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What has your winter been like?


Has it been unusually cold or warm?  If you live in the Southwest, you have undoubtedly experienced a warmer then normal winter.  


As a result, many plants that are usually dormant in winter, are green and blooming even though it is still technically February.


I started wearing sandals 2 weeks ago, but I still haven’t broken out my shorts yet.  


Last week, I showed you my edible garden, (also known as a kitchen garden), which is located on the side of our house.


Today, I wanted to show you a peek at what is happening in the back garden during this warm winter.


This is one part of the back garden.  

This was my first vegetable garden.  Because this garden is close to the house, I like to plant vegetables that are harvested frequently such as leaf lettuce, tomatoes and cucumbers.  

To the right, you can see my pink trumpet vine.  Behind is a hollyhock getting ready to flower.
Against the wall is purple lilac vine in full bloom and peeking through the slats of the fence are nasturtium leaves.



I have two large rose bushes and the ‘Abraham Darby’ rose bush has a few lovely blooms.  You may notice that this rose has a rather old-fashioned appearance.  This is one of many David Austin shrub roses.

After growing 40 hybrid tea roses in the garden of our first house, I have found that I like shrub roses.  They are easier to take care of (need less pruning) and are very fragrant.


The pink trumpet vine (Podranea ricasoliana) growing up against the pillar of my patio has beautiful, pink flowers.  

Normally, it suffers some frost damage during the winter, but during this warm winter, I have had pink flowers all winter long.  The flowers normally show up in spring and fall and are truly stunning.

I went out into the garden and cut the flowers for a lovely bouquet yesterday.

This plant grows quickly and can be grown as either a vine or a sprawling shrub.


Another plant that usually shuts down for winter is coral fountain (Rusellia equisetiformis).  I love the arching branches of this perennial and its orange/red blossoms.


One plant that still looks like winter, is my bougainvillea.

A few days ago, I asked you on my facebook page if you love or hate bougainvillea.  I had an overwhelming response with most of you saying that you liked it.

I have two bougainvillea.  I used to have more, but while I love the beauty of bougainvillea, I don’t particularly like to prune them, so two words for me.


The blue sky is really the perfect backdrop for the orange, tubular flowers of orange jubilee (Tecoma x Orange Jubilee).  

For those who want a tall shrub that grows quickly, then orange jubilee is a great choice.

I recommend using it against a bare wall or to screen out pool equipment.

In fact, I visited a client who used orange jubilee as ‘green curtains‘ for her home.


Right now, my purple lilac vine (Hardenbergia violaceae) has taken center stage in the back garden.

Growing up my south-facing wall, they burst forth in a profusion of purple blooms every February and last into March.

The whiskey barrel planter is a holding area where I have planted my extra plants.  I’m not sure what I will do with it later.


In addition to growing purple lilac vine up walls, I also like to grow it as a groundcover too.  

*This vine is easy to find in nurseries in winter and spring, when they are in flower.  However, you can have a hard time finding it in summer and fall.  So if you want one, get it now.

Behind my purple lilac groundcover vine, I have red bird-of-paradise (Caesalpinia pulcherrima) growing.  But,  because it is dormant in winter, it isn’t much to look at right now – but I’ll show you how lovely they are this summer.


Hollyhocks have a special place in my garden.  I love these old-fashioned flowers and their flowers are truly stunning in spring (they flower in the summer in cooler climates).

They self-seed and come up every year for me.  In a month, the flowers will start to burst forth and I can hardly wait.

The hollyhocks are located next to my smaller vegetable garden and receive enough water from the garden without me having to give them supplemental water.


Another old-fashioned favorite flower are nasturtiums.  These flowers have a place inside of all of my vegetable gardens.

Not only are they beautiful, nasturtiums also repel bad bugs from bothering my vegetables.  Another bonus is that their leaves and flowers are edible.

The bloom in late winter and through spring.  I let them dry up in summer before pulling them out.  They do drop some seeds, so I always have new ones coming up the next year in the garden.


I have several pots in front of my smaller vegetable garden.  In them, I plant a combination of vegetables and flowers, including bacopa, which trails over the edges of pots.


There are carrots and leaf lettuce growing in my second vegetable garden.

  I step outside into the garden whenever I need a few carrots for dinner and they taste so delicious.


In the same garden, I am growing celery for the first time.  I must say, that I am quite impressed at how well it is growing and can’t wait to taste it.

Last week, I mentioned showing you a part of my garden that I have NEVER shown anyone.

This is my side yard – NOT a garden…


This is the space where we store garden equipment, trash cans and our garden shed.  I also have my compost bin in this area.  

You can see only half of the side yard in this photo, but you aren’t missing anything by not seeing the rest.

Another purple lilac vine grows along the fence, which hides part of the side yard and a large ‘Desert Museum’ Palo Verde provides welcome shade.

Our second bougainvillea is located along the wall.  It is never watered and it has been 3 years since it has been pruned.  As you can see, it does just fine being ignored.

And so, I hope you have enjoyed peeking into parts of my back garden.  Of course, I haven’t shown it all to you – just the parts that are blooming.

In a few months, I will show the other areas when they are in bloom.

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So, what is blooming in your garden this month?

Do you have a favorite winter/spring blooming plant?


In the past, I have shown parts of my garden, but never a comprehensive look.  So, I thought I would share with you a more comprehensive look at my garden.


First, I’d like to show you my newest part of my garden, which is located on the side of my house – just outside of my kitchen window.  


This part of the garden is looking remarkably good considering that it is still winter.  For those of us who are fortunate to live in the Southwest, we didn’t really experience much of a winter this year.
In fact, I recall only 1 week of freezing temps and that happened back in December.




This is the largest of my three vegetable gardens.  It is hard to believe that it didn’t exist 2 years ago.

I had always dreamed of having a nice side garden and because ours is rather large, there were many possibilities.  So, we decided to create an edible garden in this area.
You can read our planting journey, here. 

This year, I planted Swiss chard for the first time and don’t know why I didn’t do it sooner – I love this plant!

Well, I don’t really like it cooked (but I’m weird that way).  I do like to use it in salads along with leaf lettuce.  My kids even eat it!

I think it also looks really pretty too with its brightly-colored stems.

In the corner, is my single artichoke plant.


It was about 6 inches high when I planted it last fall.  Needless to say, it has grown so fast.  I can’t wait to see the artichoke buds (the part you eat) begin to form.

I will harvest some of the artichokes, but also plan to allow some to turn into flowers, which are beautiful and fragrant.

I like the idea of using artichokes as ornamental plants as well as for eating.


In the center of this vegetable garden sits a stump from a eucalyptus tree that we had to cut down to make space for this particular garden.

An old watering can sits onto of the stump and I fill it with cool-season annuals.  This year it is purple violas and alyssum.

In summer, the watering can sits empty, because it is too hot for plants to grow in it.  Roots will literally ‘cook’ in small containers during the summer.  I think it looks just fine without plants for part of the year.


The second crop of radishes of the season are just beginning to come up.  There is still time to plant radishes before it gets too hot.


Behind the vegetable garden are two apple trees.  They are growing so well during their first year.  I will have to wait a couple more years before I get any apples, so I’m trying to be patient.

I planted garlic around the base, in order to help keep borers away.

Not shown – behind the apple trees are blackberry bushes.  I had a great crop of last spring.  I plan on making blackberry jam this year!


Along the garden wall is one of my favorite shrubs called ‘Pink Beauty’ (Eremophila laanii), which is evergreen in my zone 9a garden and has pink flowers in winter and spring.  

It rarely needs pruning as long as it has enough room to grow – mine stands at 9 feet tall.

Next to is Pink Trumpet Vine and Yellow Bells shrubs, which serve two purposes.  The first, is that the cover up an ugly, bare wall.  Second, they help to cool the garden down because the shrubs keep the wall from re-radiating heat that it absorbs in the day.


The buds on my peach tree have not begun to swell yet, but it is just a matter of time.


My other peach tree is covered in blossoms.  Planted just last winter, it produced 19 peaches for me last year.


My herb container sits in front of the vegetable garden and is filled with lovely, purple petunias.  I like to add flowers to my herb pots for an extra splash of color.


I hope you enjoyed the tour of my side garden.

Next time, I will show you the main part of my backyard and maybe a peek at the ‘other’ side yard, which I never show anyone.

What is growing in your garden this February?  
I’d love to hear about it.
Have you ever given much thought about how sustainable your landscape is?

I must confess that I have been giving it a lot of thought lately.  

I am busy putting the final touches on a presentation that I am giving tomorrow on “New Ideas for Sustainable Landscaping”.


The community where I am giving this talk, asked me to speak on this subject in their continuing efforts to become an Audubon International Sustainable Community.

There will be other experts on hand to discuss other ways that people and communities can become sustainable.

My talk will focus on three ways to create a more sustainable landscape:

– Maximize the use of arid-adapted plants.

– Utilize a good, functional design that is environmentally-friendly.

– Appropriate maintenance is practiced.


Next week, I will write a series of blog posts that will focus on these three ideas.

My hope is that you will be able to implement some of these things in your own landscape.

In the meantime, please wish me luck for my talk tomorrow!

Freezing temperatures are coming tonight and forecast to last for the next several days.


Take a drive down the street in your neighborhood, you will probably see landscape plants covered with assorted sheets, towels or frost cloth.


Those that don’t protect their frost-sensitive plants such as lantana, bougainvillea, yellow bells, orange jubilee or hibiscus will soon have plants that look like this…


In most cases, you do not have to cover your frost-sensitive plants when temps dip into the lower 30’s.  

There is nothing wrong with allowing the top growth of your ornamental plants to get frost damage.  You just prune it away in spring.

For those of you who don’t like the look of frost-damage, then you will need to protect your plants from the cold.

**If temperatures are predicted to dip into the 20’s – then I do recommend protecting them from frost because temps this cold can kill a plant.  

I wrote a blog post earlier this year when temps hit the low 20’s.  It talks about how to protect plants from frost (and how NOT to) along with the types of plants to protect.

You can read it here…


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I hope you are having a great week.  I must confess to being a little behind on writing blog posts this month with all the Christmas goings on 🙂

I realize that it is hard to think of doing anything in the garden, much less step outside with the heat wave that we have been experiencing in the Southwest.



The good news is that you can most likely wait to step out into your garden this weekend, once the heat wave breaks.

Check out my latest monthly “To Do” list that I wrote for Houzz.com

Kitchen ideas, bathroom ideas, and more ∨

Filter by metro area and choose the right kitchen designer for your kitchen style.
Find curtain panels and plantation shutters for french doors, or kitchen curtains and a curtain rod for your kitchen windows.


I hope you are doing your best staying cool 🙂






If you like to grow tomatoes AND you live in the desert, then you know how important it is to shade your tomato plants during the summer months.


Most vegetable gardeners haul out 50% shade cloth, which does a great job at shading tomatoes and protecting them from the intense desert sun.  


Personally, I don’t particularly like how shade cloth looks.  As a horticulturist and landscape designer – I like gardens to look beautiful and that extends to vegetable gardens.


So instead of putting up shade cloth over my tomato plants this year, I decided to create natural shade for them.

 
My tomatoes are surrounded by giant sunflowers on their east, west and southern sides.  If you can only add sunflowers to one side, then choose the west side to protect them from the intense afternoon sun.
 
 
Throughout the day, they experience filtered shade.  My tomatoes look great without any signs of sunburn.
 
Sunflowers are easy to grow from seed and you can start planting them in March and continue throughout the summer.
 
 
Because sunflowers only live a few months, I have planted a second crop of sunflowers in between my existing sunflowers.  I will soon plant a third crop in order to provide shade all summer and into early fall for my tomatoes.
 
An added bonus to planting sunflowers is that they provide food and shelter for birds and you can enjoy their delicious sunflower seeds.
 
 
Another reason to use sunflowers instead of shade cloth for tomatoes is that sunflowers are a lot less expensive then shade cloth and are an inexpensive and sustainable solution.
 
How about you?  What do you use to shade your tomatoes?

A week ago, I received a very special delivery of what I like to call ‘toys’ for my garden.


It was almost like Christmas and the person who delivered them was even wearing red, just like ‘Santa’.

I mentioned last month, that I was asked to be a partner with the folks of TroyBilt’s Saturday 6 to test and review their outdoor power. 
 
TroyBilt brought us all together and introduced us to their exceptional line of gardening tools.
 
Well, I knew which ones I wanted to play with in my garden.  
 
 
Would you believe that I even volunteered to mow the back lawn?
 
**Soon, I will show you how I used my new garden tools and here is the best part…
 
I will be having a giveaway where you can win a very cool tool yourself.
 
Stay tuned…
*Disclosure: I am paid for my partnership with Troy-Bilt and provided outdoor power equipment free of charge for my honest review.

A beautiful and successful garden, attracts pollinators.  My three favorite pollinators begin with the letter ‘B’ – bees, butterflies and birds.

First, the bees…

Icelandic Poppy
Begonia

Rabbitbrush  
Now, butterflies…
Swallowtail and Dianthus

Pipevine Swallowtail

White Checkered Butterfly
And, my favorite – birds…
 
Black-Chinned Hummingbird feeding from Ocotillo flower.
 What kind of pollinators do you have visiting your garden this week?

What are their favorite plants?

Do you like to use fresh herbs when you cook?

What if you could just step outside your door and snip some herbs without having to go to the store?   
Have you seen how expensive fresh herbs are at the supermarket by the way?

A few days ago, when I taped some “How To” gardening segments, I was asked to do one on how to plant a container herb garden.   

This is the herb container garden that I created on-camera and I thought you might like to create your own.
 
Here is how to do it:
 
1. Place your container in an area that receives at least 6 hours of sun.
 
Basil
 2.  Fill your container with planting mix, which is sterile, has a light texture and is specially formulated for container plants.  It retains just the right amount of moisture for plants. Potting soil can become soggy.
3. Add a slow-release fertilizer, such as Osmocote, and work it into the top 2-inches of soil.
Oregano
4. Plant your herbs. Oregano, rosemary, sage, and thyme are easiest to grow when you start out with transplants. Basil grows easily from seed, but can you also use transplants.
 
Sage
5. Water deeply. Do not wet the foliage when you water them as they prefer to stay dry.
Thyme
6. Herbs like to dry out between watering. To check when they need water, simply stick your finger down to 1-inch deep – if the soil is moist, don’t water. However, if it’s almost dry, then water deeply until water runs out the bottom drainage hole.
Purple Basil (Not the healthiest specimen, but it was the only one they had – it was over-watered at the nursery).
7.  Don’t add any additional fertilizer after planting.  Herbs don’t like extra fertilizer since it causes them to grow larger leaves with fewer oils, which is what gives them their flavor.
 
I am going to place my new herb container in front of my new vegetable garden.  
 
Later, I plan on drying some of my herbs, which I will share with you.

My youngest sister, is very creative.  She even has her own company where she creates clothing for kids.

This year, she has gone all out for Christmas in regards to decorating the house at Double S Farms.  My mother, who is also super creative, helped as well.

I thought you would enjoy seeing some of what they have done…..

Here is what my sister had to say about decorating her house:

It’s beginning to look a *bit* like Christmas. I have been sick the past two weeks (boo!) and am super behind on my holiday preparations but I have managed to whip out some new Christmas decor to give the house a festive feel.


I had a million grand ideas for a new advent calendar this year. On November 30th and nothing done, I ran to Target to buy one. Oh my – so ugly and overpriced. Ran back home, busted out my felt stash and an old bulletin board I had laying around to create this one. Inside each little stocking are two treats for the boys and a Christmas related activity to do for each day. It has been a blast so far and the boys love to peek inside each morning to see what we get to do.


Do you see these adorable trees?!?! I found them on the Anthropologie website (pictured on left) and pinned them a few weeks ago. However, we are really cutting back this year and they are totally out of my budget. Bless my sweet mom for figuring out how to make something similar and helping me with them! I think they turned out great and cost us just $17 to make six of them. 


Speaking of my awesome mom, she put together these little *globes* from some trees, mason jars, and salt. Love them.


Again, keeping the budget in mind I made this little peace banner for the fireplace out of linen and some leftover felt. It cost me a a few dollars and I love it.


Since we used mellow neutrals to decorate the family room, I figured the boys needed new stockings to match. These are nothing fancy and I was able to use fabric and felt that I had on hand.


(Please ignore the ugly black TV). We kept the decor simple and understated this year but I really like it.


And of course it wouldn’t be the holidays without our cheeky little elf, Cooper. This is Cooper’s third year with us but thanks to Pinterest and some creative bloggers, Cooper is far more clever than before.


Although I’m feeling frazzled and behind, my little guys are enjoying every bit of this joyous season. I hope you are too!

(I’m a little too scattered to come up with proper tutorials on these right now but if you have any questions as to how I made anything, please message me at finleyandoliver@gmail.com – I’d love to help).

You can check out more of my sister’s great photos and ideas at finleyandoliver

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I like to think that I am somewhat creative, but I am not in my sister’s league.  But, I did write a recent post on the Birds and Blooms blog about using items in your garden for decorating for Christmas.
Please check it out here:
I’d love to know what you think.
Do you have any decorations that you make from your garden?

Please tell me about them 🙂