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There is little that can compare to the dramatic silhouette that Ocotillo add to the landscape.

I have been fascinated by these plants ever since I moved to the desert, over 27 years ago.

Since then, I have planted Ocotillo in landscapes around golf courses and even have one of my own, which was a gift for Mother’s Day years ago.

If you would like to learn more about Ocotillo including the fact that they are actually shrubs and not cactus, like many people assume – please check out my latest article for Houzz.com

Architecture, interior design, and more ∨

Hire residential landscape architects to help with all aspects of landscape design, from selecting or designing garden furniture, to siting a detached garage or pergola.
As you get ready to host an event, be sure you have enough dining benches and dishes for dinner guests, as well as enough bakeware and kitchen knives sets for food preparation.

**I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday and that your refrigerator is filled with delicious leftovers 🙂

Now on to Christmas, my FAVORITE time of year!

It’s that time of year, the weather is cooler, the trees are dressed up in their colors and people are almost ready for Halloween.  


My youngest daughter, Gracie, is going to be a ‘butterfly princess’ this year and my son Kai will be the ‘Brawny’ paper towel guy.  I bought him work boots (he loves those), a flannel shirt and of course, a package of ‘Brawny’ paper towels.  

This year, we will be hosting the family Halloween night with my sister, brother and their families.  I can hardly wait.  


This post has been a huge favorite every year.  I hope you enjoy it!

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My kids, aren’t the only ones ready for Halloween.  Use your imagination and see how these plants are prepared as well…..



Octopus Agave (Agave vilmoriniana) beginning growing it’s snake-like flower stalk.
Growing up to one foot a day, like a snake coming out of the snake charmer’s basket.


 
Creeping Fig (Ficus pumila) climbing up the pillar and underneath….hanging down 
like spiderwebs.


 
A Yucca reclining like a lovely lady.  
But beware….she stabs you with her leaves if you get too close….
(This Yucca was trained to grow this way)


 
Saguaro (Carnegiea gigantea) dressed as a giant.

 
 
The ‘claws’ of an Agave


 
Ocotillo (Fouquierea splendens) with a Medusa hairstyle.

 
Sticks of Fire (Euphorbia tirucalli), will not burn you….but it is poisonous.


 
The spooky silhouette of a Shoestring Acacia (Acacia stenophylla).
You can almost hear the hooting owls…


 
Crested Saguaro (Saguaro carnegiea)
A saguaro all dressed up with a new hairstyle.



Twin-Flowered Agave (Agave geminiflora), sprouting horns.

And finally….  

 A beautiful White Oleander (Nerium oleander) flower lures you in with her subtle fragrance.
But Beware!  She is deadly if ingested…


I hope you enjoyed the plants in their “costumes”.

Are you or your children dressing up for Halloween this year?  
What as?

Usually when I am called to a help out a homeowner with their landscape, it is because they are having a problem with their plants, or sometimes they are new to the desert and want to learn how to garden in our dry climate.  

Last week, I visited a homeowner who had some questions about whether or not he was taking good care of his garden.

His house is located just northeast of the metro Phoenix area, in the desert.  He and his wife had lived there for over 15 years and they designed their garden by themselves.

As I approached the front entry, I was greeted by this beautiful Ocotillo that was back lit by the morning sun…

When approaching a new client’s house, I always look around their front garden, because it gives me an idea of their preferences and maybe problems that they are having.  This gives me a ‘heads-up’ before I actually meet the client.
His front garden was just beautiful and I was looking forward to seeing what his back garden looked like…
There was a fireplace with a lovely seating area and you could see the pool surrounded by beautiful desert plants in the distance.
The wall of his back garden backed right onto the desert.  He had some beautiful artistic pieces, including this metal Ocotillo.
There was a very large Indian Fig cactus.  This type of prickly pear is very popular because it is thornless.  But it needs a lot of room to grow.
This particular Indian Fig was hiding something….
 A beautiful water feature flowed from underneath the Indian Fig.

Rosemary grew along the side as well as potted annuals.
Isn’t this a beautiful area?
There was also an empty vegetable garden, but the homeowner did have herbs growing in containers….


 Many people keep their hummingbird feeders up year round because we have hummingbirds 12 months out of the year.
This hummingbird faces a mirror.  The mirror serves two purposes, according to the homeowner:
One, it keeps the woodpeckers from making holes and second, it gives them an additional view of visiting hummingbirds.
You can see a little Verdin flying in for a drink of the hummingbird nectar.
Lastly, we viewed a shady area of his garden.
The plants in this area do very well in light shade.
There was Heavenly Bamboo to the left, Cape Honeysuckle to the right, Star Jasmine vine next to the door and Texas Mountain Laurel ‘Silver Peso’, which is a gray-leafed form.
I had a wonderful time visiting and I did have a few suggestions regarding proper watering and when to prune.
I hope you enjoyed seeing this beautiful desert garden with me.
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Life is quite busy this week for me as I am sure it is for most of you with the upcoming holiday.
I will post again before Thanksgiving 🙂

This past weekend, I was on a mission.

My mission was to replace the few plants that had died in my in-laws garden as well as replace their warm-season annuals with cool-season ones.

Unfortunately, I could not indulge my creative side and re-design the landscape that I had originally created 9 years ago because my mother-in-law wanted to keep everything the same as it was before.

My father-in-law was a meticulous gardener and was beautiful, perfectly pruned and very neat and tidy (very much unlike my own messy and untidy garden 😉

As his illness progressed, I started to take over care of his prized landscape.  Now that he has passed away, I still care for it.  Every Sunday night, we go over and have dinner with my mother-in-law.  We always arrive a bit early so that my husband can do miscellaneous tasks around the house and I help in the garden.

And so back to my mission – I had to find the exact same plants that had died over the summer.  Now for those of you who do a lot of planting – you know it can be hard to find everything you need at a single nursery.  

Well, I still harbored unrealistic hope that I would miraculously find all that I needed in one place.  I started at our big box store and found the geraniums that I needed (they had to be red). But, unfortunately, they had nothing else that I needed.

So, off to the second nursery, which is a locally owned chain.  I scored a bit “zero” there.  Then I drove on the a third nursery.


I love this particular local nursery.  It is very large, they have a huge selection and the staff is very knowledgeable.
You may be wondering at this point, why I didn’t start at this nursery first if it all that wonderful?
Well, the problem I find myself often being tempted to buy some of the unique and hard to find plants that they offer.

And so, I arrived at the nursery and started searching for the plants my mother-in-law needed – Angelita Daisy, Blackfoot Daisy, Firecracker Penstemon and Golden Barrel.

I did my best as I walked through the nursery to stay focused on my mission – to buy plants only for my mother-in-law and NOT for myself.


I found the Firecracker Penstemon, which is hard to find this time of year.  Now, I realize that it is not all that impressive looking in a small black container.  But, it looks fabulous once you plant it and it blooms in winter and in spring….


I also found the other plants that I needed except for the Blackfoot Daisy.

Now, I had all the plants that I needed.  But did I leave the nursery at this point?

No.  I decided that my resolve was strong and that I wouldn’t buy any plants for myself and so it was okay to stroll through the nursery and take some pictures.


They had many cool-season annuals to choose from, but I already had all I needed at home, so I wasn’t the slightest bit tempted.

Until….


I spotted this Black Petunia.


Aren’t the flowers just gorgeous?
I looked to find a plant tag to see what variety they were, but it was missing.

Well, I really liked these Petunias, but didn’t really have a place to put them, so I pressed onward.


I walked by a mini grove of Bamboo.  Many people are surprised to find the Bamboo can grow in the desert.  As long as they receive enough water, they do well in our zone 9 area.



Among the cool-season annuals, I spotted a bunch of Blue Salvia.  Normally, they are grown as warm-season annuals and they do very well.  I used to plant them in pots around golf courses, but I haven’t used them in years.  I’m not sure why, but I think I will try planting them late next spring.



As I pressed, on I noticed movement among the plants.  This rooster was busy eating the tops of the plants.  

You know, I think that roosters and chickens give a nursery a ‘homey’ feel, don’t you?  Kind of like a cat in a bookstore or knitting shop.


Of course, no nursery located in the desert is complete without its succulent collection.

Golden Barrel, Argentine Giant Cactus, Fishhook Barrel, Cereus, Saguaro, Agave and much more was available.


Here is a helpful hint….

Did you know that often Agave have more then one plant in the container?  That is because many species of Agave reproduce ‘pups’.  

So, when you are out to buy an Agave, look for one that has more then one plant in the container.  Then when you are ready to plant them, simply cut the smaller agave from the mother plant and plant them as well.


The nursery had a large collection of bare root Ocotillo.

I love Ocotillo and was given one by my kids on Mother’s Day a few years ago.

Ocotillo do leaf out off and on throughout the year and produce vermillion colored flowers….



As you can see, I was having a great time at the nursery.

There is more I would like to share with you.  I found some different ways to use everyday plants AND I have yet to show you two different plants that I was sorely tempted to buy.

At this point however, I think this post is long enough and I don’t want to bore you, so please come back for “Part Two”.

I thought that I would share with you my observations on various landscape practices that I viewed over a one week period last month.


As a horticulturist (or a plant lady as my kids call me), I have a hard time “turning off” and not looking at landscapes as I go by.  I am always looking for a beautiful garden 🙂

So here are my observations, in no particular order.


Got floppy agave?

This is the time of year where you will see agave that seem to have suddenly flopped over.



I saw both of these agave on my way home from my mother-in-law’s house.

There was one year when I was working as a horticulturist for golf courses and we had quite a few of our agave flop over.  Now, I had a fairly good idea what had happened to them, but to confirm my diagnosis, we had to dig them up.
Once we did, we were hit with a truly horrible odor, which confirmed that we were dealing with agave snout weevils.

You can read more about agave snout weevil and how to recognize an infestation and how to prevent them here.
Okay, my second observation came courtesy of a facebook follower who asked me if gray Palo Verde trunks were normal.



I explained to her that as Palo Verde trees age, it is common for their trunk to turn gray.  

Her question reminded me again of how much I didn’t know when I started on horticulture course work and all the questions that I had.  There are way to many things like this that I overlook and need to remember so that I can assist new desert gardeners.

Speaking of Palo Verdes, I saw this beautiful ‘Desert Museum’ Palo Verde tree in front of the hospice facility where my father-in-law was.



You may be surprised to find that there is a serious problem with this tree.

Can you see what it is?



Here it is a bit closer.

The tree has been staked, but the cable wire used was not covered where it comes in contact with the tree trunk.



As you can see, the cable wire is digging into the trunk and starting to cut off the vascular system of the tree, which is located around the outer portion of the trunk.
Unfortunately, I see this quite often.  Usually in parking lot trees.  There is still time to remove the wire in this case.

When staking a tree, always cover the portion of the cable wire that touches the tree with a piece of drip hose or a regular hose and make sure that you can adjust it as the trunk grows larger.
When Ocotillo are sold and transported, their canes are often tied up for safety for both the handler and the ocotillo itself.

However once planted, you do not need to keep it tied up.  Remove the ties and soon you will be enjoying the beauty of your Ocotillo as it grows and spreads out its beautiful canes.


Aren’t they so beautiful?

My last observation occurred as I traveled to the outskirts of the Phoenix metro area where I was to meet with an organization regarding a landscape service project.

As I drove, the suburbs began to melt away and I was surrounded by farmland.  As I turned down the street where my meeting was located, I saw that it was lined with mature pecan trees and large farmhouses sitting a few acres each.

It was just so beautiful…


I bet you didn’t think that places like this existed in the desert, did you?

Well, there are actually many areas like this.  As I left, I could just picture myself living in a large farmhouse with acres of land to garden in.  But then I reminded myself that I have a hard enough time keeping up with my 1/3 of an acre 😉

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I hope your week is going well.

My younger sister (not my youngest sister, Chicken Farmer), and her family are coming out for a visit tomorrow.  Her husband is interviewing for a job out here and I am very hopeful that they will be moving out here shortly.

Believe it or not, I was the first of my family to move out to Arizona from Southern California 25 years ago after I married my husband.  Then 5 years ago, my youngest sister and my brother and their families moved out here.  My parents followed a year later and now perhaps my other sister will soon move here.

I hope it all works out.

Oh by the way…..11 days until my daughter’s due date.  
I am beginning to get just slightly excited!

One the most frequent comments that I receive from readers is that some of the plants that grow in the desert are so strange and unusual.  This is especially true for those of us who are not desert natives.  

Although I have lived here in the desert for over 24 years, I still find many of the plants unique and strange to my eyes.  

As promised, this is a continuation of our visit to “The Living Desert” in Palm Desert, California.  Yesterday we looked at many of the beautiful flowering plants.  Today, I thought we would focus on some of the unusual yet beautiful plants that we saw.
While we were walking, my sister (Daisy Mom) asked me if I knew what all the plants were.  The horticulturist in me would have loved to have said yes, but that would have been a lie.  Many of the plants we saw were collected from dry regions from around the world, including parts of Africa.  
The truth is is that you do not need to know a plant’s name to be able to enjoy it’s beauty, like the one above.
Kokerboom (Aloe dichotoma)
Would you believe that the plant above is an aloe?
Here is a beautiful aloe flower that we encountered.

Mexican Blue Fan Palm (Brahea armata)
This is a slow growing palm and this is a very tall specimen.  My nephew is 6 ft. tall.
My nephew (Monkey Boy) was a great companion.  Many times when I went to venture off of the main path, he offered to come along with me and was always excited about what strange plants we would find.   How many teenage boys would offer to hang out with their aunt?  I am truly blessed.
 
A collection of various kinds of columnar cacti that are native to Baja California were very interesting to see.
The cacti in the middle looks like the tentacles of a squid reaching out to catch something.
Brightly colored barrel cactus.
My son idolizes his older cousin Mr. Green Jeans.
I enjoy spending time with my oldest nephew, Mr. Green Jeans, who also loves to take photographs as much as I do.  We were constantly walking behind everyone because we were so busy taking pictures of the beauty surrounding us.
 Beavertail Prickly Pear (Opuntia basilaris) starting to form flower buds.
In April they produce beautiful magenta flowers. 
A Boojum Tree (Fouquieria columnaris)
The Boojum tree is closely related to the Ocotillo, which is not a type of cactus as many people believe.
    Ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens)
This beautiful specimen of an Ocotillo towered above my husband and son.  This time of year, Ocotillo are leafing out and beginning to produce their orange colored flowers. 
California Fan Palms (Washingtonia filifera)
California Fan Palms, not surprisingly are native to this area of the desert.  They had very old and beautiful palms that dwarfed my nephew and daughter as they walked by.
 
Not surprisingly, there are those plants that you would do well to keep your distance from.
 My nephew (Monkey Boy) and my daughter taking a break.
I realize that it may look as if my daughter has a rattlesnake around her neck….and she does.  But, she didn’t pick it up out of the desert…it is a plastic one.  She has an affinity for toy snakes.  We are not sure why, but I am happy to give her all of the toy snakes she wants if it keeps her from wanting a real one.
   Chainfruit Cholla
We had a wonderful day.  I believe that my sister thought that we would spend 2 – 3 hours walking around.  But it was 5 hours before we finally headed back to our cars.  The fault lies with me….I had such a great time enjoying all of the beautiful plants and taking 500+ pictures.  My entire family was so patient and understanding, although next time I may need to bring my own car so I can stay late.
 Soon, I will post about what we saw up above and was easily missed if we had just kept our eyes to the ground.

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….
  
 

Christmas in the desert is much the same as it is around the world.  Christmas lights adorn homes and trees, with a few notable exceptions.  This is the desert after all….we sometimes do things a little differently.

First of all, we have a town Christmas tree made entirely out of tumbleweed.  It is painted white and really looks quite beautiful at night when lit up.  We have a huge celebration each year when the  lights are lit for the first time.
 
See…. I told you it was made out of tumbleweed.  For those of you who do not know what tumbleweed is, it is the light brown, prickly, round shrub that you see rolling through the town when you watch old Western movies.
*Disclaimer – contrary to popular belief, it is rare to see tumbleweed rolling through the desert.
We desert dwellers also decorate our cactus whenever we get a chance.  Saguaro cactus is relatively easy to decorate.  There was a home we used to drive by that had 3 saguaro cacti and every year they would decorate them as the 3 wise men – they looked just great.

Water is a much celebrated natural resource and some landscapes have fake desert washes running through their front yard.  During Christmas, some decorate their washes with blue lights to signify water.
*Fake desert washes were extremely trendy, but are thankfully, on the decline.  I admit that I did design some for homeowners who insisted on having them, but I would use large boulders and embed them along the sides to imitate a natural creek bed.
Ocotillo make a great stand-in as a Christmas tree.  Just hang some ornaments and string the lights.  I may have to try this on my Ocotillo next year.
You know those nets of Christmas lights that you can spread over shrubs?  Look carefully, this homeowner spread his lights over his boulder.  I’m not sure where I stand on this one….
Agave americana all lit up.  I love how this looks.
Some people feel that they have to throw lights on everything in their front yard.  They just do not know when to stop.  I’m not sure the lights make this Prickly Pear cactus look any better.
The majority of homes in the desert are beautifully lit and look like many of the homes where you live.  This is one of my favorites.  The arborist in me just loves how the lights define the beautiful tree trunks of the Palo Verde and Mesquite trees.
*None of these pictures are from my home.  My husband is somewhat of a minimalist when it comes to decorating the outside of our home for Christmas…a string of lights around the house is as fancy as he gets.  But, I get to go crazy with decorations indoors.
I hope you enjoyed this little glimpse of what Christmas in the desert looks like.   

What does Christmas look like where you live?

The saguaro cactus is one of the most iconic plants of Arizona, (Carnegiea gigantea), it is perhaps the most recognizable trademark of the Sonoran desert with their tall arms reaching toward the sky.

Although, saguaros are only in some regions of the Sonoran desert. The vast majority are found in Arizona and Mexico. They are often found growing on the south side of the mountains due to the warmer air temperatures.
Another iconic Sonoran desert plant is the ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens) with its leaf covered canes topped with brightly colored flowers. Sometimes, people, mistake ocotillo as a type of cactus, but they’re actually a type of shrub.

Ocotillo produces beautiful vermillion blooms that attract hummingbirds and their canes leaf out occasionally in response to humidity and rain.