Posts

Spring in the desert Southwest is a busy time of year.  While those that live in colder climates countdown the days until March 20th, the spring season begins a full month earlier where we live.


As a horticulturist / landscape consultant, my days have been quite busy lately assisting people with their gardens.


Today, I thought that I would show some glimpses of my week in review, which was filled with creative containers, newly planted xeriscapes, flowering cacti and the heavenly fragrance of orange blossoms.


The weather this past week has been warm, in the low 80’s.  Spring-flowering plants were in full bloom such as this sweet acacia tree which produces small, golden, puffball flowers.  I love how the deep yellow looks against the blue sky, don’t you?

Often, in my travels assisting clients, I see some great examples of beautiful xeriscapes.


This is a newly planted landscape which stood out from the surrounded homes with its mature plants, the selection of desert-adapted plants and the nice design.

The vibrant purple flowers of the verbena (Glandularia pulchella) demanded attention from passersby.  I also liked how the golden barrel cacti looked in the raised bed.


Another landscape that I saw this week was filled with countless different types of plants.  Often, when you have too many kinds of plants, the effect can appear ‘messy’ visually.  But, not with this landscape filled with succulents of all sorts including aloe, artichoke agave and golden barrel cacti.


While driving by a church landscape that I had designed previously, I stopped to take this photo of the damianita (Chrysactina mexicana), which was in full bloom.  I absolutely love this plant and have several in my own garden.



I took a few moments to stop by and talk to my friends, Sam & Lulu, who happen to own Verde Valley Nursery in Fountain Hills.  My visits always last longer than planned because we enjoy talking about plants!



During visits to a few of my regular clients, who have me come by on an annual basis, I saw some great examples of container plants, including this one filled with Blue Elf aloe, golden barrel, small variegated agave and totem pole ‘Monstrosus’ cactus.  


This looks so nice, it almost makes it easy to skip planting high-maintenance annual flowers.

I really liked this container.  Many people have problems growing flowers in entryways where there is not enough sun.  In addition, there is the burden of having to water frequently that can lead to stains on the concrete.  


This colorful container is filled with dried, flowering agave stalks – I love it!



One of the joys of my job is when clients invite me back to see their landscape and sometimes recommend a few ‘tweaks’.  It was during one of these repeat visits that I saw this trio of Blue Elf aloe, which looks great when planted next to boulders, don’t you think?

Sometimes, I see things that are somewhat unusual, like this Mexican fence post cactus (Pachycereus marinatus) that was forming flowers.  They do not always flower in the low desert, so this was a really neat to see close up.



Visions of purple-flowering plants filled my week. While on a date night with my husband, we strolled through our local outdoor mall and I saw these lovely sea lavender (Limonium perezii).



Although I do not have lavender in my garden, I enjoy seeing lavender in other people’s gardens.  This Spanish lavender (Lavandula stoechas) looked beautiful.



I came upon this gorgeous blue hibiscus shrub in an unlikely place – the supermarket parking lot. 



While not quite purple, the dark pink of Parry’s penstemon looks so beautiful in the spring landscape.  I recently added one in my garden in partnership with Monrovia.



Today as I drove home from an appointment, I rolled down the windows so that I could smell the heavenly fragrance of the orange blossoms from the surrounding orchards.


After beautiful weeks like this, I feel so blessed to work outdoors – especially when I am stuck inside working on taxes today 🙁


**********************************


I hope you had a great week and have something fun planned for this weekend! 

This is a story about new beginnings – one for a new cactus and another beginning for my second-oldest daughter, Rachele.

Believe me when I say that both stories are connected in a way.

This cactus, above, is a Mexican Fence Post (Pachycereus marinatus), which has been happily growing in my front garden. 

What may not be initially obvious is that 11 years ago, I started this cactus from a 2 ft. piece of one (called a ‘cutting’) given to me by a client from their large Mexican Fence Post cactus.

Well, exactly 1 year ago, I repeated the favor for our neighbors.


Look carefully at the photo above and compare it with the first one.  Can you see where we cut off a piece of the cactus?

Our neighbors had recently re-landscaped their front yard and wanted a cactus like ours.  Of course, they knew that they would have to start out with a much smaller one – but they were unprepared for how expensive it would be to buy one at the nursery.

Our cactus had been growing so well, we decided to offer them a piece (cutting) off of our Mexican Fence Post.  So, my husband, daughter and I gathered together to take a cutting from our cactus.

Here is how we did it…


We selected a good-sized length of cactus and while I held onto it, my husband took a pruning saw and started sawing it off at the bottom.

Multiple layers of newspaper and gloves are helpful to use to grab onto cacti with short thorns. For cacti with longer thorns, you can use carpet remnants.

When you cut out a piece of cactus, it will be much heavier then you are expecting – so be prepared.


My husband and daughter wheeled the cactus cutting over to our neighbor’s house using our wheelbarrow.


We then placed the cutting in a dry, shady spot for 2 weeks in order to allow the cut site to ‘callus’ over, which would protect the cacti from rotting when it is replanted.

*Exactly 3 days after helping us with the cactus cutting, my daughter, Rachele, left for the Navy and basic training.  It was a sad goodbye for us, but a new beginning for her.

After 2 weeks had passed, the new cactus was planted in its new location with a wooden stake for support.

No water was applied for the first month after planting, in order to make sure that the entire cut end had callused over.

One month after planting, the cactus was watered deeply, monthly, until November.


*Whenever I looked at the newly-planted cactus, thoughts of my daughter and how she was doing in her new Navy life always crossed my mind.


One year later, the new cutting is doing so well and has even grown two new sections.

You can see the parent cactus in the background.

Now, I may not be located as closely to my daughter as these two cacti, but like the new cactus, she is growing and doing so well in her new career with the Navy.  We are so proud of her!


You can read more about Rachele’s adventures, here.

**********************
Propagating cactus via cuttings can be done with many species of cacti.

But there are some guidelines to follow for success:

1. Propagate cactus during the warm season, when the threat of frost is over.

2. Make the cut at the joint where the segment attaches to the parent plant.  For prickly pear cacti, you can cut a segment that consists of 1 – 3 pads.

3. Place the new cutting in a dry, shady spot for 2 weeks to allow the cut site to ‘callus’, which protects the cacti from rot when it is replanted.

4. Plant your new cactus in full sun with well-drained soil.

5. Don’t water for a month after planting.  Then water deeply, monthly until fall.

5. Provide temporary shade for the first summer.  You can do this by placing a plastic patio chair over the top or using shade cloth.

Soon, you will begin to see new growth on your cactus.
Desert Botanical Garden Plant Sale
 
I enjoy attending plant sales hosted by botanical gardens.  
 
Here in the southwest, you can often find the newest succulents including those that are hard to find as well as old favorites.
 
There are a few tips that I’d like to share with you the next time you are buying a succulent whether at a plant sale or your local nursery that can save you money.
 
 
1. Avoid purchasing agave in 15-gallon containers or larger.  
 
Why?  Well, almost all species of agave will flower toward the end of their life and then die.  That is what agave do.  
 
Flowering is triggered by the age of the agave.  Different species live for differing lengths of time – some live less then 10 years. If you buy a 15-gallon or larger boxed agave – it is safe to assume that they are much older then those in smaller pots and will flower and die much sooner.
 
So my advice is to purchase agave in 1 or 5-gallon sizes – they will last much longer and you’ll save a lot of money.
*Sometimes, you can find more then one agave growing in the same nursery container – that’s like getting 2 for the price of 1!
 
 
Better yet, ask a friend or neighbor for a volunteer (pup) from their agave.  Many agave species produce volunteers that can be transplanted.  To learn how, click here.
 
My husband and daughter checking out the young saguaro cacti.
 
2. Buy smaller cacti rather then larger.
 
Columnar cacti are beautiful, but expensive.  The price is usually based on the height of the cactus.  Saguaro cacti are priced based on each foot in height plus arms.
 
The price for a 1 ft. high Totem Pole cactus was $48.
 
The reason that I recommend starting out with a smaller columnar cactus such as Mexican Fence Post (Pachycereus marinatus) or Totem Pole (Lophocereus schottii ‘Monstrose’) is that they will begin to grow at a faster rate once planted in the ground.  
 
In fact, smaller plants have an easier time becoming established then larger ones.
 
Many columnar types of cacti grow faster in the landscape then in the wild due to the presence of water – that includes saguaro cacti as well.
 
 
Like agave, you can start some species of columnar cacti from cuttings.
 
I planted this Mexican Fence Post cactus in my garden 11 years ago.  It started out as a 2 foot cutting given to me by a client from their large cactus.
 
Look how much it has grown!
 
You may notice on the lower right side that there has been a section cut off.  Soon, I’ll show you how to take a cutting from an existing cactus to create a new one!
 
 
3. Have a plan in place for planting your new cactus/succulent.
 
If you hadn’t noticed, many succulents are prickly.   So, it is a good idea to plan on how you are going to plant it.  Decide whether you can do it yourself or if you will need to hire someone to plant it for you.
 
For small cacti, you can use a towel to help you plant them without getting pricked.  See how here.
 
For larger cacti, you can use pieces of carpet or rubber straps.  But when in doubt about whether you can plant it yourself, hire an expert.
 
 
*As a golf course horticulturist, I used to transplant Teddy Bear Cholla (Opuntia bigelovii) from areas that were to be built upon.  I would use rubber straps to carry the cholla and regular kitchen tongs to pick up the pieces that dropped off.  I would then plant them elsewhere.
 
 
4. Keep an eye out for discounted plants.
 
Often, not all plants will meet the high standards of the nursery.  Sometimes, this can be mostly cosmetic damage, but occasionally you will see a succulent that has not been watered correctly or placed in too much or too little sun.
 
This can be a great way to save money and provide a little TLC to new succulents.  Research online how to care for that particular plant and soon you will have a healthy succulent growing in your garden that cost you a lot less.
 
*******************
 
I hope that these tips will be helpful to you the next time you are shopping for succulents.

When I am driving about town, I tend to look at the landscapes that I pass by.  Usually, I tend to see some “landscape no-no’s”, which I like to share with you now and then.


But, I also take pictures of what I like to call “landscape do’s”.  I realized the other day, that I tend to share with you bad examples of landscapes much more then the good ones, so here are a few that I saw the past couple of weeks…



I love Gold Lantana and how it flowers non-stop spring through fall.  When planted next to boulders, you get a great contrast in textures.

What is even better about this arrangement, is how easy Lantana is to grow.  Unlike many tropical climates, Lantana is not invasive in arid climates.  Just water it regularly and prune it back hard in spring (6″ high), after the last frost.  Periodically prune it back every 2 – 3 months, stopping pruning 3 months before the first frost date in your area.  



Sometimes, I see great examples of desert trees that are properly pruned.


This Texas Ebony (Ebanopsis ebano formerly Pithecellobium flexicaule) is beautiful tree that is prized for its dark green foliage that is evergreen.


It does have thorns and gets seedpods, but it highly prized by those who live in the Southwest.



This nicely designed landscape was located next door to a house where I was visiting a client.


I like how the columnar cacti flank the entry on either side.  Totem Pole (Lophocereus schotti ‘Monstrosus’) is on the left and has the bonus that it is thornless.  Another favorite of mine, Mexican Fence Post (Pachycereus marginatus), which is one of the few cacti that I have in my own garden.


The yellows of the Golden Barrel (Echinocactus grusonii)with their rounded shapes contrast nicely with the spiky fans of Desert Spoon (Dasylirion wheeleri).


**Another bonus about this landscape is that it is extremely low-maintenance.



While stopped at an intersection in Scottsdale, Arizona, I noticed this distinctive landscaped area with contrasting spokes of a wheel fanning out from the sign.


Different sizes of gravel are often used to add interest to the landscape by the contrasts in size.


Agave and Aloe vera make up the plantings in the lighter colored spokes while Golden Barrel are used in the darker rip rap.


Well, these are just a small sampling of the “landscape do’s” that I have seen lately.


I hope you enjoyed seeing them and maybe will be inspired to replicate a couple of these plantings in your own landscape.










Some daughter-in-law’s don’t have much in common with their father-in-law. 

In my case, when I married my husband 25 years ago, I wasn’t sure if I would have any shared interests with my father-in-law…..he was a dentist (I was deathly afraid of dentists), he ran 3 miles a day (I got a ‘stitch’ in my side if I tried running to the corner), he was very orderly and meticulous (I am neither of those things) and he was soft spoken (while I can be a bit loud).

I knew he loved me and I him, but sometimes conversation would lag because besides the kids and family, there wasn’t much else to talk about.

That is until I started to become interested in plants and landscaping.  You see, my father-in-law always had well-designed landscapes filled with beautiful plants.  As I decided to pursue a degree in Urban Horticulture, he was very supportive.

Goodding’s Verbena (Glandularia gooddingi)      
Even better, we now had lots to talk about.  Our visits would often include visits into each others garden.
I would show him my newest plant acquisition and he would in turn, ask me questions about a few of his plant problems.
Red Yucca  (Hesperaloe parviflora)
 
A few years later, he and my mother-in-law made the trip up to my newest job location, took me out to lunch and asked me to show them around the landscape areas I was in charge of.

Blackfoot Daisy  (Melampodium leucanthum)

 When he retired, he asked me to design the landscape for their new home.  He had some ideas of what he wanted and then let me go at it.
Damianita  (Chrysactinia mexicana)
 I enjoyed working closely with him, in coming up with a design and the plants that he liked.

Purple Prickly Pear  (Opuntia violaceae)

While I enjoyed visiting and seeing his landscape mature, I didn’t always agree with the way he like to prune his shrubs…


 His style gardening was orderly and meticulous, like he was.
We would sometimes tease each other because our styles were vastly different.

‘Torch Glow’ Bougainvillea

But no matter our landscaping styles, we still enjoyed going out into the garden together. 

Last October, my father-in-law was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease).  

Phoenix Bird-of-Paradise  (Caesalpinia pulcherrima ‘Phoenix’)

In a very short time, he was robbed of the ability to speak, swallow, eat and the use of his hands.
Now, unable to work in his garden himself, he had to rely on others.
I considered it a privilege to help him where I could.

‘Rio Bravo’ Sage (Leucophyllum langmaniae ‘Rio Bravo’)

He endured this horrible disease with dignity, a sense of humor and through his faith.

Mexican Fence Post (Pachycereus marginatus)

This past Saturday, after 2 weeks in hospice care, he passed away.

We were all blessed to be by his side as he took his last, labored breath.

One of the last things he wrote was,

“My race is almost over.”


**********************
 I think it will be awhile before I can step into his garden without shedding tears.  
I will miss sharing our love for plants together…..

Oh, I just love Christmas time.  Ask my friends or family and they will tell you that I live for this time of year.  I start on putting up our beautiful (okay, artificial) tree as soon as the Thanksgiving dishes are washed and put away.  I love real Christmas trees and their incredible fragrance, but I don’t like how fast they dry out, so an artificial tree works out well for me.  

I have re-programmed my radio station buttons in my car so that I can listen to those radio stations that are playing Christmas music non-stop.  I am almost done shopping and wrapping gifts.  I have some knitting projects left to finish (I took a few knitting classes back in August and I totally hooked….I love knitting!).  I can’t mention what I made because some of the recipients read my blog 😉

 Christmas 2008

Soon, I will start baking.  I love to bake and made a braided loaf of bread last week.  I wanted to practice making one first before I brought one to Christmas dinner at my mom’s house.  The kids love to help me bake and each has their own apron to wear. 
I have all the ingredients ready to make pumpkin bread.  The recipe is an old one and is honestly, hands down, the best pumpkin bread I have ever had.  It is very popular with my friends and family and very easy to make – I don’t make anything that is difficult….I’m prefer things that are simple, but look like you spent a lot of time baking them.  I will post the recipe and a photo of the results once I finish baking loaves as gifts for teachers and friends.
There is one Christmas item on my to-do list that my husband is always in charge of – putting up the Christmas lights around the house.  Now if it were up to me, our house would look like this one….
This house is just down the street from Double S Farms and I look forward to their light display each year.  But since my husband does not share my extreme zeal for holiday festivities and decorations, we typically make do with your basic string of lights around the front of our house.
However, this year he has been busy working full-time AND going to school, so he has not had much time.  And so since I did not want to wait until Dec 20th to have our lights put up, I volunteered to do it for him.  Since it was only a string of lights, it was fairly easy and I was so proud of the fact that I did not fall off of the ladder…..I am a bit clumsy.
After I put up the lights, I noticed that there were some strands of mini-white lights in the box.  Well, since I was the one putting up the lights, I decided that I would go the extra mile and decorate our cactus.  Now, I don’t have much cactus in my garden at all, but I do have a Mexican Fence Post cactus that I started from a cutting 5 years ago.  It has grown beautifully and it was just perfect for wrapping some lights around.
So, I put some gloves on and got started.  It took a bit longer than I thought it would, but I soon had it entirely wrapped up.  Our neighbor came by and asked me if I had checked to make sure that the lights worked before I had put them on the cactus.  
Oops….there is reason that I do not have a photo of my cactus all lit up.
And so I learned my lesson….always check your lights before you put them up.
 I hope all of your holiday preparations are going well and that your lights are working!