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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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It never ceases to amaze me how that despite how busy your calendar, everything grinds to a halt when you get sick.  Oh, I realize that there are certain types of sickness that you can press on through like a cold or even a small fever.  But, when the stomach flu hits, you are powerless to do anything.


What makes it worse is when everyone in your household gets it as well.  So, we have been spending quality time together nursing our sore stomachs and anxiously awaiting the time until our appetites return.


In the meantime, the garden is undergoing some contruction.


Irrigation trenches are criss-crossing our landscape as we are having new drip irrigation installed.  Our current system was first installed when we built our home 18 years ago and was having problems with numerous leaks.  Considering that the typical lifespan of a drip irrigation system is 10 – 15 years, we were long overdue to have ours replaced.

While it may not seem very exciting, I am looking forward to having separate drip lines for my fruit trees, shrubs/perennials and vegetable garden.

Many plants in my garden are beginning to bloom adn I thought I would give you a peek.


I spread a variety of flowers seeds in my side garden and some have already begun to bloom.


I planted toadflax seeds, which came in a variety of different colors.


I have white, pink and purple varieties adding welcome color to this area of the garden.


The seeds are from Botanical Interests and are called ‘Fairy Bouquet’ toadflax.


Another plant that has started blooming is from Renee’s Garden seed company and is called ‘Vanilla Berry’.

So far, these are the only two types of plants flowering in this garden, but the California poppies are getting ready to burst forth in different colors including white, purple, pink and of course, orange.


Citrus trees are also in full bloom perfuming the air with their intoxicating fragrance.  I am hopeful that my young Meyer’s lemon tree will produce its first lemons.


The peach trees bloomed earlier this year and are now filled with immature peach fruit – I can almost taste the peach jam that I will make from them this May.

Lobelia

The cool-season annuals that I planted in the fall are still going strong.  Even though they look great right now, I will replace them later this month with warm-season annuals in order to allow them time to grow a good root system before the heat of sumemr arrives.


Late winter and spring is also when my autumn sage (Salvia greggii) is also in flower.  I received several different varieties, straight from the grower, to try out in my garden, which were planted last fall.  They are doing great in their current location where they receive morning sun and afternoon shade.

On another note, we have been anxiously awaiting the re-emergence of our desert tortoise, Aesop.


We last saw him in late October before he went into his hole to hibernate.  Since then, we’ve periodically checked on him and today, we moved slightly.  So, I can’t wait to see him begin to walking out in the garden.

I’ll be sure to keep you updated.

How is your garden looking?  Is anything blooming yet?

Picture a garden filled with colorful flowering plants with hummingbirds hovering about. 

Now imagine that this garden is located in a small space against the backdrop of the red rocks of Sedona, Arizona and you have paradise.

 
Beds filled with flowering perennials are my favorite element of gardens.  Their appearance changes month to month as blooming transitions from one type of perennial to the other.
 
So, I was delighted to see that this hummingbird paradise was filled with beds filled with blooms of every color.

What I liked about the first perennial bed that I first saw was its curved edge, brightly colored wall in the back and the colorful tiles, which highlighted the flower colors.
 
A single purple-flowering, Chihuahuan sage (Leucophyllum laevigatum) anchored the corner of the bed with its height.  The purple flowers provided great color contrast with the blanket flower, coneflower, salvias and yarrow.
 
Coral Autumn Sage (Salvia greggii ‘Coral)
 
Some of my favorite hummingbird plants were growing in the garden.  Salvias are quite frankly, hummingbird magnets and grow beautifully in arid climates.
 
Salvia microphylla ‘Lipstick’
 
While most Salvia species grow well in full sun – if you live in the low-desert, they will do best when planted in filtered shade.
 
Salvia greggii ‘Purple’
 
When deciding what types of plants to add to your garden that will attract hummingbirds – salvias are a sure thing.
 
 
The deck was paved with flagstone and had two separate planting beds.  Even though each planting area wasn’t large, the plant palette was not limited since there are many perennials that don’t grow overly large, so the homeowners were able to fit in a lot of colorful plants in the confined spaces.
 
In the second perennial bed, two different colored hummingbird mint (Agastache spp.) plants provide height and anchor each end of the bed.  The sunny colors of blanket flower fill the middle.
 
Again, a brightly-colored wall adds to the beauty of this area.
 
 
The flowers of hummingbird mint (also known as hyssop) are simply irresistible to hummingbirds.
 
 
Besides producing pretty flowers and attracting hummingbirds, these perennials are drought tolerant, love hot/dry spaces, can be grown in zones 5-10 and are deer and rabbit resistant. They bloom summer to fall.
 
 
Blanket flower (Gaillardia spp.) come in a multitude of warm colors with shades or red, yellow and orange.
 
This colorful plant thrives in sunny spaces and attracts butterflies.
 
You’ll find this perennial growing in a wide range of gardens from zones 3 – 10.
 
 
The homeowners made the most out of their small garden space by creating a painted ‘garden’ along a previously blank wall.
Hummingbirds weren’t bothered by us and they hovered by the hummingbird mint and salvia flowers enjoying a drink of nectar. 
 
This special garden is a wonderful example of how a garden limited on space can be used to create a lovely hummingbird paradise.


**For more information on plants that will attract hummingbirds to your Southwest garden, I recommend Hummingbird Plants of the Southwest

*This blog post contains affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase, I may receive a commission (at no additional cost to you). Thanks for your support in this way.*





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One of my favorite shrubs is Autumn Sage (Salvia greggii).  I have used it in countless landscapes and I like how well it does when planted around trees where they can enjoy the filtered shade.


Now that fall is just a couple of days away (SUPER excited about that by the way), my thoughts drift toward plants that bloom in fall, which include Autumn Sage.


For more reasons why you may want to add this delightful plant to your garden, check out my latest article for Houzz.com

Architecture, interior design, and more ∨

Hire residential landscape architects to help with all aspects of landscape design, from selecting or designing outside patio furniture, to siting a detached garage or pergola.
As you get ready to host an event, be sure you have enough dining room chairs and dishes for dinner guests, as well as enough bakeware and chef knives for food preparation.

In my last post “A Long Forgotten Area Ready for Transformation”, I told you that I would share what plants I was going to have put in this neglected area.


The plants I chose are based on the following:


– I have grown them myself in either my home garden and/or in landscapes I have managed.


– They are relatively low-maintenance.


– Drought-tolerant.


– The plant palette will also ensure year round color, with at least one or more plants being in bloom at a given time.


So are you ready to see what I chose?


Let’s start with the trees…


The area has two large Foothills Palo Verde trees along with a Wolfberry tree, so I chose one other type of tree to add.

 

 

Desert Willow (Chilopsis linearis) is one of my favorite desert trees.  It is not a true willow, but is named for the fact that its leaves are willow-shaped.
 
Colorful flowers appear throughout the summer that add a vibrant punch of color to the landscape.
 
Hardy to zone 6, Desert Willow requires well-drained soil and full sun or filtered shade.
 
For more information on Desert Willow along with the different varieties available, check out my Houzz article about this lovely tree.
 
Now for the shrubs…
 
 
Valentine Bush (Eremophila maculata ‘Valentine’) is my favorite shrub of all time.
I will never forget the day when I was first introduced to this red-flowering shrub, by Mountain States Wholesale Nursery.  It was 1999 and I was a horticulturist fresh out of college.
 
I was given 2 Valentine shrubs from Mountain States to plant in the landscape area I managed.  Ever since then, I have been hooked.
 
 
Red flowers appear on this shrub, beginning in January and lasting until April.  If you haven’t noticed it before, there isn’t much blooming in winter, which is one of the reasons I love Valentine.
 
The foliage is evergreen and Valentine are hardy to zone 8.  Better yet, they only need to be pruned once a year – in spring after flowering.
 
Plant in full sun and well-drained soil.
For more information about Valentine, check out my post about this great plant.
 
 
My second choice for shrubs is Baja Ruellia (Ruellia peninsularis).  
 
Now, this isn’t its rather invasive cousin Ruellia (Ruellia brittoniana), pictured below…
 
Baja Ruellia is what I like to think of as a smaller version of Texas Sage species (Leucophyllum sp).  It doesn’t get as large and has a longer flowering season then Leucophyllum.

 

 
The flowers of Baja Ruellia are tubular and appear spring through fall, with the heaviest bloom occurring in spring.  
 
The foliage is light green and rarely suffers frost damage in our zone 9b climate.  Hardy to zone 9, Baja Ruellia should be planted in full sun and well-drained soil.
 
 
The third shrub for this area will be Silvery Cassia (Senna phyllodenia).  This Australian native does very well in arid landscapes.
 
The silvery foliage will provide contrast to the darker greens present in the landscape.  Evergreen to 20 degrees, this shrub flourishes in zone 9 landscapes.
 
Yellow flowers appear in late winter and into spring.  Pruning is needed after flowering, to remove seed pods in managed landscapes.
 
Like the other shrubs, Silvery Cassia enjoys full sun and well-drained soil.



The smallest shrub for this area will be Autumn Sage (Salvia greggii).  This plant is hard to zone 7, so remains evergreen during winter here.


Flowers appear fall through spring in the low desert.  The most common colors are red or pink, although there are other colors such as white, lavender and peach. 


I like to use Autumn Sage around trees like Palo Verde, where the filtered shade shelters it from the intense summer sun.  I first saw them planted around a tree at the Desert Botanical Garden and I really liked the way it looked, so I have repeated this design in many of my landscapes.
The Autumn Sage above, was planted by me around a Foothills Palo Verde about 12 years ago and they are still going strong.


I still have perennials and accent plants to show you that I have included in the design and I’ll share them with you next time.


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Life around our household has been busy lately….


School is back in session (for which I am extremely grateful for 😉


My son Kai, has ditched his wheelchair for a walker and will soon be able to walk without it.


AND


My daughter, will soon come home after leaving 5 months ago for the Navy.  She is graduating from her Equipment Operator School next week and will be an official ‘SeaBee’.  She will be on leave for 2 weeks before she reports for combat training in Mississippi, where she will be stationed for a month.


The BEST news is that her permanent base will be in Port Hueneme, which is where she wanted to be.  What is even better for us, is that it is in Southern California, just 7 hours from home!!!


We are getting ready to celebrate her homecoming, which I will share with all of you 🙂

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.
 

One of the many blessings of living in the desert is that you can garden all year.  That means that you can have beautiful color all year, even in the winter (above).

Drive down the street during the summer, and you will see flowering plants in the common areas and gracing the front yards of everywhere you look.  Texas Sage, Bougainvillea, Lantana, and Tecoma species dot the landscape.

 

Why then do people not include plants that will provide color in the winter?  You can take the same drive as you did in the summer and see nothing but green blobs and nothing else (below).  The landscape below is an unfortunate victim of ‘poodle’ pruning.  We are so fortunate to live in an area with relatively mild winters, so why not take advantage of that fact in your garden?

 

I mean, who thinks that this looks nice?  Countless times, when I am meeting with clients, they ask, “My landscape is so boring.  What can I do to make it look better?”  The majority of the time, I hear this from winter residents.  Their landscape is a riot of color in the summer when they are gone.  But, in the winter when they are there, they have green blobs and little else.

The landscape (above) has potential.  The solution to a somewhat boring landscape is easy.  Add winter-flowering plants to the landscape.

 
When I create a landscape design for a brand new landscape, I make sure to include a variety of plants that flower at a different time of the year.  This ensures year-round color.  If you have an established landscape, add a few winter-flowering plants.  That is all it takes.
 
For beautiful winter color,  I recommend trying the following:
 
Valentine (Eremophila ‘Valentine)
Valentine flowers beginning in December, around Christmas 
 
 
Purple Lilac Vine (Hardenbergia violaceae)
Flowers in February, absolutely stunning flowers 
Angelita Daisy (Tetraneuris acaulis)
Formerly Hymenoxys acaulis 
Flowers all year 
 
Globe Mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua)
Blackfoot Daisy (Melampodium leucanthum)
 
Parry’s Penstemon (Penstemon parryi)
Desert Senna (Senna artemisiodes ssp. sturtii)
Formerly (Cassia sturtii)
  
Baja Fairy Duster (Calliandra californica)
Flowers all year
Damianita (Chrysactinia mexicana)
 
Firecracker Penstemon (Penstemon eatonii)
Mine is beginning to bloom now
 
Pink Autumn Sage (Salvia greggii)

 As you can tell, there are countless plants that you can use for winter color.  If you are only a winter-resident, then you may choose only to have plants that flower in winter.  As for me, I love lots of color year-round.  My favorites are Purple Lilac Vine, Firecracker Penstemon, Valentine, and Angelita Daisy.

 
Whether you live in the Tropics or Canada, this same principle is true for any climate you live in – make sure your garden provides color for you when you are there.

Do you like hummingbirds?

If so, you may want to make sure that you have some autumn sage (Salvia greggii) growing in your garden – it is a hummingbird magnet.

While red is the most common color of this small shrub, it also comes in other colors including shades of pink, purple, coral and white.

It has has a long bloom period in low desert gardens, beginning in fall and lasting until late spring. When growing in the flat desert, plant it in a filtered shade for best results.  Prune back by 1/2 its size in early March.