Posts

*This blog post contains an affiliate link. 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.*

January can be a difficult time for those of us who love to grow roses. Why may you ask? Because we have to prune them back, often when they are still blooming. Living in a mild winter climate means that roses continue to bloom and it is hard to go out and cut the bushes back to bare branches (canes). But, it must be done. 

My ‘Olivia Rose’ David Austin shrub rose before pruning in January.

I am often asked why should we prune rose bushes back in winter, while they may still be blooming and there are several reasons why.

Winter pruning helps to keep roses healthy by removing old, unproductive canes (rose stems/branches), gets rid of disease and over-wintering insects that can cause damage. It also helps them to produce MORE flowers than if not pruned.

It’s this last fact that I repeat to myself over and over as I prune back my large, beautiful rose bushes in winter. Of course, I put any remaining blooms in a vase so I can enjoy them indoors.

‘Olivia Rose’ after pruning.

Ugly isn’t it? But, the pruning has done a lot of good things –  I’ve gotten rid of small, twiggy growth as well as a few dead canes. I still need to clean up the fallen leaves, which is where fungal diseases like to lurk only to spread again when the weather warms again. Pruning also stimulates new growth that will produce lots of lovely roses in the coming months. I used my Corona hand pruners to prune back my roses.

Before you know it, my ‘Olivia Rose’ bush, as well as my other roses, will be in full bloom again.

Pruning roses isn’t as hard as it looks and I encourage you not to be afraid of it and if you make a mistake, don’t worry, roses are awfully forgiving of bad pruning. I’ve written how to prune roses in an earlier post that you can read here

If you are interested in adding some new roses to your garden, winter is the best time to do that in the desert garden. I recently shared my favorite types of roses on my other blog Southwest Gardening. 

Have you pruned your roses back yet?

Petoskey, Michigan Lighthouse

While spring break is a time where masses of people escape the cold for warmer climates (like Arizona), we decided to do the exact opposite.  We flew out of warm, sunny Phoenix and headed to cold and snowy Michigan.

Now before you start to question my sanity, I have an excellent reason for bundling up and bracing myself for the cold, windy weather.  My daughter and her family call Michigan their home now, and since then, we try to make it out at least twice a year, and spring break just happened to be the best time to do it.

I always look forward to visits to their town of Petoskey, which sits on the shore of Little Traverse Bay.  It is a popular summer destination, and I spent several weeks here last year helping my daughter move into her new house and add new plants to her garden.

It is always fun pulling out my warm weather gear, which seldom gets used at home.  I knit these fingerless mittens a few years ago and rarely have a chance to wear them.

As a Southern California native and Arizona resident, I must admit that I have relatively little experience with cold weather so, it has been fun exploring the landscape and seeing the effects of winter.  Seeing the bay frozen in time where we waded in with our feet last June was exciting.

At the beginning of our week, the temperatures were in the mid 20’s with a brisk wind, and we were excited to see an unexpected snow shower.

I realize that many of you who have lived in areas with cold winters may be rolling your eyes at this point, but for someone who has always lived where winters are mild, the weather has been a novelty.

However, the novelty quickly wore off this morning when I stepped outside, and it was a frigid 16 degrees, and I learned why people start their cars a few minutes before they get in to let them heat up inside.  But, I braved the few steps from the house to the car, and we were off to my granddaughter Lily’s preschool class where I was to give a presentation on the desert and Arizona.

I brought photographs of the animals, cactuses, and flowers of the desert.  The kids were a great audience and seemed especially impressed with the following pictures:

  • The height of a saguaro cactus with people standing at its base 
  • A bird poking its head out of a hole in the saguaro
  • Cactus flowers
  • Aesop – our desert tortoise

I was struck by how different the desert is from the Michigan landscape and felt honored to expand their horizons.

On the way back from pre-school, we were tasked with bringing the classroom pet, ‘Snowball’ the guinea pig home where he will stay with Lily for spring break.  Doing little tasks such as this bring back happy memories of when our kids were little.

We will be home soon, and spring is a busy time for me.  I have new plants coming in the mail (straight from the grower) for me to test in my Arizona garden, I’ll be showcasing two new plants from the folks at Monrovia, and in a couple of weeks, I’ll be traveling again – this time to Savannah, Georgia for a fun project that I’m excited to share with you soon.

*What are you doing for spring break?

I am excited to show you two pictures of one of my favorite perennials.


Firecracker Penstemon (Penstemon eatonii)

Isn’t this a cool picture of a bee, ready to pollinate the flowers of this penstemon?

I must confess that I did not take this photo (or the other one below).  My husband took both of these beautiful pictures.


This firecracker penstemon is happily growing in my garden and is now over 14 years old, which is rare.  

Every winter, it sends up spikes covered in red, tubular flowers, much to the delight of the resident hummingbirds.

The blooms last through spring in my desert garden.  In cooler climates, it will bloom in spring through early summer.

To learn more about this red beauty and how easy it is to grow in your garden, click here.


***********************


I hope you have enjoyed my favorite flower photos.  Starting tomorrow, I will begin posting a series of my favorite DIY blog posts, so please come back for a visit!

What has your winter been like?


Has it been unusually cold or warm?  If you live in the Southwest, you have undoubtedly experienced a warmer then normal winter.  


As a result, many plants that are usually dormant in winter, are green and blooming even though it is still technically February.


I started wearing sandals 2 weeks ago, but I still haven’t broken out my shorts yet.  


Last week, I showed you my edible garden, (also known as a kitchen garden), which is located on the side of our house.


Today, I wanted to show you a peek at what is happening in the back garden during this warm winter.


This is one part of the back garden.  

This was my first vegetable garden.  Because this garden is close to the house, I like to plant vegetables that are harvested frequently such as leaf lettuce, tomatoes and cucumbers.  

To the right, you can see my pink trumpet vine.  Behind is a hollyhock getting ready to flower.
Against the wall is purple lilac vine in full bloom and peeking through the slats of the fence are nasturtium leaves.



I have two large rose bushes and the ‘Abraham Darby’ rose bush has a few lovely blooms.  You may notice that this rose has a rather old-fashioned appearance.  This is one of many David Austin shrub roses.

After growing 40 hybrid tea roses in the garden of our first house, I have found that I like shrub roses.  They are easier to take care of (need less pruning) and are very fragrant.


The pink trumpet vine (Podranea ricasoliana) growing up against the pillar of my patio has beautiful, pink flowers.  

Normally, it suffers some frost damage during the winter, but during this warm winter, I have had pink flowers all winter long.  The flowers normally show up in spring and fall and are truly stunning.

I went out into the garden and cut the flowers for a lovely bouquet yesterday.

This plant grows quickly and can be grown as either a vine or a sprawling shrub.


Another plant that usually shuts down for winter is coral fountain (Rusellia equisetiformis).  I love the arching branches of this perennial and its orange/red blossoms.


One plant that still looks like winter, is my bougainvillea.

A few days ago, I asked you on my facebook page if you love or hate bougainvillea.  I had an overwhelming response with most of you saying that you liked it.

I have two bougainvillea.  I used to have more, but while I love the beauty of bougainvillea, I don’t particularly like to prune them, so two words for me.


The blue sky is really the perfect backdrop for the orange, tubular flowers of orange jubilee (Tecoma x Orange Jubilee).  

For those who want a tall shrub that grows quickly, then orange jubilee is a great choice.

I recommend using it against a bare wall or to screen out pool equipment.

In fact, I visited a client who used orange jubilee as ‘green curtains‘ for her home.


Right now, my purple lilac vine (Hardenbergia violaceae) has taken center stage in the back garden.

Growing up my south-facing wall, they burst forth in a profusion of purple blooms every February and last into March.

The whiskey barrel planter is a holding area where I have planted my extra plants.  I’m not sure what I will do with it later.


In addition to growing purple lilac vine up walls, I also like to grow it as a groundcover too.  

*This vine is easy to find in nurseries in winter and spring, when they are in flower.  However, you can have a hard time finding it in summer and fall.  So if you want one, get it now.

Behind my purple lilac groundcover vine, I have red bird-of-paradise (Caesalpinia pulcherrima) growing.  But,  because it is dormant in winter, it isn’t much to look at right now – but I’ll show you how lovely they are this summer.


Hollyhocks have a special place in my garden.  I love these old-fashioned flowers and their flowers are truly stunning in spring (they flower in the summer in cooler climates).

They self-seed and come up every year for me.  In a month, the flowers will start to burst forth and I can hardly wait.

The hollyhocks are located next to my smaller vegetable garden and receive enough water from the garden without me having to give them supplemental water.


Another old-fashioned favorite flower are nasturtiums.  These flowers have a place inside of all of my vegetable gardens.

Not only are they beautiful, nasturtiums also repel bad bugs from bothering my vegetables.  Another bonus is that their leaves and flowers are edible.

The bloom in late winter and through spring.  I let them dry up in summer before pulling them out.  They do drop some seeds, so I always have new ones coming up the next year in the garden.


I have several pots in front of my smaller vegetable garden.  In them, I plant a combination of vegetables and flowers, including bacopa, which trails over the edges of pots.


There are carrots and leaf lettuce growing in my second vegetable garden.

  I step outside into the garden whenever I need a few carrots for dinner and they taste so delicious.


In the same garden, I am growing celery for the first time.  I must say, that I am quite impressed at how well it is growing and can’t wait to taste it.

Last week, I mentioned showing you a part of my garden that I have NEVER shown anyone.

This is my side yard – NOT a garden…


This is the space where we store garden equipment, trash cans and our garden shed.  I also have my compost bin in this area.  

You can see only half of the side yard in this photo, but you aren’t missing anything by not seeing the rest.

Another purple lilac vine grows along the fence, which hides part of the side yard and a large ‘Desert Museum’ Palo Verde provides welcome shade.

Our second bougainvillea is located along the wall.  It is never watered and it has been 3 years since it has been pruned.  As you can see, it does just fine being ignored.

And so, I hope you have enjoyed peeking into parts of my back garden.  Of course, I haven’t shown it all to you – just the parts that are blooming.

In a few months, I will show the other areas when they are in bloom.

*******************

So, what is blooming in your garden this month?

Do you have a favorite winter/spring blooming plant?


Every year as Christmas approaches and most of my plants have gone to sleep for the winter, my favorite shrub is just getting started…


It begins with small buds appearing along each branch.


By mid-January, the buds have burst open, exposing their crimson centers.


By Valentine’s Day, my shrubs are absolutely covered in masses of red flowers.

Wonder what this shrub is called?

“Valentine”
(Eremophila maculata ‘Valentine’)

You can find out more about my favorite shrub and what it looks like when not in bloom in my latest article for Houzz

Kitchen ideas, bathroom ideas, and more ∨

From designer seating and office desks to message boards and credenza, create your dream home office.
Light up your living spaces with recessed lights, designer chandeliers or even a row of pendant lights.



Do you like mint?  I love using it in my iced tea.


I have a beautiful apple mint growing in my garden, but winter is not its best season.  Because I want to enjoy fresh mint in the winter, I decided to freeze some mint leaves in ice cubes.


My granddaughter, Lily helped me pick some mint from the garden.



Preserving mint is easy to do and I have enough to last me through the winter, ready for my favorite beverage.

To learn how to preserve mint, check out my latest blog post for Birds & Blooms – “Preserve the Taste of Summer With Mint Ice Cubes”.

This morning, I spent some time outside in one of my vegetable gardens with my granddaughter, Lily.



While I worked, she had fun with the plants in my containers.  


My cool-season containers are in full bloom.  Leaf lettuce, petunias, garlic, parsley and nasturtiums are growing very well.

My 1-year old tomato plants are huge.  They extend over the fence between my containers.

There is even a small tomato seedling coming up in front of the yellow container.


They have taken over this part of the vegetable garden.  I admit that they aren’t particularly beautiful with the dead, brown area in the middle (the result of sunburn before I got my shade cloth up this summer).

There are a few green tomatoes on the vines, but they won’t have time to ripen before the first freeze.  So, I plan to keep an eye on the weather report and pick my green tomatoes just before a freeze is scheduled.

The green tomatoes will ripen indoors in my kitchen.


My bell peppers are doing just fabulous.

Last summer, I treated them with epsom salts, which helps to promote fruit production.  (You can read more about my experiment with epsom salts and my pepper plants here).


The epsom salts did their job.  I have over 6 bell peppers ready to be picked.  I’ll pick them before the first freeze, dice them and freeze them until I need them for making my Mexican rice.

Both tomato and pepper plants are damaged or killed in freezing temperatures in my zone 9a garden.  I will protect my pepper plants from frost by covering them with old sheets.  

I will not do the same for my tomato plants because they are very large and it would be hard to cover them all.  The other reason that I won’t bother to protect them is that many gardeners report that the size of tomatoes decreases as the plant gets older.

I will start again with new plants in late winter.

*****************

I hope you are enjoying this holiday season.  You might have noticed that I haven’t been posting as often.  Partly this is due to the fact that I get busier in December preparing for Christmas.

The other reason is that I am having tendon trouble in my thumb.  I wear a splint, which helps somewhat – but it is very hard and laborious to type one-handed.

I do have some new posts coming up though, so stay tuned 🙂

My tomato plants are turning one-year old this week.

I didn’t plant them.  They sprouted up from fallen tomato seeds from a stray tomato that was unpicked the previous year.
When I saw the little seedlings coming up, I decided to protect them from the winter frosts in hopes that I would have a jump start on the growing season in spring.
I covered them with sheets when temperatures dipped below 32 degrees and even put a light bulb underneath the sheets to provide additional warmth.
In the spring, I did get a jump-start on the tomato growing season.  They performed very well.
In May, as summer temperatures arrived – I put up shade cloth to shield them from the sun and keep them from burning up.
My hope was to be able to enjoy a fall harvest of tomatoes once the temperatures cooled.
Now that November has arrived, my tomato plants are covered with flowers, just waiting to form into new tomatoes.
I checked over my tomatoes today and this is what I found…
       
A single ripening tomato.
I’m not too sure I will see any more tomatoes form because soon we will be getting too cold.
I must admit that I have mixed feelings about working hard to help my tomatoes survive another winter.  
I’m not sure why I feel this way.  It was worth it because I did get a jump-start on the growing season and as a result, got more tomatoes.
Even when working to protect tomatoes from the occasional freeze – there is no guarantee that they will survive.  A colder then normal winter will kill them no matter what protective measures I try.
Oh wellAt least I don’t have to make a decision for a few weeks.
**How about you?  Have you raised tomato plants for over a year?  Was it worth it?  Or was it easier to start off fresh with new tomato plants in the spring?       
*********************************
Grand Canyon University is getting ready for their third Run to Fight Children’s Cancer, which is a 5k/10k run that will raise money to support children and families dealing with childhood cancer.

The run will benefit the Children’s Cancer Network & Phoenix Children’s Hospital (a wonderful hospital – our son, Kai, had surgery there on his hip).

Please take a minute to check out the video link
which shows childhood cancer survivors in an honest, heartfelt way that will leave you inspired. 

 I enjoy photographing the beauty that surrounds me, especially plants and landscapes.
My youngest sister, is a very good photographer and her focus is usually people.
And then there is my nephew, Kenny, (son of my other sister), who likes to photograph both nature and people.
So what do you do with three family photographers?  Go on a field trip to our local riparian preserve. 
Even in winter, it is a beautiful place to visit…
In addition to my sister and nephew, my son Kai and my other nephew, Josh came along.

Of course, they soon set off to explore on their own…


Now, the rest of us got our cameras out and started taking pictures.

My focus was trying to capture photos of the many hummingbirds who make their home in the riparian preserve year round.

Anna’s Hummingbird
Anna’s Hummingbird

What fascinates me about hummingbird photos, is that although the photos above are of the same hummingbird; you can only see the bright color when the sun is shining directly on the feathers of their throat.


While I was taking pictures of hummingbirds, my sister wanted to practice taking pictures, so she was taking pictures of me, taking pictures.

I must admit that I feel a bit uncomfortable posing for pictures.  But it wasn’t too bad because I didn’t have to pose.


My nephew has a very good eye for both landscape and people shots.

Sunlight and Purple Prickly Pear Spines


Great White Heron




My nephew also caught me in the midst of taking pictures of three mallard ducks.



I know that mallard ducks are quite common, but I have always liked them and their beautiful colors.  I even used to have a pet mallard duck when I was young.



A curious goose was hoping we had some bread crumbs to share.



Another photo from my nephew, highlights the babbling brook that winds its way through the preserve.


Across one of the lakes, we spotted the boys who were visiting some of the ducks…



Soon, the sun was beginning to set and I had to get home to make dinner.


So we started making our way back to the parking lot.



On our way, I spotted some Canadian geese flying back for the night to one of the lakes.



Kai had a little help over the muddy spots on the path…



As we neared the entrance, my sister asked me to pose for a picture – did I mention that I really don’t like posing for pictures?  I feel so self-conscious and am worried that I have lipstick on my teeth or that I will look so ‘fake’ in the photo.

My nephew took this photo and I must confess that I cropped out the bottom part because he didn’t push “the skinny button” on his camera.
Okay, I realize cameras don’t have “skinny” buttons, but I certainly wish they did, don’t you?

We had a wonderful time.

I hope you did too 🙂