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flowering perennial firecracker penstemon
flowering perennial firecracker penstemon

Firecracker Penstemon (Penstemon eatoni)

Have you ever noticed that spring has a way of surprising you in the garden? That is indeed the thought that I had earlier this week as I walked through my front landscape.

After spending a week visiting my daughter in cold, wintery Michigan, I was anxious to return home and see what effects that a week of warm temperatures had done – I wasn’t disappointed.

I want to take you on a tour of my spring garden. Are you ready?

pink blooming Parry's penstemon

Parry’s Penstemon (Penstemon parryi)

Penstemons play a large part in late winter and spring interest in the desert landscape, and I look forward to their flowering spikes.

flowering echinopsis Ember

Echinopsis hybrid ‘Ember’

One of the most dramatic blooms that grace my front garden are those of my Echinopsis hybrid cactuses. I have a variety of different types, each with their flower color. This year, ‘Ember’ was the first one to flower and there are several more buds on it.

blue flowering shrubby gerrymander

Shrubby Germander (Teucrium fruiticans)

Moving to the backyard, the gray-blue foliage of the shrubby germander is transformed by the electric blue shade of the flowers. This smaller shrub began blooming in the middle of winter and will through spring.

Calliandra red powder puff shrub

Red Powder Puff (Calliandra haematocephala)

This unique shrub was a purchase that I made several years ago at the Desert Botanical Garden‘s spring plant sale. If you are looking for unusual plants that aren’t often found at your local nursery, this is the place to go. This is a lush green, tropical shrub that is related to the more common Baja Fairy Duster. However, it only flowers in spring and has sizeable red puff-ball flowers. It does best in east-facing exposures.

flowering annuals Callibrochoa

Million Bells (Calibrachoa)

I am trialing a new self-watering hanging container that was sent to me free of charge by H20 Labor Saver for my honest review. I must say that I am very impressed. Growing plants in hanging containers is difficult in the desert garden as they dry out very quickly. But, this is a self-watering container, which has a reservoir that you fill, allowing me to have to water it much less often.

In the container, I have Million Bells growing, which are like miniature petunias. They are cool-season annuals that grow fall, winter, and spring in the desert garden.

severely pruned yellow bells

Yellow Bells recently pruned

Not all of my plants are flowering. My yellow bells shrubs have been pruned back severely, which I do every year, and are now growing again. This type of severe pruning keeps them lush and compact, and they will grow up to 6-feet tall within a few months.

onions arizona vegetable garden

Onions growing in my vegetable garden

This past fall, my daughters took over the vegetable garden. I must admit that it was fun to watch them decide what to grow and guide them in learning how to grow vegetables. They are already enjoying the fruits of their labor and onions will soon be ready to be harvested.

blossom of meyer lemon

Meyer Lemon blossom

My Meyer lemon tree hasn’t performed very well for me and has produced very little fruit in the four years since I planted it. I realized that it wasn’t getting enough water, so I corrected that problem, and it is covered in blossoms – I am so excited!

fragrant chocolate flower

Chocolate Flower (Berlandiera lyrata)

Moving to the side garden, chocolate flower adds delicious fragrance at the entry to my cut flower garden. It does well in full sun and flowers off and on throughout the warm season.

purple flowering verbena

Verbena in bloom

In the cut flower garden, my roses are growing back from their severe winter pruning. Although the roses aren’t in bloom yet, my California native verbena is. This is a plant that I bought at the Santa Barbara Botanical Garden – I don’t remember the exact name, but it does great in my garden.

ripening peaches

Young peaches

I have some fruit trees growing in the side garden including peaches! I can just imagine how delicious these will taste in May once they are ripe!

flowers of apple tree

Apple tree blossoms

While the peaches are already forming, my apple trees are a few weeks behind and are still flowering. It surprises people that you can grow apple trees in the desert garden and they will ripen in June – apple pie, anyone?

I hope that you have enjoyed this tour of my spring garden. All of these plants are bringing me joy.

*What is growing in your garden this spring that brings you joy?

Firecracker Penstemon

Do you know someone who possesses a green thumb? Usually, it’s someone that has a beautiful garden that stands out among their neighbors, which is filled with thriving plants that are flourishing. 

While you may think that people with green thumbs are born and not made, I’m going to let you in on a BIG secret – behind every green thumb are many dead plants.

 

It’s true. There isn’t a single avid gardener who has never experienced a plant dying on them. Of course, green thumbs may be hesitant to reveal this fact because dead or failing plants are usually pulled out before anyone notices.

I’m not exempt from this either. I’ve got a dead plant or two, currently in my garden that are doing nothing but collecting leaves at their base and I’ve had countless plants die on my watch.

Newly planted ‘Blue Bell’ (Eremophila hygrophana) shrubs

Believe it or not, it’s the fact that plants have died in the garden that helps a person to become a good at growing them. While your first inclination is to get frustrated about the loss of a plant, it helps to look at it as a gardening lesson.

“Each dead plant is an opportunity to learn about what went wrong and how to avoid it in the future and become a better gardener in the process.”

There are several factors that can affect whether or not a plant does well where it’s planted.  These include the following:

  1. Is it well-adapted to your climate?
  2. Was it planted in the right exposure (sun, filtered sun, or shade)?
  3. Did it receive the proper amount of irrigation?
  4. Was it maintained correctly (pruning, fertilizing)?

 

New ‘Blonde Ambition’ (Bouteloua gracilis)

Researching plants before purchasing them will help you to avoid many potential problems, but often the best way to learn how a plant will do is to grow them yourself.

Of course, it’s never a good idea to put a shade-loving plant in full sun, or vice versa as you’ll probably be replacing it soon.

As a horticulturist, I experiment in my garden with newer plants that have come onto the market. I recently planted several ‘Blonde Ambition’ (Bouteloua gracilis) grasses. I’ve heard a few different things from people who have grown it regarding the best exposure for it – one says that filtered sun is a must while the other states that it can handle full sun. So, I am trying them out in my front yard to see for myself where they will receive filtered shade until the afternoon when they will be blasted by the sun. 

*One fun bonus of being a horticulturist and a garden writer is that growers often send me their plants for free so I can let them know how they grow in a low-desert garden.

A new Parry’s penstemon (Penstemon parryi) finds a home next to my gopher plant (Euphorbia biglandulosa).

Other things that can affect how new plants will do are nearby plants – specifically trees.

One month later.

A tree that creates dense shade will make it difficult for many flowering plants to do anything but grow foliage at the expense of flowers. However, filtered shade from desert natives such as mesquite and palo verde create an ideal environment for many blooming plants that enjoy a little respite from the full sun.

New varieties of autumn sage with the brand new lavender ‘Meerlo’.

Sometimes, there isn’t much information available on new plant introductions and how they will do in an area with extreme weather such as our hot, dry one.  I was given the plants above to see how they would do in my Arizona garden. I knew that the salvia would need some shade to do its best in the low desert, but the lavender was a mystery. I’ve seen some other species of lavender doing well in full sun while others doing well in filtered shade.

As you can see, the ‘Meerlo’ lavender did very well in my zone 9 garden even though the actual information on the plant tag states that it does best in zone 8 and below. What it has not done is flower, which I attribute to the shade it needs to survive my hot, dry garden. But, I’m okay with that as I love the fragrance and color contrast that it adds.

This is a lesson that I could have only learned by trying out this plant. While it could have died, it didn’t and I’ve learned from the experience, which adds to my overall garden knowledge. 

So, the next time you find a dead plant in your garden, see if you can figure out why it died and learn from it. Sometimes plants die when they should be thriving with no apparent reason. Nature isn’t always predictable and sometimes you may have no answers, but you’ll be surprised at what you can learn and before you know it, your thumb may slowly turn ‘green’.

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The pink flowers of Parry’s penstemon (Penstemon parryi) adds welcome color to a spring garden.

I adore flowers of all kinds, but I must confess that my favorite types look as if they belong to a cottage garden, which probably explains why I am wild about penstemons.

There are many different species of penstemon with varying colors, ranging from shades of pink to red with some white ones thrown in.  

Firecracker penstemon (Penstemon eatonii) adds vibrant color to a hummingbird demonstration garden.

All penstemons are native to the western half of North America where they thrive in well-drained soil.  Most grow in higher elevations, and all are drought tolerant.  For those of you who love to grow native plants that are low-maintenance, penstemons are a must-have.

The 4 – 6-foot flowering spikes of Palmer’s penstemon (Penstemon palmeri) lightly perfume the air of this desert landscape.

 I like plants that add a touch of drama to my garden and penstemon do a great job at that when they send up their flowering spikes that tower over their lower cluster of leaves.  Bees and hummingbirds love their flowers and it is fun to watch their antics as they sneak inside the flowers for nectar.

A row of rock penstemon (Penstemon baccharifolius) adds lovely color to this area at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix.

While penstemon may look rather delicate, it is anything but as it can survive temperatures over 100 degrees and temperatures that dip anywhere from 15 degrees Fahrenheit all the way down to -30 degrees, depending on the species.  

The bloom time for penstemon depends on the species as well as the climate they grow in.  For desert dwellers like me, most bloom in late winter into spring.  Each year, I eagerly await the appearance of the first unfolding flowering spikes of my firecracker penstemon (Penstemon eatoni)  to emerge in January.

In my garden, Parry’s penstemon (Penstemon parryi) is another favorite of mine in the garden, and its flowers begin to open in late February.  This year, I am growing pineleaf penstemon (Penstemon pinifolius), which is a new one for me and I am curious to see how it will do.  Another penstemon that I am anxious to try is rock penstemon (Penstemon baccharifolius), which blooms spring through fall.  Lastly, I have added Palmer’s penstemon (Penstemon palmeri) to my garden.  I used to grow it years ago and was happy to incorporate it back into my landscape.

It’s important to note that penstemon grows best when grown in the western half of North America.  The season in which they bloom can vary depending on the USDA zone.  In my zone 9 garden, I begin to appear in January and last through spring. For those who live in colder climates, penstemon will bloom later in spring or even begin flowering in summer.  However, no matter when they bloom, penstemon are sure to add beauty to the landscape with a touch of drama.

**Do you have a favorite penstemon?

There are many flowering perennials that I can think of that only flower once a year and many people think that the lovely blooms of penstemon count among them.

Parry’s Penstemon
But, did you know that if you prune the flowers just as they begin to fade that you can stimulate another flush of colorful blooms?

Gopher Plant (Euphorbia rigida), Parry’s Penstemon (Penstemon parryi) and Parry’s Agave (Agave parryi)

I’ve grown penstemon for years and recently planted a Parry’s penstemon in my front yard.  I enjoyed seeing its pink blossoms waving in the breeze and the hummingbirds who stopped by for a drink of nectar.

The individual flowers began to fall, leaving only a few behind, which is the best time to prune the flowering stalks back. 


If you wait too long, the chances are that you will lose your window of stimulating your penstemon to produce more flowers.  It’s best to do this when there are a couple of blossoms left on the plant.


This is what my young penstemon looks like right now, but within a couple of weeks, new flowering spikes will begin growing.

The reason that pruning off the first set of flowers stimulates a second bloom period is that the penstemon’s goal is to produce seeds.  To do that, they produce flowers to attract pollinators and once pollinated, the flowers drop and the seed develops.  However, when by pruning off the flowering spikes when there are a few flowers left, we disrupt the cycle and the plant will produce another set of flowers for the purpose of producing seeds.

Firecracker Penstemon (Penstemon eatonii)

Doing so will promote a second bloom for several penstemon species including firecracker penstemon (Penstemon eatonii) and Parry’s penstemon (Penstemon parryi).  

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 🙁


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

What does your garden look like in early spring?  Does it somewhat boring?  How about adding some color and interest to your garden by adding some water-wise flowering plants?



This week, I had a fun project to work on – in partnership with Monrovia, I was asked to select two types water-wise plants for the landscape. So, I headed out to my local nursery with a mission to select from the different water-wise Monrovia plants available.


Once I arrived at the nursery, I was faced with a number of different Monrovia plant choices from succulents, cacti, shrubs and perennials.  After a some time going back and forth, I narrowed my choices down to these two water-wise, flowering beauties.

Parry’s penstemon (Penstemon parryi) has long been a favorite perennial of mine.  I love the ‘cottage-garden’ look it provides with its pink spikes that appear in late winter and on into spring.


It is quite versatile in the landscape where it can be used in wildflower gardens, planted in a perennial bed or simply placed next to a boulder.
My next plant choice was a flowering succulent. 

Blue Elf aloe (Aloe ‘Blue Elf’) is a newer aloe species that is perfect for small spaces.  It thrives in hot, reflected heat and flowers in late winter on into spring.  



I have been using this small aloe a lot in recent landscape designs (like the one above) including in narrow planting beds, in entries and also in pots.



Both of these flowering plants are water-wise choices and perfect for the drought tolerant garden.


I loaded my new Monrovia plants up and started home.


On the drive home, I could see the flowers from my new plants in my rearview mirror and I couldn’t wait to find new homes for them in my garden.


I played with a number of potential locations in the garden for my new parry’s penstemon, but decided on planting it next to a boulder.  Plants like this penstemon look great next to boulders where their different textures provide great contrast.


I didn’t have to try different spots for my new Blue Elf aloe – I knew that I wanted it for one of my containers in the front entry.  This area gets blasted with hot, afternoon sun, which this pretty little aloe can handle with no problem.

Monrovia plants can be found at Lowe’s garden centers as well as at many local nurseries, which is where I found mine.  You can also order Monrovia plants online.  The quality of their plants is excellent and the only problem you’ll have is choosing from the large variety available.


*This post is sponsored by Monrovia, but my plant choices and opinions are my own.  Visit their website for more water-wise plant choices for your drought tolerant garden.
Springtime in the desert southwest is a glorious time.  

We say “goodbye” to cold, winter temperatures and delight in the landscape around us and it bursts into bloom.

I enjoy spending time outdoors this time of year, realizing that soon I will go into what I like to call ‘summer hibernation’ as the temperatures reach triple digits.

Today, I thought that I would share with you some beautiful, pink flowering plants that are in bloom right now…

Pink Fairy Duster (Calliandra eriophylla)

Pink fairy duster shows off its pink flowers once a year in spring.  The rest of the year, it quietly recedes into the background until spring arrives again.

Beavertail Prickly Pear (Opuntia basilaris)

My favorite prickly pear has vibrant, pink flowers throughout spring.  One of the reasons that I like beavertail prickly pear is that it stays rather small and does not become overgrown like other species can.

Parry’s Penstemon (Penstemon parryi)

I’m a sucker for plants that produce flowering spikes, like Parry’s penstemon.  It has such a delicate, pink color and hummingbirds find it irresistible.

Pink California Poppy

Did you know that the traditional, orange California poppy (Eschscholzia californica) comes in other colors?  I think I’m in love with the pink variety.

‘Raspberry Ice’ Bougainvillea

Bougainvillea makes an excellent container plant. All you have to do is water them deeply and then allow them to dry out before watering again.  Although I have a deep, magenta bougainvillea in my own garden – I must admit that I really like the variety ‘Raspberry Ice’ which has cream-colored brachts with pink tips.

Pink Gaura (Gaura lindheimeri ‘Siskiyou Pink’

Although traditionally a summer-bloomer, this pink gaura was already blooming in March.  I have white gaura growing underneath my front windows and I love it.

Mexican Evening Primrose (Oenothera berlandieri)

Pink, cup-shaped blooms cover Mexican evening primrose in spring.  This groundcover looks great in natural desert landscapes, but can be invasive, so be careful where you use it.

Hedgehog Cactus (Echinocereus engelmannii)

The one beauty of this spiny cactus are its magenta flowers that appear in spring.

In my own garden, I have two pink flowering plants in bloom…

Hollyhock

Every year, hollyhocks come up from seed next to one of my vegetable gardens.  They tower over our house and are at least 15 feet tall. 

I first planted hollyhock seeds 4 years ago and that was it.  Every year, they self-seed and I thin them out so that 5 remain.  I’m never sure what color variety will come up.  Sometimes they are white, pale pink or red.



This year, they are deep pink.  Aren’t they pretty?

Pink Wood Sorrel 

I received a small division of pink wood sorrel from a fellow blogger who lives in Oregon.  I wasn’t sure if I could grow it in our desert climate.  So, I gave it a home in my vegetable garden.

Since then, it has done so well.  So well in fact, that I have divided it and planted it in all three of my vegetable gardens.  

It dies back to the ground in summer, but comes back in fall.

Do you have any favorite pink-blooming plants?  Are any in your garden?  
Summer time brings a riot of color to our desert gardens, which are but a distant memory in December.  However, cooler temperatures do not mean that our gardens have to take a holiday.  In our desert climate, there are many plants that flower reliably in December.  Here are some of my favorites….
Parry’s Penstemon (Penstemon parryi)
Beautiful flowers and a magnet for hummingbirds.  Need I say more….?
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)
The delicate light blue flowers are so beautiful.

Baja Ruellia (Ruellia peninsularis)
I just love this shrub and it’s pretty purple flowers.  Most blooms are produced in spring, but some flowers are still produced in winter.
Autumn Sage (Salvia greggii)
Reliable bloomer fall through spring.  Hummingbirds will appreciate this small shrub in the garden.
Pink Globe Mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua)
Blooms fall through spring.
Baja Fairy Duster (Calliandra californica)
Flowers year-round.  Slows down in the winter, but continues to flower in protected areas.
 
 Firecracker Penstemon (Penstemon eatonii)
My favorite plant in the garden.
Angelita Daisy (Hymenoxys acaulis)
Year-round bright color.  Heaviest blooming occurs in the spring. 

Valentine (Eremophila maculata ‘Valentine’)
This is what my Valentine looks like in December.  However, peak flowering occurs in February, hence the name ‘Valentine’.
So, just because it is December, it does not mean that you have to resign yourself to a landscape without flowering plants.  Try one or more of these and see the difference a little color in December adds to your desert garden.