Posts

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!

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?