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I am sharing with you a few of my favorite close-up flower photographs this week.


Here is one that brightens up my garden summer and into early fall…


Sunflower
It is hard to find a flower that grows so large and that is easy to grow.


I plant mine from seed each spring and then plant a second crop in mid-summer.

Did you know that you can make a bird feeder and shade tomatoes using sunflowers?

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Now for the winner of the book, Hellstrip Gardening…

And the randomly picked winner is….


Liza who blogs at “Good to Grow
Congratulations!


Thanks to all of you who entered.  I highly recommend getting a copy for yourselves and transforming your garden.

It may be awfully hot outside, but my garden is awash in brightly colored flowers from my single bougainvillea, Arizona yellow bells and ‘Rio Bravo’ sage, which shrug off the summer heat.

Last year, we decided to create an edible garden along the side of our house. 

This was a large underused area that we look out at from our kitchen, family room and bedrooms.

To get it ready for planting, we had our ghost gum eucalyptus tree removed.  It was a beautiful tree, but was quickly outgrowing this area with its overhanging limbs.

The next step involved pulling out some of the flowering shrubs along the back wall and along the side of the house.  We kept the flowering shrubs along the side wall, because they add beauty and help to break up the bare expanse of the wall.

This is what the side garden looks like today…

The centerpiece of the edible garden is the vegetable garden.  Right now, it is filled with corn, zucchini, tomatoes, cucumbers and sunflowers.

In front, is my colorful container filled with a variety of herbs including basil, parsley, sage and thyme.  I bought an inexpensive plastic container and spray painted it a bright blue.  The container is connected to the drip system of the vegetable garden.


In the foreground (not pictured) is our new Arizona sweet orange tree.  We planted it last year and are excited to have three oranges growing on it.  

You may be thinking that three oranges is not much to be excited about, but the first couple of years after a citrus tree is planted – you are lucky to get any fruit at all.

Newly planted citrus trees shouldn’t be fertilized during the first year, because you want them to focus on root growth, not upper growth when there is not a substantial root system for them to rely on.  Since it has been a year since we have planted it, we will fertilize this year.


In front of the vegetable garden are a pair of new peach trees.  

I love peaches and have enjoyed the fruit from my mother’s peach trees for years.  I finally decided that I wanted to grow my own.  

We got 18 peaches this year, which is a lot considering that we planted them in January.

Notice the green plant at the base of the peach tree?  It is a gourd plant that will quickly grow and cover the ground.  This will serve as a ‘living mulch’ and help to prevent weeds and shade the roots of my peach trees.


Inside the vegetable garden, sunflower seeds are beginning to form.  It is so fun to see the birds hanging upside down trying to get to the seeds.  

You can allow the birds to eat the seeds or if you want to save them for yourself, simply tie a paper bag around the flower to keep the birds away.

I’ll probably save some flowers for ourselves and let the birds enjoy the seeds of a couple of unprotected sunflowers.


A large zucchini plant is growing in the background and as anyone who has grown zucchini will tell you, it is prolific.

The slightly wilting plant in the foreground is a pumpkin plant.  If you want a pumpkin for fall, then June is when you want to plant them.

It is normal for the leaves to wilt slightly during the heat of the day.  They will return to normal later in the day.


Zucchini can hide underneath the large leaves of the zucchini plant.  I’m going to use this one to make my chocolate chip zucchini bread.  It’s delicious and your kids will never know there is zucchini in it 😉

I found the recipe on Pinterest and have already made it once.  My family keeps bugging me to make more.  Here is the link to the recipe, if you are interested – Chocolate Zucchini Bread


My tomatoes are flourishing in the natural shade provided by my sunflowers.


One of my cherry tomato plants has even decided to expand a bit outside of the garden.


Behind the vegetable garden are my two apple trees, planted this January.  One is a Anna apple tree and the other is a Dorsett Golden.  These apple trees do well in the desert and although they will produce apples if planted alone – they will produce more apples because they will cross pollinate each other.

It will take a few years for any apples to appear, but the blossoms in spring are just lovely.


Behind the apple trees are six blackberry bushes.  This year, we enjoyed the berries so much and are hoping for even more next year as they grow larger.

Blackberries won’t produce the first year after planting because the berries appear on 1-year odd canes.

Did you know that there are now thornless varieties of blackberries available?  I have one….I only wish that the other five were thornless 😉

Well, that is what I have growing in my side edible garden.

Tomorrow, I’ll share what is growing in my original vegetable garden.

What do you have growing in your garden right now?

If you like to grow tomatoes AND you live in the desert, then you know how important it is to shade your tomato plants during the summer months.


Most vegetable gardeners haul out 50% shade cloth, which does a great job at shading tomatoes and protecting them from the intense desert sun.  


Personally, I don’t particularly like how shade cloth looks.  As a horticulturist and landscape designer – I like gardens to look beautiful and that extends to vegetable gardens.


So instead of putting up shade cloth over my tomato plants this year, I decided to create natural shade for them.

 
My tomatoes are surrounded by giant sunflowers on their east, west and southern sides.  If you can only add sunflowers to one side, then choose the west side to protect them from the intense afternoon sun.
 
 
Throughout the day, they experience filtered shade.  My tomatoes look great without any signs of sunburn.
 
Sunflowers are easy to grow from seed and you can start planting them in March and continue throughout the summer.
 
 
Because sunflowers only live a few months, I have planted a second crop of sunflowers in between my existing sunflowers.  I will soon plant a third crop in order to provide shade all summer and into early fall for my tomatoes.
 
An added bonus to planting sunflowers is that they provide food and shelter for birds and you can enjoy their delicious sunflower seeds.
 
 
Another reason to use sunflowers instead of shade cloth for tomatoes is that sunflowers are a lot less expensive then shade cloth and are an inexpensive and sustainable solution.
 
How about you?  What do you use to shade your tomatoes?

This past Memorial Day, my mother had the entire family (minus my daughter, Rachele, who is in the Navy) over for brunch to celebrate the beginning of summer.


As we drove up to the farm, we were greeted by the following sight…



My nephews along with my son, Kai, were selling lemonade made from the lemons from the backyard tree.


They had quite a few people buying a refreshing cup of lemonade, including my son-in-law, Jeff.


Kai and the boys were kept busy filling cups with lemonade.  In addition, they also sold homemade jam made from the peach trees.


My daughter, Brittney and Lily (my granddaughter) came over too and Lily got her first taste of lemonade.


As we entered the house, we were greeted by delicious smells of eggs, sausage, fruit and cinnamon rolls.

I couldn’t wait to finish eating so that I could go outside with my mother to see what was growing in her vegetable garden.

She was most proud of her Russian gourds.


Okay, they really aren’t Russian, but my sister-in-law brought the seeds in Russia for my mother.  You can buy the same gourd seed in the US.  

But, we like calling them Russian gourds because it sounds more fun and exotic.



Her pattypan squash is also growing well, above.  This summer squash is a lot like zucchini.  My mom plans on cutting it into small pieces and adding to salads, much like you would cucumbers.


Her sunflowers provided much appreciated shade for the garden as well as seeds for the birds.  My brother considered trying some of the seeds.


If you want to keep the birds from eating the seeds, you can place a paper grocery bag on top of the flowers.


Lots of zucchini were beginning to form.  If you are relatively new to vegetable gardening, then zucchini is a great vegetable to get started with in the summer.  They are easy to grow and there is something so satisfying when you bring a large one inside.

My 2-year old twin nephews took some time to play in the toy front end loader…


Then it was time to celebrate Kai’s birthday.  He is now 11 years old.


His favorite gift was a ‘Navy’ hat from his big sister, which we bought at the Naval base after we saw our daughter graduate.



His second-favorite gift was a huge squirt gun from his grandma.

Late May is also the time that we pick peaches from the trees.


So my mother and I headed out to pick some peaches for me to take home so that I could make peach jam.



I love making peach jam and enjoying it throughout the year.


The peaches, above, were picked from my own peach tree.  We planted it in January and I was quite surprised when it produced so many peaches.  But, I certainly wasn’t complaining 😉

Of course, I didn’t have enough peaches from my own tree, so I used those that I picked from my mother’s trees to supplement my own.


When you pick peaches, use them the same day if possible because they are so soft and bruise so easily.  I waited only one day and already had some soft spots on my peaches.

My mother taught me how to make peach jam a few summers ago.  I blogged about it back then in “A Harvest Of Peaches and Jam”

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I wanted to thank those of you who left such kind comments regarding my last post about my daughter Rachele’s graduation from Navy basic training.


Last week, as I was frantically rushing around getting ready to fly out to Chicago to attend my daughter’s Navy graduation, I received an email from a reader of my blog, which literally stopped me in my tracks and brought a huge smile to my face.


When you blog, it is almost always a one-way conversation.  I don’t often get to know if my ‘ramblings’ help or inspire others, except for when I meet some of you in person.  So, this email just made my day (or should I say, my entire month).



Here is a small excerpt…



Since moving here (from SC three years ago) my son and I have found your Pinterest Page, and Facebook page AND blog as our source when we have questions about things we have planted. Because of that my 14 year old has been mightily successful in his gardening efforts: veggie gardens, herbs and his hummingbird garden too. This mother thanks you for being willing to show not only your success but not quite so successful growth too (ie your onions.- they weren’t failures, just small).  Jacob, my son, was so gleeful (as most boys [I guess] would be) when he pulled his onions this week and they were bigger than yours.  (I don’t know what it is about competition and boys…. ) He is currently awaiting his corn harvest.  He has planted two varieties to compare the difference- one The Golden Cross Bantam (Hybrid) and some other kind I cannot think of at the moment (silver queen or something..)


I wrote her back and told her how much her email meant to me.  And then, I wondered if she wouldn’t mind if I make her son’s garden a subject of an upcoming blog post. 


Jacob is 14 years old and in addition to being a great gardener, also likes birding.  



Are you ready to see Jacob’s garden?




This is the hummingbird garden.  I asked Jacob, what he planted in his garden and what species of hummingbirds that he has seen visiting.

“There are many things I have added to my hummingbird garden. 

Here is a list: 

Dianthus
Spanish Lavender
Fern leaf Lavender
French Lavender
Columbine
Kangaroo paw (orange red in color)
Ivy Geranium (to add color to garden not specifically for hummingbirds)
May Night Salvia
East Friesland Salvia
Pink Salvia
Blue Black Salvia
Trailing Verbena
Verbena
Guara Ballerina Rose
Cardinal climber vine
Black eyed Susan vine
Rocket Snapdragons
Snapdragons
Pineapple Sage
Autumn Sage
Cinnamon Basil
Basil
Bee Balm
Aloe Blue Elf
Aloe Vera
Lantana (yellow and a new variety which is white with yellow on the outside of the flower)
A few rogue sunflowers
and a young Desert Willow sapling that I started from seed last year.

That is it so far but you never know what tomorrow will bring. 


Anna’s Hummingbird

Four different species have visited my garden; Anna’s hummingbirds are year round residents, Black-chinned hummingbirds stay throughout the summer, the Rufous and Broad-tailed hummingbirds are common in migration. The hummingbird garden is situated near our kitchen window(s), I really enjoy sitting at the table watching them. Last year we actually got to enjoy watching a mama Anna Hummer feeding her babies. The house Finch and sometimes the red headed woodpecker visit too. The curved bill thrashers love to eat the bugs.”




I wanted to hear more about Jacob’s vegetable garden so I asked him what types of vegetables he likes to grow.

“Some of my favorite vegetable(s) to grow here is corn, and tomatoes The corn partly because it is something new for me to try producing. I am growing two types this year; Bantam corn and sweet corn. I will compare the two to see which harvests the most and grows better. The tomatoes have so many new varieties that I have not grown before so I am having a blast trying new tomatoes this year. I am trying the Summer Set tomato, Lemon boy, Roma, Cherry tomato, Big Beef, Early Girl, and of course the Phoenix. All have produced except the Phoenix, so far.
I also planted Okra last year. The plant generated much, but I waited till they were to big and they were bitter. I kept the plants though because the flowers were very pleasing to the eye. 



White Icicle Radishes were another vegetable I had fun growing. I found a watermelon called Moon and Stars that was believed to be extinct, I am growing that also.”


As many of you may have experienced, there is one or two vegetables that you have a hard time growing.  I asked Jacob, if he struggled growing any type(s) of vegetables in his garden.

“Squash seems to be the hardest for me to grow here in Arizona. I haven’t been to successful but I keep trying. I have Zucchini and crook- necked squash growing this year, hopefully I will be a little more successful.”



I have a list of vegetables that I want to try to grow for the first time in my garden.  I just don’t have the room to grow everything I want 😉  I asked Jacob what was on his ‘wish list’ for his vegetable garden.

“I would love try Purple Bell Peppers. They would be fun to grow, and to eat.”



While I enjoy teaching people how to garden and sometimes ‘how not to’ – I wondered if Jacob had any gardening tips that he has picked up along the way that he would share with you.

“My gardening tips are more of an encouragement. Never be afraid to try new things even here in the desert. Some things might be successful, some may not. Don’t give up even if your things don’t produce. Try again, they may in the next year. Gardening is about succeeding and failures and learning from them.



This year my mother found some pins that she shared with me, on Pinterest., that I tried. Regrowing celery from the root, lettuce, and onions too. The celery flourished! The Romaine lettuce did well also, the yellow onion not quite as successful. It did produce an onion, just not a very large one. This was a fun gardening experiment, some I may retry once the summer heat has passed. 

Praying Mantis hatched from a purchased egg case.

Something else I am doing this year is allowing the plants to go to seed in hopes that I can use the seeds for next years garden. 


Gardening is about succeeding, failures, experimenting with new things, and learning from them.”

I must say, that I am very impressed with Jacob’s garden and also with how much he has learned since he started his garden.

As he stated, don’t be afraid get out in the garden and try.  Of course, you will have some failures (all gardeners do – I have had my share).  But, you will also have successes that make failures pale in comparison.  Gardening is a huge experiment, which makes life fun and exciting.

I am so grateful to Jacob and his mom, Deb, who took the time to write to me and then to share their garden and thoughts with me.  

“THANK YOU!”

I love visiting other people’s gardens, particularly if they have fruit and vegetables growing in them. So, I was thrilled to be able to go on a tour of local ‘edible’ gardens earlier this month.

 
 
This is the second year of the Arcadia Edible Garden Tour, which is made up of a collection of residential gardens in the ‘Arcadia’ area in east Phoenix.  I used to live in this area and it is one of my favorite regions of the Phoenix metro area.
 
Because my mother loves gardening almost as much as I do, I decided to buy her a ticket too and take her with me as a Mother’s Day gift.
 
Our first stop was to see Jill’s Sweet Life Garden.  I made sure to visit there first because I had been following her blog and couldn’t wait to see her gardens in person.
 
 
As we entered the garden, We headed straight for the raised vegetable beds.
 
 
My mother and I love to grow leaf lettuce, so we had to see what varieties were being grown.
 
 
One of the reasons that I was excited to go on this garden tour, was to get ideas to use in my own garden.  
 
Like, using regular wire mesh over the garden.  This would be great to use as a support for shade cloth in summer or frost cloth in the winter.  It is much more attractive then PVC supports.
 
The trellis is made of rebar and wire mesh and provides an attractive support for vining vegetables.
 
 
As many of you know, I love to grow nasturtiums alongside my vegetables.  They aren’t only pretty, they help to keep bad bugs away from my veggies.
 
This bed had a variety of nasturtium that I was anxious to try ‘Cherry Rose Jewel’ (I found seeds at Botanical Interests).  I will definitely be planting these next year.
 
 
As I was busy admiring the raised beds, my attention was drawn upward by a massive trumpet vine that was growing up a Phoenix date palm.
 
 
Talk about an unexpected support for a vine – I loved it.
 
I have been growing a special variety of corn in a half wine barrel.  
 
 
Sweet Life Garden had cucumbers growing in a barrel with a beautiful trellis.  
 
Baker’s Nursery had these wine barrel trellises available, but I’m not sure if they still do.  You could certainly make your own.
 
 
In addition to cucumbers, sunflowers were also growing in a barrel.  I may have to try this.
 
 
I love growing herbs in pots, but I think Jill’s look better then mine because of the half barrels.  I think I need to get more for my garden.
 
 
Tomatoes were growing like crazy with some beautiful heirloom varieties ripening.
 
 
Wouldn’t this look beautiful on a sandwich or on a salad?
 
 
I think it is important to have seating areas scattered throughout the garden, which invites you to sit and enjoy your surroundings.
 
 
Here is another example of the wire mesh being used as a trellis.
 
 
For those of you who mourn the fact that they cannot grow leafy greens for their salad in summer – let me introduce you to Malabar spinach.  
 
Okay, it’s not exactly a spinach but tastes great in salads and tastes like spinach when cooked.
 
It loves hot temperatures and needs a trellis for support.  I have seeds, but will probably wait until next year to plant mine.
 
The seeds can be a little hard to find at your local nursery, but you can buy some through Amazon.com for under a $1 – just type in Malabar spinach in the search.
 
 
Why limit yourself to growing just vegetables?  
 
Fruit on shrubs and trees is also fun to grow as you can see from the large peach tree, above and the espaliered apple tree, below.
 
I especially enjoyed seeing the peach orchard.
My peaches are almost ready for picking 🙂
 
 
I have been busy picking the blackberries off of my vines and have been thinking of adding more next winter.  
 
 
After seeing the berries at Sweet Life Garden, I will definitely add more to my own garden.
 
Did you know that there is a thornless variety?  I have one thorny blackberry bush and the rest are thornless.  Guess which kind I like best?
 
 
It was time to wrap up our visit because there were more gardens to visit.
 
 
Did I mention that they have chickens too?  
 
On our way out, we enjoyed seeing a variety of products offered by Sweet Life Garden and local vendors.
 
 
 
I had already eaten breakfast, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying a few samples.
 
 
 
The three-cheese black pepper bread came home with me.
 
We had a great time visiting Jill, at Sweet Life Garden.  
 
But, our adventure didn’t end there.  There were more gardens to visit.  I will give you the highlights of the other gardens in my next post.
 
**You can find information about the Arcadia Edible Garden Tour on Jill’s blog, Sweet Life Garden.  Be sure to order early next spring, when tickets are available.