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palo verde tree bougainvillea backyard landscape

Do you have parts of your landscape that you would like to change? 

Perhaps you have areas you like, but there are plants you are tired of or are struggling with.

I want to show you what I did in my backyard, where I blended both old and new elements.

First, a little history:

I was fairly happy with with the areas bordering the walls of the backyard. They are filled with colorful shrubs such as Bougainvillea, Coral Fountain, and Yellow Bells.

However, the center of my backyard space was dominated by a large lawn, which we had removed last year.

The decision to replace the grass was made with a focus on plants that I love and would blend well with the existing plants.

The focal point is a new flagstone seating area with Adirondack chairs arranged around a portable firepit. Around this area, boulders add height and texture. Angelita Daisy, Artichoke Agave, Blackfoot Daisy, and Pink Muhly grasses surround the seating area, which adds year-round color and texture.

In another area, a gentle mound stands planted with a ‘Bubba’ Desert Willow tree. Purple Trailing Lantana grows around the tree and will soon cover the entire mound in a mass of purple blooms.

At this point, the new plants are still rather small. However, plants grow quickly in the desert climate and, in another year, will soon reach their mature size.

The result? A landscape where the new and old will blend seamlessly together.

I must admit that I am delighted with how it turned out. It took me a long time to decide what to do with this area – it is so much easier to design someone else’s yard than your own.

I look forward to seeing it evolve and promise to share it with you 🙂

Does it look like fall where you live?

If you live in the West or Southwestern regions of the U.S. your answer is probably “no”.

Fall foliage we enjoyed on a trip to Williamsburg, VA several years ago.
 
Have you ever traveled somewhere else to find colorful fall foliage?
 
What if you could have fall color in your own landscape?
 
Believe it or not, there are several plants that can offer some fall color for those of us who yearn for signs of autumn in the desert garden.
 
I shared 6 of my favorite plants for fall color in an article I wrote for Houzz.
 
Do you have a favorite plant that gives you fall color?
 

Do you have a neat and tidy front landscape?  One where plants are pruned neatly and at the right time of year.  Where drip lines are covered up and where there is never a weed in sight?

Or maybe you would describe your front garden space as somewhat natural and untamed.  Where plants are late in getting pruned (if at all), drip tubing is exposed and where weeds can be found lurking in hidden corners?

Today, I’d like to share with you a story of two landscapes – the ‘neat and tidy’ neighbors have a perfectly lovely landscape filled with a combination of flowering plants and succulents.  There is always something blooming in their garden in all seasons.

They even planted the outside of their side wall with pinky muhly grasses even though they don’t see this area of their landscape.

Now, let’s look at the second set of neighbors who have a ‘natural and untamed’ garden…  

While this landscape is also filled with flowering plants at all seasons, you’ll notice a weed or two next to the purple trailing lantana, exposed drip tubing and a smattering of dead leaves from the nearby tree.

The plants in the ‘natural and untamed’ landscape aren’t always pruned right away and sometimes grow into nearby plants before being pruned.

If you look carefully, you’ll often find a weed (sometimes two or five) hiding alongside shrubs and underneath groundcovers.

Despite their differences in their landscape maintenance practices, the neighbors are good friends and have lived near each other for over 10 years.

Now that I have created the setting, I’d like to share with you something that happened this week that made the owner of the ‘natural and untamed’ garden absurdly happy.    

As she was driving by her ‘neat and tidy’ neighbor’s house, she noticed something definitely out of place.

At first, she could hardly believe what she was seeing – a weed!  It was something that she had NEVER seen growing in her neighbor’s landscape.

And it wasn’t just a little weed – it was a really big one!

The sight of this unwelcome weed brought a smile to her face as she drove a couple of houses down to her ‘natural and untamed’ landscape filled with more weeds than she would care to admit to hiding among the rambling shrubs and groundcovers.

This tale of two landscapes and a single weed leads me to ask you this question:

Which type of landscape does yours resemble?

Neat & Tidy or Natural & Untamed

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As you may have guessed (or recognized my landscape), one of the neighbors in this story is me and before I wrote this story, I got my neighbor’s permission to show their single, solitary weed.

While I like the idea of having a neat and tidy garden, I am frankly so busy helping others with their landscapes that I don’t always have time to tend mine as much as I would like.

Maybe someday, we will have time to cover up the drip tubing, get rid of all our weeds and prune our plants at the right time of year.

But, I wouldn’t hold my breath….

Do you enjoy seeing “before and after” photos?


I do – especially with landscapes.


Just over a year ago, I was asked to help renovate a local church’s landscape.

As you can see their landscape had become rather bare as plants had not been replaced over the years.  In addition, there were some old plants that needed replacing.

So, I got to work on a new design. When renovating an existing landscape, it’s important to determine which existing plants to keep.  I rarely get rid of all the plants since mature plants help anchor a new landscape while the new plants take time to fill in and grow. Also, why waste a perfectly good plant as long as it is still attractive and can fit into your design?  You can always create a design to go with an existing plant.

A year after being installed, I was asked to come back to work on a different area of the church,  During that time, I took some “after” pictures of what the landscape looks like now.  

This area was filled with two old shrubs, which we elected to keep.

Some contouring (mounding) was added for elevation and river rock washes were added for drainage.

And this is what it looks like 1 year later. Flowering feathery cassia(Senna artemisioides) adds color in winter and spring. Year round color is supplied by angelita daisies(Tetraneuris acaulis) and ‘Blue Bells’ (Eremophila hygrophana).

Agave and boulders will add texture contrast.

In this area, I tagged two struggling shrubs with paint for removal along with a yucca plant that the church landscape committee wanted removed due to it poking people with its sharp leaves as they walked by.

The Mexican bird-of-paradise (Caesalpinia mexicana) tree would remain in this area.

The small wash was redone, which serves double duty – it adds a decorative element to the landscape and helps channel water from the roof.

Golden barrel cacti(Echinocactus grusonii) were planted in the corner where they will lend sunny yellow color all year long. ‘Blue bell’ shrubs complete the planting in this area.

While pink fairy duster (Calliandra eriophylla) is a beautiful desert shrub in spring, it makes a poor hedge. In addition, it does not flower 9 months of the year. A plant that would look great throughout the majority of the year was needed in this area.

Ornamental grasses fit the bill perfectly in this area. Pink muhly (Muhlenbergia capillaris) is green from spring through summer and puts on a show in fall when burgundy plumes appear that fade to an attractive wheat color in winter. Instead of a hedge, which would need pruning throughout the year, pink muhly needs pruning once, in spring.

This area had a few sage shrubs, a single red yucca and a barrel cactus.

I had everything removed in this bed except for the barrel cactus. The church had a large number of old Texas sage shrubs (Leucophyllum frutescens ‘Green Cloud’). The reason that I had many of these taken out was because a the majority of the members of this church are winter visitors. Texas sage flowers in summer and early fall when they are gone.  I was asked to add plants that would provide winter and spring color.  

Now this area is filled with feathery cassia and Valentine bush (Eremophila maculata ‘Valentine), both of which flower in winter and spring. Desert spoon (Dasylirion wheeleri) adds both color and texture contrast and ‘Blue bell’ shrubs will add colorful flowers throughout the entire year.

This corner section of the landscape was filled with formally pruned shrubs that offered little beauty to the area.

The ocotillo and yucca remained and angelita daisies, ‘Blue Bell’ and feathery cassia were added.

I must admit that I was quite pleased at how everything looked.  It’s one thing to create a design on paper and another thing entirely to see it growing in beautifully.

On a slightly different note, I also took time to check on the streetside landscape by the church that I had designed 2 years ago.  

In the beginning, there was nothing there but an old cactus or two.

What a difference 2 years makes!  A young palo blanco tree(Acacia willardiana) grows among feathery cassia, Valentine and purple trailing lantana.

The plant palette for the church mirrored that of the street landscape for a visually seamless transition.  

Along this section fo the street, all that was present were 3 Agave americana and utility boxes.

The agave were relocated along this stretch of road with trees and colorful shrubs. You can hardly see the utility boxes now.

Thank you for letting me share with you some of my favorite “before and after” photos. Learn more about the plants that I used in this project by clicking their names: ‘Blue Bell’ shrubs, feathery cassia, Valentine bush and pink muhly grass.

*Do you have an area in your landscape that needs a little help? Take some time and drive around and take pictures of landscapes that you like. Then take them to your local nursery or landscape professional and have them help you renovate your landscape.

Okay, you were probably thinking that I meant the ‘other’ type of grass.  But the type of grass I am referring to cannot be smoked, (at least I don’t think it can).  ‘Regal Mist’ (Muhlenbergia capillaris ‘Regal Mist’), is a beautiful ornamental grass to include in your landscape.  It is low-maintenance, thrives almost anywhere and has stunning burgundy foliage in late summer and early fall.

USES:  This Texas native looks best when planted in groups of at least 3, but I think groups of 5 or 7 are better.  This ornamental grass grows to approximately 3 ft. High and wide.  However, when flowering, add 1 – 2 ft. to their total height.  They can be planted in full sun, areas with reflected heat and even in areas with partial shade.  

This ornamental grass is tolerant of most soils.  Regal Mist is a great choice for planting around pools, boulders and in front of walls.  I have planted them around golf courses, and many people would ask me, “What is that plant?  It is beautiful.”  It is evergreen in areas with mild winters, but it is hardy to -10 degrees F (Zone 6).  Frost will turn them light tan in color. 

 Regal Mist when not in flower

MAINTENANCE:  You can hardly get more low-maintenance then this – prune back severely in the winter, almost to the ground, to remove old foliage and spent flowers.  I do not fertilize Regal Mist, and they look just great.  Although drought tolerant once established, supplemental water is necessary for them is needed for them to look their best and to flower.  Self-seeding is not usually a problem when they are irrigated with drip-irrigation.

So, for those of you who are frequently asking me for a beautiful, low-maintenance plant – this is it.  Include a few in your garden, and I promise you will have people asking you, “What is that beautiful grass?”