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Do you have cats in your garden? I do. In fact, I have a few cats who love to spend time in the gardens surrounding my house, and none of them belong to me…technically.

Like many neighborhoods, mine has a feral cat population, and we have had cats come and go – we’ve even had kittens born behind my purple lilac vines. As you might expect, I’ve faced some challenges with cats in the garden, but have recently had several triumphs.

Several years ago, the number of strays in the neighborhood increased due to our neighbor feeding them and some of them began to use my vegetable garden as their toilet. 

My attempt to solve the problem was to plant the herb rue, which supposedly had cat-repelling properties. The local cats didn’t know that as I kept finding little ‘gifts’ in the vegetable garden.

After the rue didn’t work, I purchased a motion-controlled sprinkler head, which went off whenever the cats got too near, and that worked quite well at keeping them away. However, it also would go off whenever any of us walked too close to the veggies.

So last year, I decided to try a fine mesh garden netting to cover the vegetable garden with excellent results. It also had a welcome side benefit of decreasing caterillars because the moths couldn’t get in to lay their eggs.

My pots were also a make-shift litter box for my furry visitors. However, this was quickly rectified by placing paver stones on the bare spots in-between my plants, and they also served to cool the soil and preserve moisture in the pots.

What is it about cats and pots? This is my sister’s cat, ‘Scissors.’

Do you have roof rats? I don’t. I have ‘roof cats.’ Or, cats that like to take refuge underneath my solar panels. Of course, they make sure that I don’t have any rats lurking about.

For the past year, I have three cats who we have adopted. Of course, the cats don’t know that we’ve adopted them. What they do know is that the orange tree is wonderfully shady in the morning, the patio is blessedly cool on a hot summer’s day, and a picnic table is a great spot to gather with your friends. We don’t feed them, but they are healthy and happy.

One of our regulars visiting with our desert tortoise, Aesop.

Our family enjoys watching their antics through the window and allow them to enjoy our garden. I find myself smiling when I view them together. We have three regulars, a red tabby, a black and white cat, and a small black one.

It seems that we’ve come to a compromise – they leave my vegetable garden and pots alone and only occasionally use my rose garden as an emergency pit stop. I must say that the simple pleasure we receive from our ‘adopted’ cats is worth it.

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I love my garden, filled with trees that provide welcome filtered shade along with flowering shrubs. While my garden gives me joy, it does take maintenance to keep it healthy and looking its best.

The primary maintenance chore I have is pruning, which I enjoy doing. 

What I don’t like is cleaning up the clippings, and I often ask my kids to drag them to the trash can or the curb for bulk pickup. However, that was then, and I have a new tool to help me with dealing with the aftermath of pruning. My new Troy-Bilt Chipper Shredder will take the stems and small branches and shred them into mulch.

*As a brand ambassador, I was provided the CS4295 Chipper Shredder free of charge, for my honest review.

The chipper shredder has two areas where you can insert plant material. The top part is called the ‘hopper’ and is where stems and branches that are less than the width of pencil are added, which are pulverized into mulch that is expelled into a white bag attached off to the side.

Branches under 2-inches in diameter are fed through the ‘chipper chute’ and are expelled into the collection bag. It was fun to use and I was pleased how quickly my pile of branches was decreasing in size.

In the end, my two large piles were reduced to a much smaller pile of shredded leaves and stems. Instead of throwing out piles of plant clippings, I now have great material for my compost pile. It is also suitable to use as mulch for putting around my plants. However, you’ll want to age the mulch for 3 – 6 months before applying or it can use up the nitrogen that plants need while it breaks down.

This photo says it all. My Troy-Bilt Chipper Shredder took two piles of branches, that would have filled up most of my trash can, and reduced them to a small pile of mulch suitable for my garden. 

*Disclosure: As a Troy-Bilt brand ambassador, the chipper shredder was provided to me at no cost by TroyBilt to review for my honest opinion.

Agave are my favorite succulent of mine in my own garden and also finds itself a prominent addition to many of my landscape designs.


There is so much to love about agave, from the unique, rosette pattern of their succulent leaves to the dramatic flowering stalk that they send up toward the end of their lives.



While I have several species of agave, whale’s tongue is one of my favorites.

This agave first drew my attention when my friend and fellow blogger, Pam Penick, wrote about the one growing in her garden, where it takes center stage in her backyard.

Since then, I have seen several throughout the greater Phoenix landscape as well.  


There is so much to like about this agave including how its blue-green color adds great color contrast to the landscape.


I also happen to like the unique shape of its leaves, that really do resemble a whale’s tongue.

Do you think this lovely agave deserves a place in your landscape?

Learn more about how and where to plant this agave as well as what plants to pair it with for maximum impact in my latest Houzz plant profile.  



Have you ever seen this agave in the landscape?  What would you plant alongside it?

I enjoy DIY projects – particularly when they involve things that I have grown in my garden.

It seems that a lot of the things that I make from the garden include herbs.  I have dried herbs, frozen them into ice cubes and have done homemade herb butter.

Using herbs from my garden when I cook always gives me a special satisfaction, and my food tastes great too!

Basil Salt
 
Today, I am excited to share with you how to make basil herb salt.  If you haven’t heard of herb salts before, they are referred to as ‘gourmet salts,’ which are very popular in the foodie community.
 
Herb salts are easy to make – especially if you have a food processor.  The salt helps to preserve the fresh flavor of your favorite herbs, and they add fabulous flavor to your favorite dishes.
 
Gourmet salts also make great gifts.
 
 
It is hard to find anyone who doesn’t love basil and the flavor it adds to so many different dishes.  I enjoy making Italian food and am often using basil.  Usually, I tear or chop some fresh basil leaves and add them as flavoring.
 
Basil salt can be used in a variety of ways including sprinkling into your favorite tomato sauce, on top of a fresh-baked pizza, adding to bruschetta or simply sprinkling some on the top of fresh tomatoes.
 
Are you ready to get started?  
 
You will need fresh basil (either from your garden or the store) and kosher salt – pretty simple!
 
Grab your food processor, a baking sheet and a glass jar with a lid.
 
 
1. You will need 1/2 cup each of kosher salt and basil leaves.  
 
 
2. Add the basil and kosher salt to your food processor and pulse for 30 seconds.
 
 
The finished mixture should look like this.
 
 
3. Pour the mixture out onto a baking sheet in a thin layer.  The mixture will be somewhat moist.
 
 
4. Bake for 20 minutes in a preheated 225-degree oven.  After the first 10 minutes, lightly mix the basil salt mixture and bake for another 10 minutes – this helps it to dry out completely.
 
 
5. Put the dried basil salt mixture back into the food processor and blend to remove any remaining lumps.  *Make sure that the food processor is dry beforehand.
 
 
6. Put your basil salt into a glass container with a tight-fitting lid.
 
That’s it – you are done!
I must admit that this is a pretty easy project and the food processor does most of the work.  
 
Keep your basil salt in a dark, cool space where you keep your other herbs/spices to help preserve its flavor.  Use it within a few months for the best flavor.
 
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This is one of the rare times that I didn’t have to spend any extra money on a DIY project – I had the basil growing in my garden, the kosher salt was in the pantry, and I used a mason jar that I had on hand.
 
 
I made three batches of basil salt and will keep one for myself and start using it right away.  The rest I plan on giving away as gifts.  
 
Gifts from the garden and kitchen are personal and much appreciated by others.  Last year, I gave away homemade jam from my peach tree.  This year it will be basil salt.
 
I can’t wait for my basil plant to grow more leaves so I can make more!
 
‘Herbes de Provence’ salt
 
**Basil salt is just the beginning of different types of herb salts you can make.  In my next post, I will show you how to make a customized herb salt blend as well as some ideas of other herb salts you can make.
What would you use basil salt to flavor?

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Do you live in an area that has been affected by drought?


You may be surprised at the answer.  Periods of drought aren’t uncommon for those of us who live in the Western United States, but more recently drought has expanded to some other areas that may surprise you.


Drought tolerant gardening is rapidly becoming a very popular way to garden.  Contrary to what some people may think, drought tolerant gardens are low-maintenance, easy to care for, use far less resources and can be beautiful.

Agave, mesquite and salvias.

Drought tolerant gardens are a great choice for any landscape because they are much more self-sufficient and sustainable than other landscapes. Even if drought has not affected your area, that doesn’t mean that it won’t in the future. 


*This week, I will be doing a series of radio interviews about drought tolerant gardening for radio stations in Oregon, Texas and Alabama. 
I must admit to being a little nervous since I have not done a radio interview before and I have four to do this week.  I think that it should be easier than being on TV since I don’t have to worry about what I’m wearing or if my hair is messed up 😉 

Agave, saguaro, wildflowers and yucca.
No matter if you live in California where many areas are experiencing exceptional drought, the Southwest or wherever you live, the principles of drought tolerant gardening are the same.

Landscape filled with drought tolerant plants and limited amount of grass.
I recently shared 10 tips for drought tolerant gardens in an article for Birds & Blooms where I serve as the garden blogger, which you can read here.

Whether you implement 1 or all of the 10 tips, you will be increasing the sustainability of your landscape.


I encourage you to take a little time to read the 10 tips and then come back later this week, when I will share with some of my favorite drought tolerant plants.

Wish me luck on my first radio interview tomorrow.  I’ll let you know how it goes…

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For more information on drought tolerant gardening, click here.

The dog days of summer have arrived, which means that I spend most of my time indoors.  So, I spend time on my garden writing, knitting, trying new recipes and catching up on reading some great books.


I also decided to tackle my photo library.  It is very large and filled with gardening photos, covering everything from close-ups of favorite blossoms, unique containers, DIY projects, vegetable gardening and pictures taken of the beautiful Southwest.

Over the next few weeks, I won’t be doing a lot of gardening outdoors, (if I can help it), so I thought that I would share with you some of my favorite pictures, grouped by subject.

This week, I would like to share with you some of my favorite close-up photos of flowers.

So, to start it off, here is a photograph from one of my most popular blog posts…

Queen’s Wreath Vine (Antigonon leptopus)

Aren’t these pink blossoms beautiful?

I took this picture on the Arizona State University campus some years ago.  

You can learn more about this vine and why it does so well in low-desert gardens, here.

I hope you come back tomorrow for my next close-up flower photo AND I will be announcing the winner of the giveaway for one of my favorite gardening books, “Hellstrip Gardening”.

Enter now to win a free copy!


Do you have friends with whom you share a common interest?


I do.


My friend and fellow blogger, Amy Andrychowicz of Get Busy Gardening loves gardening as much as I do.  Amy and I have spent time together in Arizona and later in Florida.



Last week, while on a road trip through the Midwest, I made sure to make a stop in Minneapolis to visit with Amy and see her garden in person.




You may be wondering what a gardener from a hot, dry climate would have in common with one from a cold, temperate climate?  


My winter temps can get down to 20 – 25 degrees in my desert garden while Amy’s goes all the way down to -30 to -25 degrees.  That is up to a 50 degree difference!

But, believe it or not, there are a large number of plants that can grow in both climates.


Entering Amy’s back garden, my attention was immediately drawn to her large beds filled with colorful perennials.


I love iris!

I am always taking pictures of iris throughout my travels.  While they can grow very well in Arizona, I have never grown them myself.  


The major difference between growing irises in the Southwest and the Midwest is the time that they bloom.  Iris will bloom earlier in the spring while their bloom won’t start until late spring in cooler regions.


After seeing Amy’s in full bloom, I may need to rethink planting these beautiful plants in my own garden.


Succulents aren’t just for the warmer regions.  I have encountered prickly pear cacti in some unexpected places including upstate New York.

Here, Amy has a prickly pear enjoying the sun flanked by two variegated sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ that produces reddish flowers in late summer to early autumn.

This plant also can grow in desert gardens, but does best in the upper desert regions or in the low desert in fertile soil and filtered shade.


You might not expect to see water harvesting practiced outside of arid regions. But you can see examples of water harvesting throughout the United States.

This is Amy’s rain garden.  The middle of the garden is sloped into a swale that channels and retains rainwater allowing it to soak into the soil.  Plants are planted along the sides of the swale who benefit from the extra water.


A water feature was surrounded by low-growing plants including one that caught my eye.


This ground cover had attractive, gray foliage covered with lovely, white flowers.  I wasn’t familiar with this plant and asked Amy what it was.


I love the name of this plant, ‘Snow in Summer’ (Cerastium tomentosum).  While it thrives in hot, dry conditions, it does not grow in warmer zones 8 – 11.



Enjoying the shade from the ground cover was a frog.


I always enjoy seeing plants that aren’t commonly grown where I live.  I have always liked the tiny flowers of coral bells (Heuchera species).  It blooms throughout the summer in cooler climates. 


Do you like blue flowers?  I do.  I first saw Brunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost’ growing on a visit to the Lurie Gardens in Chicago.

This lovely perennial won’t grow in my desert garden, so I’m always excited to see it during my travels.



Amy had two beautiful clematis vines just beginning to bloom.  

I must admit to being slightly envious of her being able to grow these lovely, flowering vines.  Years ago after moving to Arizona, I tried growing clematis.  While it did grow, it never flowered.  Clematis aren’t meant to be grown in hot, dry climates.

Aren’t these single, deep pink peonies gorgeous?

While I am usually content with the large amount of plants that I can grow in my desert garden, peonies are top on my list of plants that I wish would grow in warmer climates such as mine.

Amy’s garden was filled with beautiful, flowering peonies of varying colors.


I took A LOT of pictures of her peonies. 




There was even a lovely bouquet of peonies decorating the dining room table.


Amy’s back garden is divided up into individual beds and one entire side of the garden is filled with her impressive vegetable garden.



You may be surprised to find that growing vegetables is largely the same no matter where you live.  The main difference is the gardening calendar.  For example, I plant Swiss chard in October and enjoy eating it through March.  In Amy’s garden, Swiss chard isn’t planted until late spring.  


Swiss chard


The raised vegetable beds were painted in bright colors, which contrasted beautifully with the vegetables growing inside.  Even when the beds stand empty, they still add color to the landscape.

Green Beans

Kale



Young pepper plants took advantage of a hot, sunny location in which they will thrive.


One thing that is different in vegetable gardening is the practice of ‘winter sowing’.  When Amy first told me about this method of sowing and germinating seeds, I was fascinated.

Basically, seeds are planted in containers with holes poked on the bottom for drainage.  The containers are then covered with plastic tops also covered with holes.  

In mid-winter, the containers are set outside.  Snow and later, rain water the plants inside the containers and the seeds germinate once temperatures start to warm up.

Amy has a great blog post about winter sowing that I highly recommend.

As we got ready to leave, we walked through the side garden, which had a wooden bridge.



Different varieties of thyme were planted amount the pavers for a lovely effect.  


Thyme can make a great ground cover in areas that receive little foot traffic.


In the front garden, I noticed the characteristic flowers of columbine growing underneath the shade tree.

I don’t often see red columbine.  Amy’s reseeds readily, so she always has columbine coming up.



This is a sweet, pink columbine that has smaller, but more plentiful flowers.

I had visited Amy’s garden through her blog, Get Busy Gardening for a long time and it was so wonderful to be able to see it in person.  It is beautiful!


I encourage you to visit Amy’s blog, which is filled with a lot of helpful advice – even for those of us who live in the Southwest.

As a horticulturist, I have quite a few plants on my list of favorites.  So many in fact, that I cannot grow them all in my own garden.


But, this favorite has a prominent place in my home landscape – I have four of them.



This pink beauty is what I see when I look out my kitchen window.

I can also see another one growing when I look out my living room window.

And another one when I look out my bedroom window.

You get the idea…

Pink Trumpet Vine (Podranea ricasoliana) grows in both humid and dry climates.  Believe it or not, it is drought-tolerant too!

To learn more about this beautiful, pink plant and why you will want to add one to your garden, check out my latest plant profile for Houzz.


Yesterday, we had three visitors out in the garden.


I’d like to introduce you to Jane, Veronica and Shenette.  These girls are part of the Ugandan Orphans Choir.

They are on a 1-year choir tour with 12 other orphans from Uganda.  We are one of the host families while they spend 3 days in our area.

The children sing at churches and other venues and help to raise funds for other orphans in Uganda, focusing on education.  

Two days ago, I received a phone call, while at the gym, from our pastor telling me that the host family who was supposed to house them had to cancel at the last minute due to an unexpected emergency.

We stepped in and told them we would be happy to have them stay with us.

Then I ran back home and started cleaning the house and figuring out what types of food they liked and worked on my grocery list.

After school that day, my kids were greeted by a slightly frantic mom who had a list of chores for them to do in order to get ready for our house guests who were arriving the next day.

To their credit, the kids jumped right in and helped me clean the house as well as their rooms where the girls would be staying.


We were told that many of the kids were likely to be shy.

Well, it turns out that these sweet girls are anything but shy.

They are outgoing, curious, sweet, affectionate and courteous.

Shortly after they arrived, they wanted to check out the garden in the backyard.

We visited the vegetable gardens and the fruit trees.


I showed them the remaining flowers on the apple tree and then some young apples and taught them how the flowers turn into apples.

The girls then wanted to get close to the blackberry bushes (behind the apple trees) to see the ripening berries.  I had to keep telling them to be careful to stay away from the thorny branches of the blackberries.


They picked some of the sweet-smelling alyssum and Veronica asked to put some of the flowers in my hair.


Jane wanted to try some Swiss chard, so my husband gave her some to try.

She liked it, but the other girls didn’t 😉


The girls (and their chaperone) decided to teach my son, Kai, some African dance moves.  He did his best to keep up.
*Yes, his broken finger is still in a cast – 2 more weeks to go!


My kids were so excited to host these girls.  I think that as former orphans themselves, that they felt a connection that went beyond the easy friendships that children form.

Shenette and Jane had fun helping my daughter, Ruthie, with a puzzle.


Veronica was excited to play the piano.

We learned that the girls had just seen the movie ‘Frozen’ for the first time a couple of weeks ago.  No surprise – the girls loved it!

How do I know they liked it so much?  They have been singing the song from the movie, “Do You Want To Build A Snowman” non-stop.  I think that it will be a long time before I get that song out of my head 😉


She also pointed out that my husband has the same hairstyle as she does 😉  


I was pleasantly surprised that Kai had so much fun with the girls, but having 3 girls staying with us in addition to his sisters – he got a bit overwhelmed – not really, he was just tired.


The girls wanted to pose in front of the ‘pretty’ pink flowers before the day ended.

We got hugs before bedtime and the girls called us ‘aunt’ and ‘uncle’.

This morning, I got up earlier then usual, and made eggs, sausage and biscuits from breakfast.  The girls liked it very much and my kids were shocked to see me making breakfast – they usually have cold cereal for breakfast.

Today, the girls are at our church with the other kids from the choir, rehearsing and being schooled by their chaperones.

Tonight, they will join us for dinner and another night of play before spending the night again with us.

Tomorrow, we will be with them for the entire day.  It is supposed to be windy and stormy, so I am looking for ideas on how to keep them happy and occupied.  *They cannot watch TV or play video games – which my kids can’t imagine.  But, I like the idea that they have to play.

I will post an update on our activities as the weekend progresses.

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The members of the choir will tour the United States for 1 year and then will return back to their orphanages in Uganda.  For more information about the Ugandan Orphan’s Choir  – how you can schedule them to appear at your church as well as  opportunities to sponsor the education of an orphan in Uganda, click here.

Do you love tulips?


How about daffodils, hyacinths or muscari?


Now, if you live in the desert like me, you probably only see these beautiful, flowering bulbs when you are traveling to cooler climates.


So, I was excited when I was contacted by Living Gardens and asked to try growing their Deluxe Dutch Garden.


Imagine different types of flowering bulbs grouped together into one basket.  It is like having an entire garden!

These bulbs have been ‘forced’ into blooming early by refrigerating the bulbs before planting them in their containers and mailing them to you.


I was so excited when my Deluxe Dutch Garden came in the mail.


The bulbs had begun to grow already.  They were yellow because they hadn’t been exposed to sunlight.  Rest assured, once they get some sun, they will green up very fast.


Believe it or not, there are six different varieties of flowering bulbs for a total of 16 bulbs in this basket container.

The blooms will not appear all at once.  Flowers will appear in succession, which will give me a long time to enjoy their beauty and fragrance.


In 2 weeks, flowers were already starting to appear.

These small white flowers are from miniature ‘Star of Bethlehem’.  


The muscari are also beginning to bloom.  I love their delicate beauty.

I can’t wait to see what else starts to grow and bloom in my Deluxe Dutch Garden basket – especially tulips!

Living Gardens imports bulbs from all over the world, many from family-run farms.  They offer many different types of bulb gardens, sure to please anyone who wants a bright spot of color to enjoy indoors during winter.

So, whether you live in the desert where these flowering bulbs can be hard to find OR if you live in a cold climate and are desperate for some sign of spring – then a container filled with flowering bulbs is just right for you.

I recommend visiting Living Gardens and seeing all that they have to offer.  I am sure you will enjoy your container garden filled with forced bulbs as much as I do mine!

**I was given a Deluxe Dutch Garden, free of charge to review.  My opinions are my own.