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Did you know that you can have plants blooming in your landscape every month of the year? In the desert garden, this is definitely true!

One of the most popular programs that I teach at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix is ‘Flowering All Year’. During the presentation, I teach students how to incorporate plants in their gardens so they can enjoy colorful blooms all year long.

Sadly, many desert dwellers miss this opportunity. Drive down a typical neighborhood street in winter, and you will have a hard time finding plants in bloom except for colorful annual flowers. As you’ll note, the focus in our gardens is typically on plants that flower through the warm season.

So, how can we change that? It’s quite simple – add plants that will flower in winter. Believe it or not, there are quite a few plants that fit the bill. 

I invite you to come along with me on a virtual tour of the plants I showed to the students in the class as we walked through the garden in mid-February.

*Before we embark on our walk, I have a confession to make. Usually, I arrive early before my classes to see what’s in bloom so I can plan our route. But, my daughter’s bus arrived late that morning, so I was running a bit late. As a result, I didn’t know what we would see. Thankfully, there was plenty to see.

Plants for Cool-Season Color:

 

Purple Lilac Vine (Hardenbergia violaceae)

The vibrant, blooms of Purple Lilac Vine never disappoint. Blooms appear in mid-winter, adding a welcome relief to colorless winter landscapes. Here it is planted in a tall raised bed and allowed to trail downward. In my garden, it grows up against a wall with a trellis for support.

Whale’s Tongue Agave and Mexican Honeysuckle underneath an Ironwood tree

 

Mexican Honeysuckle (Justicia spicigera)

Several perennials and small shrubs do best in the desert garden when planted in filtered sunlight. Desert trees like Ironwood, Mesquite, and Palo Verde are excellent choices for producing filtered sunlight. Mexican Honeysuckle doesn’t do well in full sun. As a result, it thrives under the shade of this Ironwood tree. I love the texture contrast in this bed next to the Whale’s Tongue Agave.

Weber’s Agave (Agave weberi) and Desert Marigold (Baileya multiradiata)

Desert Marigold is a short-lived perennial that resembles a wildflower. Yellow flowers appear throughout the year on this short-lived perennial. I like to use them in wildflower gardens or natural desert landscapes because this yellow bloomer will self-seed.

Firesticks (Euphorbia ‘Sticks on Fire’) and Elephants Food (Portulacaria afra)

Shrubs, vines, and perennials aren’t the only plants that add winter color in the landscape. Colorful stems of the succulent Firesticks add a splash of orange all year. I am a fan of the use of blue pots in the garden, and here, it adds a powerful color contrast with the orange.

‘Winter Blaze’ (Eremophila glabra)

 

Lush green foliage decorated with orange/red blooms is on display all year long with this Australian native. Several types of Eremophilas add cool-season color to the landscape, and this one deserves more attention. There must be a blank space in my garden for one… 

Blue Bells Eremophila and Mexican Fence Post Cactus

 

Blue Bells (Eremophila hygrophana)

Blue Bells is arguably one of my most favorite plants. It resembles a compact Texas Sage (Leucophyllum spp.) but doesn’t grow as large AND blooms throughout the year. For best results, plant in full sun, but well-drained soil is a must.

Valentine Bush (Eremophila maculata ‘Valentine’)

My favorite choice for winter color is Valentine Bush. Red/fuschia blooms begin to appear in January and last into April. For maximum color impact, use them in groups of 3 – 5. They are low maintenance – prune back to 1/2 their size in mid-April after flowering. No other pruning is required.

Aloe ferox

Winter into spring is a busy time for Aloes, and many species do well in the desert garden. Most require filtered sunlight to do their best, but ‘Blue Elf’ Aloe does well in both full sun and bright shade.

Trailing Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)

People from colder climates are often surprised to note that rosemary flowers. In the desert, we are fortunate that we get to enjoy their blue flowers from winter through spring – the bees like them too!

Shrubby Germander (Teucrium fruiticans ‘Azurea’)

Toward the entrance to the garden, I was delighted to see Shrubby Germander. A star in my own garden, this shrub has flowered all winter long and will continue to do so into spring. The blooms are a lovely periwinkle color.

Chuparosa (Justicia californica)

As our walk was wrapping up, the bright red blooms of a Chuparosa shrub caught our eye. A hummingbird was busily drinking as much nectar as he could. I like to use this shrub in landscapes with a natural theme as it has a sprawling growth habit. It flowers through winter into spring and an important nectar source for hummingbirds.

Of course, blooming plants aren’t the only way to add color to the garden. Garden art can play a vital part in adding interest. The Desert Botanical Garden is host to a traveling art exhibit with various animals made from recycled plastic. This group of meerkats greets visitors to the garden.

I hope that you enjoy this virtual tour of winter color in the garden and will add some to your own.

What plants do you have that flower in winter?

Have you ever had your day take a completely different turn than you anticipated?  Mine certainly did, and it all started with a discovery behind the lilac vine.


My day was off to a great start.  I didn’t have any appointments or looming writing deadlines.  Couple that with a weather forecast in the 70’s, I decided to spend a few hours working in the garden.

Purple Lilac Vine (Hardenbergia violaceae) back in February.
 
One of the things that I needed to do was to prune back my purple lilac vines now that they were finished flowering.  They just needed a little light pruning to keep them from growing into my new lemon tree.
 
While I was pruning the vines, my little dog, Tobey, was trying desperately to get underneath one of the vines.  I assumed that it was a lizard, but I couldn’t call him off.
 
 
Now, Tobey, is our little rescue dog who thinks that he is big and tough, but truth be told, he’s not.  But, when I had to carry him inside because he wouldn’t leave the vine alone, I suspected that there might be something else going on.
 
 
I slowly approached the vine and heard something growl.  Concerned that there may be an injured animal, I slowly parted the leaves, and a cat ran out and jumped over the fence.
 
At this point, I assumed that it was a feral cat and that the problem was solved. 
 
But, I heard some rustling sounds and thought that I could see some movement in the dark confines of the vine’s branches.  So, I ran inside to grab a flashlight so that I could see better.  The problem was, that while we had plenty of flashlights, all their batteries were dead.
So, I decided to use the flashlight on my cell phone to see what was making the sounds at the base of the vine.
 
I slowly parted the leaves and saw what looked like little rats.
 
 
But, closer examination showed them to be newly born kittens.
 
 
I could hardly believe it!
 
 
They were just darling, and I tried to count how many there were.  I think that there were four, but it might have been three.
 
 
I went back inside so the mama cat could come back.  She hopped to the top of the wall and waited to be sure that there weren’t any humans or dogs nearby before climbing down and disappearing into the vines.
 
 
So what will we do?  
 
I talked to my sister who has worked with feral cats in the past.  It turns out they are incredibly self-sufficient.  We’ll probably wait until the kittens are weaned and then trap the mother and get her spayed and then re-release her.
 
As for now, I need to break the news about the furry bundles behind the vines to my husband (who sleeps during the day) and the kids once they come home after school.  
 
 
In the meantime, the dogs have been banished to the side yard for the time being, much to their dismay…
 

I love using vines in the garden.


I have pink bower vine growing in my entry, purple lilac vine growing up the walls in my back garden and pink trumpet vine by my vegetable garden.


But, did you know that you can grow some vines as a groundcover?

Purple Lilac Vine (Hardenbergia violaceae)

Years ago, I started using purple lilac vines as groundcovers in the feature areas along golf courses.


I was surprised at how well they did.  We pruned them back once they were finished flowering and then a little if needed.

Eleven years later, they are still growing along the golf course and look great.
Purple lilac vine is my favorite vine.  The reasons are that they bloom in February and have beautiful, green leaves throughout the entire year.  They do need a trellis for support if growing along a wall.

Unlike their common name, however, they don’t smell like lilacs.  



Even when not in flower, their bright green foliage adds beauty and a visually cooling element to the landscape.

**When purchasing vines, I recommend buying them during their bloom season because they aren’t always stocked in the nursery when they aren’t in flower.

A word of caution when growing vines.  Some vines can become invasive – particularly in humid areas with mild winters.  However, this is rarely a problem in the desert Southwest because of our arid climate.

I am here to showcase a lesser-known plant for you to try in your garden.  

In winter, the garden can often look blah and colorless. But, it doesn’t have to be that way in the desert garden. There are many plants that bloom in winter.

And so, I am very excited to show you this lesser-known plant.  

Are you ready?  Drum roll please…

Isn’t it beautiful?
 
This Australian native is known by different common names with Purple Lilac Vine (Hardenbergia violacea) being commonly used in our area of the Southwest.  
 
It is not actually a lilac, but because we cannot grow lilacs in the low desert, this is a wonderful substitute.
 
 
My first experience in using Purple Lilac was over 20 years ago where I used it in a feature area on one of the golf courses I worked for.
Although traditionally, used as a vine, I used it as a ground cover and believe it or not, it did beautifully.  
One of the best attributes of this vine is that it blooms during the month of February in our zone 9 gardens.  
Now be honest, there is not much going on in your garden in winter, is there? Wouldn’t it be great to have gorgeous purple flowers blooming when little else is?
Here are more reasons to try out this vine in your garden:
  • It flowers in winter.
  • When not in flower, attractive leaves cover the vine year round.
  • Fairly low-maintenance.  Prune to control size if needed.  Supplemental fertilizer is usually not needed.
  • Requires a trellis or other support to grow upwards.
  • Hardy to zone 9.
Under normal winter temperatures, it doesn’t suffer frost damage.

It decorates a bare wall beautifully or can screen out an unattractive view.

   
When people ask me if I recommend a particular plant, I tell them that the highest recommendation that I can give is is if I have that plant growing in my garden.
You see, I do not have the patience to grow a plant that struggles and/or takes too much maintenance.  It also has to look beautiful most of the year.
So if you ask me if I truly like this vine, I answer by saying that I have four growing in my backyard 🙂
 
**One complaint that I have hear often is that it can be hard to find in your local nursery. Don’t worry, most nurseries normally have them in stock when they are in flower in winter.  

**It’s important to note that although the flowers look a bit like lilacs, they are not particularly fragrant. But, they are so beautiful, it’s hard not to care.

I find joy in the simple things and that includes my garden as well.

Yesterday, as I was preparing for my daughter’s 12th birthday party, I realized that I wanted to have a vase full of flowers to decorate the table.  I had no time to go to the store, so I ran outside and clipped some blooms from my flowering shrubs and one of my vines.

 
The flowers of Desert Senna, Globe Mallow and Purple Lilac Vine.
Although, there were not too many plants blooming, I was happy to have found three types of flowers that would look nice together in a bouquet.
Yes, my bouquet was simple and decidedly un-formal, but that describes me perfectly.  I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to bring my blooming garden inside.
And so…I plan to create a simple bouquet from the flowers of my garden each month.  I am looking forward to seeing how my bouquets will change as my garden changes through the months.

Anyone care to join me?  Even in winter, small branches from a flowering fruit tree or witch hazel would be beautiful.

 

Well, I can’t believe that this is my 100th blog post and that some of you are still reading my blog…. ;^)

I have enjoyed meeting so many of my fellow gardeners and those who want to learn how to garden.  I have met people not just from Arizona, but around the country and all over the world.  It just blows my mind how many of us there are, who love to garden and visit beautiful gardens.

The day after I started my blog, I joined Blotanical, which has been such a wonderful place to belong.  I have met many fellow gardeners and have visited their beautiful gardens through their blogs.  I highly encourage those of you who have not visited, to stop by Blotanical…a whole new world awaits you.

In honor of my 100th post, I would like to share with you one of my favorite vines….

 
This is one of six Purple Lilac Vines (Hardenbergia violaceae) that I have in my garden.   
 
You can see why it is called Purple Lilac Vine.  The flowers mimic lilacs, but have no fragrance.  They flower in February, when there are few other flowers in the garden.
It does require a trellis or other type of support to climb up against a wall.  

 
Today, when I went outdoors to take these pictures, the bees were happily buzzing about the flowers, greedily gathering pollen.
There is nothing not to love about this vine.  It does not suffer from frost damage in my zone 8b and so is evergreen.  It handles the heat very well, has no thorns and is absolutely beautiful.
 

Long ago….okay about 10 years ago, I planted the vines as a groundcover along the golf course and they worked so well, that I bought some to grow as groundcovers in my own garden.

 
Even when out of flower, they are just beautiful.  They need no special attention.  I do not fertilize them and only prune them every couple of years or so.
And so, this is my type of plant….low-maintenance and beautiful!

Thank you so much for visiting my blog and letting me know what you think in your comments.  I am excited to see what the next 100 posts bring!