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Do you ever find yourself pulling into the drive-thru of a fast food restaurant?


I do.


Lately, I have been very busy with landscape consults as well as working on a large golf course re-landscaping project, which have resulted in more than my share of visits to the local drive-thru.  Add to that my preparations for a local craft fair in November (along with my sister and mom where I am making basil salt, seed bombs and air plants mounted on creosote roots), preparations for an upcoming family reunion as well as hosting my daughter’s baby shower – we will probably be making quite a few more visits to the drive-thru.


Normally, drive-thru restaurants are places where you can see examples of poor design showcasing overplanted and over pruned shrubs that are too large for the narrow landscape spaces by the drive-thru lane.  However, I was truly surprised during one trip through at my local fast food restaurant.


First, let’s look at the landscaping you normally find as you visit the drive-thru…



Over pruned feathery cassia shrubs (Senna artemisioides)
These shrubs would actually work well in this space if you reduced the amount down to three and allowed them to grow to their natural size and form…

Feathery cassia in bloom

Do you think that those overpruned shrubs ever have any flowers appearing in late winter and spring, like this one?

I didn’t think so.


In the Southwest, the types of shrubs that you are most likely to see growing along drive-thru landscapes are oleander and Texas sage species.  

Lately, Valentine bush, which is one of my favorite shrubs, has also been showing up more often in these areas.  

Again, the problem is too many plants in not enough space.  Couple that with the compulsive need to strip the natural beauty from these beautiful, flowering shrubs in an attempt to create anonymous green shapes and you have the perfect scenario for drive-thru landscapes.

With so many bad examples of landscaping while visiting the drive-thru, I must admit that I’ve become somewhat de-sensitized and purposely ignore it.

However, a recent visit to the drive-thru made me take a second look as I drove past this…


Notice anything different?

The plants actually fit into this space and without over pruning!

There is room for the bougainvillea against the wall to grow and while the lantana could use a little more room – it is looking great too.  

What I really liked about this landscape was the use of banana yucca.  Its leaves added great spiky texture and the flowers are just lovely.

*I did notice the overpruned dwarf oleanders in the background, but I’m ignoring them.

Using fewer shrubs and allowing them room to grow is a great start to rethinking the drive-thru landscape.  

The next important part is to stop the frequent pruning of flowering shrubs.

I’d love to see a mix of shrubs and succulents in drive-thru landscapes for more interest, less maintenance and that is more water efficient.

For now, I will keep trying to keep my eyes open for another great example of a drive-thru landscape.


But, I think it may be awhile…

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For other examples of drive-thru landscapes, click here.

If you have shrubs that resemble this and would like to have beautiful shrubs with a pleasing natural shape that actually flowers as well as see some other examples of bad pruning – click here for some of my favorite pruning posts.

Have you ever driven by a beautifully landscaped home and wished that you could see through the garden walls?

AZTU_Roper: The Sublime Desert Connection, Oro Valley. Photo credit: Shelly Ann Abbott, MLA/Landscape Design West
Well, now you have your chance.  
You are invited to take a closer look at some beautiful landscapes in Tucson, this Saturday, October 5th, as part of The Garden Conservancy’s Open Days Program in which the public is invited to take a peek into “the best, very rarely seen, private gardens”. 
AZTU_Businger: Desert in Color, Tucson. Photo credit: Dustin Hancock, MLA
Participants are given a map, which leads them to each garden.  There is a $5 admission fee to each of the gardens.
AZTU_Peters: The Peter’s Garden, Tucson. Photo credit: Courtesy of the Garden Conservancy
Now, I don’t know about you, but I would LOVE to see what is beyond this side garden.

AZTU_Jackson: The Jackson’s Dreamscape, Tucson. Photo credit: Courtesy of the Garden Conservancy
For those of you who have not visited Tucson, you are are missing out on a beautiful area.  Because Tucson is higher in elevation then the Phoenix area, the desert is more lush with native trees, plants and cacti throughout.

AZTU_Calhoun: Zona Gardens Studio, Tucson. Photo credit: Scott Calhoun/Zona Gardens

 For those of you who do not live close enough to Tucson to take part in viewing these wonderful gardens, there are ‘Open Days’ events held throughout the country throughout the year.

Whenever I take part in touring gardens, I come away refreshed and awash in new ideas for my own garden.
So, I encourage you to take some time out of your schedule to relax and take a stroll through the garden…

When I am out and about doing landscape consults, I often take the opportunity afterward to drive around the neighborhood and take pictures of examples of both bad and good landscaping.


Last week, I was near my old neighborhood, which is populated by ranch homes with carports.  Many of the homes were built in the 1950’s and while some had landscaping that dated back to that time – there were also great examples of updated landscapes that complimented the ranch style homes.


This one in particular, stood out to me…


The homeowner updated the facade of the house by adding textured stone and removing the old window shutters in favor of newer window treatments.

But, what I loved was the landscape design.  

I’ll break it down into three parts and why I liked it…


The front raised beds are filled with succulents, including some that will flower.  The octopus agave (Agave vilmoriniana), blue elf aloe  (Aloe x ‘Blue Elf’) and lady’s slipper (Pedilanthus macrocarpus). 

A large container filled with purple and burgundy petunias provide a great splash of color.  

To the left, a palo blanco tree (Acacia willardiana), is leafless, but new green growth will soon appear.  The beauty of this tree lies in its white trunk.

Growing in the grass is an olive tree.  I’m not a huge fan because I hate pruning tree suckers.  But, it looks very nice in this area.


These raised beds are filled with a pair of octopus agave that are flowering.  Many people make the mistake of cutting off the flowering stalk of agave as it begins to grow.  That is a HUGE mistake.  The flowering stalk is the crowning glory of the agave and is beautiful.  Cutting off the stalk will not keep the agave alive.  Once they flower, they begin to fade and then die.  

In this case, simply replace the octopus agave with new ones.

I do like the ornamental grasses in the raised bed.  I think it makes a great alternative to shrubs or even flowering perennials.  

**What I don’t like is the purple fountain grass.  I find that it keeps getting wider and unwieldy.  I do like the Regal Mist (Muhlenbergia capillaris ‘Regal Mist’) that flanks the fountain grass because it has a neater growth habit.


I really like the plantings along the driveway (except for the fountain grass – I’d use ‘Regal Mist’ instead).

The contrast of textures between the octopus agave and the grasses is just wonderful.  Petunias add color and serve as a ground cover as well.

This landscape is a great example of how using frost-tolerant plants can help your landscape look great, even in winter.  It weathered the severe cold snap we had a couple of months ago, just beautifully.

**Compare the next door neighbor’s landscape.  Frost-damaged ficus trees, (which will have to be cut back severely) and poodle-pruned shrubs.

Which landscape design would you prefer?


The other day, I was driving home from a landscape consult and as usual – I was on the lookout for examples of good and bad landscaping.

This particular day, I saw some great examples that  I would love to share with you.  

First the good…

 Isn’t this landscape grouping, attractive?

There is great texture and color.

The Mexican Bird-of-Paradise (Caesalpinia mexicana) is one of my favorite flowering shrubs, which can be trained as small trees – I have 3 at home.

The spiky foliage of the Red Yucca help to provide contrast with the softer edges of the tree and Lantana.

Speaking of which, you cannot beat Lantana for summer color.

Here is another good example of landscaping…


Although, the Texas Sage, above, is planted a bit too close together, the homeowner has solved the problem by pruning them back severely to approximately 1 ft. using loppers.  Notice that they did NOT use hedge shears or trimmers, which is a good thing!

What this does is to keep the shrubs within bounds, but since they weren’t sheared, the flowers and natural shape of the shrubs can be enjoyed.

You can really tell the difference when you see the photo below from the house next door – which is a bad example by the way…

The same shrubs, planted too close together.  But, the homeowner elected to shear them back with hedge-trimmers.  
The flowers and absence of the shrubs natural shape make these look like green ‘cones’.
Finally, I saw this really bad example of landscaping… 

Isn’t this terrible?
Believe it or not, this is a Mesquite tree that has been ‘poodled’ – meaning sheared into a round shape.
Pruning trees this way is very unhealthy for them for many reasons:
– Shearing trees actually stimulates excess growth meaning that you will need to prune them more often then a properly pruned tree.
– Sunlight has difficulty penetrating the interior, which can lead to the eventual death of interior branches.
– New branches will grow at a ‘weak’ angle, which makes them more susceptible to breakage.
These are but a few of the reason of why not to ‘shear’ or ‘top’ trees.
**How about you?  What examples of good and bad landscaping have you seen this summer?
You can learn more about why it’s wrong to ‘top’ trees in this article from the International Society of Arboriculture.