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Did you know that you can have plants blooming in your landscape every month of the year? In the desert garden, this is definitely true!

One of the most popular programs that I teach at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix is ‘Flowering All Year’. During the presentation, I teach students how to incorporate plants in their gardens so they can enjoy colorful blooms all year long.

Sadly, many desert dwellers miss this opportunity. Drive down a typical neighborhood street in winter, and you will have a hard time finding plants in bloom except for colorful annual flowers. As you’ll note, the focus in our gardens is typically on plants that flower through the warm season.

So, how can we change that? It’s quite simple – add plants that will flower in winter. Believe it or not, there are quite a few plants that fit the bill. 

I invite you to come along with me on a virtual tour of the plants I showed to the students in the class as we walked through the garden in mid-February.

*Before we embark on our walk, I have a confession to make. Usually, I arrive early before my classes to see what’s in bloom so I can plan our route. But, my daughter’s bus arrived late that morning, so I was running a bit late. As a result, I didn’t know what we would see. Thankfully, there was plenty to see.

Plants for Cool-Season Color:

 

Purple Lilac Vine (Hardenbergia violaceae)

The vibrant, blooms of Purple Lilac Vine never disappoint. Blooms appear in mid-winter, adding a welcome relief to colorless winter landscapes. Here it is planted in a tall raised bed and allowed to trail downward. In my garden, it grows up against a wall with a trellis for support.

Whale’s Tongue Agave and Mexican Honeysuckle underneath an Ironwood tree

 

Mexican Honeysuckle (Justicia spicigera)

Several perennials and small shrubs do best in the desert garden when planted in filtered sunlight. Desert trees like Ironwood, Mesquite, and Palo Verde are excellent choices for producing filtered sunlight. Mexican Honeysuckle doesn’t do well in full sun. As a result, it thrives under the shade of this Ironwood tree. I love the texture contrast in this bed next to the Whale’s Tongue Agave.

Weber’s Agave (Agave weberi) and Desert Marigold (Baileya multiradiata)

Desert Marigold is a short-lived perennial that resembles a wildflower. Yellow flowers appear throughout the year on this short-lived perennial. I like to use them in wildflower gardens or natural desert landscapes because this yellow bloomer will self-seed.

Firesticks (Euphorbia ‘Sticks on Fire’) and Elephants Food (Portulacaria afra)

Shrubs, vines, and perennials aren’t the only plants that add winter color in the landscape. Colorful stems of the succulent Firesticks add a splash of orange all year. I am a fan of the use of blue pots in the garden, and here, it adds a powerful color contrast with the orange.

‘Winter Blaze’ (Eremophila glabra)

 

Lush green foliage decorated with orange/red blooms is on display all year long with this Australian native. Several types of Eremophilas add cool-season color to the landscape, and this one deserves more attention. There must be a blank space in my garden for one… 

Blue Bells Eremophila and Mexican Fence Post Cactus

 

Blue Bells (Eremophila hygrophana)

Blue Bells is arguably one of my most favorite plants. It resembles a compact Texas Sage (Leucophyllum spp.) but doesn’t grow as large AND blooms throughout the year. For best results, plant in full sun, but well-drained soil is a must.

Valentine Bush (Eremophila maculata ‘Valentine’)

My favorite choice for winter color is Valentine Bush. Red/fuschia blooms begin to appear in January and last into April. For maximum color impact, use them in groups of 3 – 5. They are low maintenance – prune back to 1/2 their size in mid-April after flowering. No other pruning is required.

Aloe ferox

Winter into spring is a busy time for Aloes, and many species do well in the desert garden. Most require filtered sunlight to do their best, but ‘Blue Elf’ Aloe does well in both full sun and bright shade.

Trailing Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)

People from colder climates are often surprised to note that rosemary flowers. In the desert, we are fortunate that we get to enjoy their blue flowers from winter through spring – the bees like them too!

Shrubby Germander (Teucrium fruiticans ‘Azurea’)

Toward the entrance to the garden, I was delighted to see Shrubby Germander. A star in my own garden, this shrub has flowered all winter long and will continue to do so into spring. The blooms are a lovely periwinkle color.

Chuparosa (Justicia californica)

As our walk was wrapping up, the bright red blooms of a Chuparosa shrub caught our eye. A hummingbird was busily drinking as much nectar as he could. I like to use this shrub in landscapes with a natural theme as it has a sprawling growth habit. It flowers through winter into spring and an important nectar source for hummingbirds.

Of course, blooming plants aren’t the only way to add color to the garden. Garden art can play a vital part in adding interest. The Desert Botanical Garden is host to a traveling art exhibit with various animals made from recycled plastic. This group of meerkats greets visitors to the garden.

I hope that you enjoy this virtual tour of winter color in the garden and will add some to your own.

What plants do you have that flower in winter?

One of the most rewarding things about my job is having the opportunity to revisit areas that I have designed.  Despite designing landscapes for over 17 years, I never tire of having the opportunity to explore them again to see how the landscape has matured.  When touring the landscapes, I take time to look at what worked and sometimes what didn’t.  I take these lessons with me and implement them in future designs.


Blue Bells (Eremophila hygrophana) and feathery cassia (Senna artemisoides)
Today, I’d like to take you on a tour of a landscape that I designed for a church two years ago.  
I was asked by the landscape committee to create a landscape that would be filled with color during the cool season since that is when the majority of the members are attending.  

BEFORE:




The landscape was filled with over-pruned shrubs, many of which flowered in summer.  In addition, there were a large number of frost tender plants in the landscape that were unsightly when much of the residents were in town.

AFTER:


After removing the shrubs, I added feathery cassia (Senna artemisoides), which blooms in late winter and spring, along with the newer Blue Bells (Eremophila hygrophana) which flowers all year long while staying at a rather compact 3 feet tall and wide size.
BEFORE:


When working with an existing landscape, I always try to keep mature plants that are healthy and fulfill the design criteria.  In this case, a Mexican (Yellow) Bird-of-Paradise (Caesalpinia mexicana), that had been trained into a tree, which has evergreen foliage and flowers in spring and fall.

AFTER:


Blue Bell shrubs and golden barrel cacti (Echinocactus grusonii) completed this planting area.

BEFORE:


In this area, a few shrubs, a barrel cactus and a lonely red yucca hang on from the previously designed landscape, all of which add little interest to the landscape.


AFTER:

Valentine Bush (Eremophila maculata ‘Valentine) and desert spoon (Dasylirion wheeleri)

Contrasting textures and color add interest to the landscape throughout the entire year.  Seasonal blooming creates an entirely different look to the landscape as well.

BEFORE:


As landscapes age, plants can become overgrown and to some, unattractive as was the case with this old desert spoon.  The lysiloma tree was in good shape and the decision was made to keep it.

AFTER:

Angelita daisy (Tetraneuris acaulis syn. Hymenoxys acaulis)

Angelita daisy (Tetraneuris acaulis) is one of my favorite small perennials as its bright, sunny flowers appear throughout the entire year.

Valentine bush and feathery cassia serve as foundation planting.

BEFORE:


Pink fairy duster (Calliandra eriophylla) had been used to create a hedge.  However, while pink fairy duster does flower in winter and spring, it isn’t a suitable choice as a formal hedge.  Rather, it belongs in a natural desert landscape and untouched by hedge trimmers.

AFTER:

Pink Muhly (Muhlenbergia capillaris) in winter.


Pink muhly was added for welcome fall color when its plumes turn a vibrant burgundy color, which fade to an attractive wheat color in winter.  After being pruned in early spring, bright green growth quickly fills back in.

BEFORE:


This is a high-profile corner as it is one of the entries into the church parking lot.  As you can see, there was little to attract the attention of passersby.

AFTER:


Adding a combination of plants that will ensure year round interest no matter whether it’s spring, summer, fall or winter.

Even though the purple trailing lantana (Lantana montevidensis) can die back to the ground in winter, the bright colors of the Valentine bush and feathery cassia will draw attention away from it.

BEFORE:


Three Agave americana were all that sat in this area, which offered little color and virtually no interest.  


I took the existing agave and spread them throughout the landscape, where they can create both texture and color contrast when paired with the softer shapes and darker colors of shrubs.  

One thing that I wish I had done differently was to space the shrubs in this area a little further apart.  This can cause landscapers to excessively prune shrubs into poodle shapes in an attempt to keep them from touching.  Pruning them severely once a year can keep them from outgrowing their space OR removing every other shrub once they become too large can take care of the problem.  

I hope that you enjoyed seeing the transformation of this landscape to one filled with cool season color.