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flowering perennial firecracker penstemon
flowering perennial firecracker penstemon

Firecracker Penstemon (Penstemon eatoni)

Have you ever noticed that spring has a way of surprising you in the garden? That is indeed the thought that I had earlier this week as I walked through my front landscape.

After spending a week visiting my daughter in cold, wintery Michigan, I was anxious to return home and see what effects that a week of warm temperatures had done – I wasn’t disappointed.

I want to take you on a tour of my spring garden. Are you ready?

pink blooming Parry's penstemon

Parry’s Penstemon (Penstemon parryi)

Penstemons play a large part in late winter and spring interest in the desert landscape, and I look forward to their flowering spikes.

flowering echinopsis Ember

Echinopsis hybrid ‘Ember’

One of the most dramatic blooms that grace my front garden are those of my Echinopsis hybrid cactuses. I have a variety of different types, each with their flower color. This year, ‘Ember’ was the first one to flower and there are several more buds on it.

blue flowering shrubby gerrymander

Shrubby Germander (Teucrium fruiticans)

Moving to the backyard, the gray-blue foliage of the shrubby germander is transformed by the electric blue shade of the flowers. This smaller shrub began blooming in the middle of winter and will through spring.

Calliandra red powder puff shrub

Red Powder Puff (Calliandra haematocephala)

This unique shrub was a purchase that I made several years ago at the Desert Botanical Garden‘s spring plant sale. If you are looking for unusual plants that aren’t often found at your local nursery, this is the place to go. This is a lush green, tropical shrub that is related to the more common Baja Fairy Duster. However, it only flowers in spring and has sizeable red puff-ball flowers. It does best in east-facing exposures.

flowering annuals Callibrochoa

Million Bells (Calibrachoa)

I am trialing a new self-watering hanging container that was sent to me free of charge by H20 Labor Saver for my honest review. I must say that I am very impressed. Growing plants in hanging containers is difficult in the desert garden as they dry out very quickly. But, this is a self-watering container, which has a reservoir that you fill, allowing me to have to water it much less often.

In the container, I have Million Bells growing, which are like miniature petunias. They are cool-season annuals that grow fall, winter, and spring in the desert garden.

severely pruned yellow bells

Yellow Bells recently pruned

Not all of my plants are flowering. My yellow bells shrubs have been pruned back severely, which I do every year, and are now growing again. This type of severe pruning keeps them lush and compact, and they will grow up to 6-feet tall within a few months.

onions arizona vegetable garden

Onions growing in my vegetable garden

This past fall, my daughters took over the vegetable garden. I must admit that it was fun to watch them decide what to grow and guide them in learning how to grow vegetables. They are already enjoying the fruits of their labor and onions will soon be ready to be harvested.

blossom of meyer lemon

Meyer Lemon blossom

My Meyer lemon tree hasn’t performed very well for me and has produced very little fruit in the four years since I planted it. I realized that it wasn’t getting enough water, so I corrected that problem, and it is covered in blossoms – I am so excited!

fragrant chocolate flower

Chocolate Flower (Berlandiera lyrata)

Moving to the side garden, chocolate flower adds delicious fragrance at the entry to my cut flower garden. It does well in full sun and flowers off and on throughout the warm season.

purple flowering verbena

Verbena in bloom

In the cut flower garden, my roses are growing back from their severe winter pruning. Although the roses aren’t in bloom yet, my California native verbena is. This is a plant that I bought at the Santa Barbara Botanical Garden – I don’t remember the exact name, but it does great in my garden.

ripening peaches

Young peaches

I have some fruit trees growing in the side garden including peaches! I can just imagine how delicious these will taste in May once they are ripe!

flowers of apple tree

Apple tree blossoms

While the peaches are already forming, my apple trees are a few weeks behind and are still flowering. It surprises people that you can grow apple trees in the desert garden and they will ripen in June – apple pie, anyone?

I hope that you have enjoyed this tour of my spring garden. All of these plants are bringing me joy.

*What is growing in your garden this spring that brings you joy?

Red globe mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua)

Did you know that some flowering, desert perennials are grown easily from seed? It’s true. Many of the plants in my garden are volunteers that grew from seed from my established plants.

I have several ‘parental’ plants in my front garden along with their babies that have come up on their own with no assistance from me.

Pink globe mallow 

My favorite perennials that grow from seed are my colorful globe mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua).  The most common color seen in globe mallow is orange. However, they also come in other colors such as red, pink, and white. You can purchase the less common color varieties, but they can be hard to find at your local nursery.

White globe mallow

When I first designed my garden, I bought pink, red, and white globe mallows. These plants are now over 17 years old and produce a large number of seeds once flowering has ceased.  Because these colors can be hard to find, people ask me to sell them seeds that I harvest each year from my colorful perennials.

Light pink globe mallow

Harvesting seeds from spent flowers is easy to do. Once the flowers begin to fade in spring, I look for tiny, dried out seed pods, which is where the seeds are contained. I then pick them off and place them in a little bag.  It’s important to keep the colors separate so if someone wants red globe mallow, they won’t be growing pink or white ones.

Desert marigold (Baileya multiradiata), firecracker penstemon (Penstemon eatonii), and verbena (Glandularia spp.)

There are other desert perennials that come up easily from seed, such as the ones pictured above in a garden I visited a few years ago. 

So how do you grow these drought tolerant perennials from seed? Surprisingly, it’s not hard to do, and if you go to a lot of trouble and fuss over them, they probably won’t grow. So starting them in little pots and transplanting them isn’t the best way to go about it. Instead, sprinkle the seed throughout the landscape, allowing some to fall a foot away from a drip emitter or near rocks. You want to mirror the natural conditions where they sow their seed in nature. Warning: this only works in areas where pre-emergent herbicides are NOT used. 

Growing these perennials from seed is very inexpensive, but some patience is needed while you wait for them to sprout.  Not all will come up, but those that do, will add beauty to your garden and before you know it, you may be harvesting seed to share with your friends.

What type of plants have you had come up in your garden from seed?

Spring in the desert Southwest is a busy time of year.  While those that live in colder climates countdown the days until March 20th, the spring season begins a full month earlier where we live.


As a horticulturist / landscape consultant, my days have been quite busy lately assisting people with their gardens.


Today, I thought that I would show some glimpses of my week in review, which was filled with creative containers, newly planted xeriscapes, flowering cacti and the heavenly fragrance of orange blossoms.


The weather this past week has been warm, in the low 80’s.  Spring-flowering plants were in full bloom such as this sweet acacia tree which produces small, golden, puffball flowers.  I love how the deep yellow looks against the blue sky, don’t you?

Often, in my travels assisting clients, I see some great examples of beautiful xeriscapes.


This is a newly planted landscape which stood out from the surrounded homes with its mature plants, the selection of desert-adapted plants and the nice design.

The vibrant purple flowers of the verbena (Glandularia pulchella) demanded attention from passersby.  I also liked how the golden barrel cacti looked in the raised bed.


Another landscape that I saw this week was filled with countless different types of plants.  Often, when you have too many kinds of plants, the effect can appear ‘messy’ visually.  But, not with this landscape filled with succulents of all sorts including aloe, artichoke agave and golden barrel cacti.


While driving by a church landscape that I had designed previously, I stopped to take this photo of the damianita (Chrysactina mexicana), which was in full bloom.  I absolutely love this plant and have several in my own garden.



I took a few moments to stop by and talk to my friends, Sam & Lulu, who happen to own Verde Valley Nursery in Fountain Hills.  My visits always last longer than planned because we enjoy talking about plants!



During visits to a few of my regular clients, who have me come by on an annual basis, I saw some great examples of container plants, including this one filled with Blue Elf aloe, golden barrel, small variegated agave and totem pole ‘Monstrosus’ cactus.  


This looks so nice, it almost makes it easy to skip planting high-maintenance annual flowers.

I really liked this container.  Many people have problems growing flowers in entryways where there is not enough sun.  In addition, there is the burden of having to water frequently that can lead to stains on the concrete.  


This colorful container is filled with dried, flowering agave stalks – I love it!



One of the joys of my job is when clients invite me back to see their landscape and sometimes recommend a few ‘tweaks’.  It was during one of these repeat visits that I saw this trio of Blue Elf aloe, which looks great when planted next to boulders, don’t you think?

Sometimes, I see things that are somewhat unusual, like this Mexican fence post cactus (Pachycereus marinatus) that was forming flowers.  They do not always flower in the low desert, so this was a really neat to see close up.



Visions of purple-flowering plants filled my week. While on a date night with my husband, we strolled through our local outdoor mall and I saw these lovely sea lavender (Limonium perezii).



Although I do not have lavender in my garden, I enjoy seeing lavender in other people’s gardens.  This Spanish lavender (Lavandula stoechas) looked beautiful.



I came upon this gorgeous blue hibiscus shrub in an unlikely place – the supermarket parking lot. 



While not quite purple, the dark pink of Parry’s penstemon looks so beautiful in the spring landscape.  I recently added one in my garden in partnership with Monrovia.



Today as I drove home from an appointment, I rolled down the windows so that I could smell the heavenly fragrance of the orange blossoms from the surrounding orchards.


After beautiful weeks like this, I feel so blessed to work outdoors – especially when I am stuck inside working on taxes today 🙁


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I hope you had a great week and have something fun planned for this weekend! 

Do you ever find yourself wishing that you had flowers to give to a friend or to decorate your table?


Instead of heading out to the store for a generic bouquet, how about creating a lovely bouquet straight from your garden?


Now before you say that you don’t have any flowers suitable for a bouquet, think again.  


Here are several bouquets from my garden and a few from the family farm….


Isn’t this a lovely arrangement?

Believe it or not, the flowers in these vases all came from plants that many of you probably have in your own garden.

My mother created this arrangement using gold lantana (Lantana ‘New Gold Mound’), orange jubilee (Tecoma x Orange Jubilee) and Texas sage (Leucophyllum frutescens) flowers.  As you can see, it is beautiful, didn’t cost her anything and took minutes to create.


This is a bouquet that I created using flowers from my late winter garden.  Pink and white globe mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua) coupled with Goodding’s verbena (Glandularia gooddingii) are a vision of pinks and purples.


I used a small pitcher to put cuttings of purple trailing lantana (Lantana montevidensis), angelita daisy (Tetraneuris acaulis) and flowers from my cascalote tree (Caesalpinia cacalaco).


This antique milk of magnesia glass jar makes the perfect vase for sweet white alyssum (Lobularia maritima) , purple violas and pink bower vine (Pandorea jasminoides) flowers.


Flowers aren’t the only thing from the garden that you can use to create a bouquet with.  

A mason jar filled with cut branches from a kumquat tree looks lovely on this table in winter.


Maybe your winter garden has no flowers.  Well, don’t let that stop you.  A small vase filled with seedpods and dried leaves from a Texas mountain laurel (Sophora secundiflora) looks great on my mother’s diningroom table.


Perhaps you’ve never thought that petunias could look be used in a vase.  But, if you use a small, shallow bowl, they can add a beautiful spot of color on your table.


Of course, roses always make a lovely bouquet.

Bouquets created from items in your garden are a great way to add a personal touch of beauty to your space.

So, are you inspired to create your own unique garden bouquet?  Step outside in your garden and take a new look at your plants – you’ll probably be surprised at how many would look nice in a vase.

**How about you?  What plants would you use to create a bouquet with?

With warming temperatures, many of us begin to think about changing out our cool-season annual flowers for plants that can take the heat of summer.


Last week, I gave a potting demonstration for attendees of a local home tour.  


The pots were then to be raffled off.

I planned on creating two succulent pots and one using a combination of perennials and annual flowers.


My daughter, Rachele, came with me to help carry the bags of soil, pots, plants, etc.

It was also an opportunity to spend time together before she left for the Navy.

There were to be two different potting demonstrations.  I created one succulent pot ahead of time…


This container has pink-flowering Crown of Thorns, tall Lady’s Slipper, Variegated Elephant’s Food and a gray-colored cactus.

I like to create container plantings with a tall plant for vertical interest.  The Crown of Thorns provides striking floral color.  The Elephant’s Food will trail over the edge of the pot as it grows, which adds texture and softens the container’s lines.  

Lastly, the gray-colored cactus (I admit that I don’t know what kind it is), adds great color contrast with its gray/blue color.

Soon, it was time for the first demonstration.  My daughter took photos of me talking.  The lighting is terrible because I was in the shade and behind me was the sun, but you can still see what I was doing.

Looking down at my notes.  Can you tell  I use my hands when I talk?

Planting the orange Calendula.
Adding Purple Verbena and filling the spaces with Celosia.
I just need a bit more Celosia in the front, don’t you think?

For this container, the tall vertical interest comes from Mexican Feather Grass.  The bright color is from the Calendula.  The trailing plant is Purple Verbena and gray Lavender provides the color contrast.

I used Celosia to fill in the empty spaces.  I was pretty happy with how it turned out.

When planning on what plant combinations will look good in a container, I simply arrange the plants, while they are still in their containers at the nursery.


Now it was time for planting the second succulent pot.

First, adding the Elephant’s Food.

Ever wonder how to plant a cactus without getting pricked?


An old towel, folded into quarters (4 layers thick) works great.  I covered the top of the Golden Barrel Cactus with the towel as I turned it over to plant.  The towel came off easily once I was finished.

Newspaper is also helpful in planting cactus.

Almost done…


Finished!

The Blue Elf Aloe provides the height for this planting combination.  Elephant’s Food will grow to trail over the side.  The Golden Barrel cactus adds color contrast with its round shape and yellow spines.  Ice plant with brightly-colored red flowers adds a needed splash of color.


The pots each went to good homes and raised money for future community projects.

Do you like growing plants in containers?  

Or maybe, you haven’t tried before.

Well, it’s not difficult.  Come back for a visit in a couple of days and I’ll share with you my container guidelines.

There is a gardening task that I both enjoy and dread when I have to do it twice every year.  

Now, I am not only doing it for myself, but also for my mother-in-law.

So what it is this task?

The seasonal task of changing out flowering annuals or in this case perennials, that are treated as annuals.

I had to this last Sunday when we stopped by for dinner.  Since my father-in-law’s death in September, we come over with the kids every Sunday and help around the house and garden and then have dinner. 

My mother-in-law hasn’t felt like cooking much and likes the idea of having us trying a different kind of pizza each week in order to determine what restaurant makes the best.  So far Papa John’s and Pizza Hut are our favorites….but there are still more to try.  The kids especially enjoy eating pizza every week 🙂

Getting ready to pull out the Vinca and plant Red Geraniums
I blogged earlier about searching 3 different nurseries for plants to replace those that had died in my mother-in-law’s garden.  But, I also had to buy Geraniums (Pelargoniums) as well.
Now, I couldn’t buy just any Geraniums….I had to buy red ones – not orange and definitely not pink.  You see, my mother-in-law wants the garden to look the exact same as it did when my father-in-law was alive and did the work himself.
I must admit, that I was a bit late in doing this – I usually wait until late October to change out my warm-season flowering plants for cool-season ones.  But, there was still plenty of time before the cold weather settled in.

Okay, here is that part that I dread….



It is so hard to pull out beautiful flowering plants.

Now I realize that technically, I could leave them in their pots and these Vinca would survive our winter as long as they were protected from frost and would flower again in spring.

Or, I could transplant them elsewhere and overwinter them in an out of the way place.

But the majority of people just rip them out and throw them out (or put them on their compost pile) since they are relatively inexpensive.

I admit that I pulled them out and threw them out (please don’t hate me for pulling out perfectly good plants 😉
Now it was time to plant the red Geraniums (which are really Pelargoniums, but everyone including the nursery calls them Geraniums, so I will too).
There was a potential problem, however.  You see, my mother-in-law was used to my father-in-law planting huge, red Geraniums in full bloom.  But, I could not find large red Geraniums, much less ones in full bloom…


From a horticulturist’s point of view – it is better to select flowering plants that have few flowers in the nursery because the transplanting process is stressful for plants and those in full flower will soon drop their flowers.  When buying those that haven’t bloomed yet, you give the plant more resources to grow roots and will soon be rewarded with blooms that will last longer.

I was tempted to tell my mother-in-law this, hoping that it would make her feel better about the lack of blooms.  But it turns out that she didn’t mind, so I didn’t tell her.

I sprinkled slow-release fertilizer before I planted the Geraniums and will follow-up in a couple of weeks with a liquid fertilizer, just like my father-in-law did.   
Of course, you can go the organic route if you prefer.  There are plenty of products available at your local nursery and even stores like Home Depot and Lowes are carrying organic fertilizers.
In addition to the red Geraniums, I also had to plant Bacoba around the potted Geraniums.  It can be hard sometimes to find Bacoba and of course I had trouble too.
But, I found a solution.
I found a decorative container filled with Verbena and Bacoba at the nursery, so I bought it and used the Bacoba in the container.


 And then my husband planted the Verbena, which replaced the one that died in their front garden last year…


 So I killed two birds with one stone (although I would never literally kill a bird 😉
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On a personal note….life is crazy, but good.

I will update you soon on the happenings in my personal life.

I hope you are all enjoying this fall season 🙂