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Valentine bush and feathery cassia

One of the things that I enjoy about living in the Southwest are the beautiful outdoor spaces. In particular, I am struck by the color and beauty in the winter landscape.

Now, for those of you who follow, know that I often take photos of ‘problem’ landscapes I drive by.

Well, not this time!  I was so distracted by the beauty around me that I didn’t notice any landscape mistakes.

I hope you enjoy them as much as I do and are inspired to create your own!

 
Valentine bush (Eremophila maculata ‘Valentine’) is hands down, my favorite shrub.  I love its bright red color, which decorates the landscape from January through April.  Even when not in bloom, the foliage looks lovely.
 
Golden barrel cacti (Echinocactus grusonii) with their sunny yellow color are a great choice. I use them often in my landscape designs due to their drought tolerance, low maintenance (they need none) and the yellow color they add throughout the year.
 
Large desert spoon (Dasylirion wheeleri) add great contrast with their spiky texture and gray-blue coloring.
 
This is a great pairing of plants that I plan on using in future designs.
 
 
The yellow, fragrant flowers of feathery cassia (Senna artemisioides) are famous for their winter color. Nothing else brightens a dreary winter’s day as much as the color yellow. The silvery foliage of this cassia adds great color contrast and give off a silvery glow on a breezy day.

In the background, you see the pink blooms of pink fairy duster (Calliandra eriophylla). Their uniquely shaped blooms look like a feather duster and hummingbirds find them irresistible. 

Bursage (Ambrosia deltoidea) is a native groundcover that needs little water and provides nice color contrast.

 
This combination was well done but planted too closely together.
 
Against the backdrop of yellow-flowering feathery cassia, a pair of boulders are decorated with blue bells (Eremophila hygrophana). These shrubs have lovely gray foliage and produce purple/blue flowers all year long.  This is a newer plant introduction getting a lot of attention. 
 
A golden barrel cactus offers great contrast along with a pair of agave.
 
 
Here is one of my favorite landscapes in this particular community.  I like the combination of cacti, flowering shrubs, and perennials that create a pleasing landscape.
 
A trio of flowering firecracker penstemon (Penstemon eatoni) easily catches your eye. They are one of my favorite perennials in my own garden and flower January through April in the low desert.
 
 
In another landscape, firecracker penstemon is used as part of a wildflower planting, backed by desert spoon and purple trailing lantana.
 
 
Ornamental grasses add great interest to the winter landscape and pink muhly (Muhlenbergia capillaris) is one of my favorites. Their burgundy plumes, which appear in fall fade to an attractive wheat color in winter. Soon, they will be pruned back to 3 inches in preparation for a new growth cycle.
 
 
Some landscapes look attractive using a minimum amount of plants.  The key is to use a variety of different plants – not just shrubs or cacti.  In this one, a blue palo verde (Parkinsonia florida) overlooks a planting of purple trailing lantana (Lantana montevidensis) and desert spoon.  While the lantana is frost tender, the canopy of the tree provides it some protection from frost.
 
 
It’s important to anchor the corners in your landscape – particularly those next to the driveway. Here is an example of how to combine plants that look great throughout the year. When warmer temps arrive  ‘New Gold’ lantana (Lantana ‘New Gold’), bursts forth with colorful blooms that last until the first frost. In winter, golden barrel cacti attract the attention and keep you from noticing the frost damaged lantana. 
 
 
This street planting also attracted my attention with the row of little leaf (foothill) palo verde (Parkinsonia microphylla) trees, Valentine shrubs and purple trailing lantana. I should note that lantana doesn’t usually flower much in winter, but in mild winters, they do.

An almost leafless mesquite tree stands sentinel over a planting of red-flowering chuparosa (Justicia californica). This shrub has lovely green foliage and tubular flowers that drive hummingbirds crazy with delight.

As you can see, the Southwestern landscape is filled with beauty and color, even in winter.  Unfortunately, many homeowners only use plants that bloom spring through summer. This leaves them with a boring landscape through the winter months for several months. So, celebrate the winter season by adding a few of these cool-season beauties to your garden!

February is what I like to call a ‘bridge’ month.  In regards to work, it is a transition month for me.  It is the month between January, when work slows down as it’s cold with not much is growing and March, when the weather is delightfully warm and everybody seemingly wants to redo their landscape.  If I could choose the perfect month in terms of work load, it would be February.

Last week, I was visiting one of my favorite clients whose landscape has been a work in progress.  The backyard was finished last year and now, it was time to pay attention to the front.  Of course, I took a few minutes to see how things were doing in the back and my attention was immediately drawn to this colorful container filled with colorful succulents.  The orange stems of ‘Sticks on Fire’ Euphorbia adds welcome color to the garden throughout the year while elephant’s food (Portulacaria afra) trails down the side of the pot.  

I am a strong proponent of using colorful pots filled with low-maintenance succulents in the garden.  Why mess with flowering annuals if you can enjoy vibrant color without the high maintenance?  

Full disclosure: I do have a couple of pots filled with petunias, but the vast majority are filled with succulents 😉

One of the most rewarding parts of my job is assisting my clients with their landscape dilemmas.  Often, the solution is much simpler than the client imagined.  Last fall, I visited this home which had a large, shallow depression that wass filled with dying agave.  The interesting thing was that there was no obvious reason for its presence as no water drained into it.  It definitely wasn’t what the client wanted in this high-profile area.

So what would be a good solution for this area?   The client wanted to plant a large saguaro cactus in this area, but didn’t want to add a lot of plants.  My recommendation was to get rid of the dying agave and turn the depression into an attractive feature of the garden. 

This is what it looks like now.  Filling the area with rip-rap rock, adds both a texture and color contrasting element to the landscape.  Well-placed boulders with a century plant (Agave americana), Mexican fence post (Stenocereus marginatus), and golden barrel cactus (Echinocactus grusonii) help to break up the large expanse of the shallow depression with their spiky and globular shapes.  Finally, a saguaro cactus was added, which stands sentinel over this renovated area.  

One would never imagine that this part of landcape hadn’t been planned this way when it was first planted years ago.

Lastly, February is all about Valentine’s Day.  I sent my granddaughter a care package filled with goodies for Valentine’s Day.  Dinosaur cards for her classmates, a little craft, a hanging mobile, stickers, and of course chocolates – all with a Valentine theme.  

For me, Valentine’s day comes with mostly great memories.  As a child, I looked forward to handing out Valentines to my classmates and getting them in return.  During teenage years, there was one particularly memorable one when I was 17 years old.  My boyfriend didn’t get me anything, however, another boy gave me a card and a flower, which was some consulation.  And to finish off that infamous Valentine’s Day, I came down the chicken pox that very day.  Guess who also got the chicken pox?  The boyfriend who forgot Valentine’s Day.  Now, I look forward spending the 14th with the main man in my life, who after 31 years, still makes me feel special.

*What do you do to celebrate Valentine’s Day?  

I have been dreaming of converting our backyard into a beautiful, low-maintenance desert landscape.


Right now, it has a large area of grass surrounded by large, flowering shrubs against the wall.  I would have loved to have taken out the grass years ago, but my husband and son protested since they would throw the football back and forth each evening before dinner.

But, now my son is almost 12 and often throws the football over the wall, so now I have been give permission to at least start thinking of converting the backyard.

Often, on my way home from a landscape consult, I will mentally design my new backyard garden.  I have some concrete ideas, but there is still a lot to be decided.

Whenever I see a landscape area that I like, I stop to take a picture.  I have quite a few pictures that I have taken of landscapes that inspire me.

Here are just a few…

Red flowering Chuparosa, growing underneath native mesquite and foothills palo verde trees.  A hedgehog cactus grows by a large boulder.  Mexican bird-of-paradise, trained as trees are growing in the background.

Goodding’s verbena, chuparosa and brittlebush blooming with creosote bush in the background.

Desert ruellia provides an attractive background for golden barrel cacti.  This area needs to be pruned once every 2 years.

Young palo verde tree with potted artichoke agave.

I am still in the “designing inside my mind” stage, but will soon need to put things down on paper.  I have my drafting supplies ready to go once I am.

Of course, the entire project hinges on having enough money for large containers, big boulders, trees, plants, dirt for mounds and paying someone to rip out our grass.

I would hope to be able to do this next winter, but we will see…

Which one of the landscape areas above do you like best?

When I am driving about town, I tend to look at the landscapes that I pass by.  Usually, I tend to see some “landscape no-no’s”, which I like to share with you now and then.


But, I also take pictures of what I like to call “landscape do’s”.  I realized the other day, that I tend to share with you bad examples of landscapes much more then the good ones, so here are a few that I saw the past couple of weeks…



I love Gold Lantana and how it flowers non-stop spring through fall.  When planted next to boulders, you get a great contrast in textures.

What is even better about this arrangement, is how easy Lantana is to grow.  Unlike many tropical climates, Lantana is not invasive in arid climates.  Just water it regularly and prune it back hard in spring (6″ high), after the last frost.  Periodically prune it back every 2 – 3 months, stopping pruning 3 months before the first frost date in your area.  



Sometimes, I see great examples of desert trees that are properly pruned.


This Texas Ebony (Ebanopsis ebano formerly Pithecellobium flexicaule) is beautiful tree that is prized for its dark green foliage that is evergreen.


It does have thorns and gets seedpods, but it highly prized by those who live in the Southwest.



This nicely designed landscape was located next door to a house where I was visiting a client.


I like how the columnar cacti flank the entry on either side.  Totem Pole (Lophocereus schotti ‘Monstrosus’) is on the left and has the bonus that it is thornless.  Another favorite of mine, Mexican Fence Post (Pachycereus marginatus), which is one of the few cacti that I have in my own garden.


The yellows of the Golden Barrel (Echinocactus grusonii)with their rounded shapes contrast nicely with the spiky fans of Desert Spoon (Dasylirion wheeleri).


**Another bonus about this landscape is that it is extremely low-maintenance.



While stopped at an intersection in Scottsdale, Arizona, I noticed this distinctive landscaped area with contrasting spokes of a wheel fanning out from the sign.


Different sizes of gravel are often used to add interest to the landscape by the contrasts in size.


Agave and Aloe vera make up the plantings in the lighter colored spokes while Golden Barrel are used in the darker rip rap.


Well, these are just a small sampling of the “landscape do’s” that I have seen lately.


I hope you enjoyed seeing them and maybe will be inspired to replicate a couple of these plantings in your own landscape.










With warming temperatures, many of us begin to think about changing out our cool-season annual flowers for plants that can take the heat of summer.


Last week, I gave a potting demonstration for attendees of a local home tour.  


The pots were then to be raffled off.

I planned on creating two succulent pots and one using a combination of perennials and annual flowers.


My daughter, Rachele, came with me to help carry the bags of soil, pots, plants, etc.

It was also an opportunity to spend time together before she left for the Navy.

There were to be two different potting demonstrations.  I created one succulent pot ahead of time…


This container has pink-flowering Crown of Thorns, tall Lady’s Slipper, Variegated Elephant’s Food and a gray-colored cactus.

I like to create container plantings with a tall plant for vertical interest.  The Crown of Thorns provides striking floral color.  The Elephant’s Food will trail over the edge of the pot as it grows, which adds texture and softens the container’s lines.  

Lastly, the gray-colored cactus (I admit that I don’t know what kind it is), adds great color contrast with its gray/blue color.

Soon, it was time for the first demonstration.  My daughter took photos of me talking.  The lighting is terrible because I was in the shade and behind me was the sun, but you can still see what I was doing.

Looking down at my notes.  Can you tell  I use my hands when I talk?

Planting the orange Calendula.
Adding Purple Verbena and filling the spaces with Celosia.
I just need a bit more Celosia in the front, don’t you think?

For this container, the tall vertical interest comes from Mexican Feather Grass.  The bright color is from the Calendula.  The trailing plant is Purple Verbena and gray Lavender provides the color contrast.

I used Celosia to fill in the empty spaces.  I was pretty happy with how it turned out.

When planning on what plant combinations will look good in a container, I simply arrange the plants, while they are still in their containers at the nursery.


Now it was time for planting the second succulent pot.

First, adding the Elephant’s Food.

Ever wonder how to plant a cactus without getting pricked?


An old towel, folded into quarters (4 layers thick) works great.  I covered the top of the Golden Barrel Cactus with the towel as I turned it over to plant.  The towel came off easily once I was finished.

Newspaper is also helpful in planting cactus.

Almost done…


Finished!

The Blue Elf Aloe provides the height for this planting combination.  Elephant’s Food will grow to trail over the side.  The Golden Barrel cactus adds color contrast with its round shape and yellow spines.  Ice plant with brightly-colored red flowers adds a needed splash of color.


The pots each went to good homes and raised money for future community projects.

Do you like growing plants in containers?  

Or maybe, you haven’t tried before.

Well, it’s not difficult.  Come back for a visit in a couple of days and I’ll share with you my container guidelines.

I love my job…

I get to meet nice people who let me help them with their landscape.  

Usually, they want help with plant suggestions, recommended maintenance and sometimes even which plants should be removed.

Sometimes, I visit a landscape that has some features that I just love.  I would love to share some pictures of a recent visit…

Her back garden was simply beautiful with date palms and gold lantana.
Along the back fence, she had created a plant shelf using masonry bricks and wooden planks.
She added a some colorful pots filled with golden barrel cacti and other plants.
I just loved this idea for masking a bare wall.  
 In the front courtyard, I found a great example of how to grow a plant next to a palm tree (or any kind of tree).  Often trees have too many roots that make digging next to them almost impossible.  So, this homeowner, simply planted a creeping fig in a container and placed it next to the tree.
 Lastly, there was a container with Lady’s Slipper (Pedilanthus macrocarpus) growing inside, which softened the side of the garage.  This plant does well in full sun and likes deep, infrequent water.

In fact, I liked it so much that I went out and bought a Lady’s Slipper plant for myself 🙂

What comes to mind when you think of cactus?  

Perhaps the first thing you think of is the spines. If you have ever been unfortunate enough to have been pricked by a cactus, you’ll likely never forget that most of them have needles.  
*Did I ever tell you about the time I worked on golf course landscape and backed into a teddy bear cholla and got an entire piece lodged in the back of my leg?
 
Besides being painful to those who get too near to cacti, did you know that there are important reasons that cacti have spines?

Golden barrel cactuses (Echinocactus grusonii)

First, let’s look at the spines of cactus for what they are – the main part of cactus often functions as a modified stem, and its needles are the leaves.
 
The most obvious function of cactus spines is to protect the cacti from animals and people. There are, however, a few animals who aren’t deterred by the sharp spines of cacti such as javelina, tortoises and pack rats.

Saguaro cactus (Carnegiea gigantea) spines

 
Suprise, the primary function of the spines are to actually shade the cactus.
 
Although just one small spine would hardly provide shade, thousands of them can provide enough.
 

Why is sun protection needed for the surface of cacti? The shade from the spines let the cactus lose water through the atmosphere. This helps keep the cactus temperature relatively low.

Black-spine prickly pear (Opuntia macrocentra)

 Another function that the spines serve is that they help certain species of cacti such as cholla to root and spread.

Teddy bear cholla (Opuntia bigelovii)

Spines of the Cholla are specialized to detach and attach onto anything that comes to close. There are tiny barbs at the tips which grab on to anything that gets too close. It almost appears as if they ‘jump’ off of the main cactus as they latch on the unlucky recipient.

Segments of the Cholla are usually moved and then fall off and grow in better conditions. If you have ever seen cholla growing in large groups, this is why. 
**If like me, you are ever unlucky enough to find a piece of cholla embedded in your clothes or worse, your skin – you can use a comb to help pull out the barbs.  When hiking in the desert, it is easy to get them stuck on your shoes.  I usually grab a rock and use it to push off the Cholla segment.  When all else fails, a good pair of needle-nose pliers works.
 

Two young saguaro cactuses are emerging from the shelter of a creosote shrub.

Hopefully, you have a new appreciation for cacti and their spines.  But, it’s still important to be careful because it hurts when you get pricked!