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Valentine bush and feathery cassia

One of the things that I enjoy about living in the Southwest are the beautiful outdoor spaces. In particular, I am struck by the color and beauty in the winter landscape.

Now, for those of you who follow, know that I often take photos of ‘problem’ landscapes I drive by.

Well, not this time!  I was so distracted by the beauty around me that I didn’t notice any landscape mistakes.

I hope you enjoy them as much as I do and are inspired to create your own!

 
Valentine bush (Eremophila maculata ‘Valentine’) is hands down, my favorite shrub.  I love its bright red color, which decorates the landscape from January through April.  Even when not in bloom, the foliage looks lovely.
 
Golden barrel cacti (Echinocactus grusonii) with their sunny yellow color are a great choice. I use them often in my landscape designs due to their drought tolerance, low maintenance (they need none) and the yellow color they add throughout the year.
 
Large desert spoon (Dasylirion wheeleri) add great contrast with their spiky texture and gray-blue coloring.
 
This is a great pairing of plants that I plan on using in future designs.
 
 
The yellow, fragrant flowers of feathery cassia (Senna artemisioides) are famous for their winter color. Nothing else brightens a dreary winter’s day as much as the color yellow. The silvery foliage of this cassia adds great color contrast and give off a silvery glow on a breezy day.

In the background, you see the pink blooms of pink fairy duster (Calliandra eriophylla). Their uniquely shaped blooms look like a feather duster and hummingbirds find them irresistible. 

Bursage (Ambrosia deltoidea) is a native groundcover that needs little water and provides nice color contrast.

 
This combination was well done but planted too closely together.
 
Against the backdrop of yellow-flowering feathery cassia, a pair of boulders are decorated with blue bells (Eremophila hygrophana). These shrubs have lovely gray foliage and produce purple/blue flowers all year long.  This is a newer plant introduction getting a lot of attention. 
 
A golden barrel cactus offers great contrast along with a pair of agave.
 
 
Here is one of my favorite landscapes in this particular community.  I like the combination of cacti, flowering shrubs, and perennials that create a pleasing landscape.
 
A trio of flowering firecracker penstemon (Penstemon eatoni) easily catches your eye. They are one of my favorite perennials in my own garden and flower January through April in the low desert.
 
 
In another landscape, firecracker penstemon is used as part of a wildflower planting, backed by desert spoon and purple trailing lantana.
 
 
Ornamental grasses add great interest to the winter landscape and pink muhly (Muhlenbergia capillaris) is one of my favorites. Their burgundy plumes, which appear in fall fade to an attractive wheat color in winter. Soon, they will be pruned back to 3 inches in preparation for a new growth cycle.
 
 
Some landscapes look attractive using a minimum amount of plants.  The key is to use a variety of different plants – not just shrubs or cacti.  In this one, a blue palo verde (Parkinsonia florida) overlooks a planting of purple trailing lantana (Lantana montevidensis) and desert spoon.  While the lantana is frost tender, the canopy of the tree provides it some protection from frost.
 
 
It’s important to anchor the corners in your landscape – particularly those next to the driveway. Here is an example of how to combine plants that look great throughout the year. When warmer temps arrive  ‘New Gold’ lantana (Lantana ‘New Gold’), bursts forth with colorful blooms that last until the first frost. In winter, golden barrel cacti attract the attention and keep you from noticing the frost damaged lantana. 
 
 
This street planting also attracted my attention with the row of little leaf (foothill) palo verde (Parkinsonia microphylla) trees, Valentine shrubs and purple trailing lantana. I should note that lantana doesn’t usually flower much in winter, but in mild winters, they do.

An almost leafless mesquite tree stands sentinel over a planting of red-flowering chuparosa (Justicia californica). This shrub has lovely green foliage and tubular flowers that drive hummingbirds crazy with delight.

As you can see, the Southwestern landscape is filled with beauty and color, even in winter.  Unfortunately, many homeowners only use plants that bloom spring through summer. This leaves them with a boring landscape through the winter months for several months. So, celebrate the winter season by adding a few of these cool-season beauties to your garden!

April in the desert garden is, in my humble opinion, the most beautiful time of year.  Winter and spring-flowering plants (damianita, penstemon and ‘Valentine’) are just beginning to fade and summer blooms are beginning to appear (coral fountain, Texas sage and yellow bells)

But perhaps, the most colorful event in this month  is the flowering of palo verde trees.

Did you know that each species of palo verde has a different shade of yellow?

It’s true.  The differences may not be obvious unless you see them next to each other, but I’ll make it easier for you and show you some examples below.

Blue Palo Verde (Parkinsonia florida)

Foothills (Littleaf) Palo Verde (Parkinsonia microphylla)

‘Desert Museum’ Palo Verde (Parkinsonia hybrid ‘Desert Museum’)

Palo Brea (Parkinsonia praecox)

Every year, the arrival of the yellow flowers are met with delight by many and to the dismay of others.  Those that like unnaturally, pristine landscapes, without a stray leaf or fallen flower, don’t like the flowers that they leave behind.

As for me, I like things mostly natural and the golden carpet that my ‘Desert Museum’ palo verde trees leave behind, area welcome sight.

Yesterday, I went on Phoenix Home & Garden Magazine’s Grand Tour of Gardens.  The gardens we visited were spectacular, but we also passed by equally impressive landscapes.

This one in particular caught my eye, so my husband stopped the car and patiently waited while I took a few photos – this tends to happen often, so he is used to it.


While I liked the contemporary entry to the front flanked by desert spoon and with the columnar cardon cacti surrounded by golden barrels, it was the majestic ‘Desert Museum’ palo verde trees that caught my eye.


The plant palette was limited, which works well with contemporary design.  The flowers from the palo verde trees along the street decorated the grass and sidewalk, although they were badly pruned.


While my personal style is more informal, I do appreciate good, contemporary design and I really liked this pathway, although I believe a better species of agave that can handle full, reflected heat without growing too large would have been better – maybe Victoria agave?

I’m still loving the flowers.


My favorite picture is this one of the entryway which is covered with a solid carpet of golden yellow flowers, which contrast beautifully with the gray-blue walls and red door.

How about you?  Do you like the way flowers look on the ground once they have fallen?  Or do you feel the overwhelming impulse to blow them away?

**I’ll be sure to share about my experience on the Grand Tour of Gardens, but I need time to sift through the hundreds of photos I took.**

I hope your week is off to a great start!


I have a love affair with trees.


It’s true.  I love their beautiful branch architecture, foliage and the dappled shade that they provide.  Living in the desert Southwest, shade is a valuable commodity with the relief it offers from the intense sun and cool temperatures it offers.



For all these reasons and more, I can’t fathom why people would prune their trees like this, stripping them of all their beauty and much of their function.


The phrase that comes to mind when seeing something like this is badly pruned trees or how ‘not’ to prune trees.

Unfortunately, this is just one of many trees in this parking lot that have fallen prey to terrible pruning practices.

As a certified arborist, I see many bad examples of pruning, but I can honestly say that the trees in this parking lot are the worst.

Years ago, my husband and I used to live next to the area in Scottsdale and the appalling pruning that was done to the trees was well known by me.  

 On this lovely day, the kids and I were on our way home from the Desert Botanical Garden when we drove past this shopping plaza.  I quickly made a detour to see if anything had changed.  

Sadly, they hadn’t.  So, I took out my camera and started taking photos.

See if you can guess what each badly tree is:


#1


#2


#3


#4

Feel free to leave your answers in the comments section.  After guessing, click here for the answers with examples of what the trees should look like when properly maintained.  

Needless to say, you don’t need to know what type of trees they are to realize that they have been ‘butchered’.

Question:  Do you like the way fallen flowers look in the landscape?  



Some people describe the layer of spent blossoms of trees or shrubs as a ‘colorful carpet’ that adds beauty to the landscape.


Or do you feel the pull of your leaf blower calling out to you whenever you see a layer of spent blossoms littering the ground?

For me, I love the beauty of small, fallen flowers.  It is a natural occurrence and benefits the soil and plants as they breakdown.  

In spring, palo verde trees are covering the ground throughout the southwest with a yellow carpet.  In winter, red blossoms from Valentine shrubs (Eremophila maculata ‘Valentine’) create a carpet of red and in the summer months, Texas sage, (Leucophyllum species) leave a layer of purple in their wake.

Of course, if you have a swimming pool, you may want to clean up the flowers and put them on your compost pile.

So, what about you?  Do you allow the flowers to remain or do you clean them up?

Can you tell what is wrong with this Mesquite tree?


This tree has mistletoe growing in it.

Can you see it?

It is hard to spot mistletoe when it first infects a tree.  I can spot it right away, but it takes some time to recognize it when it is small.

Here is a closer look…


Look for green growth that has a slightly different shape and texture then the tree leaves.

Here is a close up photo…


You can see where the mistletoe has attached to the tree branch.

Mistletoe is easier to spot in the winter, when many of the trees are leafless.

The types of trees that I see with mistletoe are mesquite, palo verde and sweet acacia.

Because mistletoe is a natural part of the desert ecosystem, there is debate about whether or not to remove it from trees.

Mistletoe does not kill your tree, but it can stress them because it steals nutrients from the tree.  This can leave the tree open to additional stresses that can kill it.

Mesquite tree heavily infested with mistletoe.

As a Certified Arborist, I recommend removing mistletoe infestations from trees in landscape settings.  You may not mind the mistletoe, but it is spread by birds and your neighbors may not be too happy when their trees start sprouting mistletoe.

In the natural desert, I would leave mistletoe alone because it is part of the natural ecosystem and its berries are a food source for birds.

This small mistletoe growing on a palo verde tree trunk cannot be completely removed.  But, you can break off the mistletoe easily and keep it from becoming more established as long as you remove any new growth as it occurs.

For more information on when it is possible to remove mistletoe completely, you can read my previous post – “Got Mistletoe?”

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Thank you all for your supportive comments regarding my son Kai and his recovery from his sixth hip surgery.

His recovery has been harder this time with the pain.  Also, he is a lot heavier then he was the last time.  We have to carry him from his bed to his wheelchair to the toilet.

Kai is know finished with his prescription meds which has helped ‘clear his head’ a little bit.  Ibuprofen is not as effective with the pain, but it is manageable.

This week, instead of our weekly dinner at the family farm – they came over to our house because it is hard to transport Kai.


It was fun seeing his young cousins play army men with Kai using his wheelchair as a battlefield.

Kai is enclosed in a ‘cloverleaf’ brace that covers his torso and both legs, which helps to immobilize his hip.  The blue braces on his lower legs are his AFO’s which he has to wear all the time.  They add strength to his lower legs and keep his feet straight (he has had surgeries on these areas as well in the past).

We are slowly settling into our new routine with caring for Kai while getting our other tasks done, like blogging 😉

I stepped outside, early this morning, and did a little pruning to our palo verde tree that was hanging too far over our front entry pathway.  It felt great just doing something normal.

I hope your summer is off to a good start and you are finding ways to keep cool 🙂


Well, the title says it all.  I love plants and shopping.  Pair those two things together and I am in heaven.

Back when I managed landscapes, I had a company credit card which allowed me to purchase to my heart’s content….okay not really, I did have to stay within my plant budget, but it was so nice to spend someone else’s money.

My most recent journey into the plant shopping occurred last week with my mother, Pastor Farmer of Double S Farms.  She was purchasing some trees for their farm and wanted my assistance in selecting them.  And so, we journeyed to a local nursery (not a big box store).

Now this particular nursery is not what I would call a native plant nursery, although they do carry many native plants.  But they also sell tropical plants that thrive in our semi-tropical climate.  You can see Gabriel coming up to help us to tag the trees we selected.
On our way to the tree section, we passed a mass of Bougainvilleas.  It looked like a Bougainvillea forest.
Then we passed through the shaded area of the nursery where frost-tender tropical and shade-loving plants were kept.
Now, we were beginning to get into the tree section of the nursery.
You may have noticed that my pictures are taken from behind my mother and our helper, Gabriel.  Well, put me anywhere with plants….a nursery, a garden, it doesn’t matter – I will always be lagging behind as I love to look, touch and take pictures of plants.
We passed the flowering Palo Verde trees….
We passed some Olive trees….
Did you know that the pollen of the Olive tree is highly allergenic?  It’s true.  Actually, because of this, you can only plant a certain variety of Olive tree in our area, called ‘Swan Hill’, that do not produce pollen and therefore do not produce any flowers.
The ‘Swan Hill’ cultivar was found in Australia years ago from a 30 year-old Olive tree that had never fruited.  It is an interesting story and you can read more about it here.
Okay, back to our search for our tree.  Well, I wish I could say that I had a great picture to show you of the Chilean Mesquite (Prosopis chilensis) tree we selected.  But, it turns out that I was so busy helping to select the tree, I forgot to take pictures of it.
On our way out, I did take pictures of a bunch of Sago Palms (Cycas revoluta), which aren’t actually palms at all, they are cycads.  They grow extremely well here, but must be protected from full sun or their fronds turn yellow from sunburn.
Well, we were at the end of our plant shopping journey, or so I thought….
 
As my mother was paying for the trees, I noticed one of the resident chickens. 
Can you see her?  She is poking around the base of this plant fountain.
**By the way, I think I would love to have a plant fountain someday 🙂
One of the employees noticed my interest in the chicken and motioned me over to the side of the building, where on a potting table, there was a large container.  I looked inside and saw how busy the chicken had been….
 
 
Every afternoon, at about 4:00, she sits up there and lays another egg.
Now, the father, is no absentee father.  He takes his job very seriously.  He was keeping a keen eye on us until we left the nursery.
 
Well, I had a wonderful time, I just love visiting local nurseries.
We selected some beautiful trees and the new Mesquite tree will grow very quickly and will be quite large.  Pastor Farmer envisions having an old tire swing being put up in the tree in a few years for the grandkids to play on.

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?

 
 There are some signs that summer is beginning to fade and that fall is around the corner.  The stress that the high temperatures of summer bring has caused many plants to slow down their growth.  
 
However, the slightly lower temperatures in September bring on a flush of new growth for many trees, shrubs, and succulents in the garden.  I enjoy being out in my garden this time of year and seeing many of my plants rejuvenated.
 

With the somewhat cooler temperatures, I am now seeing many gardeners venturing outside and taking stock of the condition of their landscape.  Fall is a busy time in the desert garden because it is the ideal time to install many types of plants, which will be discussed in a separate post in early October.

  
SHRUBS: I just finished lightly pruning my ‘Rio Bravo’ sage (Leucophyllum langmaniae).  Summer flowering shrubs that are cold-hardy look their best when lightly pruned at this time to help reign in rangy, sprawling growth. This should be only done with hand pruners only.  Do not use a hedge trimmer and shear your shrubs.  They should have a pleasing natural shape when you are finished.  Do not prune back frost-sensitive plants at this time.
 
 ANNUALS:  Although the local nurseries are abundant with winter annuals, I don’t recommend planting them now.  The temperatures are still quite hot, and there is a good chance that they will not make it.  
 

In the past when mid-September came, I would load up the truck with 100+ flats of annuals to plant around the community where I worked as the horticulturist.   I would then spent the next four weeks making repeated trips to the nursery to replace dead plants that just could not handle the heat of early fall.  From then on I would wait until October to change out summer annuals and replace with winter annuals.  As a result, we suffered very little plant loss.

TREES:  Mesquite and Palo Verde trees that are overgrown can be lightly easily pruned back.  Resist the temptation to heavily prune at this time.  January and February is the time for heavy pruning to occur for these trees.
 
SUCCULENTS:  Cacti, agaves and other succulent plants do best when planted when soil temperatures are warm, which makes September a great time to install them before cooler temperatures arrive.   Prickly Pear cactus can be pruned back this month if needed.  Problems with agave may show up this time of year. 
 
If your agave suddenly collapses, there is a good chance that they have gotten an infection with agave snout weevil.  There is no cure and the agave should be removed, it will be smelly due to the decay the weevil causes – and not just a little stinky.
 
One of my (least) favorite memories happened years ago when I worked as a horticulturist on a golf course.  One year, we had to remove countless agaves throughout the landscapes due to a large infestation – the smell was awful.  If this happens to your agave, do not plant another agave in the area – use another type of plant instead.
 
ROSES:  Roses should be lightly pruned and fertilized this month (see earlier post for details).
 

CITRUS:  Make sure to fertilize your citrus trees if you have not already done so (see earlier post for details).

 
NEXT MONTH – get ready for planting and wildflower garden preparation!