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hidden garden in Encanto district in downtown Phoenix

Have you ever discovered a hidden garden in a surprising place?

A few years ago, I found myself driving through the historic neighborhoods of the Encanto district in downtown Phoenix. I had finished up a landscape consultation in the area and decided to drive through the nearby neighborhoods in the historic district.  

My initial goal was to see if I could find the home my grandparents owned in the 1940’s. While I didn’t find the home, I did find a house that stopped me in my tracks.

Hidden Garden in the Middle of Phoenix

What first drew my eye was this parking strip (also known as a ‘hell strip’) between the sidewalk and street, filled with a bounty of flowering annuals and perennials.

I couldn’t believe this was growing blocks away from the skyscrapers of downtown Phoenix.   

And so, I whipped out my phone and started to take pictures. The bright colors of California poppies, red flax, and plains coreopsis caught my eye, while in the background I noticed the old, Veteran’s Memorial Coliseum where the Arizona State Fair is held every fall.

Thundercloud' sage and red yucca. Hidden Garden in the Middle of Phoenix

As I made my way up the planting bed, I saw more colorful, annual flowers intermixed with globe mallow, ‘Thundercloud’ sage and red yucca.

Hidden Garden in the Middle of Phoenix

One flower that I did not expect to see in the desert garden, not to mention downtown Phoenix, was larkspur with its deep purple spikes.

Hidden Garden in the Middle of Phoenix

Multi-colored bachelor’s button flowers grew among scarlet flax and plains coreopsis.

As I stood admiring the effect that all these flowering plants had on the street landscape, I happened to meet the son (James) of the owner of the house. He was busy working out in the garden and was flattered at my interest in the garden he had created.

Last fall, James took three packs of wildflower seeds (multiple varieties) and threw them on the bare parking strip, added some compost on the top and watered well. Over the months, he has watched them come up and was thrilled at how the hell strip had been transformed.

He then offered to show me what he had done to the backyard – I could hardly wait to see it after seeing what he has done on the outside.

(A few of the photos are a bit blurry. I’m not sure what went wrong with my phone’s camera, but you can still get a sense of the beauty in the backyard.)

Hidden Garden in the Middle of Phoenix

The backyard consists of a lawn split in two by a large planting bed with hollyhocks.

Hidden Garden in the Middle of Phoenix

I love hollyhocks and have grown them in the past. They self-seed and flower for me every spring.  All I give them is a little water – that’s all they need.

Hidden Garden in the Middle of Phoenix

The small patio in the back of the house is filled with an old-fashioned table and chairs, which fit the age of the home perfectly!

The pathway separates the two lawn areas and leads to the garage in the back. It was created using concrete molded into geometric shapes.

Hidden Garden in the Middle of Phoenix

Bermuda grass is allowed to grow into the cracks for an interesting look.

blanket flower, bachelor's button, and yellow daisy (Euryops pectinatus) from hidden garden

The patio is edged with flowering annuals such as blanket flower, bachelor’s button, and yellow daisy (Euryops pectinatus).

Hidden Garden in the Middle of Phoenix

In this blurry photo, a large crown-of-thorns plant was thriving in a tiny container. Believe it or not, it is 20 years old and thriving in a very small pot. According to James, he waters it twice a week in summer and weekly throughout the rest of the year.

Two Chinese elm trees Hidden Garden

Two Chinese elm trees provide dappled shade on a beautiful spring day.

Hidden Garden in the Middle of Phoenix

A small potting bench stands in front of the wooden fence painted a greenish-chartreuse color, which blends well with the garden.

A fountain is in the center of this grassy area and adds the refreshing sound of water.

How relaxing would it be to enjoy this outdoor space, even in the middle of summer with all of its shade?

Hidden Garden in the Middle of Phoenix

I bade a reluctant goodbye to the back garden and ventured back out to the parking strip. James then showed me where he had planted wildflowers next to the detached garage.

Hidden Garden in the Middle of Phoenix
Bright pink and vibrant orange flowers from hidden garden

Bright pink and vibrant orange – doesn’t that remind you of the 70’s?

Tall poppies from hidden garden

These tall poppies were planted from 3-year-old seed that James was going to throw out. I’m certainly glad that he decided to plant them instead.

While old seed won’t germinate as well as young seed, you’ll often still get some seeds to sprout – just not as many.

Hidden Garden in the Middle of Phoenix

It is unexpected surprises like this that make life interesting. This hidden garden was fairly small but beautifully tended to. Ironically, most of what was growing in it grew from seed with little effort.

Keeping America (and Phoenix) Beautiful

Do you have a vegetable garden or have you thought of maybe starting one?

Four years ago, we planted our first vegetable garden.

My First Edible Garden 4 Years Later

The kids were eager to join in the fun and helped us install our new garden.

My First Edible Garden 4 Years Later

We created a raised vegetable garden that measured 7 x 8 feet for a total area of 56 square feet of space for vegetables.

Although I have grown vegetables as a child and again as a horticulture student – this was our first time growing vegetables on our own.

It has been an incredibly rewarding an learning experience.

After the first year, we enjoyed our little garden so much, that we added an extension…

My First Edible Garden 4 Years Later

Our garden was fenced to keep our dogs out.

It was so great having even more space to grow vegetables.  You can view how we built our vegetable beds, here.

Those of you who grow vegetables, probably won’t be surprised to hear that we took it even further.  We created an edible garden along the side of our backyard, complete with our largest raised bed and added fruit trees and berries.

But, back to our original vegetable garden.  This is the garden that I see from my family room window.  Besides growing vegetables, it is also where I have masses of flowers growing, which attract pollinators.

hollyhock

Hollyhocks grow year after year, with no help from me.  I planted hollyhock seeds 4 years ago and since then, they come every year.

The hollyhocks are located just outside of the raised bed and get enough water from the vegetable garden.

Every year, I am never certain what colors of hollyhock will come up.  Some years, I have had white, red, pale pink and magenta flowers.

hollyhock

This year, it is magenta.

Nasturtiums

Nasturtiums always play an important part in my spring vegetable garden.  They help to repel damaging insects from my vegetables AND they add beauty to my garden as well.

They usually come up from seed, beginning in February.

leaf lettuce

This is the last of my leaf lettuce for the season.  Hot temperatures will cause it to ‘bolt’ soon and make the leaves taste bitter.  In my garden, this usually occurs in mid-May.

The blue lobelia came up on their own from those planted the previous year.

Onions

Onions are beginning to flower and I will harvest them once the tops die back, which should be around late May, early June.

I like to dice my onions and freeze them for future use.

My First Edible Garden 4 Years Later

My garden also has an unlikely plant growing next to my carrots – Pink Wood Sorrel.  I received a cutting of this plant from a fellow-blogger from Oregon. Surprisingly, it thrives in its corner in my vegetable garden.

The flowers appear throughout spring and then the entire plant dies down in the summer before growing back in the fall.

My First Edible Garden 4 Years Later

Along the front of the extended vegetable garden, sit three containers filled with a combination of flowering plants, vegetables and herbs.  It is very easy to grow vegetables in pots and you can read how to here.

My First Edible Garden 4 Years Later

The newest addition to this area of the garden is a Meyer lemon tree.  I realize that it looks rather sad, but there are quite a few new leaves beginning to bud and a few, tiny lemon fruit beginning to form.

The chicken wire is a temporary barrier for the dogs.  Eventually, we will remove it.

We selected a Meyer lemon tree because it is slightly more cold-hardy then the ‘Eureka’ variety.    Meyer lemons are sweeter them other lemon varieties because they are not a true lemon – they are a cross between an orange and lemon tree.  As a result, they are slightly sweeter then your typical lemon.

The only downside to Meyer lemons compared with ‘Eureka’ is that they are thorny.

My First Edible Garden 4 Years Later

Strawberries, malabar spinach and garlic are also current residents in my first edible garden.

But, this time of year – my favorite plant in my edible garden isn’t edible – it is my 12-foot tall hollyhocks.

So, how about you?  Do you have an edible garden, or are you thinking of starting one?

Yesterday, I asked you on my Facebook page, what was blooming in your garden right now?

March is a glorious time in the desert garden and also time for some needed garden maintenance. 

We don’t have a landscaper, so we gather our kids together for a day of yard work each spring.

My son helping me prune several years ago

My son helping me prune several years ago.

I can’t honestly say that working out in the garden is my kids favorite activity.  But, if you promise them their favorite dinner and dessert afterward, they usually don’t complain.

I started teaching them at a young age how to prune shrubs, using hand pruners.  My son is a lot taller then when this photo was taken.

Normally, I do the pruning using loppers and hand pruners.  The kids then carry the branches into a large pile on the driveway to be picked up later.

Branches and clippings from the late summer's pruning

Branches and clippings from the late summer’s pruning.

Once the danger of frost is passed, it is time to prune away all frost-damaged growth and see what else may need pruning.

Pruning Spring Garden

Pruning Spring Garden

Every few years, I prune my Texas Sage shrubs back severely.  This rejuvenates them and stimulates the formation of new branches and gets rid of old, woody unproductive branches.

I allow them to grow out naturally after pruning.  Of course, you can lightly shape them using hand pruners, if desired.

For more information on pruning flowering shrubs, click here.  

Pruning Spring Garden

Pruning Spring Garden

A few years ago, my Yellow Bells shrub died back to the ground during a severe frost.  I pruned back all of the frost-damaged growth and it soon grew back.

While most of the day was spent pruning, I did take some time to walk around and take pictures of what is currently blooming.

Pruning Spring Garden

I love my Hollyhocks.  This old-fashioned flower can grow in most climates and mine self-seed each year, giving me new plants!

Pruning Spring Garden

Normally this time of year, I am pruning away the frost damage from my Pink Trumpet Vines.  But, this year we had very little frost, so they are already flowering.

Globe Mallow

I have several colors of Globe Mallow growing in my garden.  I will soon be pruning them back severely once it has finished flowering.  Pruning keeps them from looking straggly and also helps keep too many seeds from coming up later.

Pruning Spring Garden

Like my Pink Trumpet Vine, my Purple and White Trailing Lantana did not get hit with much frost.  So, they look beautiful right now.  Normally, I prune them back to 6″ in March.

Pruning Spring Garden

The alyssum and violas are still happily blooming away in their old, rusted watering can.  In about a month, they will start to die once the temperatures begin to rise.

I leave my watering can empty in the summer because it gets too hot and other plants won’t survive if planted in it.

Pruning Spring Garden

My young apple trees are in bloom.  It takes a few years after planting for apple trees to produce apples.  We planted the trees last winter and I don’t really expect to see the blossoms turn into apples, but secretly I am hopeful!

Pruning Spring Garden

This is the first year that I have planted ‘Cherry Red’ nasturtiums.  I love their vibrant, red color!

Pruning Spring Garden

My vegetable garden is in transition this month.  Cool-season vegetables such as leaf lettuce, carrots and radishes are still growing.  I have planted warm-season vegetables such as bush beans, gourds and cucumbers already.

The garlic will soon be ready to harvest.  

younger leaf lettuce

Some of the leaf lettuce planted last fall has begun to ‘bolt’, but I have younger leaf lettuce still available to eat.

Pruning and Blooms in the Spring Garden

Fall is the best time to add new plants to the garden, but spring is the second-best time.

My husband and son are always so nice about planting things for me.  

*You can see our puppy ‘Penny’ sitting in the shade watching them.  She is now 8 months old and we just love her!  I’ll post an updated picture of her soon.

I will most likely have more for them to plant after I visit the Desert Botanical Garden’s plant sale this weekend (March 13 & 14th)

Well, this has been a small snapshot of what is going on in my garden.

What is happening in yours?

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.

back garden

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.

Abraham Darby' rose bush

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.

pink trumpet vine (Podranea ricasoliana)

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.  

coral fountain (Rusellia equisetiformis)

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.

My Back Garden

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.

My Back Garden

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.

purple lilac vine (Hardenbergia violaceae)

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.

My Back Garden

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.

My Back Garden

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.

My Back Garden

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.

My Back 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.

My Back Garden

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.

My Back Garden

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…

My Back 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?