people off of your gift list with these great deals, or give yourself a gift 🙂



Last week, I was finishing up a landscape consult with a client, when I noticed the saguaro cactus growing in his neighbor’s yard…


At first glance, you may have trouble seeing what is wrong.

You might think that it is a little on the ‘fat’ side and you would be right.

But look closer…


Do you see the two horizontal cracks?
There is one toward the top and one near the bottom of the photo.

These cracks are signs of an overwatered cactus.

At the base of the saguaro are 4 drip emitters.

You may be surprised to find that drip emitters around a cactus isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  But ONLY IF the irrigation line is used for cactus exclusively.

Cactus do like a good drink of water once a month during dry, summer months and a dedicated drip-line can provide that.  When the summer rains arrive, turn off off the water.  In fall, winter and spring, your saguaro does not need any supplemental water.  

*Keep in mind that they survive on natural rainfall out in the desert.

For the saguaro above, it is obvious from the size of the saguaro and the cracks, that the drip irrigation is probably being turned on too often.


The other 2 Saguaro cacti on the property also are being overwatered.  They are too ‘fat’.

The Desert Botanical Garden has an excellent article on how to grow Saguaro cacti, including how much, if any, water they need.

**I told my client about his neighbor’s ‘fat’ Saguaro cacti and he said that he would mention it to them 🙂

Have you ever read a Dr. Seuss book?

It may be hard to find someone who hasn’t.  I had quite a few of his books as a child and “Green Eggs & Ham” was my favorite.  

As a mom, I made sure that Dr. Seuss books had a place on my kid’s bookshelves.

One of the things I love about Dr. Seuss, is his illustrations.  His imaginative drawings of plants, especially.

Earlier this month, my mother and I spent some time at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix.  As I walked along the garden paths, there were times that I felt that I had walked straight into a Dr. Seuss book….

Crawling succulents
  Spiky Yuccas
Sundial made out of cacti.
Doesn’t this look like a brain?
 A towering forest of Cardon cacti.
One word…”ouch!”
 The drooping leaves of a Ponytail Palm.
The strange shapes of Prickly Pear cactus and Agave.
This Boojum tree would fit nicely in a Dr. Seuss book, don’t you think?
 An ‘old’ cactus growing a beard.
 Arching Yuccas lean over the pathway as you leave.
I love spending time at the Desert Botanical Garden.  Of course, in addition to weird and strange plants – they also have beautiful flowering trees, shrubs and perennials.
So, take some time for a visit and see what Dr. Seuss book they remind you of. 

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There is still time to enter the giveaway for one of my favorite new gardening books,
“The Unexpected Houseplant”

Click here for details. 

What comes to mind when you think of wildflowers?  Maybe beautiful splashes of colorful flowers throughout the desert?  Well, how about growing them yourself instead of driving somewhere to view wildflowers in the spring?  Wildflowers are easy to grow and you have the added benefit of being able to view their beautiful blooms outside your window throughout the spring.  Butterflies and hummingbirds will be drawn to your wildflower garden as well.


Wildflower demonstration garden on a golf course
The wildflower garden above was planted by me about 9 years ago on a golf course.  It was one of three demonstration gardens that I designed.  My goal was to inspire people to grow wildflowers at home.  I planted Red Flax and Arroyo Lupine which are blooming in the photo above.  California Bluebells as well as California Poppies were also planted, but had not bloomed yet.  


Brittlebush is blooming in the background.  (I learned from this experience, that wildflowers should be thinned once they germinate, obviously I did not do that – one of many gardening mistakes that I have learned from over the years).


One of my favorite wildflower combinations are California Bluebells (Phacelia campanularia) along with California Poppies (Eschscholzia californica or mexicana) and Desert Marigold (Baileya multiradiata).  


I also like this combination – Arroyo Lupine (Lupinus succulentus) with California Poppies and Red Flax (Linum grandiflorum ‘Rubrum’).  The possibilities are absolutely endless….

Scarlet Flax

The ideal time to sow most types of wildflower seed is October through December, so it is time to plan your wildflower garden now.  The Desert Botanical Garden has excellent information on how to grow wildflowers which can be found at Desert Botanical Garden Growing Wildflowers.


*The source that I have used for wildflower seed is a small company called Wild Seed.  They can be reached at 602-276-3536.  They will mail you a catalog of the wildflower seed that they have available.