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Anna’s Hummingbird sitting in front of my kitchen window.

Hummingbirds are arguably the most popular birds in our gardens.  It’s not unusual to find hummingbird feeders hanging, enticing these flying jewels to come and drink of the sweet sugar water.

Of course, there are a large number of plants that promise to lure hummingbirds into your outdoor spaces as well so that you can sit and enjoy their antics.

But, what if you don’t have much space for gardening or maybe you simply want to create a special place for hummingbirds to visit.  


Well, a container hummingbird garden may be just the solution for you.

I am very fortunate to have hummingbirds in my Arizona garden throughout the entire year.  Early last year, I decided to create my own hummingbird haven in some old plastic pots.  I gave them each a new coat of paint and got started.



My son and dog, Polly, came out to help me add the new plants.


At first, the plants looked rather small and straggly.  But, I knew that it would only a matter of a few months and they would fill out and look great.

It’s been about 20 months since I planted my hummingbird containers and I am treated to the view of these tiny birds sipping from the flowers with their long tongues.  

I created a short video to show people what my garden looks like now and how they can create their own hummingbird haven with only a container.  I hope you enjoy it. 

For a list of plants that I used in my containers, click here.

**What are your favorite plants that you use to attract hummingbirds? 

*This blog post contains affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase, I may receive a commission (at no additional cost to you). Thanks for your support in this way.

I love to can fruit, and so I was very excited when the publishers of The All New Ball Book Of Canning And Preserving: Over 350 of the Best Canned, Jammed, Pickled, and Preserved Recipes asked me to test a recipe from their book, free of charge, for my honest review. 


My love affair with canning began a few years ago when I made my first batch of jam, under the guidance of my mother and I have never looked back.

The inspiration for me wanting to learn how to can food came with the family farm, which had a mini-orchard filled with apple, peach, and plum trees.  Since then, I’ve made blackberry, peach, plum, and strawberry jams as well as applesauce.

 
In fact, I enjoyed canning so much, that I planted apple and peach trees in my garden.
 
I must admit that it took me a long time to decide what recipe to choose because all of them were so tempting.  Who wouldn’t want to make blueberry-lemon jam, grapefruit marmalade, raspberry-lemonade jam, or vanilla bean-citrus marmalade?
In addition to creative jam recipes, there are also many delicious recipes for preserving fruits and vegetables as well as savory selections.
In the end, I chose to make a variation of nectarine-sour cherry jam.  
 
For this recipe, you could use blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, or even strawberries in place of the sour cherries.  Because my husband and kids love blueberries, that’s what I chose.
 
 
Isn’t the color combination beautiful?
 
As it cooked, the jam mixture began to turn a delicious shade of purple.
 
Once the jam was finished cooking, I poured it into sterilized mason jars and processed it in a boiling water canner.
 
 
Now, I have seven jars filled with delicious jam for my morning toast.
 
It’s important to note that the cookbook doesn’t have a beginners section for those learning how to can and preserve fruit and vegetables – its focus is more on creative, canning recipes.
The equipment needed for canning isn’t expensive or complicated to use.

Shop Ball® and Kerr® products at FreshPreserving.com

I blogged about my first canning lesson from my mom, when we made peach jam several years ago, that you can read here.
 I’ve also written about my experience at making applesauce and blackberry jam.
 
How about you?  Do you like to can?  What is your favorite fruit, meat or vegetable to preserve?

**I received the book, “Ball Brand, Can It Forward” for free.  However, my review and opinions are my own.**

Forecasts of a heatwave in the desert may seem a rather foreign concept when temperatures in summer are routinely over 100 degrees.  However,  when temps are predicted to be 110 degrees and over, plants in landscapes that normally handle hot weather without complaint, can suffer. 

The best preparation for heat-proofing your landscape begins before summer.  However, with the imminent arrival of a heatwave, here are two tips that will help your plants survive.
 
 
1. Provide extra water by irrigating shrubs and groundcovers in the early morning hours for an extra 1/2 hour when temperatures are forecast over 115 degrees.
Plants can uptake water more easily in the early morning as opposed to being watered during the day.  During the heat of the day, plants have to devote much of their resources to handle the stress of the heat and cannot uptake water efficiently.  Therefore, it’s best to water early in the morning so that they are replenished with water and ready to face the excessive evaporation that will occur with temperatures over 115 degrees.  
*It’s important not to overwater plants, so if the heatwave lasts more than three days, skip a day between providing extra water.
 
2. Provide temporary shade for heat susceptible plants such as hibiscus or roses.
The sun’s intense rays are even more focused during a heatwave and can cause stress to the plant itself, including sunburn damage.  This is especially true for plants that receive hot, western sun or in areas that receive reflected heat.
 
For shrubs and groundcovers, leaves may wilt and turn brown in response to a heatwave.  Even cactus and other succulents can suffer sunburn or other heat stress, which often reveals itself as yellowing.
 
Temporary shade can be provided using sections of shade cloth.
 
 
In a pinch, a lawn chair can work to add a welcome spot of shade for a plant.
 
Old sheets tied to posts, chairs or trees can also provide temporary shading until the heatwave subsides.
 
 
As I mentioned earlier, the best way to handle a desert heatwave is wise planning including using native plants, mulch and the use of trees to provide shade.  
 
In the meantime, escape the heat by hibernating indoors as much as possible 🙂
 
**You can read more about how to create a heat-proof garden in an earlier blog post.  

One of the perks of being a garden blogger is that I am often given the opportunity to review newly published gardening books. I was given a free copy of “Grow for Flavor” in return for my honest review.

 
After having reviewed many wonderful books written on a variety of gardening subjects, Grow For Flavor immediately grabbed my attention by the unique way that it promised to “turn the tables on conventional gardening advice” by dispelling common garden myths such as “home-grown always tastes better” and “heirloom vegetables always taste better than hybrids”. 
 
 
The publisher promises that “this book contains tips, how-to’s and recipes on how to increase the amount of flavor in home-grown food. For example, the author describes how you can make salad greens either sweet or fiery by choosing where and how you grow them, or how to use acidic soil to give strawberries better flavor. With recipes such as “Purple Sun” Carrot Cheesecake and Spiced Pumpkin, Tarragon & Marshmallow Soup, Grow for Flavor is the perfect book for a foodie-gardener.”
 
I must admit to being intrigued at its premise and couldn’t wait to discover more for myself.
Written by self-described obsessive botanist, James Wong, has based the book on over 2,000 scientific studies as well as his own taste tests has made the goal of this book to help home gardeners grow crops with maximum flavor and minimum labor.
The emphasis is growing plants for flavor rather than focusing on quantity, which can often decrease the flavor of homegrown vegetables.
One of my favorite parts is the author’s description of cilantro, calling it the “The Herb of Evil”.  Studies have shown that “loving or hating cilantro is genetically determined.”  Either you enjoy cilantro’s bright, citrusy flavor OR fail to understand why some people love a herb that tastes like soap.  It turns out that it is all in a person’s genes.  One-fifth of the world’s population has a gene that makes cilantro taste awful.  As one of the one-fifth, it is nice to have an explanation as to why I hate a herb that so many people love.
The predominant emphasis of Grow for Flavor is to grow fruits and vegetables for maximum flavor using simple tips.  It turns out that a plant’s genes are the biggest factor in how they taste, but growing plants in full sun and taking care to NOT overwater can also help to maximize flavor.
Recommended varieties are included for many types of vegetables including my favorites – sweet corn and tomatoes including those that are best for salad and those that are ideal for cooking are also included.
 
 
Colorful photos make the book a visual treat coupled with many delicious recipes featuring fresh grown produce, wild food delicacies such as certain weeds, flower waters, vinegar, jam and syrups are also featured.
 
After spending a very enjoyable time reading through the book, I found the publisher’s description described Grow for Flavor perfectly and I highly recommend it and it now occupies a prominent spot on my plant book shelves.
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So, now for the giveaway…
 
You can enter to win a free copy of Grow for Flavor.
 
1. To enter, simply leave me a comment about what fruits and/or vegetables that you like to grow and eat.
(Be sure to leave your email address if it’s not on your profile, or I won’t have any way to contact you.)
 
2. For a bonus entry, like me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter – (be sure to let me know in your comment).
 
Let your friends know about this great giveaway and I will pick a random winner on Saturday, February 13th.
 
You can also order your own copy of Grow for Flavor by clicking here.
 
*I was provided a copy of this book for free, for my honest review.

*Disclosure: I was given a free copy of the book, “Beautiful, Desert Pots” in return for my honest review.

In the desert, we are fortunate to be able to grow plants in containers throughout the entire year.

 

 

Of course, living in the desert does bring along its special challenges when it comes to gardening and growing plants in pots is no exception.
 
 
However, with the right pot, location, planting mix and plants – it is possible to grow a perfectly lovely container filled with thriving plants.
 
 
I like to think of potted plants as a way to decorate your outdoor space with both color and texture.  They also offer the flexibility to change out plants easily for a different look as well as the ability to move the pots around to new locations.
 
 
A pot filled with plants is nothing short of a miniature garden in a confined space.
I hope that these photos of lovely potted gardens help to inspire you to get out there and create your own.
 
 
To help get you started, I highly recommend the book, “Getting Potted in the Desert”, written by Marylee Pangman, Tucson resident who has over 20 years of experience growing potted plants in the desert.  She is a certified Master Gardener and ran her own company, “The Contained Gardener”, where she designed and maintained container gardens for clients for years.
 
**Now it’s time to announce the winner of our giveaway for a free copy of “Getting Potted in the Desert”**
 
Susan aka ‘Gardening Granny’, you are the winner of this fabulous book!
 
Congratulations!
 
Thank all of you who entered and let us know what you like to grow in containers.
 
If you didn’t win, you can still order a copy of this book for yourself or a friend who loves to garden.
Click here to be directed to the ordering page.

The newest member of our animal family is unique in that he isn’t furry and just happens to carry his house on his back.

 
I’d like to introduce you to “Aesop”.
 
Aesop is a desert tortoise who make their home in the deserts of the Southwest .
 
You may be wondering why someone would want to adopt a desert tortoise and how the process works.
 
As for the why, as a child, my best friend’s family had a tortoise who lived in their backyard.  His name was “Lopez”.  I always enjoyed watching him munching on grass as he slowly made his way through the backyard.
 
 
In my career as a horticulturist who has spent a lot of time in the desert, I’ve come in contact with these special animals including helping one cross a busy road.
 
Due to loss of habitat in the desert as well captive tortoises breeding, there are many looking for homes.  
 
My husband and I had always liked the idea of getting a tortoise, but with our dogs having free run of our backyard, it wasn’t feasible.
We recently created a dog run along our rather large side yard, so our dogs no longer have access to the backyard.  So, our dream of acquiring a desert tortoise could be fulfilled.
So how do you get a desert tortoise?
 
First, if you live in Arizona, California, Nevada or New Mexico, you visit your state’s Game & Fish Department’s website, where you learn about desert tortoises and then fill out an application.
 
Guidelines on creating a tortoise shelter is found on the website, which must be completed before you till out the application.  
 
The application itself is fairly simple.  You need to take photographs of your backyard space and tortoise shelter, which you submit along with the application.
 
Once you are approved, you are invited to pick up your new tortoise.
 
 
My husband, daughter and I headed out to the nearest desert tortoise adoption facility, which for us was at the Arizona Game & Fish Department’s facility off of Carefree Highway in Phoenix.
*There are several other adoption facilities throughout other areas in Arizona and other Southwestern states.
 
 
We arrived on an adoption day where they were trying to have 50 desert tortoises adopted.
 
We showed them our application, gave a donation and went inside the gates.
 
 
There were several adult tortoises, sitting in boxes just waiting for someone to pick them and take them home.
 
But, we passed them by so that we could see the baby tortoises.
 
 
There were several young tortoises walking around in a plastic swimming pool
 
 
The smaller tortoises in this photo were about 3-years old.
 
 
This tiny tortoise was the size of a cookie and was 1-year old.
 
We weren’t in the market for a baby tortoise, since our new home for our tortoise was not enclosed and we were afraid that they would get lost.
 
It was fun to see them though and get a better understanding on how slowly these reptiles grow.
 
 
We walked back to the row of boxes to examine the adult tortoises inside.  
 
 
There were a few young females, which we decided against since they can carry sperm for up to 4 years and we didn’t want the chance of having baby tortoises.
 
 
And another tortoise who had three legs.  He got along fairly well on his three limbs and we asked whether he was a male or female.
 
 
At that time, we were given a lesson on how to tell the difference between males and females.
 
 
The underside of males are slightly concave while females had a flat underside.  This tortoise was a male.
 
While we liked this one very much, we were worried that the may have trouble navigating the concrete curbing around our lawn, filled with Bermuda grass, which is a favorite food of desert tortoises.
 
 
As we moved down the row of tortoises, we finally found one that was perfect.
 
 
This male tortoise was a good size and was very active…for a tortoise 😉
 
 
 
We took our tortoise and loaded him up in the car.
 
I don’t know who was more excited, my husband or my daughter, Gracie.
 
When you adopt a desert tortoise, you don’t ‘own’ them.  You are caretakers and aren’t allowed to take them outside of the state where you adopted them from.
 
Tortoises live up to 100 years, so people often hand them down to friends of family members.  Of course, you can always take them back to the facility where you adopted them from.
 
 
Once we arrived home, we showed Aesop his new home.
 
We created it out of an old plant container that we cut in half and buried with several inches of soil, which helps to insulate it against extreme cold and heat.
 
 
Aesop was curious about his new home.
 

We decided to name him “Aesop” in a nod to Aesop’s fable, “The Tortoise and the Hare.”

After a minute of looking in his shelter, Aesop headed out to explore his new habitat and then wWe stood and watched him slowly walk around.
 
 
He nibbled on a few red bird-of-paradise leaves as he walked by.
 
 
Grass is a favorite food of tortoises and he was happy to walk on our lawn.
 
**The unevenness of our lawn is a rather recent development since our 13-year old son is learning how to mow.  As you can see, he has a bit more practicing to do before he gets it right.
 
 
Exploring the areas against our block wall, Aesop soon found my globe mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua), which is found on lists of plants that they like.  Our desert willow will also provide him with some of his favorite flowers too.
 
In the 3 days since we adopted him, he had spent a lot of time exploring the entire backyard including the patio and the areas underneath our shrubs and vines.
 
In the morning and late afternoon, we see him grazing on our lawn, taking a stroll on the patio before heading to his favorite spot…
 
 
Underneath our purple lilac vines, where he likes to spend the night.
 
We have fun walking outdoors and looking for him to see where he is.
In October, Aesop will hibernate until spring, but in the meantime, we will enjoy the privilege of hosting one of these desert animals.

**For more information on desert tortoise care and how to adopt them, click here.** 

Have you ever seen a desert tortoise or know someone who has one?

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Do you enjoy visits from butterflies and hummingbirds to your garden?

How about creating their own mini-wildlife habitat in a container where you can view them close up without using a lot of garden space?

It’s not hard to do and the rewards are seeing your favorite flying visitors coming to visit your garden.

Learn how to create your own butterfly and/or hummingbird wildlife habitat in a container in my latest article for Houzz.

What plant in your garden is most visited by butterflies and hummingbirds?

*For an in depth tutorial on creating a mini-hummingbird garden in a container that I presented at the 2015 Hummingbird Festival, click here.


Have you ever grown pumpkins?


The first pumpkin I ever grew.
Right now, pumpkins are of three things growing in my summer vegetable garden alongside peppers and basil.

In June, I planted 4 different types of pumpkins – Cinderella (an old fashioned looking pumpkin), Lumina (a white pumpkin), Rouge Vif d’Etampes (a French heirloom pumpkin) and some seeds from an unknown heirloom pumpkin I bought at the store last year.

Male pumpkin flower

The pumpkin vines are growing nicely and the male flowers have begun to appear.
Pumpkins have both male and female flowers – the male flowers appear about 2 weeks ahead of the female flowers.

Lumina pumpkin

I’ve had both successes and some failures growing pumpkins.  Last year, I planted a Lumina pumpkin, which was so beautiful.

This summer, I decided to dedicate my entire potager vegetable garden to growing pumpkins.

Why an entire vegetable garden you may ask?


My first attempt at growing pumpkins began in my smaller vegetable garden, located just off of my back patio.  

I remember being so excited when my pumpkin seedling grew its first pair of ‘true’ leaves.


But, what I had not prepared for was how wide it would grow – a lesson on why reading the label on the seed packet is important.

My young pumpkin seedling soon outgrew my little vegetable garden and in fact, most of its growth extended outside of the garden.  

I patiently (not)! waited for signs of a young pumpkin to form.


You can imagine how thrilled I was at finding this young pumpkin growing a couple of weeks later.


The only issue was that it was growing outside of my vegetable garden.


To be honest, I didn’t really care – there was plenty of room for it and it seemed happy perched on top of my garden hose.


It grew fairly rapidly and soon its green color lightened to a beautiful orange.

As you can see, it wasn’t a large pumpkin – smaller varieties are easier to grow in the home garden.

White ‘Lumina’ pumpkin hidden underneath the leafy vines.

My hope for this year’s crop is that I will soon find young pumpkins growing underneath the huge leaves of my pumpkin vines.

How about you?  
Have you ever grown pumpkins?  
What types?  
Any helpful tips you’d like to share?

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On a personal note, I’ve been knocked flat by a virus – neverending cough, sore throat, headache, aches, fever, etc.

I’ve always found it surprising to get a flu-like illness in the middle of summer and not during the cold winter months, which actually works better for me since I my work tends to slow down in summer.

After 7 days, I am slowly getting better and am  thankful for the timing of my illness.  Next week – July 31st – August 2nd, I’ll be a presenter at the annual Hummingbird Festival and it would be almost impossible to give two separate 1-hour presentations with the current condition of my throat right now.

Sorry for complaining, I have a bad case of cabin fever, but my body isn’t up for doing much of anything except for a 10 minute walk this morning through my gardens to see how they are doing – but that felt wonderful!

I hope you are staying healthy this summer!

Do you grow fruit in your garden?

For those of us who live in warm, southern climates, you’ll often see a citrus tree or two in the growing in the backyard.

While I do have a lemon and orange tree growing in my garden, that is just the beginning of my fruit crop.  I also have a pair of apple and peach trees that generously provide us with fruit in late spring.  

The final fruit crop that I grow isn’t found on a tree but rather on bushes.


Ever since I was a child in Southern California, I have loved blackberries.  We had a line of blackberry bushes growing along the back wall of our suburban home and it was often a race between us and our dog ‘Smitty’ to see who would get to them first.

Now, I have my own blackberry bushes growing in my side garden, which are located right behind my apple trees.

While I enjoy eating fresh fruit, I also like to make jam so that I can enjoy the fruits of my garden throughout the entire year.

Last month, I made several batches of peach jam and last week, it was time to make my first batch of blackberry jam.  

It took a few weeks to get all of the blackberries picked from the bushes.  The reason for this is that not all the berries ripened at once, so we would freeze them after picking until the entire bush was clean of berries.


My 13-year-old son asked if he could help me make the jam.  I was pleasantly surprised that he would want to help me, but I will take any opportunity I can to spend time with my son.


We gathered supplies – canning jars with lids, sugar, powdered pectin and a canner.

The first step involved mashing the blackberries in a large pot before adding the powdered pectin.


The blackberry mixture had to be heated to a high temperature until it began to boil.


Then it was time to add the sugar.  Jam takes a lot of sugar, but I don’t like mine overly sweet, so I decreased the amount of sugar by 1 cup.
It helps to have the sugar pre-measured before boiling the fruit mixture.


After adding the sugar, we needed to heat the mixture back up to boiling.  It was nice to have a helper, since you have to stir the entire time.  Once it begins to boil, you have to let it continue for 1 minute before taking off the heat.

Take a couple of minutes to scoop off any foam that accumulated on the top of the blackberry jam before filling sterilized jam jars.


We carefully added the hot blackberry jam mixture into the jam jars.  It smelled so good that we were tempted to try some, but decided against it since we didn’t want to burn our mouths.


Using the handy magnet utensil that came with my canning kit, I carefully put on the lids.

At this point, you can allow the jam to cool and then enjoy it on toast or English muffin.  But, you will need to refrigerate the jam unless you want to preserve it by processing it by water bath canning.


A hot water canning bath involves submerging the jars of jam in boiling water for several minutes.  This will preserve the blackberry jam and allow it to last over a year on the pantry shelf.

Canning kits include a large pot, metal insert, funnel, magnet utensil for lids and tongs.  They are relatively inexpensive and can be found at Walmart or Amazon.  I have even seen them in my local Ace Hardware store.


After a 10-minute boiling water bath, the jam was ready to be taken out carefully with tongs.  

We let them sit overnight to cool before eagerly tasting the fruits of our labors.  

It is hard to compare the delicious taste of homemade jam that was made from fruit from your own garden.  In fact, I find myself tempted to make a second piece of toast just so I can enjoy some more delicious blackberry jam.

Of course, you don’t have to grow your own fruit to be able to make jam – simply buy some fruit at your local grocery store or farmers market.  Earlier this month, I saw 1/2 pint containers of blackberries on sale for 97¢.

While I make jam every year, this was the first time I’ve made blackberry jam and I can’t wait until next year to make some more.

Thankfully, I have eleven jars to last me through the next year.

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Want to learn more about canning?

If you are lucky, maybe your grandmother, mother or aunt can teach you.  5 years ago, my mother taught me how to make jam and I’ve never stopped.
If you don’t have anyone to teach you, a simple Google search can help you find a class offered nearby or you can learn how to online.

Do you like butterflies?


It’s hard to find anyone who doesn’t.  The sight of a butterfly makes us pause whatever we were doing and take a few moments to observe their fragile beauty.




Kids are even more entranced by butterflies.  Every year, I take my kids to visit the Desert Botanical Garden’s butterfly exhibit where they can view them up close.



What if you could attract more butterflies to your garden?  It’s not hard to do.  


Adding plants to your garden that attract butterflies is also a great way to add both beauty to your outdoor space.  

We are fortunate that there are countless plants that make butterfly gardening in the Southwest garden both fun and rewarding.

Like most of us, adult butterflies love lots of flowers.

While I enjoy seeing butterflies visiting my own garden, I’ve also had the privilege of designing a butterfly and hummingbird garden alongside a golf course a few years ago.


It’s so enjoyable to walk through the winding path and sit underneath the shade of palo verde trees and see the butterflies fluttering nearby.

So, would you like to create a garden that attracts butterflies?  

You don’t have to do one on a large scale, adding a few plants or creating a container filled with butterfly-attracting plants is fun and easy to do.


To get started, here is a great resource with lists of plants that will attract butterflies to your Southwest garden.  In addition, there is also a handy photographic guide to help you identify the butterflies who visit your garden.

**Do you have any plants in your garden that butterflies seem attracted to?**