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A boot planter adds a touch of whimsy to a patio table.

I am always on the lookout for new ideas to use in outdoor spaces and on a recent trip to Austin, Texas, I toured 17 different gardens and came away filled with garden inspiration Southwest style. 

A garden’s style is a reflection of the owner and because everyone is unique, so is the way that they decorate their landscape. I confess that I saw several ideas that I felt representative of my taste and am contemplating replicating them in my garden or recommending them for my clients.

I hope you find things that you will want to incorporate into your landscape.

Wooden picture frames filled with live plants adorn a fence.

I fell in love with the gazebo in Colleen Jamison’s backyard. Filled with comfortable furniture and even a chandelier, I hope to create something similar in my back garden someday.

A candelabra graces a side table underneath the shade of the gazebo while mirrors reflect other areas of the garden.

The simple inclusion of a mirror reflects the other side of the garden and creates the illusion of a larger outdoor space. This works well in shady areas.

A unique handle for a door – a hand cultivator welded to the garden gate.

A stone head spouts a full head of hair made from Mexican feather grass (Nassella tennuisma).

Keeping with the “Keep Austin Weird” campaign, a garden doorway is graced with a skull and a prickly pear cactus.

A curved garden path leads visitors on a journey of discovery with large concrete balls dotting the way.

An upside down planter hangs from a tree with flowering impatiens. I don’t know how the plant stays in without falling out, but it’s cool!

A large colorful, container is the focal point behind a swimming pool. Pots don’t need to have plants inside them to add beauty to the garden. Pots can serve as an outdoor decorative element.

Four pear trees form an arbor over a rustic dining table. The trees were planted 5 years ago and trained onto a basic structure created from rebar.

Color doesn’t only from plants in Pam Penick’s garden – she adds interest with vibrant hues using planters, cushions, and outdoor carpet.

Summer in my desert garden is a time to enjoy its beauty from the air-conditioned comfort of my home. Yet, it’s also when I plan and dream of what I would like to add to it when the weather cools in fall.

Metal stars are on display, framed by star jasmine vine (Trachelospermum jasminoides).

While garden inspiration was in plentiful supply during my visit to Austin, it can also be found in other places such as a roadside planting, a local business’s landscape, a favorite magazine, or perhaps even in your neighbor’s front yard. I encourage you to keep your eyes open to possibilities of what you can do with your outdoor space.

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I love English gardens with their lush greenery, colorful blooms, and somewhat untidy appearance, which may be due to my partial English ancestry. While I don’t make it to the British Isles as much as I’d like, there are lovely examples to be found in the U.S. Earlier this month, I had the wonderful opportunity to visit an English garden with Texas flair.

Earlier this month, I was in Austin for the Garden Bloggers Fling, which is an annual gathering of garden bloggers that is held in a different city each year. As you might expect, touring gardens is the focus of the Fling and I couldn’t wait to explore the gardens of this area, largely because we can grow many of the same types of plants in Arizona.

I woke up, excited for our first day of touring, only to be greeted by torrential rain. However, I was undeterred – equipped with my rain poncho and umbrella, 3.5 inches of rain wasn’t going to get in my way of seeing beautiful gardens.

The garden of Jenny Stocker, who blogs at Rock Rose, was my favorite destination of the day. She describes her garden as an “arts and crafts Texas-style garden with an English theme”. Her landscape is broken up into ‘rooms’ with many areas surrounded by walls that frame each room while keeping deer away. Doorways provide a tantalizing glimpse into the next room, encouraging visitors to embark on a journey of discovery.

A dry creek bed meanders through this garden room where it is surrounded by both native and adapted plants that thrive despite a thin layer of soil that lies over rock.

Plants, like this foxglove, droop gracefully under the continuing rainfall and with every step through the garden, my feet were squishing in my wet shoes, but it was easy to ignore the discomfort with all the beauty surrounding me.

A small water feature, complete with water plants and a fish, create a welcome focal point.

Potted plants like this potted brugmansia and golden barrel cactuses add visual interest to an alcove. Did you know that golden barrel cactus are native to Texas and Mexico? Many of the plants we grow in Arizona come from these regions.

An angelic face peeks out from a wall of creeping fig, which grows well in the desert garden in shady locations with adequate water.

An overturned pot spills water into the pool, providing the lovely sound of water while creating a lovely focal point.

The swimming pool was unique in that it looked like a water feature with the surrounding flowering plants, many of which, are allowed to self-seed.

This was my favorite garden room, so I took a video so you can get an overview of the beauty of this area.

In another area of the garden, raised beds were filled with edible plants. In between the beds, were flowering plants that create a welcome softness and attract pollinators, which in turn, benefit the vegetables.

Lovely Verbena bonariensis decorated the edible garden with their delicate purple blossoms.

Jenny makes great use of grouping potted plants together on steps and I recognized ‘Blue Elf’ aloes in a few of the containers, which is one of my favorite aloes that I use in designs.

Stacked stone forms a raised bed that surrounds the circular wall of this garden room where a bird bath serves as a focal point.

Decorative animals were tucked into different spots, just waiting to be discovered by garden visitors, like this quail family.

Here is a great whimsical element that I enjoyed where Mexican feather grass was used to mimick the movement of water for stone fish.

Much like desert gardens, cacti and succulents were used to create unique texture, like this spineless prickly pear (Opuntia cacanapa), which is native to Texas but also grows nicely in my Arizona garden.

The blue-gray color and spiky texture of artichoke agave, contrasts beautifully with the softer textures of lush green perennials.

As we got ready to bid adieu to this Texas-English garden, I walked by an opening in a garden wall where a single agave stood sentinel and was struck by how a single plant can have a significant design impact when placed in the right spot.

This garden was a true Texas treasure and I came away in awe of its natural beauty. However, this wasn’t only the garden that inspired me – there were sixteen other gardens left to explore and I invite you to come back when I’ll profile another of my favorites. 

Have you ever given much thought about how sustainable your landscape is?

I must confess that I have been giving it a lot of thought lately.  

I am busy putting the final touches on a presentation that I am giving tomorrow on “New Ideas for Sustainable Landscaping”.


The community where I am giving this talk, asked me to speak on this subject in their continuing efforts to become an Audubon International Sustainable Community.

There will be other experts on hand to discuss other ways that people and communities can become sustainable.

My talk will focus on three ways to create a more sustainable landscape:

– Maximize the use of arid-adapted plants.

– Utilize a good, functional design that is environmentally-friendly.

– Appropriate maintenance is practiced.


Next week, I will write a series of blog posts that will focus on these three ideas.

My hope is that you will be able to implement some of these things in your own landscape.

In the meantime, please wish me luck for my talk tomorrow!

With warming temperatures, many of us begin to think about changing out our cool-season annual flowers for plants that can take the heat of summer.


Last week, I gave a potting demonstration for attendees of a local home tour.  


The pots were then to be raffled off.

I planned on creating two succulent pots and one using a combination of perennials and annual flowers.


My daughter, Rachele, came with me to help carry the bags of soil, pots, plants, etc.

It was also an opportunity to spend time together before she left for the Navy.

There were to be two different potting demonstrations.  I created one succulent pot ahead of time…


This container has pink-flowering Crown of Thorns, tall Lady’s Slipper, Variegated Elephant’s Food and a gray-colored cactus.

I like to create container plantings with a tall plant for vertical interest.  The Crown of Thorns provides striking floral color.  The Elephant’s Food will trail over the edge of the pot as it grows, which adds texture and softens the container’s lines.  

Lastly, the gray-colored cactus (I admit that I don’t know what kind it is), adds great color contrast with its gray/blue color.

Soon, it was time for the first demonstration.  My daughter took photos of me talking.  The lighting is terrible because I was in the shade and behind me was the sun, but you can still see what I was doing.

Looking down at my notes.  Can you tell  I use my hands when I talk?

Planting the orange Calendula.
Adding Purple Verbena and filling the spaces with Celosia.
I just need a bit more Celosia in the front, don’t you think?

For this container, the tall vertical interest comes from Mexican Feather Grass.  The bright color is from the Calendula.  The trailing plant is Purple Verbena and gray Lavender provides the color contrast.

I used Celosia to fill in the empty spaces.  I was pretty happy with how it turned out.

When planning on what plant combinations will look good in a container, I simply arrange the plants, while they are still in their containers at the nursery.


Now it was time for planting the second succulent pot.

First, adding the Elephant’s Food.

Ever wonder how to plant a cactus without getting pricked?


An old towel, folded into quarters (4 layers thick) works great.  I covered the top of the Golden Barrel Cactus with the towel as I turned it over to plant.  The towel came off easily once I was finished.

Newspaper is also helpful in planting cactus.

Almost done…


Finished!

The Blue Elf Aloe provides the height for this planting combination.  Elephant’s Food will grow to trail over the side.  The Golden Barrel cactus adds color contrast with its round shape and yellow spines.  Ice plant with brightly-colored red flowers adds a needed splash of color.


The pots each went to good homes and raised money for future community projects.

Do you like growing plants in containers?  

Or maybe, you haven’t tried before.

Well, it’s not difficult.  Come back for a visit in a couple of days and I’ll share with you my container guidelines.