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Indian Mallow (Abutilon palmeri)

I always enjoy seeing well-designed landscapes that make use of many of my favorite arid-adapted plants. A couple of months ago, I had the opportunity to explore lovely landscape areas that existed within an imaginary land with real plants that were used to provide a sense of reality to this fictional place.

I invite you to explore these areas along with me and look for clues as to where it is.

Globe mallow, Mexican honeysuckle, and Indian mallow

This is a gorgeous layering of three different shrubby plants. Indian mallow (Abutilon palmeri) anchors the background with its gray-green leaves and yellow flowers. In the middle stands Mexican honeysuckle (Justicia spicigera), which has lovely foliage and orange flowers that appear throughout the year. Globe mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua) adds nice color contrast with its foliage and orange flowers in the foreground. All of these are drought tolerant and thrive in desert gardens.

Continuing our exploration, we walk by a desert planting filled with young saguaro cactus, ocotillo, and a little yucca. It almost made me feel like we were in Arizona.

The beautiful green foliage of a jojoba shrub (Simmondsia chinensis) stood out against the reddish walls of a ‘canyon’.

 

Mexican fence post cactuses (Pachycereus marginatus) along with other cereus cacti add a lovely vertical element.

Naturally-themed areas are filled with a plant palette that places you in the desert Southwest. But, we were several hundred miles away from the real desert.

Have you guessed where we were yet? Here is another clue:

Information signs reveal the different kinds of plants in this imaginary land. Your final clue is the name of the plants as well as the shape of the small prickly pear pad.

We were exploring the town of ‘Radiator Springs’ which came to life in the movie ‘Cars’ and its sequels. These are my favorite Disney movies because they take place in my own backyard.

I was pleasantly surprised at how well this imaginary town was constructed and the plants used to create a look of authenticity. However, there were some notable exceptions to having live plants throughout Radiator Springs.

Old-fashioned rear lights were used to create imaginary flowers at the Cozy Cone Hotel. 

Other car parts serve as components of this cornucopia.

While I was distracted by both the real and imaginary plants, other visitors were thrilled by the appearance of the inhabitants of Radiator Springs.

Have you ever visited Cars Land at California Adventure? If you get the chance, you may be surprised to find inspiration for your desert garden.

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Artichoke agave (Agave parryi ‘truncata’), golden barrel cactus (Echinocactus grusonii), and lady’s slipper (Pedilanthus macrocarpus),

Does the idea of having to venture outside, when temperatures are above 100 degrees, to care for your garden have you thinking twice? I must admit that there have been times when I have let the plants in my landscape fend for themselves in summer after setting the irrigation controller. But, there is often a price to pay afterward when you have to play catch up with extra pruning and other maintenance.

There are however many different plants that thrive in summer with little fuss allowing you to enjoy the comforts of your air-conditioned home while viewing your beautiful garden through the windows. Here are some of my favorite fuss-free plants for the summer garden.

Mexican Honeysuckle (Justicia spicigera)

Mexican honeysuckle has lush green foliage and produces tubular orange flowers throughout the entire year. They do best in filtered shade and attract hummingbirds. I like to plant them underneath trees such as mesquite or palo verde.

Learn more about Mexican honeysuckle.

Artichoke Agave (Agave parryi ‘truncata‘)

Artichoke agave is highly prized for its rosette shape, and it’s easy to see where it got its name. The blue-gray color and maroon edges add great color contrast to the garden when it is placed alongside plants with dark and light-green foliage.

Of course, these are but one species of agave that would make a delightful, fuss-free addition to the summer garden. I also recommend cow’s horn agave (Agave bovicornuta), smooth-edge agave (Agave desmettiana), and Victoria agave (Agave victoriareginae) to name a few.

‘Summertime Blue’ (Eremophila ‘Summertime Blue’)

‘Summertime Blue’ is a delightful shrub that needs next to no maintenance throughout the year and decorates the garden with its bright green foliage and violet-blue flowers that appear spring through fall. It grows slowly but will reach approximately 6 feet tall and wide. If given enough room, it can go a year (or two) before needing pruning. While you may have to look around for a nursery that carries it, it’s well worth the effort. It is also usually found at the Desert Botanical Garden’s spring and fall plant sales.

Lady’s Slipper (Pedilanthus macrocarpus)

Lady’s Slipper is a uniquely shaped succulent with thornless stems that have a ‘Medusa-like’ growth habit that is more pronounced in light shade. The upright stems add a welcome vertical element to the landscape, and small orange flowers are produced off and on through spring and fall. They can be grown in containers or planted in the ground and do well in full sun or light shade.

Bush Lantana (Lantana camara ‘Radiation’)

Bush lantana is a familiar sight to many who live in arid climates like ours. This species of lantana is slightly different than the trailing gold and purple lantana. It has larger leaves, grows taller, and has multi-colored flowers that vary according to the variety. Bush lantana is a great choice for a colorful summer garden as they are seemingly heat-proof.

Totem Pole ‘Monstrosus’ (Lophocereus schottii ‘Monstrosus’)

Totem pole ‘Monstrosus’ has become quite a popular addition to the desert garden and it’s easy to see why with its knobby shape. Another bonus is that they are almost always thornless, which makes them suitable for areas near entries or patios where a prickly cactus aren’t welcome. Plant in full sun in a row for a contemporary look or place next to a boulder for a more natural appearance. 

Learn more about totem pole cactus.

‘Heavenly Cloud’ Texas Sage (Leucophyllum langmaniae ‘Heavenly Cloud’)          

‘Heavenly Cloud’ Texas sage is well worth adding to your landscape for its lovely purple blossoms that appear off and on throughout the warm season, often in response to increased humidity. All species of Texas sage do well in summer and can be nearly maintenance-free if allowed enough room to reach their 8 foot tall and wide size as well as left to grow into their natural shape. This particular species blooms more than the more common ‘Green Cloud’ Texas sage.   

       Golden Barrel Cactus (Echinocactus grusonii)

Golden barrel cactus are wildly popular, and it is easy to see why with the globular shapes and yellow coloring. This cactus is quite versatile, able to grow in both sun and light shade. I like to use it in groups of three next to boulders or in a row. They also do well in containers planted singly or along with other succulents.

Learn more about golden barrel cactus.

Red Bird-of-Paradise (Caesalpinia pulcherrima)

Red bird-of-paradise is one of the most iconic flowering shrubs in the low desert regions of Arizona. Also known as mexican bird-of-paradise and royal poinciana, visitors marvel at their beautiful flowers in shades of orange, yellow, and red. The striking blossoms appear in late spring and last into early fall much to the delight of hummingbirds. There is nothing to do to care for them in summer other than to marvel at their beauty.
Learn more about red bird-of-paradise.

Red Yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora)

Red yucca has the appearance of an ornamental grass, but its leaves are succulent. Coral-colored flowers are borne aloft on tall stalks off and on spring through fall – there is also a yellow variety as well. They look great all year, even when not in flower and are well worth adding to your outdoor space.

Learn more about red yucca.

So if you are tired of having to prune and fertilize plants through summer, I invite you to try one of these 10 fuss-free summer plants.                          **Do you have a favorite fuss-free plant for summer?

Plants that stay green all winter while also producing flowers are somewhat rare in the Southwest, which is why Mexican honeysuckle (Justicia spicigera) is one of my favorite additions in landscapes I design as well as in my own garden.



Orange, tubular flowers appear throughout the year, with the heaviest bloom occurring in spring.


Hummingbirds find their flowers irresistible.


The lime-green foliage looks great year round and this small shrub thrives in light, filtered shade.

For more information on this latest drought tolerant and beautiful plant, including what plants to pair it with, check out my latest article for Houzz.


Does the idea of attracting hummingbirds to your outdoor space appeal to you?  

It’s hard to find anyone who wouldn’t welcome these colorful visitors.

The best way to attract hummingbirds is to have a garden filled with their favorite nectar plants, but what if you don’t have a garden space or any room for additional plants?  

What can you do to attract hummingbirds besides hanging out a hummingbird feeder?

Create your own hummingbird container garden!

Imagine a pot filled with one or more plants that are irresistible to hummingbirds.  A container takes up little room and enables you to attract hummingbirds to your garden whether your outdoor space is an acre or a small apartment balcony.

Hummingbirds always seem to be flitting around my garden and they love to perch up high in my cascalote tree.

I recently set out to create three different hummingbird container gardens in my backyard.

The reason that I decided to do this was that I was asked by the Hummingbird Society to be a speaker at the Sedona Hummingbird Festival this summer.  The topic of my presentation will be teaching people how to create their own hummingbird container garden.  So, I thought that it would be a fun project to create my own.

Many people rely solely on hummingbird feeders to attract hummers because they don’t have enough garden space.  My hope is that I can show them that they can have a mini-hummingbird garden despite their limited space.

I must admit, that I love it when I have to buy plants for a project.  So, I headed out to the Desert Botanical Garden’s spring plant sale.  
I had a wish list of nine plants that I wanted to use and I was thrilled to find them all.
The pots that I decided to use were repurposed.  They used to be located next to my vegetable garden where I would plant a mixture of herbs, vegetables and flowers in them.

The problem was that my 7-month-old puppy, Polly, kept eating the edible plants out of them.  So I decided to use them for non-edible plants in hopes that she would leave them alone.

I had bought the pots 3 years ago – they were on sale at Walmart for $5 each.  I had painted them using spray paint that was suitable for use on plastic.  

For my portable hummingbird garden, I moved the pots to an area that receives filtered shade underneath my ‘Desert Museum’ palo verde tree.  I also gave them a new coat of paint to freshen up the colors.

To add height and definition, I raised the orange pot by placing it on some leftover step stones.
Each container was to have 3 different plants.  I had some fun deciding on the combinations for each pot.

For the orange container, I decided to plant a succulent mini lady’s slipper (Pedilanthus macrocarpus), Mexican fire (Anisacanthus quadrifidus var. wrightii) and Waverly sage (Salvia ‘Waverly’).

I confess that I have never grown any of these plants in this container before, which makes this project even more fun.  

While I have grown the regular-sized lady’s slipper I didn’t know there was a mini variety until I saw it at the sale and I knew that I just had to have it – it would be a perfect size for a container.  (One thing that I love about the Desert Botanical Garden’s plant sales is that you can often find unusual or rare types of plants).


Mexican fire will bloom spring through fall, producing red flowers.  I don’t have any experience growing this shrub at all, so this project will be a learning experience. 

The salvia, ‘Waverley’ sage, has white and lavender flowers, which are beautiful.  Like most salvias, it will do best in filtered shade in the desert.
Polly is checking out what we were doing.
My son, Kai, was excited to help out with the project.  He decided that the orange pot would be his so he wanted to add the plants himself.
Next up was my purple pot.  In it went Blue Bells (Eremophila hygrophana), Mexican honeysuckle (Justicia spicigera) and red autumn sage (Salvia greggii).

Blue Bells is a relatively new plant on the scene and this Australian native flowers all year long and has evergreen foliage.  I have used it a lot in recent designs but this is the first one in my own garden.

Autumn sage has always been a favorite of mine – especially in areas with filtered shade where their red flowers will decorate the landscape fall through spring.

Mexican honeysuckle had been my go-to choice for shady areas where its bright green leaves and orange flowers look great all year.  After 17 years as a horticulturist, there is finally one in my landscape.
The blue pot contains a newer plant variety, an unknown and an old favorite. 

Sierra Star (Calliandra ‘Sierra Star’), garnet sage (Salvia chiapensis) and purple trailing lantana (Lantana montevidensis) made up the last trio.

Sierra Star is a hybrid with two famous parents – pink fairy duster (Calliandra eriophylla) and Baja fairy duster (Calliandra californica).  It blooms throughout the year, producing reddish-pink flowers.  I have used in several new designs and am so excited to have it in my garden.

Garnet sage is another salvia that I am looking forward to learning more about.  It has lovely magenta flowers and attractive foliage.  

Some people may be surprised to learn that purple trailing lantana attracts hummingbirds, but you’ll find it on most hummingbird plant lists and I’ve seen them feed from lantana before.  

As with all container plantings, I used a high-quality planting mix.

As I stepped back to admire my work,
Unfortunately, someone else decided to come and admire my hard work too.
I admit that I haven’t had much trouble with dogs eating my plants until Polly and her sister Penny came along.
My hope is that after she gets used to them, the newness will wear off and she will learn to ignore them.

Until then, we put up a temporary barrier.

Thankfully, the barrier won’t keep the hummingbirds away.  In my experience, it takes a few days for them to notice new plants (and hummingbird feeders).

I’ll keep you updated as to how my hummingbird container does and will take photos along the way that I can use in my upcoming presentation.

Have you ever been on television before?


I hadn’t until 2 weeks ago.  To be frank, the idea was a bit scary to me.  

Do you remember way back, when you were in school and had to present a report in front of the entire class?  That is what I imagined it would feel like – except worse.


I have done work before cameras doing how-to videos, but it wasn’t quite the same since they can retake the video every time you mess up. 


This was going to be live TV…


So, how did this all come about?  I assure that I don’t have an agent looking to book TV shows for me 😉


The producer of our local ABC television station contacted me about appearing on their morning show, called Sonoran Living (we live in the Sonoran desert, hence the name).


She asked me to do a segment on plants for fall.



So, I came up with a list of a few of my favorite ‘fuss-free’ plants and headed out the nursery.

I visited 3 different nurseries to see which ones had the best looking plants.  Then I waited until 2 days before my appearance to pick them up.

You know what true love is?  It is when your husband traipses through the nursery with you without an umbrella in the pouring rain 🙂


It was so rainy for the next couple of days that I kept the plants on my patio and took some time to do a little ‘window dressing’ pruning away dead flowers and branches so that they would look their best.

My youngest sister, Grace, volunteered to come with me to the studio and help me set up for my segment.  So, I loaded up the plants and my little cart and we headed out to downtown Phoenix and the television studio.

When we arrived, the security guard let us in and showed us the studio and then led us to the green room.


I did walk through the studio before anyone got there, to see what it looked like because I knew I wouldn’t see it again since my segment was to be filmed out on their patio.


 My sister, who is a professional photographer, told me to pose up front where the hosts of the show come out every morning.


We headed to the green room where we saw the order of the upcoming segments.  

I must admit that I was both more nervous and yet relieved that mine was to go first, so that I could get it over with more quickly.


We were led outside to the patio, which had a golfing green.  I’m not sure why there was a green – maybe the news anchors like to golf during their breaks?

Another reason I was so glad my sister came with me was that in addition to moral support, she is great at staging.  So she did the plant placement for me along with some of the props that I brought.


She will tell you that she has no particular talent in staging, but she is wrong!  Just look at how well the plants look together.


I brought gardening tools and my leather gloves because I was told to bring props.


I posed for a few pictures while waiting.  The plants next to me are Blue Bells (Eremophila hygrophana) and Mexican Honeysuckle (Justicia spicigera).

It was so humid that morning because of all the rain, that my carefully curled hair was rapidly becoming UN-curled 😉


I was told to prepare for a ‘teaser’ before my segment, so I tried to look busy putting a plant marker in my pot of chives.

One of the hosts (Terri Ouellette) of Sonoran Living came out early to meet me and go over what I was going to talk about.  She was very nice and I told her that I had been watching her on TV since the 90’s.

It was almost time to go and they wired me up with a mike and they put a monitor outside so we could see what the television audience saw.  


Instead of beginning the show inside the studio, they started it outside and then it was time for my segment.

The segment went smoothly and while my nerves showed a little, I actually enjoyed it.  I did mess up by saying “All of these shrubs need pruning one year”, when I meant to say that they need pruning once a year.

After it was over and the commercial was running, our host Terri said that she wanted me on again – so I guess I didn’t mess it up too badly.


Before we left, my sister asked if she could take a picture of me with the host.  I was too embarrassed to ask myself, so I was glad she did 🙂

So, would I do this again?

I received an email the day after from the producer saying that she wanted me back in 3 months.  I’d told her that I’d be happy too.


I think that I will enjoy it more next time and have fewer nerves.


If you haven’t had a chance to see the video, here is the link – “Ready? Fuss Free Plants for Fall”.



I can think of quite a few different plants that have the word “honeysuckle” listed as part of their common name.

I am very excited to share this particular plant with you because of one trait that is sometimes hard to find in many desert-adapted plants.

What is this trait?

Well, it thrives in filtered shade.  Now for many of you, this may not mean much.  But believe it or not, it can be hard to find plants that will do well in the shade in the desert.

I would like to introduce you to Mexican Honeysuckle (Justicia spicigera).
Isn’t it beautiful?
I especially like how the bright orange flowers contrast so nicely with the light green foliage.
Mexican Honeysuckle is native to Mexico, and down through South America.
Besides being beautiful, they have quite a few wonderful characteristics that will make you sure to include some in your garden.
Long bloom period
Year-round in warmer climates
Low maintenance
Little pruning is needed and can be done in December
 Fertilize only if needed (can suffer from iron chlorosis), but I have not needed to fertilize them.
Attracts hummingbirds
Hardy to zone 8
Can thrive in filtered, but not heavy shade.
In the low desert, Mexican Honeysuckle does best when it receives filtered shade in the afternoon.  In other areas, you can plant it in full sun.
Drought tolerant, but does require supplemental water.
They are not fragrant, but beautiful, just the same.
I had quite a few Mexican Honeysuckle planted behind a country clubhouse in an area with bright shade.  We rarely had to prune or fertilize ours.
They do very well when planted underneath a tree that provides filtered, but not heavy shade.  Mesquite and Palo Verde trees look great with Mexican Honeysuckle planted underneath.
I also like how they look when paired with a dark green agave such as Agave lophantha and Purple Trailing Lantana (Lantana montevidensis).
I hope you decide to try this beautiful lesser-know Honeysuckle.
*************************
On another note, I am almost ready to reveal my ‘special announcement’.
I will give you hint though…..
I have been busy writing quite a bit lately and not just for my personal blog.
No, I am not writing a book, but may someday 😉
I hope you all have a great week!     

This past Monday my sister (Daisy Mom) took me and my family to a very special place at the base of the desert mountains.  Beautiful gardens, plant collections from around the world and wild animals were on display for all to see at “The Living Desert”.

Teddy Bear Cholla, Ocotillo and the yellow flowers of Brittlebush grace the desert.
 
The Palm Springs area  is located in the midst of the California desert.  One of the first things that you notice about this area is that it is surrounded by tall, snow covered mountains.  It is a wonderful example of how mountains block much of the rain from entering the desert.
My nephews, niece and children were all ready for a fun day.
We were still in the parking lot when I knew that I was in trouble….I felt pulled in so many different directions by the beautiful and unusual plants that I saw.
 
Saliva coccinea
In general, flowering plants are what I am drawn to and there were so many to look at.  Countless flowering plants were enjoying the warmer then normal temperatures of the upper 70’s.
The tiny purple flowers of Trailing Indigo Bush (Dalea greggii), contrast nicely with the gray-green foliage of this groundcover.
Beautiful trees were also in flower…
   Australian native, Weeping Wattle (Acacia saligna) is covered with golden puffball flowers.
Flowering Parry’s Penstemon (Penstemon parryi)
 Yellow Columbine benefits from the water from this stone fountain.
My son, two daughters and niece stop by the pond to see the tadpoles.
 One of my favorite flowering plants that grows well in light shade, Mexican Honeysuckle (Justicia spicigera).
Salvia (I haven’t looked this one up yet)
Another Penstemon 
Did I mention already that I love Penstemons?
This low-growing shrub is absolutely covered in tiny purple flowers.
Are you tired yet? 
Today’s portion of our tour is almost over…
 
I love these African Daisies with their orange petals and purple center.

I have a preference for plants that produce plumes of flowers, such as this Coral Fountain (Russelia equisetiformis).
I mentioned yesterday that I took over 500 pictures of our visit and I did promise not to make you sit through all of them.  But I do have a few more to show you.  So our next visit together will focus on some of the unusual plants that we saw.  
There were many smaller paths that led off from the main path and there were always surprises around the bend – usually spectacular vistas along with some unusual plants.  More about that next time…. 
 My daughter, heading down a path – not sure what she will find at the end.
Thank you for taking the time out of your busy day to view some of the beauty of this special place.
I have left one of my favorite pictures for you to view in preparation for tomorrow’s post of unusual plants.
 
 Now, I am off to the dentist….