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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.


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”.



Do you like spending hours pruning and fertilizing your plants?  Or maybe you are tired of having to spend money on monthly visits from your landscaper.



I have been asked to show some ‘fuss free’ plants for fall planting on Sonoran Living, which is a local lifestyle show on our local Phoenix ABC network. The show will air on September 10th at 9:00. (I must admit that I am a little nervous.  I am off to my favorite nurseries to select some plants for the taping this Sunday, after church).

So, enough about my nerves….

What if you could have a landscape full of beautiful plants that only need pruning once a year and little to no fertilizer? 

Now you may be thinking that I am talking about a landscape full of cactus, like the photo below – but I’m not.  

The key to selecting ‘fuss free’ plants is to choose plants that are adapted to our arid climate.

Here are a few of my favorite ‘fuss free’ plants that need pruning once a year or less…

Firecracker Penstemon

Firecracker Penstemon (Penstemon eatoni) is great addition to any desert landscape.  It’s orange/red flowers appear in late winter and last through the spring.  Hummingbirds find them irresistible.  

Maintenance: Prune off the dead flower spikes in spring.

Hardy to -20 degrees.

Plant in full sun.

Damianita

Damianita (Chrysactinia mexicana) is a low-growing groundcover that is covered with tiny green leaves.  Masses of golden yellow flowers appear in spring and again in the fall.

Maintenance: Prune back to 6″ in late February.

Hardy to 0 degrees.

Plant in full sun.  Damianita looks great next to boulders or lining a pathway.

Gulf Muhly ‘Regal Mist’

Gulf Muhly (Muhlenbergia capillaris ‘Regal Mist’) is a fabulous choice for the landscape.  This ornamental grass is green in spring and then covered in burgundy plumes in the fall.

Maintenance: Prune back to 6 inches in late winter.

Hardy to 0 degrees.

Plant in full sun in groups of 3 to 5.  Gulf Muhly also looks great when planted next to large boulders or around trees.

Mexican Honeysuckle (Justicia spicigera)

Mexican Honeysuckle (Justicia spicigera) is the perfect plant for areas with filtered shade.  Tubular orange flowers appear off an on throughout the year that attract hummingbirds.

Maintenance: Little to no pruning required.  Prune if needed, in late winter.

Hardy to 15 degrees.

Plant in filtered shade such as that provided by Palo Verde or Mesquite trees.  Add Purple Trailing Lantana in the front for a beautiful color contrast.

Baja Fairy Duster

Baja Fairy Duster (Calliandra californica) has truly unique flowers that are shaped like small feather dusters.  The red flowers appear spring through fall and occasionally in winter.

Maintenance: Prune back by 1/2 in late winter, removing any frost damage.  Avoid pruning into ’round’ shapes.  Baja Fairy Duster has a lovely vase-shape when allowed to grow into its natural shape.

Hardy to 20 degrees.

Plant in full sun against a wall.  Baja Fairy Duster can handle locations with hot, reflected heat.

Angelita Daisy (Tetraneuris acaulis formerly, Hymenoxys acaulis) is a little powerhouse in the garden.  Bright yellow flowers appear throughout the entire year.

Maintenance: Clip off the spent flowers every 3 months.

Hardy to -20 degrees.

Plant in full sun in groups of 3 around boulders.  Pair with Firecracker Penstemon for color contrast.  Thrives along walkways in narrow areas that receive full, reflected sun.
These are just a few ‘fuss free’ plants that you can add to your landscape this fall, which is the best time of year to add plants in the Desert Southwest.

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So, I will be heading to the television studio early Tuesday morning with my sister, who will help me set up and take photos of the whole experience.  I promise to share the video link for those of you who would like to watch it 🙂

**For more of my favorite ‘fuss free’ plants, check out my latest post.

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.
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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!