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Have you ever discovered a garden in a surprising place?

A few years ago, I found myself driving through the historic neighborhoods of the Encanto district in downtown Phoenix. I had finished up a landscape consultation in the area and decided to drive through the nearby neighborhoods in the historic district.  

My initial goal was to see if I could find the home my grandparents owned in the 1940’s. While I didn’t find the home, I did find a house that stopped me in my tracks.

 
 
What first drew my eye was this parking strip (also known as a ‘hell strip’) between the sidewalk and street, filled with a bounty of flowering annuals and perennials.
 
I couldn’t believe this was growing blocks away from the skyscrapers of downtown Phoenix. 

And so, I whipped out my phone and started to take pictures. The bright colors of California poppies, red flax, and plains coreopsis caught my eye, while in the background I noticed the old, Veteran’s Memorial Coliseum where the Arizona State Fair is held every fall.

 
 
As I made my way up the planting bed, I saw more colorful, annual flowers intermixed with globe mallow, ‘Thundercloud’ sage and red yucca.
 
 
One flower that I did not expect to see in the desert garden, not to mention downtown Phoenix, was larkspur with its deep purple spikes.
 
 
Multi-colored bachelor’s button flowers grew among scarlet flax and plains coreopsis.
 
As I stood admiring the effect that all these flowering plants had on the street landscape, I happened to meet the son (James) of the owner of the house. He was busy working out in the garden and was flattered at my interest in the garden he had created. 
 
Last fall, James took three packs of wildflower seeds (multiple varieties) and threw them on the bare parking strip, added some compost on the top and watered well. Over the months, he has watched them come up and was thrilled at how the hell strip had been transformed.
 
He then offered to show me what he had done to the backyard – I could hardly wait to see it after seeing what he has done on the outside.
 
(A few of the photos are a bit blurry. I’m not sure what went wrong with my phone’s camera, but you can still get a sense of the beauty in the backyard.)
 
 
The backyard consists of a lawn split in two by a large planting bed with hollyhocks.
 
 
I love hollyhocks and have grown them in the past. They self-seed and flower for me every spring.  All I give them is a little water – that’s all they need.
 
 
The small patio in the back of the house is filled with an old-fashioned table and chairs, which fit the age of the home perfectly!
 
The pathway separates the two lawn areas and leads to the garage in the back. It was created using concrete molded into geometric shapes.
 
 
Bermuda grass is allowed to grow into the cracks for an interesting look.
 
 
The patio is edged with flowering annuals such as blanket flower, bachelor’s button, and yellow daisy (Euryops pectinatus).
 
 
In this blurry photo, a large crown-of-thorns plant was thriving in a tiny container. Believe it or not, it is 20 years old and thriving in a very small pot. According to James, he waters it twice a week in summer and weekly throughout the rest of the year.
 
 
Two Chinese elm trees provide dappled shade on a beautiful spring day.
 
 
A small potting bench stands in front of the wooden fence painted a greenish-chartreuse color, which blends well with the garden.
 
A fountain is in the center of this grassy area and adds the refreshing sound of water.
 
How relaxing would it be to enjoy this outdoor space, even in the middle of summer with all of its shade?
 
 
I bade a reluctant goodbye to the back garden and ventured back out to the parking strip. James then showed me where he had planted wildflowers next to the detached garage.
 
 
 
Bright pink and vibrant orange – doesn’t that remind you of the 70’s?
 
 
These tall poppies were planted from 3-year-old seed that James was going to throw out. I’m certainly glad that he decided to plant them instead.
While old seed won’t germinate as well as young seed, you’ll often still get some seeds to sprout – just not as many.
 
It is unexpected surprises like this that make life interesting. This garden was fairly small but beautifully tended to.  Ironically, most of what was growing in it grew from seed with little effort.

October is my favorite month of the year in the garden.  Summer is over and when I walk outdoors, I am greeted with delightful temperatures in the 80’s.  I even had to wear a light sweater the other night when out walking the dogs with my husband 🙂


Planting shrubs in the parking lot of our church along with the boy scouts a few years ago.
This is a very busy month in the garden because the end of summer signals the beginning of planting season.  October is the best time to add plants to your landscape because they have three seasons to grow roots, which will help them handle the stress of next summer.

When digging a hole for your plants, the hole can make a huge difference in how successful your plants will be.  Make the hole 3 times wider then the rootball.  Because roots grow mostly sideways, they will have an easier time growing through recently dug soil then hard-packed soil.  The depth of the hole should be NO deeper then the rootball.  When plants are planted too deeply, they can suffocate or become waterlogged.

So, what types of plants can you add now?  Concentrate on trees, shrubs and perennials that are not frost tender.

Firecracker Penstemon (Penstemon eatoni), blooms in late winter and into spring in my zone 9a garden.

Some of my favorite plants in my garden are those that bloom in fall, winter or spring.

Damianita (Chrysactinia mexicana), blooms in spring and fall.

Pink Autumn Sage (Salvia greggii ‘Pink’), blooms fall, winter and spring and prefers partial shade.

Valentine (Eremophila maculata ‘Valentine), is my FAVORITE shrub.  I starts blooming in January and lasts until April when there is not much else going on in my garden.
When shopping for arid-adapted plants for your landscape, be aware that most of them aren’t too impressive looking when seen at the nursery.

Angelita Daisy in the nursery.

Arid-adapted plants don’t really start concentrating on their top growth UNTIL they have grown a good amount of roots.

Angelita Daisy (Tetraneuris acaulis, formerly Hymenoxys acaulis)
As you can see, there is a pretty significant difference after these Angelita Daisies have been in the ground for a couple of years.

Scarlet Flax

Do you like wildflowers?  For a beautiful spring display, October is the time to spread wildflower seed.  Growing your own wildflowers is easy to do, but there are a few important guidelines to follow.  You can read more about how to start your own wildflowers from seed here.


If you enjoy growing vegetables, then it is time to get started planting cool-season vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, garlic, leaf lettuce and radishes – just to name a few.


I amend my soil with 3 inches compost, 2 inches composted steer manure, blood meal and bone meal (following the directions on the package on how much to apply).  Lightly cultivate, mixing your new amendments into the soil.

Our little puppy, Penny, is growing up!
*Beware of 4-month old puppies when adding manure, blood or bone meal to your garden.  It is absolutely irresistible to them and dogs of all ages 😉

Radish seedlings.

As your seedlings come up, there will be too many growing too close together, so you will need to thin them once they have 2 – 3 
mature leaves (not the small seed leaves).


The easiest way to thin excess seedlings is to simply cut them off with scissors.  Pulling them out can injure the roots of the remaining plants.

Lettuce seedlings that were thinned.


Don’t throw out your leaf lettuce and radish greens that you have thinned out.  Use them to garnish you salad – they are delicious!


Check out your local county extension office’s website for information on when and what to plant in your area this month.  For the greater Phoenix area, here is a wonderful vegetable planting calendar



Do you have a favorite agave growing in your landscape?  Some agave produce volunteers (also called offsets or pups).  October is a great time to propagate succulents like agave or cacti.  


I have a favorite Parry’s Agave in my garden and it occasionally produces a little baby, which I take and replant elsewhere in my garden or give to a friend.  It is easy to transplant the baby agave and you can see how I do it, here.



As temperatures begin to cool, plants do not need as much water as they do in summer.  Adjust your irrigation schedule so that you are water less frequently.


The length of time that you water, should remain the same.  Trees should be watered to a depth of 3 feet, shrubs to 2 feet and perennials to 1 foot.  For watering guidelines and schedules, click here.


I love container gardening.  It is an easy way to change up the look of your landscape seasonally and year to year.

Container with geraniums, yellow Euryops daisies, fern leaf lavender and blue lobelia.



Switch out your warm-season container plantings for cool-season favorites.  Alyssum, geraniums, lobelia, pansies, petunias, snapdragons and violas are just a few colorful plants that can be added to your containers in October.


Add 6 inches of new potting mix (I like to use a planting mix, which is a little different then potting soil and avoids problems with wet soil) to each container before planting to replenish the old soil.


After adding your new plants, then sprinkle a slow-release fertilizer around the base of each plant, which will slowly release nutrients for about 3 months.


In addition to your traditional flowering containers, how about changing up your containers?

My granddaughter, Lily, is handling her watering duties very seriously.  I just think her little painted toenails are so cute!


 We planted this container filled with herbs and gave it to my oldest daughter for her birthday.  Chives, parsley, rosemary and thyme will handle our winters just fine and fresh herbs are just a few steps away from her kitchen.


My newest addiction is growing vegetables and flowers together in containers.

Petunias grow among parsley, garlic and leaf lettuce in front of my vegetable garden.

I have almost more fun growing vegetables in containers then I do in my vegetable gardens.


There are many types of vegetable that do well in containers, including leaf lettuce and garlic.  For more ideas of how to grow vegetables and flowers together, click here.


**I also made a video about growing a summer vegetable and flower container.  You can view it here.


Well, I think that I have given you a fair amount of task to do in your garden.  


What type of gardening tasks are you doing in your garden this month?  I would really love to hear about it.


I will post another “To-Do” List next month!

What comes to mind when you think of wildflowers?  Maybe beautiful splashes of colorful flowers throughout the desert?  Well, how about growing them yourself instead of driving somewhere to view wildflowers in the spring?  Wildflowers are easy to grow and you have the added benefit of being able to view their beautiful blooms outside your window throughout the spring.  Butterflies and hummingbirds will be drawn to your wildflower garden as well.


Wildflower demonstration garden on a golf course
The wildflower garden above was planted by me about 9 years ago on a golf course.  It was one of three demonstration gardens that I designed.  My goal was to inspire people to grow wildflowers at home.  I planted Red Flax and Arroyo Lupine which are blooming in the photo above.  California Bluebells as well as California Poppies were also planted, but had not bloomed yet.  


Brittlebush is blooming in the background.  (I learned from this experience, that wildflowers should be thinned once they germinate, obviously I did not do that – one of many gardening mistakes that I have learned from over the years).


One of my favorite wildflower combinations are California Bluebells (Phacelia campanularia) along with California Poppies (Eschscholzia californica or mexicana) and Desert Marigold (Baileya multiradiata).  


I also like this combination – Arroyo Lupine (Lupinus succulentus) with California Poppies and Red Flax (Linum grandiflorum ‘Rubrum’).  The possibilities are absolutely endless….

Scarlet Flax

The ideal time to sow most types of wildflower seed is October through December, so it is time to plan your wildflower garden now.  The Desert Botanical Garden has excellent information on how to grow wildflowers which can be found at Desert Botanical Garden Growing Wildflowers.


*The source that I have used for wildflower seed is a small company called Wild Seed.  They can be reached at 602-276-3536.  They will mail you a catalog of the wildflower seed that they have available.