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I love English gardens with their lush greenery, colorful blooms, and somewhat untidy appearance, which may be due to my partial English ancestry. While I don’t make it to the British Isles as much as I’d like, there are lovely examples to be found in the U.S. Earlier this month, I had the wonderful opportunity to visit an English garden with Texas flair.

Earlier this month, I was in Austin for the Garden Bloggers Fling, which is an annual gathering of garden bloggers that is held in a different city each year. As you might expect, touring gardens is the focus of the Fling and I couldn’t wait to explore the gardens of this area, largely because we can grow many of the same types of plants in Arizona.

I woke up, excited for our first day of touring, only to be greeted by torrential rain. However, I was undeterred – equipped with my rain poncho and umbrella, 3.5 inches of rain wasn’t going to get in my way of seeing beautiful gardens.

The garden of Jenny Stocker, who blogs at Rock Rose, was my favorite destination of the day. She describes her garden as an “arts and crafts Texas-style garden with an English theme”. Her landscape is broken up into ‘rooms’ with many areas surrounded by walls that frame each room while keeping deer away. Doorways provide a tantalizing glimpse into the next room, encouraging visitors to embark on a journey of discovery.

A dry creek bed meanders through this garden room where it is surrounded by both native and adapted plants that thrive despite a thin layer of soil that lies over rock.

Plants, like this foxglove, droop gracefully under the continuing rainfall and with every step through the garden, my feet were squishing in my wet shoes, but it was easy to ignore the discomfort with all the beauty surrounding me.

A small water feature, complete with water plants and a fish, create a welcome focal point.

Potted plants like this potted brugmansia and golden barrel cactuses add visual interest to an alcove. Did you know that golden barrel cactus are native to Texas and Mexico? Many of the plants we grow in Arizona come from these regions.

An angelic face peeks out from a wall of creeping fig, which grows well in the desert garden in shady locations with adequate water.

An overturned pot spills water into the pool, providing the lovely sound of water while creating a lovely focal point.

The swimming pool was unique in that it looked like a water feature with the surrounding flowering plants, many of which, are allowed to self-seed.

This was my favorite garden room, so I took a video so you can get an overview of the beauty of this area.

In another area of the garden, raised beds were filled with edible plants. In between the beds, were flowering plants that create a welcome softness and attract pollinators, which in turn, benefit the vegetables.

Lovely Verbena bonariensis decorated the edible garden with their delicate purple blossoms.

Jenny makes great use of grouping potted plants together on steps and I recognized ‘Blue Elf’ aloes in a few of the containers, which is one of my favorite aloes that I use in designs.

Stacked stone forms a raised bed that surrounds the circular wall of this garden room where a bird bath serves as a focal point.

Decorative animals were tucked into different spots, just waiting to be discovered by garden visitors, like this quail family.

Here is a great whimsical element that I enjoyed where Mexican feather grass was used to mimick the movement of water for stone fish.

Much like desert gardens, cacti and succulents were used to create unique texture, like this spineless prickly pear (Opuntia cacanapa), which is native to Texas but also grows nicely in my Arizona garden.

The blue-gray color and spiky texture of artichoke agave, contrasts beautifully with the softer textures of lush green perennials.

As we got ready to bid adieu to this Texas-English garden, I walked by an opening in a garden wall where a single agave stood sentinel and was struck by how a single plant can have a significant design impact when placed in the right spot.

This garden was a true Texas treasure and I came away in awe of its natural beauty. However, this wasn’t only the garden that inspired me – there were sixteen other gardens left to explore and I invite you to come back when I’ll profile another of my favorites. 

Echeveria and aloe planted in an old water fountain in Santa Barbara, CA.

Water features have long had a prominent spot in the landscape, where the both the beauty and sound of water help to create an enjoyable outdoor atmosphere.

However, water features can be high maintenance, messy to clean, and can be problematic in arid climates where water is a precious resource. Because of these reasons, it’s not unusual to see an empty water feature sitting empty without purpose.

In both my garden travels and work as a landscape consultant, I like to discover new uses for water features or ways to mimic the appearance of water, which succulents can fulfill beautifully.

A sink full of succulent plants spill out in the Barrio Garden section of the Tucson Botanical Gardens

Water features and succulents can add welcome interest, from simulating the movement of water with their shapes to taking the place of water in the basin.

Plumbing hardware can be used, along with succulents, to create an artistic arrangement in the garden such as these galvanized buckets and water pipes.

Succulents can also add a lovely planting around water features like the example above with lady’s slipper (Euphorbia macrocarpus), and it’s unique ‘Medusa-like’ growth habit adds an unexpected design element. It is important to keep succulents far enough away from getting any over splash from the water as they need dry soil to grow in.

Containers filled with succulents can make an attractive backdrop for a water feature as they are low-maintenance and their distinctive shapes add welcome texture.

Visit any nursery, and you’ll notice how popular succulents are, as they make up a larger percentage of the plants on display, tempting people to add them to their gardens.

So go ahead and give your water feature new life with succulents!

A week ago, my husband and I took a stroll through our past, visiting the campus of Westmont College in Montecito, California, where we met 28 years ago.

What is special about this place is not only the memories, but the beautiful gardens that surround it.

Last week, I introduced you to the converted mansion, the courtyard with its iconic fountain, the ocean view from my dormitory window and a glimpse of a beautiful flower garden.

Today, I would like to show you the small chapel, hidden among the trees, a beautiful pond, an area burned by wildfire and a garden filled with bird-of-paradise.


This small chapel sits underneath the canopy of large oak trees.



I have always loved oak trees because I grew up in Southern California where the hills are dotted with with these magnificent trees.  



The chapel was built in the 1960’s to honor the memory of the then college president’s daughter who died tragically in an auto accident while attending college here.



Students can often be found spending a few moments in prayer here and I did my share, while attending.



Regular chapel services aren’t held here, but they do host weddings at the chapel.


I just love the view of oak trees from the windows, don’t you?

As you walk away from the chapel, you are greeted by the sound of water.


 I like the simplicity of the water fountain in the form of am earthen jug, which does not compete with the surrounding, lush plantings.
The Weeping Mulberry, while leafless in winter, adds a graceful, drooping element to the water.

Believe it or not, Weeping Mulberry is also grown in Arizona.  There is a large one at my other alma mater, Arizona State University.


As we left the chapel and its pond, the path led into a truly beautiful garden…


This was the favorite part of the landscape surrounding the college.

Boxwood hedges enclosed rectangular areas of lawn that were surrounded by staggered plantings of Tropical Bird-of-Paradise (Strelitzia reginae). 

The bright orange and blue color of this tropical plant are quite familiar to me.  They are the official city flower of Los Angeles, California where I was born.  

Tropical Bird-of-Paradise is native to South Africa, but thrives in warm climates all over the world.  Sensitive to frost, it is hardy to zone 9 and does grow in the low desert, when protected from afternoon sun.  However, it does not grow as well in desert locations as it does in milder areas such as Southern California.


Even unopened, I think that the flowers resemble birds.


It was somewhat surreal to be walking through a garden in full bloom at the end of December when most of the nation was blanketed in ice and snow.

Tropical Bird-of-Paradise bloom in winter and spring.


While I love this flower, I don’t grow them in my desert garden.  The reason for this is that they can struggle in our extreme heat and cold winters.  It is a rare occurrence when I see one that is thriving and blooming in our low-desert climate.


As we walked through the garden, we heard the sound of running water, but could not see where it was coming from.

So, we headed up the stairs toward the sound.


The sound led us to a narrow, stone-lined trench, filled with water.

As you can see, the fountain part is subtle and understated.  Its main purpose is to lend the sound of water to the garden setting.

As we continued our journey, we came to an area that is still struggling to recover after a wildfire burned parts of the school grounds in 2008.

A lone oak tree is the only survivor in this large, formerly treed area.  


As you can see, there used to be a lot of trees.  

There were signs that construction was soon to take place, so it will be nice to see what they will do with this area.

Our walking tour was almost over and I admit that I was doing a bit of huffing and puffing while walking up and down the mountainside where our college is situated.  It was much easier to walk up and down when I was a 19-year old student 😉

Before we leave, I’d like to show you where my husband and I met, by our old dormitory 28 years ago…


Our dormitory was divided into men and women’s sections.  It was connected by a bridge and you would often find us taking turns walking over to visit the other…


Our stroll through memory lane was almost over and I was sad to go.

Years after I left Westmont College, I finished my degree in horticulture.  As a new horticulturist, I was given the task of re-designing the landscape around a golf-course country club building.  
There is a popular saying with young women at the school, “I went to Westmont and came away with my ‘MRS’ degree.”  

While I did not get my bachelor’s degree from Westmont, I did meet my husband there and become ‘Mrs.’ Johnson.

Thank you for allowing me to share memories and the beauty of the gardens of this special place.





Usually when I am called to a help out a homeowner with their landscape, it is because they are having a problem with their plants, or sometimes they are new to the desert and want to learn how to garden in our dry climate.  

Last week, I visited a homeowner who had some questions about whether or not he was taking good care of his garden.

His house is located just northeast of the metro Phoenix area, in the desert.  He and his wife had lived there for over 15 years and they designed their garden by themselves.

As I approached the front entry, I was greeted by this beautiful Ocotillo that was back lit by the morning sun…

When approaching a new client’s house, I always look around their front garden, because it gives me an idea of their preferences and maybe problems that they are having.  This gives me a ‘heads-up’ before I actually meet the client.
His front garden was just beautiful and I was looking forward to seeing what his back garden looked like…
There was a fireplace with a lovely seating area and you could see the pool surrounded by beautiful desert plants in the distance.
The wall of his back garden backed right onto the desert.  He had some beautiful artistic pieces, including this metal Ocotillo.
There was a very large Indian Fig cactus.  This type of prickly pear is very popular because it is thornless.  But it needs a lot of room to grow.
This particular Indian Fig was hiding something….
 A beautiful water feature flowed from underneath the Indian Fig.

Rosemary grew along the side as well as potted annuals.
Isn’t this a beautiful area?
There was also an empty vegetable garden, but the homeowner did have herbs growing in containers….


 Many people keep their hummingbird feeders up year round because we have hummingbirds 12 months out of the year.
This hummingbird faces a mirror.  The mirror serves two purposes, according to the homeowner:
One, it keeps the woodpeckers from making holes and second, it gives them an additional view of visiting hummingbirds.
You can see a little Verdin flying in for a drink of the hummingbird nectar.
Lastly, we viewed a shady area of his garden.
The plants in this area do very well in light shade.
There was Heavenly Bamboo to the left, Cape Honeysuckle to the right, Star Jasmine vine next to the door and Texas Mountain Laurel ‘Silver Peso’, which is a gray-leafed form.
I had a wonderful time visiting and I did have a few suggestions regarding proper watering and when to prune.
I hope you enjoyed seeing this beautiful desert garden with me.
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Life is quite busy this week for me as I am sure it is for most of you with the upcoming holiday.
I will post again before Thanksgiving 🙂