Tag Archive for: Lesser known plants

Purple lilac vine in the garden

Purple lilac vine

Discovering the Beauty of the Purple Lilac Vine (Hardenbergia violacea)

In the midst of a colorless winter garden, a burst of vibrant beauty can be a delightful surprise. Explore the wonders of this wonderful purple vine, a lesser-known gem that thrives in the desert garden.

Embracing the Lilac Vine’s Versatility

Welcome to the world of the purple lilac vine (Hardenbergia violacea), an Australian native cherished for its unique charm. While it’s not a true lilac, it serves as a wonderful substitute in regions like the low desert where traditional lilacs struggle to grow. Regular irrigation is important.

A Versatile Beauty

This versatile vine can be employed in various ways in your desert southwest garden. Traditionally used as a vine, it can also shine as a ground cover, as my experience from over 20 years ago demonstrated. Its adaptability is one of its key strengths.

Blooming in the Heart of Winter

One of the most remarkable attributes of the lilac vine is its winter bloom. In zone 9 gardens, February brings forth a profusion of gorgeous purple flowers, adding a touch of elegance when little else is in bloom.

Purple lilac vine in full bloom

Isn’t it beautiful?

This Australian native is known by different common names with lilac vine (Hardenbergia violacea) being commonly used in our area of the Southwest.

It is not actually a lilac, but because we cannot grow lilacs in the low desert, this is a wonderful substitute.

Purple lilac vine flowers up close

My first experience using Purple Lilac was over 20 years ago when I used it in a feature area on one of the golf courses I worked for.

Although traditionally used as a vine, I used it as a ground cover; believe it or not, it did beautifully.

One of the best attributes of this vine is that it blooms during the winter month of February in our zone 9 gardens.

Now be honest, there is not much going on in your garden in winter, is there? Wouldn’t it be great to have gorgeous purple flowers blooming when little else is?

Purple lilac vine on a fence

Reasons to Welcome this Winter Vine

Here are more reasons to consider introducing this lovely vine into your garden:

  • Winter Blossoms: Brighten up your garden during the colder months.
  • Year-Round Attractiveness: Even when not in bloom, the vine boasts appealing foliage.
  • Low Maintenance: Minimal care required; occasional pruning for size control and little need for supplemental fertilizer.
  • Vertical Growth: It thrives when provided with a trellis or support structure.
  • Ideal Placement: East or south-facing areas are especially suitable for this vine.
  • Hardiness: Hardy to USDA Zone 9, it withstands typical winter temperatures but may suffer frost damage in the upper 20s°F.

Under normal winter temperatures, it doesn’t suffer frost damage.

Purple Lilac Vine Has Useful Appeal

The vine isn’t just about looks. It can serve as a decorative asset, transforming bare walls and concealing unattractive views with its lush foliage and vibrant blooms.

Purple lilac vine leaf view

When people ask me if I recommend a particular plant, I tell them that the highest recommendation that I can give is is if I have that plant growing in my garden.

I do not have the patience to grow a plant that struggles and/or takes too much maintenance.  It also has to look beautiful most of the year.

So if you ask me if I truly like this vine, I answer by saying that I have four growing in my backyard 🙂

Sourcing Your Purple Lilac Vine

While some may struggle to find this vine in local nurseries, fret not. Most nurseries typically stock them when they’re in full flower during the winter. It’s important to note that while the flowers resemble lilacs, they may not be strongly fragrant. However, their sheer beauty makes up for any lack of fragrance.

Discover the magic of this wonderful vine and infuse your winter garden with a burst of captivating color and charm. Happy gardening!


purple lilac vine at the garden center

If you find yourself driving through the neighborhood, chances are that you will see an abundance of particular types of plants.  

However, what you often do not see are a wide variety of plants.  Instead, you usually see the same kind of plants repeated from landscape to landscape.

For example, in the larger Phoenix metro area, many homes have at least one of the following plants, if not more:

Dwarf Oleander



Texas Sage

Now I have nothing against these particular plants (except for the fact that Oleanders are poisonous).  All are easy to grow, look beautiful when in flower and thrive in our dry desert climate.

What happens though is that there tends to be an overabundance of these plants.  Because of this, landscapes can tend to look a little boring because they look like their neighbor.

Have you ever thought about trying some different plants to spice things up in your garden?  Now I am not suggesting that you pull out all of your Oleanders, Lantana, Bougainvillea or Texas Sage.  I actually have the last three in my garden.  What I am suggesting is adding or replacing just a few plants with some lesser known plants.

Over the next few weeks I will profile a lesser known plant that I think that you should try out in your garden.  (Okay, this is where I refer you to my disclaimer at the bottom of this page – my recommendations are meant for those who live in a climate similar to my desert garden’s zone 9a).

Are you ready?

Snapdragon Penstemon

Let me introduce you to Snapdragon Penstemon (Penstemon palmeri) also known as Palmer’s Penstemon I saw the Penstemon, pictured above, while driving to an appointment in Cave Creek, AZ.  It was so beautiful that it stopped me in my tracks and I rushed out to take a picture.

The first time that I had seen a Snapdragon Penstemon was while working for a golf course back in the 90’s.  It had been planted around the golf course which had a desert plant palette.  

Snapdragon Penstemon

Even though this Penstemon has been planted in a desert-themed garden, it will do just as well and look just as great in a more traditional front yard landscape.

When in bloom, it can reach heights of 6 ft. and sometimes higher.  In my experience growing Snapdragon Penstemon, they tend to bloom a little later in spring then the better known Firecracker and Parry’s Penstemons.  Flowering can extend into early summer depending on the location.

Maintenance is super easy…..cut of the flowering spikes when the flowers fade.  It is drought tolerant, but does best with a little supplemental water in dry, desert climates AND it thrives in our desert soil without amendments.  It is native to Arizona and New Mexico, which probably explains why it thrives in our conditions.

The flowers have a lovely, light fragrance and attract hummingbirds.  Published literature states that it will grow in zones 4 – 9, but does not do well in humid locations or wet soils.

I do hope you decide to try out this lesser known plant.  Just plant it in full sun, give it a little water from time to time and watch it take off.  It can be a little difficult to find in your local nursery unless you visit a specialty nursery or a plant sale at your botanic garden.  But you can find them at High Country Gardens where they will ship them to you.

Who knows?  Maybe someone will stop in their tracks when they see this beautiful plant growing in your garden 🙂


It is hard to believe that Thanksgiving is less then a week away.

We will be enjoying two Thanksgiving celebrations this year.  The first one, I will be hosting for my husband’s family.  

The second celebration will be at my sister’s house with my family.

How about you?  

What will you be doing for Thanksgiving?  

You know what?  Sometimes life gets so busy and crazy.  Now, I am sure that none of you are surprised by my ‘earth-shattering’ statement.  But that is how I am feeling today.  Life is full of both grief and joy and it is strange to feel both emotions at the same time, isn’t it?

Wow….I am really getting quite philosophical now.  I had better concentrate on plants, since I did not do all that well in my philosophy class in college 😉

This will be the last ‘lesser-know’ plant that we will focus on for at least a little while.  Spring is on its way and it is time to concentrate on other gardening topics.

In some ways, I have saved the best for last.  One of my favorite things that I enjoy on a hot, summer day is the welcome beauty and shade from a tree.

What if the tree not only provided shade and attractive foliage, but also had beautiful flowers?  Would you want one in your garden?  I certainly do…. I have 4.

Desert Willow

Desert Willow (Chilopsis linearis) is a visual oasis in the summer garden.

I like the term ‘visual oasis’, don’t you?  I may need to use that term more often 🙂

Besides being beautiful, here are some more reasons that I think you should include this small tree in your garden.

Desert Willow

Native to the desert Southwest

Drought tolerant, although supplemental water keeps it looking its best.

My trees are connected to my irrigation drip system.

Hardy to 0 degrees F.

Flowers spring through fall

Although not a willow, it does have willow-shaped leaves.

Grows fairly quickly and reaches a mature size of approximately 25 ft high and wide.

Thornless and easy to maintain

Plant in full sun and well-drained soil

Do not over water

They are deciduous, meaning that they will lose their leaves in winter and they do form seedpods.

The flowers range from pale pink to purple in the wild.  There is a variety known as ‘Lucretia Hamilton’ which is slightly smaller (20 ft high and wide) and has deep pink flowers.

Desert Willow

Desert Willow ‘Lucretia Hamilton’

There are other varieties available, some with fewer seedpods, flower colors and leaf shapes.  You can view more specific information about the different varieties here (curse down until you reach Chilopsis linearis).

I hope you have enjoyed seeing some of my favorite lesser-know plants.  If you missed some of them, here are the links:

Valentine (Eremophila maculata ‘Valentine’)

Chaparral Sage (Salvia clevelandii)

Coral Fountain (Rusellia equisetiformis)

Angelita Daisy (Tetraneuris acaulis)

Purple Lilac Vine (Hardenbergia violacea)

Mexican Honeysuckle (Justicia spicigera)


Okay, you know the big news that I have been referring to over the past few weeks?

Well, I can’t wait to tell you all about it…….

on Tuesday, March 1st

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.

Mexican Honeysuckle

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.

Mexican Honeysuckle

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!  

An Imaginary Land With Real Plants

I wrote earlier this month about the extreme cold temperatures that we had been dealing with.  Well, we are now experiencing warmer then normal temperatures with highs hitting about 78 degrees F.  While I do love this weather, I am NOT liking how my allergies have flared up.  I am writing this with swollen, itchy and watery eyes……definitely not a pretty sight.  So, I will stay indoors, hoping that my allergy medication decides to kick in sometime soon 😉

On another note, I have enjoyed sharing with you some of the wonderful plants that are ‘lesser-known’ in the garden.

Basically, lesser-known plants are those that are underused in the garden.  I think the reason is, is that most people are so used to using the more common landscape plants, that they do not know what other alternatives are out there.  

So, if you are tired of your front landscape, looking like everyone else, then you should definitely try out some of these plants in your landscape.  So far, we have showcased Valentine, Chaparral Sage and Coral Fountain.

Today’s star is one that I have used quite a bit in the past 10 years.  Although I have seen it used in commercial plantings, it is still not seen too often in residential landscapes, which is a shame.

Angelita Daisy

Angelita Daisy (Tetraneuris acaulis formerly Hymenoxys acualis), is a must have for the garden.  I love the bright, daisy-like flowers and the little grass-like leaves.

This pretty little perennial is native to the high desert areas of the United States, but also thrives in the low desert as well.

Angelita Daisy

They look great when massed together.  I normally use 3 planted about 1 ft. apart.  Alternatively, they can be planted alone as well and look great when placed next to boulders or in containers.

Angelita Daisies make a great alternative for Gold Lantana and does not suffer frost damage in both the low and high deserts.

**In fact, Angelita Daisy is hardy to -20 degrees F.  So it is perfect for those who live in colder climates as well!

Here are some other reasons to use this wonderful little perennial in your garden:

Thrives in full sun.

Is not picky about soil, as long as it is well-drained.

Does not require fertilizer.

Is fairly low-maintenance.  Occasional deadheading of flowers is all.

In low desert areas, Angelita Daisy blooms off an on all year long, with the strongest bloom occurring in spring.

It’s mature size of 1 ft. high and wide, makes it perfect for any size garden. 

Angelita Daisy

Angelita Daisies are not all that impressive when viewed in their containers, but as soon as they are planted and their roots have a chance to grow, you will be rewarded with a showy display of yellow flowers.

As the plants age, you may prune them back if needed and they do spread by seed.

I think I will use some in my summer containers this year.

How about you?

Where will you use Angelita Daisy in your garden?

One of the things that I love about gardening in the desert is how many beautiful plants that can not just survive our arid climate, but thrive in it.  

Besides our native desert plants, many tropical plants also do very well here due to our relatively mild winter in our semi-tropical climate.  Quite a few of these plants are native to Mexico.

So far in our lesser-known plant spotlight, we have highlighted two flowering shrubs that will add interest to your garden…..Valentine and Chaparral Sage.

So now for our next featured plant.  

If you love the shape of water as it cascades from a fountain and the bright colors of coral, then you definitely want to include coral fountain (Russelia equisetiformis) in your garden.

tropical plants

Aren’t the flowers just so beautiful?

Although this beautiful plant is native to Mexico, it does exceptionally well in our arid climate – in fact, the coral fountain in the photos is planted in sandy soil.  The leaves are hard to see and are small and scale-like in appearance.

tropical plants

Here are some reasons that you should definitely try coral fountain out in your garden:

– Striking coral colored flowers continually grace this shrub during the warm months of the year.

– It can reach a mature size of 4 ft. high and 4 – 6 ft. wide.

– Hummingbirds will be in heaven if you plant this pretty flowering shrub.

– Coral fountain is tolerant of a variety of conditions.  Well-drained soils or wet soils, arid climates or tropical climates and handles full sun or filtered shade.

– It grows quickly, so you do not have to wait a long time for its showy display of flowers.

– Because of its tropical origins, it is not cold hardy.  It does suffer frost damage when temperatures dip below 32 degrees F.  You can help to protect coral fountain from frost by covering it when temperatures fall.

Because our soils have so little organic matter, coral fountain does best when given some fertilizer.  I would recommend using a slow-release fertilizer and apply in the spring and fall months.

Try planting it alongside yellow or purple flowering plants for great color contrast.

The cascading form of coral fountain looks beautiful when used next to a water feature or in a container.  You could also use it a raised bed where the flower plumes will gracefully fall over the wall.

Have I tempted you enough to try this plant?

Here is another look…..

tropical plants

I took all of the photos at The Living Desert Wildlife and Botanical Park in Palm Desert, CA.  I visited there with my sister last March.

Why didn’t I take a picture of my own coral fountain?  Well, I must admit that I do not have one in my garden.

Okay, so you may well be asking why do I not have a plant that I highly recommend in my garden?  Well, that is an excellent question, and I must confess that I do not have a really great answer for you.

I could say that my garden is over 11 years old and already full of plants.

I could then add that if I planted every kind of plant that I loved, that all sense of design in my garden would go out the door because I would have a mish-mash of too many different plants, which is not pleasing to the eye from a design standpoint.

But, those excuses sound kind of pitiful to my own ears.  Every time that I drive to Double S Farms (my mother and sister’s home), I pass by a beautifully designed garden which features a coral fountain shrub on the corner.  I always look for this plant, and I am still admiring it.

And so, I must admit the truth to myself…… I would love to have this plant in my own garden and will be on the lookout for one the next time I visit the nursery. UPDATE: I now have three of the beautiful plants, growing underneath the filtered shade of my palo verde tree.  

I have been enjoying sharing with you some of my favorite lesser-known plants.  These are plants that are not used enough in the landscape and can brighten up an otherwise boring landscape filled with over-used landscape plants such as Lantana, Dwarf Oleander, etc.  My last post featured the beautiful Valentine shrub.

I am very excited to talk about this lesser known plant.  Let me introduce you to chaparral sage (Salvia clevelandii).

Lesser Known Plant

Isn’t it beautiful?

Years ago, I planted the chaparral Sage above along with many others around a golf course.  Their blue-purple flowers were a definite focal point in the spring time landscape.

Lesser Known Plant

The striking flowers begin to form in the spring and continue on into early summer.

This shrub is native to San Diego county and performs well in well-drained soil.

Like most of my favorite plants, this flowering shrub is low-maintenance.  There are also many other reasons that I think you should definitely try this out in your garden:

Hardy to 10 degrees F.

And so mine is still green despite temps dipping into the low 20’s this winter.

Has a beautiful, naturally round shape.  Only requires pruning by at least 1/2 its size in February and removal of spent flowers in the summer.

Hummingbirds will be congregating around the beautiful flowers.

Reaches a mature size of approximately 4′ x 4′.

The foliage is highly fragrant and is attractive even when not covered with flowers.

Lesser Known Plant

In the low deserts, it is wise to place the shrubs where they will receive filtered shade in the afternoons.  In high desert locations, they can be set out in full sun.

The foliage is quite fragrant and while most people enjoy its fragrance, some do not.  So, be sure to find a Chaparral Sage plant ahead of time to make sure that you enjoy the fragrance as much as I do before you buy some for your garden.

The fragrance is best enjoyed from a short distance, so I recommend not planting right next to walkways or windows.

Chaparral Sage looks great when planted near yellow, red or pink flowering plants.

I hope you will decide to try this shrub out in your garden.  I absolutely love mine.


For those of you who are determined to be trendsetters in your garden, try these beautiful, fuss-free plants in your garden.  

When you describe yourself, do you think of yourself as a trendsetter?  Do you wear the most current fashions or drive the newest style of car?

Well, anyone who knows me well, would not use the word trendsetter to describe me.  Now that doesn’t mean that my clothing or car are out of style…..I am perfectly content being more ‘middle of the road’ in my tastes.  My youngest sister is what you would call a trendsetter and I am always getting inspiration from her in terms of my fashion sense, books to read and so much more.

However, before you write me off as a trendsetter, there is one area in my life where I do like to be a trendsetter…..in the garden.

If you drive down any neighborhood where you live, you probably find the same types of plants in the front yard.  In a given neighborhood, there can be a very limited variety of plants present.

This can be a result of the home builder designing and installing the landscape, using a limited amount of plants to choose from.  Or, that the homeowners do not know that there are other plants available for them to use.

In my little corner of the desert Southwest, you will see a large amount of Lantana, Dwarf Oleander, Texas Sage, Bougainvillea and Ficus trees.

Now there is nothing wrong with these plants and they look fabulous in the warmer months.  But, when so many people have these plants in their front yard, they tend to become boring.  The plants actually tend to become part of the background and do not add much interest to the landscape.

Imagine if everyone wore the same 4 pieces of clothing.  It would be pretty boring.  

But, imagine if one of those people decided to spice up her wardrobe by putting on a different style and color shirt?  You can bet that people would start to notice her.

Well, the same is true of your garden.  There are many different types of plants that are just as beautiful as the more common ones found in your neighborhood.

Over the next few posts, I will show you some of my favorites.

Today, I will introduce you to one of my favorite shrubs.  This shrub was introduced by Mountain States Wholesale Nursery.  

My favorite shrubs

My favorite shrubs

 Aren’t the flowers beautiful?  This is my Valentine shrub (Eremophila maculata ‘Valentine).

Over 12 years ago, I remember my nursery sales representative bringing me some free shrubs to try out on the golf course I was working at.   Well anytime anyone offered me free plants, I was more then happy to try them out.

My favorite shrubs

My favorite shrubs

Well, they turned out to be the best thing I had ever planted and I was soon ordering more.

Okay, here are just some of the reason I love this shrub:

It is evergreen

Beautiful flowers are produced during the winter months, when there is not much going on in the garden.

It only needs to be pruned once a year – in May.

I never had to fertilize them.

Very low-maintenance.

Hardy to 15 degrees F.

(Even when temperatures dipped down to 21 degrees last week, my shrubs are still beautiful and flowering).

Grows approximately 5′ x 5′ in size.

and does best in full sun.

I mean, what more can you ask for in a plant?

Still not convinced?

Here is another look……

My favorite shrubs

So what are you waiting for?  Go to your local nursery and pick some up.  I have even seen them at our local big box stores.

Who knows?  You may soon be known as the trendsetter in your neighborhood when you garden becomes a standout by using some lesser known plants 🙂

Drive By Landscapes: Winter Beauty in the Southwest Garden