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When people think about what a desert garden looks like, what comes to mind? Perhaps, visions of lots of brown with rocks and a cactus or two?

While you can settle for rocks and some cacti, BUT the truth is, we can have so much more! Imagine a landscape filled with the colors of the rainbow – shades of red, orange, purple, pinks, and yellow.

I’m going to share with you 8 colorful plants that you will find in my desert garden. All are colorful and thrive in a hot, dry climate:

Bougainvillea – Bougainvillea ‘Barbara Karst’

You can’t beat Bougainvillea for vibrant color in the garden. It thrives in our dry, hot climate and flowers off and on spring through fall. Record-breaking heat doesn’t bother it in the least. It is a great choice for covering a bare block wall and can handle those challenging west-facing exposures. For maximum flowering, they need to be in full sun. For those that don’t like the messy flowers, you can opt for dwarf varieties or plant one in a large pot, which will limit its size.

Hardy to 20 degrees F. Plant in full sun for optimal flowering.

Coral Fountain – Russelia equisetiformis

Often referred to as Firecracker Bush, this tropical beauty has a lovely cascading growth habit. Arching stems are produce orange/red tubular flowers that delight hummingbirds. Blooming occurs spring through fall. This shrub takes a year or two before really taking off, but it’s worth the wait – I like to use them in groups of 3 to 5. It is also a good choice for adding to large containers – especially blue ones!

Cold hardy to 10 degrees F. Plant in full sun.

Firecracker Penstemon – Penstemon eatoni

Winter color is often lacking in desert gardens. However, there are many plants that offer color through winter. This western native is my favorite during winter and spring in my front garden when it burst forth with brilliant orange/red blooms. Hummingbirds really enjoy the blooms as there aren’t many other plants for them to feed from this time of year. Prune off spent flowering stalks once the flowers begin to drop and you may get another flush of blooms to extend the season. It can be hard to find Firecracker Penstemon in box stores but local nurseries usually carry them.

Hardy to -20 degrees F. Plant in full sun.

Yellow Bells – Tecoma stans var. stans

Admittedly, there are many yellow-flowering plants in the desert, but this one is my favorite! I look forward to the gorgeous yellow blooms to open each spring in my back garden. Yellow bells bloom spring through fall, and hummingbirds are attracted to their flowers. They are fast growers and have lovely, lush green foliage. To keep them looking their best, prune them back severely to 1-2 feet tall once the threat of frost has passed in spring. There are several notable varieties of Yellow Bells in shades of orange including ‘Crimson Flare’ and ‘Sparky’.

Hardy to 10 degrees F. Plant in full sun to filtered sun.

Shrubby Germander – Teucrium fruticans ‘Azurea’

Photos don’t do this Mediterranean native justice. When viewed in person, people are immediately transfixed by the light-blue flowers (they appear more purple in photos), which appear in spring. I have several scattered throughout my back garden, and for me, they blooms throughout winter too! Using plants with silver-gray foliage near those with darker green leaves is a great way to add interest to the landscape, even when not in flower. I dearly love this shrub for its colorful winter/spring blooms in my desert garden.

Hardy to 10 degrees F. Plant in full to filtered sun.

Purple Lilac Vine – Hardenbergia violaceae

Here is another winter flowering beauty. Purple flowers cover this vine in February into early March. Believe me when I say that they are a welcome relief to the winter blahs. Bees enjoy the blooms, which resemble lilacs but aren’t fragrant. It does require a trellis or other support to grow up on. When not in bloom, its attractive foliage adds a welcome splash of green throughout the year on vertical surfaces. Purple Lilac vine is usually found in nurseries in fall and winter, during its flowering season.

Hardy to 20-25 degrees F. Plant in full to filtered sun but avoid west-facing exposures.

‘Rio Bravo’ Texas Sage – Leucophyllum langmaniae ‘Rio Bravo’

If you love the color purple, you’ll want to include this variety of Texas Sage in your garden. Branches covered in masses of purple flowers appear off and on spring through fall, often in response to periods of increased humidity. The more humidity, the more flowers produced. There are many different types of Texas Sage and all add color to the desert garden. Now, you may not see them looking like this for the sad fact that many people prune them into unnatural shapes like balls, cupcakes, and even squares. Which would you rather have – a green ‘blob’ or a gorgeous purple beauty like this?

Hardy to 10 degrees F. Plant in full sun for maximum flowering.

Desert Willow – Chilopsis linearis

I want to include a tree in our list of colorful plants for the desert garden. Desert Willow are small to medium-sized trees that are native to the Southwest. Throughout the warm season, branches with bright green leaves are covered with pink blooms. The flowers add a lovely shade of pink, which is a color not always seen in the desert. There are many newer varieties of Desert Willow – I have four different ones in my garden, but ‘Bubba’ is my favorite. This is a deciduous tree and will lose its leaves in winter. 

Hardy to -10 degrees. Plant in full sun.

SO, where can you find these plants?

I am often asked where is the best place to buy plants. Yes, you can head to your big box store, but they usually lack variety and are known to sell plants that don’t do well in our hot, dry climate.

My advice is to look to your local garden center and nursery for these and other plants for your garden. 

I’d like to share with you about a new nursery that is mixing things up in a good way! Four Arrows Garden is a family business, located in Vail, AZ, where you order your plants online and they deliver them to you!

The Chavez family began their business with cuttings from succulents in their backyard that soon grew to people wanting them to offer other types of plants. She explains their unique nursery, “Our business model has changed over the year to fill the need in our community. We have transformed into “not your average nursery” because of a niche market to deliver landscape plants and creating an online shopping outlet for desert adapted plants. We are different because we allow customers to shop for plants from the comfort of their homes.”

They source their plants from wholesale growers in the Phoenix and Tucson area. While their delivery area is primarily in the greater Tucson area, They can accept special requests from Phoenix area customers.

I encourage you to incorporate colorful plants within your desert garden to improve your curb appeal and your enjoyment of your outdoor space. Local nurseries are best sources for these plants. If you are in the Tucson area, visit Four Arrows Garden’s online nursery to make your special order and they will deliver it to your door. Check them out on Facebook where Linsay keeps you updated on the latest plants available!

*Disclosure: This post has been sponsored by Four Arrows Garden. My opinions and advice are my own.

palo verde tree bougainvillea backyard landscape

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

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 ๐Ÿ™‚

Progress! One-Year Post Desert Landscape Renovation

Native Trees for the Southwest, Desert Willow (Chilopsis linearis)

Native Trees for the Southwest, Desert Willow (Chilopsis linearis)

Trees are a treasure to us that live in the Southwest where the sun can be relentless with its intensity.

We all know the delight of stepping into the cool shade of a tree during a hot summer’s day where their canopy provides blessed relief.

Native Trees for the Southwest, Honey Mesquite Bosque (Prosopis glandulosa) at the Scottsdale Xeriscape Garden

Honey Mesquite Bosque (Prosopis glandulosa) at the Scottsdale Xeriscape Garden

In addition, to welcome shade, trees also add beauty to the landscape with their lovely shades of green leaves, flowers (in some cases), and the way the dappled shade dances along the ground.

Native Trees for the Southwest, Palo Blanco (Mariosousa willardiana) formerly Acacia willardiana

Palo Blanco (Mariosousa willardiana) formerly Acacia willardiana

There are many trees native to this region that add both shade and beauty to the garden while thriving in our arid climate.

I recently shared a list of my ten favorite, native trees for the Southwest in my latest article for Houzz.

*Do you have a favorite tree?  Please share it with us!

10 Essential Native Trees for Southwestern Gardens

Native Trees for the Southwest

In my last post “A Long Forgotten Area Ready for Transformation”, I told you that I would share what plants I was going to have put in this neglected area.

The plants I chose are based on the following:

– I have grown them myself in either my home garden and/or in landscapes I have managed.

– They are relatively low-maintenance.

– Drought-tolerant.

– The plant palette will also ensure year round color, with at least one or more plants being in bloom at a given time.

So are you ready to see what I chose?

Let’s start with the trees…

The area has two large Foothills Palo Verde trees along with a Wolfberry tree, so I chose one other type of tree to add.

Desert Willow

Desert Willow (Chilopsis linearis) is one of my favorite desert trees.  It is not a true willow, but is named for the fact that its leaves are willow-shaped.

Colorful flowers appear throughout the summer that add a vibrant punch of color to the landscape.

Hardy to zone 6, Desert Willow requires well-drained soil and full sun or filtered shade.

For more information on Desert Willow along with the different varieties available, check out my Houzz article about this lovely tree.

Now for the shrubs…

Valentine Bush

Valentine Bush (Eremophila maculata ‘Valentine’) is my favorite shrub of all time. I will never forget the day when I was first introduced to this red-flowering shrub, by Mountain States Wholesale Nursery.  It was 1999 and I was a horticulturist fresh out of college.

I was given 2 Valentine shrubs from Mountain States to plant in the landscape area I managed.  Ever since then, I have been hooked.

Trees and Shrubs

Red flowers appear on this shrub, beginning in January and lasting until April.  If you haven’t noticed it before, there isn’t much blooming in winter, which is one of the reasons I love Valentine.

The foliage is evergreen and Valentine are hardy to zone 8.  Better yet, they only need to be pruned once a year – in spring after flowering.

Plant in full sun and well-drained soil.

For more information about Valentine, check out my post about this great plant.

Baja Ruellia

My second choice for shrubs is Baja Ruellia (Ruellia peninsularis).

Now, this isn’t its rather invasive cousin Ruellia (Ruellia brittoniana), pictured below…

Trees and Shrubs

Baja Ruellia is what I like to think of as a smaller version of Texas Sage species (Leucophyllum sp).  It doesn’t get as large and has a longer flowering season then Leucophyllum.

Trees and Shrubs

The flowers of Baja Ruellia are tubular and appear spring through fall, with the heaviest bloom occurring in spring.

The foliage is light green and rarely suffers frost damage in our zone 9b climate.  Hardy to zone 9, Baja Ruellia should be planted in full sun and well-drained soil.

Silvery Cassia

The third shrub for this area will be Silvery Cassia (Senna phyllodenia).  This Australian native does very well in arid landscapes.

The silvery foliage will provide contrast to the darker greens present in the landscape.  Evergreen to 20 degrees, this shrub flourishes in zone 9 landscapes.

Yellow flowers appear in late winter and into spring.  Pruning is needed after flowering, to remove seed pods in managed landscapes.

Like the other shrubs, Silvery Cassia enjoys full sun and well-drained soil.

Autumn Sage

The smallest shrub for this area will be Autumn Sage (Salvia greggii).  This plant is hard to zone 7, so remains evergreen during winter here.

Flowers appear fall through spring in the low desert.  The most common colors are red or pink, although there are other colors such as white, lavender and peach. 

I like to use Autumn Sage around trees like Palo Verde, where the filtered shade shelters it from the intense summer sun.  I first saw them planted around a tree at the Desert Botanical Garden and I really liked the way it looked, so I have repeated this design in many of my landscapes.

The Autumn Sage above, was planted by me around a Foothills Palo Verde about 12 years ago and they are still going strong.

I still have perennials and accent plants to show you that I have included in the design and I’ll share them with you next time.

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Life around our household has been busy lately….

School is back in session (for which I am extremely grateful for ๐Ÿ˜‰

My son Kai, has ditched his wheelchair for a walker and will soon be able to walk without it.

AND

My daughter, will soon come home after leaving 5 months ago for the Navy.  She is graduating from her Equipment Operator School next week and will be an official ‘SeaBee’.  She will be on leave for 2 weeks before she reports for combat training in Mississippi, where she will be stationed for a month.

The BEST news is that her permanent base will be in Port Hueneme, which is where she wanted to be.  What is even better for us, is that it is in Southern California, just 7 hours from home!!!

We are getting ready to celebrate her homecoming, which I will share with all of you ๐Ÿ™‚

I love taking walks in the spring outdoors.  All too soon, summer will be here and walks will have to happen in the early morning hours before the heat of the day arrives.  I suppose that I could always take a walk inside of our local air-conditioned mall, but I think that would get expensive after a while, don’t you?

Besides, I would miss the natural beauty outdoors….

So, let us continue our walk with my husband and my two twin nephews – Danny and Dean….

My Favorite trees starting to bloom

My Favorite trees starting to bloom

My favorite trees are starting to bloom right now.  Desert Willow (Chilopsis linearis) is a deciduous tree and from spring through fall, they are covered with beautiful pink flowers.

I have 4 of them in my garden.  They are thornless and are a small to medium sized tree.

starting to bloom

We passed by another kind of my favorite plants, Angelita Daisies (Tetraneuris acaulis).  But, these definitely need a ‘haircut’.  Just grab a bunch of flowers in your hand and clip them back using hand pruners.  Soon, they will be covered with bright yellow flowers.

starting to bloom

Red Yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora) is a wonderful succulent for the garden.  The bottom, looks grass but the leaves are actually succulent.  In spring, gorgeous coral-colored flowers are produced.

Maintenance is super easy.  Just clip back the flowers once they have died.

Here is a closer view of their gorgeous flowers….

gorgeous flowers

Aren’t they beautiful?

My Favorite trees

My Favorite trees

Okay, here is another not so pretty photo.

You can see that this Evergreen Elm tree provides great shade, but the grass does not grow underneath it.  This is a very common problem for grassy areas underneath trees that provide heavy shade such as Pine trees, Carob, etc.

The most common warm-season grass grown in the desert Southwest is bermuda grass, which does not tolerate shade very well.  It need full sun to look its best.

So what can you do?

Unfortunately, there is not a warm-season grass that will grow in heavy shade.  But, you can plant shade-tolerant groundcovers, perennials or even succulents in the area instead such as Agave desmettiana, Autumn Sage, Yellow Bulbine, Santa Barbara Daisy, Justicia spicigera or Bat-faced Cuphea.

Okay, this looks like a whole post in and of itself that I will address sometime in the future in more detail ๐Ÿ™‚

So, we were almost at the end of our walk and walking by my front garden and I saw one of my favorite perennial plants…  

Desert Marigold starting to bloom

This Desert Marigold (Baileya multiradiata) partially hides our water meter, but does not obstruct the meter reader’s ability to look inside.

You want to know something else?  I didn’t plant this Desert Marigold.  It is a volunteer.  Over 11 years ago, I planted two Desert Marigolds in my garden and then let their seed spread naturally.  I have about 7 of them scattered throughout my garden right now.

So, I hope you enjoyed our ‘walk’.

I think Dean enjoyed it more then Danny….who fell asleep ๐Ÿ˜‰

Signs of Spring All Aroundโ€ฆ..

You know what?  Sometimes life gets so busy and crazy.  Now, I am sure that none of you are surprised by my ‘earth-shattering’ statement.  But that is how I am feeling today.  Life is full of both grief and joy and it is strange to feel both emotions at the same time, isn’t it?

Wow….I am really getting quite philosophical now.  I had better concentrate on plants, since I did not do all that well in my philosophy class in college ๐Ÿ˜‰

This will be the last ‘lesser-know’ plant that we will focus on for at least a little while.  Spring is on its way and it is time to concentrate on other gardening topics.

In some ways, I have saved the best for last.  One of my favorite things that I enjoy on a hot, summer day is the welcome beauty and shade from a tree.

What if the tree not only provided shade and attractive foliage, but also had beautiful flowers?  Would you want one in your garden?  I certainly do…. I have 4.

Desert Willow

Desert Willow (Chilopsis linearis) is a visual oasis in the summer garden.

I like the term ‘visual oasis’, don’t you?  I may need to use that term more often ๐Ÿ™‚

Besides being beautiful, here are some more reasons that I think you should include this small tree in your garden.

Desert Willow

Native to the desert Southwest

Drought tolerant, although supplemental water keeps it looking its best.

My trees are connected to my irrigation drip system.

Hardy to 0 degrees F.

Flowers spring through fall

Although not a willow, it does have willow-shaped leaves.

Grows fairly quickly and reaches a mature size of approximately 25 ft high and wide.

Thornless and easy to maintain

Plant in full sun and well-drained soil

Do not over water

They are deciduous, meaning that they will lose their leaves in winter and they do form seedpods.

The flowers range from pale pink to purple in the wild.  There is a variety known as ‘Lucretia Hamilton’ which is slightly smaller (20 ft high and wide) and has deep pink flowers.

Desert Willow

Desert Willow ‘Lucretia Hamilton’

There are other varieties available, some with fewer seedpods, flower colors and leaf shapes.  You can view more specific information about the different varieties here (curse down until you reach Chilopsis linearis).

I hope you have enjoyed seeing some of my favorite lesser-know plants.  If you missed some of them, here are the links:

Valentine (Eremophila maculata ‘Valentine’)

Chaparral Sage (Salvia clevelandii)

Coral Fountain (Rusellia equisetiformis)

Angelita Daisy (Tetraneuris acaulis)

Purple Lilac Vine (Hardenbergia violacea)

Mexican Honeysuckle (Justicia spicigera)

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Okay, you know the big news that I have been referring to over the past few weeks?

Well, I can’t wait to tell you all about it…….

on Tuesday, March 1st

Do you have a memory tree?  A tree planted in memory of a loved one?  I would like to share with you my memory tree that I planted in honor of someone very special.

memory tree

Desert Willow (Chilopsis linearis)

You may or may not have noticed in my previous posts that I mention my siblings, our families and my mother, Pastor Farmer.  However, I have not mentioned my father before.

My dad was a very special man….not just to me, but to countless others.  He was a great dad to me and my siblings, but he also dedicated his life to those children who did not have parents who could care for them. 

memory tree

Desert Willow in the park.

My father worked as a social worker in Los Angeles, working with teens in group homes and foster care.  For many this can be a very difficult job, but to my dad, it was a very rewarding career.  He loved nothing better then to help people.

Just over three years ago, my dad and mom took a huge step and moved to Arizona to be near me and my two siblings.  Both my parents had just retired and had plans to enjoy their children, grandkids and travel. 

Just three months later, on Memorial Day 2007, we were to spend the day at my parent’s house for lunch.  But when we arrived, my father had an earache and small fever and was in bed.  A couple of hours later, he was incoherent and was rushed to the hospital.  He was diagnosed with pneumococcal meningitis and never regained consciousness. 

To say that we were reeling from the shock of his sudden death, is an understatement.  But, we were so blessed to have him in our lives and the memories of him sustain us until we can be with him again in heaven.

memory tree

Desert Willow tree at Scottsdale Civic Center.

One of my special memories of my dad, occurred when I was 12 years old.  I was going through a very awkward period as many 12 year olds do.  I was tallest in my class, had pimples, freckles and felt so ugly.  But I remember my dad looking at me and telling me that I was beautiful.  I didn’t know how he could think that, but I knew he would never lie to me, and so I hung on to the fact that at least my dad thought I was beautiful.

After my dad’s death, my mother divided my father’s ashes between me and my siblings and I used some of mine around a tree that I had planted in his honor.  It is a Desert Willow (Chilopsis linearis), which is one of my favorite desert trees.

memory tree

Flowers from other Desert Willow trees in my garden.

I love the subtle scent of the leaves, but my favorite part is the beautiful flowers that occur spring through fall.  As beautiful as this tree is when in bloom, it is entirely unremarkable in winter, when it sheds it’s leaves.

Hardy to zone 7, this southwest native, does best with regular irrigation.  I prefer training them as multi-trunk trees instead of a single (standard) trunk. 

Of all my plants in my garden, this one is the most special to me because whenever I look upon it, I remember my dad.

memory tree

This is the photo that I use for my google account.   These are flowers from my Desert Willow Memory Tree.

Just three years ago, this week, my dad passed away.  On the anniversary of his death, we were all gathered together to celebrate the graduation of my daughter, Rachele, from high school.  Later this year, my brother and his wife will welcome twin boys into the world.  It is wonderful to see how my dad’s legacy lives on in both his kids and grandkids lives.

My Kids

My Kids Brittney (her broken feet have finally healed),  Rachele (our graduate), Jeff (my son-in-law), Ruthie Gracie & Kai

**I would like to thank you all for all of your supportive comments as my son Kai has been recovering from surgery.  To be honest, I have been completely overwhelmed by your support and it has helped me through some difficult days.  Kai is doing so much better that he is almost off of prescription medication for his pain.  Of course, since he is feeling better, he wants to move into different rooms of the house, so my arm muscles are getting bigger due to my carrying him, which is easier then getting to the gym these days ๐Ÿ˜‰

Kai

It will be Kai’s turn in about 10 years…

I must admit, it feels great to slowly get back to our regular routine and I plan on posting regularly again ๐Ÿ™‚

I hope you all have a great day!

Blooming Flowers

The blooming of my desert willow tree (Chilopsis linearis), is beginning to slow down.  The leaves will fall in December.  However, there were a few lovely pink flowers left.

Blooming Flowers

Also, the recent monsoon storms have caused my ‘Rio Bravo’ sage, (Leucophyllum langmaniae), to burst out in flower.

Blooming Flowers

Beautiful, magenta brachts surrounding the tiny, cream-colored flowers on my single bougainvillea shrub.

Blooming Flowers

I also love the multi-colored blooms of my lantana ‘Patriot Desert Sunset.’  They will soon stop blooming for the winter.

 red bird-of-paradise

The vibrant colors of my red bird-of-paradise, (Caesalpinia pulcherrima) add vibrant color to my garden and nectar for hummingbirds.  

In another month, many of these flowers will no longer be flowering, but until then, I’ll enjoy the view.