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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.

Tour of My Spring Garden, Firecracker Penstemon (Penstemon eatoni)

Tour of My Spring Garden, Firecracker Penstemon (Penstemon eatoni)

Have you ever noticed that spring has a way of surprising you in the garden? That is indeed the thought that I had earlier this week as I walked through my front landscape.

After spending a week visiting my daughter in cold, wintery Michigan, I was anxious to return home and see what effects that a week of warm temperatures had done – I wasn’t disappointed.

I want to take you on a tour of my spring garden. Are you ready?

Parry's Penstemon (Penstemon parryi) Spring Garden

Parry’s Penstemon (Penstemon parryi)

Penstemons play a large part in late winter and spring interest in the desert landscape, and I look forward to their flowering spikes.

Echinopsis hybrid 'Ember (Spring Garden)

Echinopsis hybrid ‘Ember’

One of the most dramatic blooms that grace my front garden are those of my Echinopsis hybrid cactuses. I have a variety of different types, each with their flower color. This year, ‘Ember’ was the first one to flower and there are several more buds on it.

Shrubby Germander (Teucrium fruiticans) Spring Garden

Shrubby Germander (Teucrium fruiticans)

Moving to the backyard, the gray-blue foliage of the shrubby germander is transformed by the electric blue shade of the flowers. This smaller shrub began blooming in the middle of winter and will through spring.

Red Powder Puff (Calliandra haematocephala) Spring Garden

Red Powder Puff (Calliandra haematocephala)

This unique shrub was a purchase that I made several years ago at the Desert Botanical Garden‘s spring plant sale. If you are looking for unusual plants that aren’t often found at your local nursery, this is the place to go. This is a lush green, tropical shrub that is related to the more common Baja Fairy Duster. However, it only flowers in spring and has sizeable red puff-ball flowers. It does best in east-facing exposures.

Million Bells (Calibrachoa)  Spring Garden

Million Bells (Calibrachoa)

I am trialing a new self-watering hanging container that was sent to me free of charge by H20 Labor Saver for my honest review. I must say that I am very impressed. Growing plants in hanging containers is difficult in the desert garden as they dry out very quickly. But, this is a self-watering container, which has a reservoir that you fill, allowing me to have to water it much less often.

In the container, I have Million Bells growing, which are like miniature petunias. They are cool-season annuals that grow fall, winter, and spring in the desert garden.

Yellow Bells recently pruned (Spring Garden)

Yellow Bells recently pruned

Not all of my plants are flowering. My yellow bells shrubs have been pruned back severely, which I do every year, and are now growing again. This type of severe pruning keeps them lush and compact, and they will grow up to 6-feet tall within a few months.

Onions growing in my vegetable garden

Onions growing in my vegetable garden

This past fall, my daughters took over the vegetable garden. I must admit that it was fun to watch them decide what to grow and guide them in learning how to grow vegetables. They are already enjoying the fruits of their labor and onions will soon be ready to be harvested.

Meyer Lemon blossom from Spring Garden

Meyer Lemon blossom

My Meyer lemon tree hasn’t performed very well for me and has produced very little fruit in the four years since I planted it. I realized that it wasn’t getting enough water, so I corrected that problem, and it is covered in blossoms – I am so excited!

Chocolate Flower (Berlandiera lyrata) Spring Garden

Chocolate Flower (Berlandiera lyrata)

Moving to the side garden, chocolate flower adds delicious fragrance at the entry to my cut flower garden. It does well in full sun and flowers off and on throughout the warm season.

Verbena in bloom

Verbena in bloom

In the cut flower garden, my roses are growing back from their severe winter pruning. Although the roses aren’t in bloom yet, my California native verbena is. This is a plant that I bought at the Santa Barbara Botanical Garden – I don’t remember the exact name, but it does great in my garden.

Young peaches from Spring Garden

Young peaches

I have some fruit trees growing in the side garden including peaches! I can just imagine how delicious these will taste in May once they are ripe!

Apple tree blossoms from Spring Garden

Apple tree blossoms

While the peaches are already forming, my apple trees are a few weeks behind and are still flowering. It surprises people that you can grow apple trees in the desert garden and they will ripen in June – apple pie, anyone?

I hope that you have enjoyed this tour of my spring garden. All of these plants are bringing me joy.

*What is growing in your garden this spring that brings you joy?

Winter Blooming Desert Flower, Globe mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua)

Winter Blooming Desert Flower, Globe mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua)

Living in the desert southwest has many advantages, including being able to have a landscape filled with blooming plants all winter long when gardens throughout much of the country are brown or covered in a layer of snow.

Over the weekend, I stepped out into my garden to see how my plants were doing and took photos of those that were flowering.

**I’ve provided links to earlier blog posts where you can learn more about these plants and see if they deserve a home in your landscape.

First, were the globe mallow, which are just beginning to produce their colorful blooms. While the most common type produces orange flowers, they do come in other colors as well. I have red, pink, and white ones in my garden. You can learn more about this plant in an earlier blog post.

Winter Blooming Desert Flower, Angelita Daisy (Tetraneuris acaulis)

Winter Blooming Desert Flower, Angelita Daisy (Tetraneuris acaulis)

Despite its small size, angelita daisy is a small powerhouse in the landscape that blooms off and on all year long. They thrive in full sun and look great when grouped next to boulders. During my walk through the garden, I discovered that this one has a volunteer Parry’s penstemon (Penstemon parryi) growing next to it. I’ll leave it alone as they will look great together.

Winter Blooming Desert Flower Firecracker Penstemon (Penstemon eatonii)

Firecracker Penstemon (Penstemon eatonii)

This perennial delights hummingbirds with its red-orange blooms that appear in January and last well into spring. There are many different kinds of penstemon, which thrive in drought-tolerant gardens and firecracker penstemon is by far, my favorite. 

Winter Blooming Desert Flower Blackfoot Daisy (Melampodium leucanthum)

Blackfoot Daisy (Melampodium leucanthum)

The delicate flowers of this ground cover don’t look like they can survive the intense heat of the desert garden, but blackfoot daisy thrives all year long with little fuss. I have mine growing alongside boulders and at the base of cactuses. I haven’t been able to determine exactly when they are supposed to bloom because mine always seem to be flowering. 

 Winter Blooming Desert Flower Purple/White Trailing Lantana (Lantana montevidensis 'Purple' and 'Alba')

Purple/White Trailing Lantana (Lantana montevidensis ‘Purple’ and ‘Alba’)

This groundcover form of lantana is a popular staple in the drought-tolerant landscape, but you seldom see it with two different colors. In winter, it is usually touched by some frost damage, but our weather has been unusually warm, so it is still flowering. Normally, you see all white or all purple, but not both together. While there is a variety called ‘Lavender Swirl’; it can be hard to find and somewhat expensive. I’ve replicated the same look in my garden, which I share in this earlier blog post.

 Winter Blooming Desert Flower 'Sparky' Tecoma

‘Sparky’ Tecoma

Here is the newest addition to the front garden. It shouldn’t be blooming this time of year, but again, with the mild winter, it is getting a head start on spring. ‘Sparky’ tecoma is a new plant that is a cross between yellow bells and orange bells. The flowers are apricot in color with deep maroon centers. This shrub was created by an ASU professor, who named it after the school’s mascot. I am very excited to see it reveal its lovely flowers on either side of our large front window.

Do you have any plants that bloom in winter? Inside or outside, please share what is happening in your garden this month.

Gather Flower Seeds, Red globe mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua)

Gather Flower Seeds, Red globe mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua)

Did you know that some flowering, desert perennials are grown easily from seed? It’s true. Many of the plants in my garden are volunteers that grew from seed from my established plants.

I have several ‘parental’ plants in my front garden along with their babies that have come up on their own with no assistance from me.

Gather Flower Seeds , Pink globe mallow 

Pink globe mallow 

My favorite perennials that grow from seed are my colorful globe mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua).  The most common color seen in globe mallow is orange. However, they also come in other colors such as red, pink, and white. You can purchase the less common color varieties, but they can be hard to find at your local nursery.

White globe mallow

White globe mallow

When I first designed my garden, I bought pink, red, and white globe mallows. These plants are now over 17 years old and produce a large number of seeds once flowering has ceased.  Because these colors can be hard to find, people ask me to sell them seeds that I harvest each year from my colorful perennials.

Light pink globe mallow

Light pink globe mallow

Harvesting seeds from spent flowers is easy to do. Once the flowers begin to fade in spring, I look for tiny, dried out seed pods, which is where the seeds are contained. I then pick them off and place them in a little bag.  It’s important to keep the colors separate so if someone wants red globe mallow, they won’t be growing pink or white ones.

Desert marigold (Baileya multiradiata), firecracker penstemon (Penstemon eatonii), and verbena (Glandularia spp.)

Desert marigold (Baileya multiradiata), firecracker penstemon (Penstemon eatonii), and verbena (Glandularia spp.)

There are other desert perennials that come up easily from seed, such as the ones pictured above in a garden I visited a few years ago. 

So how do you grow these drought tolerant perennials from seed? Surprisingly, it’s not hard to do, and if you go to a lot of trouble and fuss over them, they probably won’t grow. So starting them in little pots and transplanting them isn’t the best way to go about it. Instead, sprinkle the seed throughout the landscape, allowing some to fall a foot away from a drip emitter or near rocks. You want to mirror the natural conditions where they sow their seed in nature. Warning: this only works in areas where pre-emergent herbicides are NOT used. 

Growing these perennials from seed is very inexpensive, but some patience is needed while you wait for them to sprout.  Not all will come up, but those that do, will add beauty to your garden and before you know it, you may be harvesting seed to share with your friends.

What type of plants have you had come up in your garden from seed?

White Flowers for the Southwest Landscape: Part 2

I adore flowers of all kinds, but I must confess that my favorite types look as if they belong to a cottage garden, which probably explains why I am wild about penstemons.

The pink flowers of Parry’s penstemons (Penstemon parryi) adds welcome color to a spring garden.

Photo: The pink flowers of Parry’s penstemon (Penstemon parryi) adds welcome color to a spring garden.

I adore flowers of all kinds, but I must confess that my favorite types look as if they belong to a cottage garden, which probably explains why I am wild about penstemons.

There are many different species of penstemon with varying colors, ranging from shades of pink to red with some white ones thrown in.  

Firecracker penstemons (Penstemon eatonii) adds vibrant color to a hummingbird demonstration garden.

Photo: Firecracker penstemon (Penstemon eatonii) adds vibrant color to a hummingbird demonstration garden.

All penstemons are native to the western half of North America where they thrive in well-drained soil.  Most grow in higher elevations, and all are drought tolerant.  For those of you who love to grow native plants that are low-maintenance, penstemons are a must-have.

The 4 - 6 foot flowering spikes of Palmer's penstemons (Penstemon palmeri) lightly perfume the air of this desert landscape.

Photo: The 4 – 6 foot flowering spikes of Palmer’s penstemon (Penstemon palmeri) lightly perfume the air of this desert landscape.

I like plants that add a touch of drama to my garden and penstemon do a great job at that when they send up their flowering spikes that tower over their lower cluster of leaves.  Bees and hummingbirds love their flowers and it is fun to watch their antics as they sneak inside the flowers for nectar.

A row of rock penstemons (Penstemon baccharifolius) adds lovely color to this area at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix.

Photo: A row of rock penstemon (Penstemon baccharifolius) adds lovely color to this area at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix.

While penstemon may look rather delicate, it is anything but as it can survive temperatures over 100 degrees and temperatures that dip anywhere from 15 degrees Fahrenheit all the way down to -30 degrees, depending on the species.  

firecracker penstemons (Penstemon eatoni)

The bloom time for penstemon depends on the species as well as the climate they grow in.  For desert dwellers like me, most bloom in late winter into spring.  Each year, I eagerly await the appearance of the first unfolding flowering spikes of my firecracker penstemon (Penstemon eatoni)  to emerge in January.

Parry’s penstemons (Penstemon parryi)

In my garden, Parry’s penstemon (Penstemon parryi) is another favorite of mine in the garden, and its flowers begin to open in late February.  This year, I am growing pineleaf penstemon (Penstemon pinifolius), which is a new one for me and I am curious to see how it will do.

Another penstemon that I am anxious to try is rock penstemon (Penstemon baccharifolius), which blooms spring through fall.  Lastly, I have added Palmer’s penstemon (Penstemon palmeri) to my garden.  I used to grow it years ago and was happy to incorporate it back into my landscape.

It’s important to note that penstemon grows best when grown in the western half of North America.  The season in which they bloom can vary depending on the USDA zone.  In my zone 9 garden, I begin to appear in January and last through spring. For those who live in colder climates, penstemon will bloom later in spring or even begin flowering in summer.  However, no matter when they bloom, penstemon are sure to add beauty to the landscape with a touch of drama.

**Do you have a favorite penstemon?

There are many flowering perennials that I can think of that only flower once a year and many people think that the lovely blooms of penstemon count among them.

penstemon

Photo: Parry’s Penstemon

But, did you know that if you prune the flowers just as they begin to fade that you can stimulate another flush of colorful blooms?

Gopher Plant (Euphorbia rigida), Parry's Penstemon (Penstemon parryi) and Parry's Agave (Agave parryi)

Photo: Gopher Plant (Euphorbia rigida), Parry’s Penstemon (Penstemon parryi) and Parry’s Agave (Agave parryi)

I’ve grown penstemon for years and recently planted a Parry’s penstemon in my front yard. I enjoyed seeing its pink blossoms waving in the breeze and the hummingbirds who stopped by for a drink of nectar.

Parry's penstemon

The individual flowers began to fall, leaving only a few behind, which is the best time to prune the flowering stalks back.

Timely Pruning Produces Second Round of Flowers

If you wait too long, the chances are that you will lose your window of stimulating your penstemon to produce more flowers. It’s best to do this when there are a couple of blossoms left on the plant.

young penstemon

young penstemon

This is what my young penstemon looks like right now, but within a couple of weeks, new flowering spikes will begin growing.

The reason that pruning off the first set of flowers stimulates a second bloom period is that the penstemon’s goal is to produce seeds. To do that, they produce flowers to attract pollinators and once pollinated, the flowers drop and the seed develops. However, when by pruning off the flowering spikes when there are a few flowers left, we disrupt the cycle and the plant will produce another set of flowers for the purpose of producing seeds.

second bloom for several penstemon species

Photo: Firecracker Penstemon (Penstemon eatonii)

Doing so will promote a second bloom for several penstemon species including firecracker penstemon (Penstemon eatonii) and Parry’s penstemon (Penstemon parryi).

Pruning and Blooms in the Spring Garden

I am excited to show you two pictures of one of my favorite perennials.

Favorite Perennials Firecracker Penstemon (Penstemon eatonii)

Favorite Perennials Firecracker Penstemon (Penstemon eatonii) 

Isn’t this a cool picture of a bee, ready to pollinate the flowers of this penstemon?

I must confess that I did not take this photo (or the other one below).  My husband took both of these beautiful pictures.

Favorite Perennials Firecracker Penstemon (Penstemon eatonii)

This firecracker penstemon is happily growing in my garden and is now over 14 years old, which is rare.

Every winter, it sends up spikes covered in red, tubular flowers, much to the delight of the resident hummingbirds.

The blooms last through spring in my desert garden.  In cooler climates, it will bloom in spring through early summer.

To learn more about this red beauty and how easy it is to grow in your garden, click here.

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I hope you have enjoyed my favorite flower photos.  Starting tomorrow, I will begin posting a series of my favorite DIY blog posts, so please come back for a visit!  

Have you ever taken out an area of grass and added plants in its place?

I have – numerous times.

My past was filled with grass – acres and acres of it, when I worked as a horticulturist for golf courses.  Nothing made me happier then when areas of grass were being removed and I was able to design a new landscape area.

golf courses

It’s been 8 years since I worked as a staff horticulturist for golf courses, but the past few weeks have found me spending a lot of time back on the golf course.

Earlier this week, I told you about my most recent project – creating landscape designs for up to 30 acres of former grass area.  Two golf courses, that I have worked with in the past, are removing large areas of turf in favor of a more natural, desert-scape.

The plants that I have chosen are extremely drought-tolerant, need very little maintenance and are native to the deserts of North America.

Another important criteria for my choices of plants was that I have to had experience growing them myself, either in my own garden or professionally in landscape areas that I have managed.

Here are the plants that I am using in this first area:

Desert Ruellia (Ruellia peninsularis)

Desert Ruellia (Ruellia peninsularis) 

Desert Ruellia is a favorite shrub of mine.  It is incredibly drought-tolerant.  I like to use it as a smaller substitute for Texas sage.

In this first landscape area, I wanted a shrub that could survive with intermittent deep-watering, limited maintenance while still looking attractive.  The purple flowers that appear spring through fall will add color to the area.

golf courses

Chuparosa (Justicia californica) 

This flowering native, will find a place underneath the filtered shade of the large mesquite tree already present.  

Chuparosa explodes with color off an on throughout the year, attracting every hummingbird in the neighborhood.  It does well in full sun or filtered shade.  

Desert Spoon (Dasylirion wheeler)

Desert Spoon (Dasylirion wheeler) 

Succulents are a vital part of the plant palette for all of these new areas.  Their unique colors and shapes add texture to the landscape and contrast well with the more softly-shaped plants.

Desert spoon will be interspersed throughout this first area where its gray color will contrast with the darker greens of the shrubs.

Santa-Rita Purple Prickly Pear (Opuntia santa-rita)

Santa-Rita Purple Prickly Pear (Opuntia santa-rita) 

Santa-rita purple prickly pear is also high on my list of favorites.  You just can’t beat the purple coloring that appears toward the tips of gray/blue pads.

Desert Marigold (Baileya multiradiata)

Desert Marigold (Baileya multiradiata) 

Often grown as a annual, Desert Marigold is a short-lived perennial that flowers throughout the year.

Cold and lack of water don’t bother these tough little perennials.  They require little to no maintenance – but I cut them back severely to 3 inches once a year to improve their appearance and promote more flowering, although you don’t have too.

Whether you or not you are a fan of yellow – it is an important color to include in the garden because the color yellow helps the other colors in the landscape to ‘pop’ and stand out more vividly.

Although short-lived, desert marigold self-seeds, ensuring that they remain a presence wherever they are planted.

golf courses

Firecracker Penstemon (Penstemon eatoni) 

If you are a fan of penstemons, this is one to consider adding to your list.  Firecracker penstemon has a long bloom period in the low-desert.  It starts blooming in late December and continues into spring.

You can often prolong the bloom period by removing spent flowering stalks, which will promote a second flush of bloom.  I have several of these growing in my own garden – some are 15 years old and still going strong – although that is uncommon.  

Bursage (Ambrosia deltoidea)

Bursage (Ambrosia deltoidea) 

I’ll be the first one to admit that this low-growing shrub is not exciting – one may even call it ‘boring’.

But, bursage is seen carpeting the ground throughout the Arizona portion of the Sonoran desert.  Its gray/green foliage serves as an understory plant that helps to tie the separate elements of this ‘natural landscape’ together.  

Example of bursage use in a natural desert landscape planting

Example of bursage use in a natural desert landscape planting. 

The key to keeping bursage attractive is to prune it back severely to 6″ tall and wide every 2 – 3 years in early spring.

So, this is the plant palette for the first of many ‘natural desert landscape areas’.  I do have a few more plants that I will show you as I create designs for the other areas on the golf courses.

Do you grow any of these plants in your garden?  

I am always on the lookout for beautiful landscapes that are well-designed and need minimal care.  I like to call them sustainable or ‘fuss-free’ landscapes.

A week ago, my friend and fellow-blogger, Pam Penick came into town on a quest to see examples of gardens that use little water.  So, I was more then happy to spend a day with her looking at some great examples of gardens around the greater Phoenix area.

The first part of our journey began with a visit to the beautifully-designed Arizona State Polytechnic Campus, which included cisterns, man-made arroyos and creative uses for urbanite.  If you missed it, you can read about our visit, here.

The second leg of our tour took us to a butterfly/hummingbird demonstration garden along a golf course and a well-designed parking lot (yes, I said a parking lot).

First, was our visit to a butterfly/hummingbird demonstration garden.

Firecracker Penstemon (Penstemon eatoni)

Firecracker Penstemon (Penstemon eatoni)

I must admit that I was excited about seeing this garden, which is near and dear to my heart because I designed it.

Southwestern Sustainable Landscapes

In the beginning, this landscape area was rather unremarkable   There were a number of foothill palo verdes, cascalote and ironwood trees in this area and a few over-pruned Valentine shrubs.

Southwestern Sustainable Landscapes

Pink Autumn Sage (Salvia greggii)

The golf course community wanted to create a demonstration garden to show residents how they can have a beautiful landscape that will attract butterflies and hummingbirds that consists entirely of drought-tolerant plants.

Coral Globe Mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua 'Coral')

Coral Globe Mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua ‘Coral’)

I want to showcase drought-tolerant shrubs and perennials that provided overlapping seasons of color.

Firecracker Penstemon, Purple Trailing Lantana and Damianita.

Firecracker Penstemon, Purple Trailing Lantana and Damianita.

Paths were created by using stabilized DG that blended seamlessly with regular DG placed around the plants.

Southwestern Sustainable Landscapes

While walking through the garden, we saw hummingbirds enjoying the flowers.

White Globe Mallow

White Globe Mallow

The plants in this garden aren’t only drought-tolerant – they don’t require any supplemental fertilizer, soil amendments and need pruning once a year or less.

It doesn’t get much better then that, does it?   Our next stop was a park in the mountains of Scottsdale, called Cavalierre Park.

I must admit that I was surprised that my favorite thing about the park was its parking lot.

I realize that that may sound strange, BUT have you seen how ugly most parking lots are?

Southwestern Sustainable Landscapes

The majority of parking lot islands are over-planted and over-pruned.  In addition, trees seldom thrive in the small islands in the midst of hot, reflected heat.

So, as we drove up to Cavalierre park, I was pleasantly surprised to see that there was no asphalt in sight.  

Southwestern Sustainable Landscapes

Believe it or not, these parking lot islands get no supplemental irrigation and need little, if any pruning.

Each island was edged with rusted steel edging and filled with native rock from the site.

The fact that there is not a traditional asphalt parking lot reduces the amount of runoff from rainfall.  This non-traditional parking lot created from stabilized DG (decomposed granite) doesn’t heat up, thereby keeping the area a bit cooler since it doesn’t contribute to the ‘heat-island’ effect that asphalt does.  

Southwestern Sustainable Landscapes

During construction cacti and trees were salvaged from the site and replanted onsite once it was finished.

Trees too large to be removed were incorporated into the design with steel edging preserving their original grade.

Southwestern Sustainable Landscapes

This raised planter keeps the existing mesquite tree and saguaro cactus at their original grade while creating a beautiful, focal planting near the entrance of the park.

Southwestern Sustainable Landscapes

I am constantly amazed at how beautiful sustainable landscapes can be simply by using good design and arid-adapted plants that are maintained correctly.

I don’t know about you, but I would much rather enjoy a parking lot like this instead of one surrounded by asphalt and over-pruned shrubs, wouldn’t you?

I hope you have enjoyed this second installment of our tour of sustainable landscapes in the Phoenix area.

Be sure to come back for our last installment – I have saved the best for last…

Do you have a front garden or a front yard?

I really don’t like to refer to front area of a home as a ‘yard’.  

The definition of the word ‘yard’ is “a piece of ground adjoining a building or house.”

Now, while I do have a piece of ground adjoining my house – it is so much more then that.  

The piece of ground is filled with trees, shrubs, perennials and succulents, which in my opinion makes it not a ‘yard’ BUT a ‘garden’.

So, I thought that I would show you a little of what is growing in my front ‘garden’….

 firecracker penstemon (Penstemon eatonii)

This time of year, my firecracker penstemon (Penstemon eatonii) is in full bloom, much to the delight of bees and hummingbirds.

This tough perennial blooms January through April in my zone 9a garden. In cooler climates, it will flower in the summer.

white gaura (Gaura lindheimeri)

Underneath the front window, lies a row of white gaura (Gaura lindheimeri), which flowers in spring and fall.  This perennial is hardy to zone 5.

perennials and succulents

Agave are my favorite type of succulent and I have several different types in my garden.

This one is near the front entry and is called artichoke agave (Agave parryi ‘truncata’).

It is a medium-sized agave and can grow in zones 7 and up.

As you can see, it has produced some offsets (babies, pups, volunteers).  They are attached to the mother plant by a underground stem.

I have taken several of the offsets and replanted them around my garden…

perennials and succulents

This one was planted 2 years ago from the mother plant.

It is easy to take offsets and plant them in other areas in the garden.  I wrote about it a few years ago and you can read it here.

perennials and succulents

In late winter, I am always impatient to see my globe mallow begin to show the first glimpse of color peeking through.

I have several globe mallow plants and each one produces a different-colored flower.  

pink globe mallow

Here is my pink globe mallow.

white flowers

And it’s neighbor, which has white flowers.

perennials and succulents

This globe mallow has vibrant, red flowers and is located on the other side of my front garden.

While I love all of my globe mallow flowers, I think that the pink are my favorite…

perennials and succulents

The most common color of globe mallow is orange.  But, as you can see, there are other colors available.

You can read more about this plant and its flowers in an article I wrote for Houzz.com

perennials and succulents

I mentioned that I had a few different species of agave in my garden.

This is my largest one, which is called octopus agave (Agave vilmoriniana).  

perennials and succulents

I raised this agave from a tiny pup (bulbil) from the flowering stem of its mother, who I had grown in a large pot.

This agave has a tropical look with its curvy leaves and does best in areas with filtered or afternoon shade.

Victoria agave (Agave victoria-reginae)

Victoria agave (Agave victoria-reginae) was named for Queen Victoria.

This smaller agave has a very distinctive look and is highly-desired, which makes it rather expensive.

I was given the largest one in the photo, above, by a client and it has since gone on to produce many babies for me.

perennials and succulents

Some people may think that lantana is overused in the landscape, but I like to put a twist on the traditional lantana.

There is a lantana called ‘Lavender Lace’ that produces both purple and white flowers on the same plant.  BUT, it can be hard to find and is expensive.

So, I create the same look by planting both a purple and a white trailing lantana in the same hole.

perennials and succulents

My favorite types of plants are flowering shrubs and groundcovers.  However, I like the different textures that succulents add to my front garden.

So, I have green desert spoon (Dasylirion acrotriche) on both sides in the front.  This species of desert spoon has a darker-green color then the gray/blue leaves of regular desert spoon.

perennials and succulents

Finally, I’d like to finish with my favorite flowering shrub, Valentine whose red blooms began to appear at Christmas and will last through April.

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I hope you enjoyed this partial tour of my front garden.  I do have trees and other plants growing, but because they are dormant in winter, I will show you them in the future, once they are looking  their best.

**Tonight, I am leaving on the red-eye for Miami, Florida where I will be taking part in the Saturday6 once again.

So what is the Saturday6 you might be asking?

We are a group of 6 garden bloggers from around the country brought together by Troy-bilt to test their products, write garden articles and give our honest opinions and advice.

While in Miami, we will be touring the Vizcaya Museum and Gardens.  Later, we will be creating a community garden in Miami, filled with edible plants.

I will be sure to share with you our adventures.  I can hardly wait to leave!