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Cereus cactus, golden barrel cactus, and firecracker penstemon

Is your outdoor space looking rather drab? If so, you aren’t alone – many landscapes can appear somewhat dull, especially if there is a lack of color. But, it doesn’t have to stay that way.

One of my favorite aspects of my job as a landscape consultant is to help my clients to transform their garden from drab to colorful and it is quite easy to do. 

I invite you to join me as I revisit with a client two-years after I created a planting plan for her existing, lackluster landscape. 

BEFORE – Corner of Driveway

Initially, this area did little to add to the curb appeal of the home. Overgrown red yucca plants and a cholla cactus created a ‘messy’ and boring look to this high-profile spot in the landscape.

AFTER

Removing the old plants and adding angelita daisy (Tetraneuris acaulis) and gopher plant (Euphorbia biglandulosa), creates colorful interest while adding texture. Before, the boulders were hidden behind the overgrown plants, so now they serve as an excellent backdrop for the new additions. 

 

The corners of the driveway are one of the most viewed spots in the landscape and are often the first part people see when they drive by. It’s important to anchor them visually with plants that look great all year and preferably produce colorful flowers or have an attractive shape or color. I always like to add boulders to help anchor both corners as well.

These areas are also critical in that they create symmetry, connecting both sides of the landscape, which is done by using the same types of plants on each side.

 

Although there is no ‘before’ photo for the entry, here is an example of plants that will add year-round color because of their overlapping bloom seasons. ‘Blue Elf’ aloe blooms in winter and on into early spring while ‘New Gold Mound’ lantana will flower spring through fall, as the aloe fades into the background. A ponytail palm (Beaucarnea recurvata) brings a nice vertical element to this spot and will grow taller with age.

BEFORE

Along the front entry path, a tall cereus (Cereus peruvianus) cactus adds a welcome vertical element while the golden barrel cactus (Echinocactus grusonii) creates excellent texture contrast. However, something is missing in this area, in my opinion.

AFTER

A colorful element was what was missing in this area. A single firecracker penstemon (Penstemon eatonii) adds beauty while also attracting hummingbirds.

BEFORE

On the corner of this lot was a palo brea tree with a large desert spoon and turpentine bushes. Overall, there was nothing exciting in this spot.

AFTER

The turpentine bushes were removed to make way for a set of gopher plants, which served to tie in this corner of the garden with the areas next to the driveway. These succulents flower in spring and add nice spiky texture throughout the rest of the year.

Purple and white trailing lantana (Lantana montevidensis) serve to create a colorful carpet throughout the warm months of the year. This type of lantana can struggle in full sun in the middle of summer in the low-desert garden but, thrive underneath the filtered shade of a palo verde tree.

When working with an existing landscape, I relish the challenge of determining what existing plants still add beauty to the outdoor space, or have the potential to if pruned correctly. Sometimes an ugly, overgrown shrub can be transformed into something beautiful if pruned back severely. Often, it’s up to me to decide what goes and what stays. Then, the real fun part begins, which is selecting what areas need new plants and what ones will work best.

I find that many people think that to renovate a landscape, you need to get rid of most of the plants and put in a lot of new ones. But, this is rarely the case. All you need to do is keep the plants that will continue to add to the curb appeal or create a beautiful, mature backdrop for new plants and new plants should be concentrated in high-profile areas where their impact will be maximized.

What would you like to get rid of in your landscape and what would you keep?

Noelle Johnson, AKA, ‘AZ Plant Lady’ is a horticulturist, landscape consultant, and certified arborist who lives and gardens in the desert Southwest. While writing and speaking on a variety of gardening topics keeps her busy, you’ll often find her outside planting vegetables, picking fruit from her trees, or testing the newest drought-tolerant plants. 

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What if you could have a landscape filled with beautiful, flowering plants that needed pruning only once a year?




Better yet, what if these beautiful plants needed little to no fertilizer and thrived in our desert climate?  

Would you want to include some of these plants in your garden?

A couple of weeks ago, I was asked by the producers of Sonoran Living, a locally produced lifestyle show, to show some ‘fuss free’ plants suitable for fall planting.  

I shared a few of my favorites in my previous post, “Fuss Free Plants for Fall Planting”.

Today, I would like to show you the plants that I profiled on the show



Coral Fountain

Coral Fountain (Russelia equisetiformis) has a lovely cascading form and produces vibrant red flowers spring through fall.

Maintenance: Prune back in March, removing frost-damaged growth.

Hardy to 15 degrees.

Plant in full sun or in light shade.

Desert Ruellia

Desert Ruellia (Ruellia peninsularis) is a medium-sized shrub with light green foliage and purple flowers that appear spring through fall.  This shrub is a great alternative for Texas Sage because it does not grow as large.

Maintenance: Prune back to 1 1/2 ft. in early March.  Avoid repeated pruning during the year.  Allow it to grow into its natural shape.

Hardy to 25 degrees.

Plant in full sun and allow room for it to grow to its mature size of 4 feet wide.

‘Phoenix’ Bird-of-Paradise

Phoenix Bird-of-Paradise (Caesalpinia pulcherrima ‘Phoenix Bird’) is the yellow form of Red or Mexican Bird-of-Paradise (Caesalpinia pulcherrima).  Gorgeous yellow flowers appear all summer long on these tropical shrubs.

Maintenance: Prune back to 1 ft. in winter.

Hardy to 15 degrees.

Plant in full sun, along a bare wall.

Blue Bells

Blue Bells (Eremophila hygrophana ‘Blue Bells’) is a relatively new plant introduction.  Gray foliage is covered with blue/purple flowers off and on throughout the year.


Maintenance: Little to no pruning required.


Hardy to 17 degrees.


Plant in full sun and pair with shrubs with dark green foliage such as Valentine (shown below).



Valentine (Eremophila maculata ‘Valentine’) is a superstar in the landscape.  The reason for this is its red flowers that appear all winter long and into spring.  Better yet, the foliage is evergreen.


Maintenance: Prune back to 1 1/2 ft. high and wide in late spring, after flowering finishes.  Don’t prune more then this or flowering will be reduced later in the year.


Hardy to 15 degrees.


Plant in full sun in groups of 3 to 5 for best effect.  Pair with yellow flowering plants such as Angelita Daisy or Brittlebush.



Gopher Plant (Euphorbia rigid) is a uniquely shaped succulent that produces chartreuse flowers in spring.



Maintenance: Prune back flowers after they dry in late spring.


Hardy to -20 degrees.


Plant in groups of 3 around boulders.


I hope you enjoyed seeing some of my favorite ‘fuss free’ plants.  


What are some of your favorite low-maintenance plants?

One of my favorite plants is described as having ‘chartreuse-colored’ flowers.

Just saying the word, ‘chartreuse’ sounds fancy, doesn’t it?

So what color is chartreuse anyway?

Well, I looked up the definition and found this definition from Wikepedia:

– “a color halfway between green and yellow that resembles a French liqueur called Chartreuse.”

The only reason that I know what color chartreuse is, is because of the flowers produced by this favorite plant of mine…

They are pretty, aren’t they?

What I find quite funny about this plant is that while the color of its flowers have a fancy French name – the common name of this plant is somewhat derogatory.

Euphorbia biglandulosa

This succulent plant with the fancy-colored flowers is known as a ‘gopher plant’.

In late winter and early spring, chartreuse-colored flowers appear in zone 9a, providing a welcome splash of color.

As the flowers age, they take on a different appearance that I like as well…

They do great in full sun or light shade.  Gopher plants don’t need any special care.  Just provide well-drained soil and supplemental water.  The only thing to be careful of is not too overwater them – no more then once a week during the warm months.

Once they are done flowering, prune back the old stems.  Gopher plants (Euphorbia biglandulosa), grow approximately 2 ft. wide and 1 ft. high.

I like planting them nearby boulders or in groups of three.

I often recommend this plant to clients, but I don’t call it ‘gopher plant’ because let’s face it; would you want to add a plant called that without having seen it first?

Instead, I refer to it as “an attractive succulent with chartreuse-colored” flowers.

Which would you prefer to have in your garden; a gopher plant OR a succulent with chartreuse-colored flowers?

Although it is still technically winter here in the desert, the signs of spring are everywhere….

The plum tree at Double S Farms begins to flower.
Earlier this week, I noticed the plum tree that sits in front of the house at Double S Farms, is just beginning to unfurl it’s flowers.  I cannot wait to have some of my mother’s plum preserves in a few months :^)
Yesterday, I traveled up to an area north of Fountain Hills, AZ, which is approximately a one hour’s drive from my home.  It is also the place where I worked for over 5 years.  I was asked to do a landscape consultation for a client and so I brought my camera along to see what signs of spring I could capture in the surrounding area.
 
I went for a drive on one of the golf courses that I used to work on and immediately headed for one of my favorite places.  This area of the golf course borders the desert, with only a barbed wire fence separating the natural desert from the golf course.
 

The desert was lush and green as a result of the winter rains we have received.  Snow can be seen melting from the top of Four Peaks Mountain in the distance.
 
Flower buds are beginning to form at the tips of the Buckhorn Cholla.
 
 
Tiny blue flowers grace this Rosemary shrub.
 
Next, I went on a drive around the beautifully landscaped homes and took pictures of the plants that were in flower. 

Threadleaf Cassia (Senna nemophila)
Cassia shrubs, a favorite Australian native of mine, are beginning to flower showing off their bright yellow blossoms.
 
Trailing Indigo Bush (Dalea greggii)
Tiny purple petals are just beginning to peek out from the Trailing Indigo Bush.  Their vibrant purple color contrast so beautifully with the gray-green leaves of this groundcover.
 
Sweet Acacia Tree (Acacia farnesiana)
This native desert tree is encased in fragrant, golden puffball flowers. 
Octopus Agave (Agave vilmoriniana)
This Octopus Agave, which I planted years ago, is working towards achieving it’s crowning glory – rapidly growing it flowering stalk, which will produce hundreds of new ‘baby’ agave plants.  Once it has finished flowering, it will die.
 
Gopher Plant (Euphorbia glandulosa)
An ugly common name, graces this beautiful succulent plant.  In spring, they are covered with vibrant, chartreuse colored flowers.
  
Valentine Shrub (Eremophila maculata ‘Valentine’)
I would like to finish this post by showing you a photo that I took yesterday of my favorite shrub, Valentine.  They were in full-bloom yesterday and it was obvious that they are my favorite as they were present in most landscape areas that I had designed years ago.
Thank you for allowing me to show you some of the beautiful plants that I have been so blessed by seeing this week.  This is such a wonderful time of the year in the desert and it isn’t even spring yet!  
As winter ends and spring begins, there will be more to see….wildflowers, flowering Palo Verde trees, cactus flowers and much more!