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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?  

Working as a horticulturist on golf courses may not sound like the most exciting job.  But, I loved spending time outdoors, managing the landscape areas with their trees and plants.

It was wonderful being right on the edge of the desert and witnessing its beauty up close.

golf course

Of course, there were some thorny encounters with prickly cactus, (which does hurt by the way).  I also faced some encounters with wildlife.

I used to be scared of bugs as a child.  In fact, I would get my younger brother to come into my room to kill any little spiders that I would sometimes see.

Fast forward 20 years later, I was working as a horticulturist, which  almost guaranteed that I would have to deal with bugs.

I got used to most types of bugs….even scorpions.  However, there was and is one bug that is still quite scary to me….

Encounters with wildlife

Encounters with wildlife

This is a Palo Verde beetle.  And believe me, they are huge….about 7 – 8 inches long.

Their larvae feed upon the roots of trees, especially Palo Verdes.

As much as I like to think that I am now brave when it comes to bugs, I still can’t quite surpress a shiver when I see a Palo Verde beetle.  Thankfully, the last one I saw was over 12 years ago.

However, as the only female working in a department with 38 men, I was the victim of some of the crew trying to tease from time to time with bugs and snakes.

One incident involved my landscape crew.  I was driving along the golf course, to see how they were progressing in removing an old, rotten tree.  As I drove nearer, one of the guys said,

“Noellia, come here.”

(That was what they called me)

Well, he had a grin on his face as did the men standing behind him.  So, I was immediately on my guard.  As I walked toward him, he held out his hand to show me a huge Palo Verde grub (larvae).  It was white, fat and at least 4 inches long.

Well, I didn’t want to give him the satisfaction of letting him know that I was “scared” of it as he expected, so I tried to “fake” bravery.  I smiled and asked him to put it in my gloved hand.

Then I told him what it was and explained what they did to tree roots.  Of course, this was all part of my trying not to let them know that I was scared of this huge, white, grub that was wriggling in the middle of my gloved palm.

I could tell that my crew were disappointed that I did not react differently, but I like to think that maybe I earned some additional respect.

Of course, as I drove away, I did kind of shiver a bit afterward in reaction.

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A frequent encounter that often occurred was with snakes.

Now, I do NOT like snakes and it’s my brother’s fault.

You see, he had a California King snake when he was a young boy.  Well, this snake would often escape his enclosure and get lost around our house.

So, I would walk around scared that the snake was lurking around the next corner.  Of course, we always found him, but eventually we had to get rid of him since my brother could not keep him in his cage.

Well, living in the desert means that you will see snakes.  And on a golf course, many types of animals are attracted to the water and snakes are attracted to many of those animals.  So, I would see many snakes, usually in the grass.

As long as I saw them first, I was okay.

Occasionally though, some snakes would make their way into the maintenance area where we worked.  The crew liked to play with the non-venomous snakes, such as the Sonoran Gopher Snake…

Encounters with wildlife

Encounters with wildlife. Photo Courtesy of Dawson

Of course, if they had a snake and saw me nearby, I would hear them call out….

“Noellia, come here…..”

And so, I would suck up my courage, try acting brave, smile and touch the snake before backing off.

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My last encounter occurred without any other people around and no crew members trying to tease me with ‘scary’ animals.

I was working along a large landscaped area along a roadway and I was manually turning some irrigation valves.

I was always careful opening up a valve box because you never knew what could be lurking inside.  Normally, crickets, a roach or two, lizard and sometimes scorpions.

As a result, I used a screwdriver to pull off the valve box lid and I always had gloves on.

Well, this particular day, I needed to turn on the water for some very thirsty plants, so I knelt down beside the valve box, pulled up the lid and saw my valve

AND….

Encounters with wildlife

Encounters with wildlife, Courtesy Wikipedia

There he was, Mr. Tarantula, just sitting a few inches away from my valve.  I am certain he was enjoying the dark, quiet space.

So, I faced a dilemma.  Do I let the thirsty plants suffer without water all weekend long?

Do I ask one of my crew to come out and turn the valve on for me?

Well, I decided to handle the situation myself by “talking” to the tarantula.

I said, “I’m going to put my hand in very carefully and turn on this valve.  I’m not going to hurt you, so please don’t jump at me.”

Well guess what?  He must have understood what I was saying because I put my gloved hand in, turned on the valve and the tarantula never moved.

I must admit that I was so proud of myself for doing that, but there was no one around to witness my bravery 😉  

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Well, those are my favorite stories of unexpected encounters with wildlife.

How about you?

Have you ever had an unexpected encounter with bugs, snakes, etc?

How did you handle it?  

Horticulturists Don’t Wear Nailpolish….Do They??