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Have you ever renovated the interior of your house? Seeing the old, outdated elements peeled away and replaced with new paint, flooring, etc. can leave you feeling refreshed and even excited. Well, I get to do that with outdoor spaces, assisting clients with already established landscapes, create an updated look. The key to this is NOT to tear everything out and begin from scratch – instead, it’s a delightful puzzle deciding what should remain and what is best removed and replaced.

I get so much satisfaction helping people create an attractive landscape, and even more when I get to see them several months later once the plants have a chance to begin to grow. Last week, I was invited to re-visit a new landscape that I designed, exactly one year after it was completed and was very pleased with the results.

I’d love to show you photos of the finished product, but first, let’s look at what I had to work with.

As you can see, the interior of the house was also undergoing renovation when I first visited. The front yard consisted of two palm tree stumps, a few agave, overgrown gold lantana, and boulders.

The landscape rock was thinning and mixed in with the river rock while the asphalt from the street was crumbling away.

The parts of the landscape that I felt could be reused were the boulders and the gold lantana. Also, the river rock could be re-purposed. All of the rest was removed.

To create the structure for the new landscape elements, additional boulders were added, and the existing contouring was enhanced by elevating the height of the mound and a swale in the front center. The circular collection of rip-rap rock serves to mask the opening of the end of a french drain which helps to channel water from the patio.

A saguaro cactus and totem pole ‘Monstrose’ (Lophocereus schottii ‘Monstrose’) were placed for vertical interest and the gold lantana that were already present were pruned back severely to rejuvenate them and others were added to create visual continuity. Along with the cactuses, other succulents like artichoke agave (Agave parrying var. truncata) and gopher plant (Euphorbia biglandulosa) were incorporated to add texture with their unique shapes.

The existing river rock was removed, washed off and replaced along with the crumbling edge of the street, helping it to blend with the natural curves of the landscape.

Anchoring the corners with a grouping of plants is a very simple way to enhance the curb appeal of a home. This collection of volunteer agave and old palm tree stumps weren’t doing this area any favors.

This corner was built up slightly, creating a gentle rise in elevation. A large boulder joined the existing one, and a beautiful, specimen artichoke agave was transplanted here from the owner’s previous residence. Angelita daisy (Tetraneuris acaulis) will add year-round color as they fill in. ‘Blue Elf’ aloe were planted to add a welcome splash of color in winter and spring when they flower.

Moving into the front courtyard, the corner was filled with an overgrown rosemary shrub. The dwarf oleander shrubs were also taken out as they were too large for the smaller scale of this area.

Mexican fence post cactus (Pachycereus marginatus) helps to anchor the corner and will grow at a moderate rate, adding more height as it grows.

Year-round color is assured with angelita daisies and ‘Blue Elf’ aloe, which won’t outgrow this area.

Moving toward the front entry, this area is somewhat underwhelming. The natal plum (Carissa macrocarpa) adds a pleasant green backdrop and is thriving in the shade, so should stay. However, the Dasylirion succulent should never have been planted here as it needs full sun to look its best.

The solution in this area is quite simple. Pruning back the natal plum to a more attractive shape makes them an asset. A lady’s slipper (Pedilanthus macrocarpus) adds height and texture contrast and will grow in the bright shade. We kept the trailing purple lantana (Lantana montevidensis), for the color that it provides. Rip rap rock was placed to add some interest at the ground level.

Moving toward the backyard, another old rosemary shrub was removed from the corner in the background and replaced with ‘Blue Elf’ aloe and angelita daisy, repeating the same planting from the corner area in the courtyard, helping to tie these separate areas together.

Aloe vera (Aloe barbadensis) were added along the shady side of the house where their spiky shape creates interesting shapes. The key to keeping them attractive is to remove new growth around the base as it occurs.

The corner of the backyard is a very high-profile spot and faces the golf course. The homeowner’s wanted to get rid of the dwarf oleander hedge to improve their view. Clumps of agave look slightly unkempt as volunteer agave were allowed to remain and grow. The gold lantana does add ornamental value as does the small ‘Firesticks’ (Euphorbia tirucalli ‘Sticks on Fire’) and can be reused.

One of the clumps of agave was removed, which opened up this area and allowed us to add two aloe vera, which will decorate this corner with yellow blooms in winter and spring. The existing gold lantana provides beautiful color spring through fall. The centerpiece of this group of plants is the water feature.

It’s been over 20 years that I’ve been doing this, and I never get tired of seeing the transformation. I love being a part of it and combining the old with the new for a seamless design.

Thank you for allowing me to share this particular project with you!

Earlier this week, I was finishing up an appointment in downtown Phoenix and since I had some spare time available, I decided to drive through one of my favorite historic neighborhoods – the Encanto-Palmcroft district.


I always enjoy driving down streets looking at homes built long ago and seeing how they are landscaped.  Some, remain the traditional landscaping with green lawns, neatly pruned shrubs and deciduous trees, like the one above.


I love porches, which aren’t a popular feature in southwestern homes in general.  These homeowners made the most of their small porch with a pair of rocking chairs and colorful Talavera pottery.


Some of the houses had taken on some more modern design elements such as adding raised beds and a small courtyard.


I really liked this raised bed which was filled with plants prized for foliage and not flowers.


While there were still front landscapes filled almost entirely with grass, but some had decreased the amount of grass.  I liked this one where two rectangles of grass flanked the front entry, yet stops at the wooden fence where it transitions to a xeriscape.  It speaks to the historic roots of the neighborhood while injecting a touch of modernity.


Plants such as artichoke agave (Agave parryi ‘truncata’) and lady’s slipper (Pedilanthus macrocarpus) fit in seamlessly with the other more traditional landscape elements in this garden.


This home also retained its lawn but added drought tolerant plants up toward the foundation.  The spiky texture of agave and yucca add a contemporary touch along with texture contrast.

  
Here is a car that you would expect to see when many of these homes were brand new.  

Check out the large Texas olive (Cordia boissieri).

  
This home had a walled-in courtyard added for privacy and a curved path leads up toward the entry.


The pathway leading toward the residence begins at the parking strip and is flanked by river rock.


A couple of the historic homes shed their green lawns and formerly pruned shrubs completely.

Mature specimens of ironwood (Olneya tesota), jojoba (Simmondsia chinensis), and creosote (Larrea tridentata) create privacy for this house.

An informal pathway also bisects this parking strip leading toward the entry path to the house.


The purple door contrasts beautifully with the hunter green color of the house.


The backyard of this desert retreat is surrounded by a fence made of rebar.


Small vignettes are visible through plantings of hopbush (Dodonaea viscosa) and yucca.


As I left the historic district, I spotted a beautiful specimen of a palo blanco tree (Acacia willardiana)

I could have spent several hours exploring the Encanto-Palmcroft historic district, but it’s nice to have a reason to come back again someday.

*You can view another garden in this historic district from an earlier post, A Hidden Jewel In the Middle of Phoenix.


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Have you ever found yourself driving through a neighborhood past landscapes planted with the commonly planted lantana and oleander shrubs when you see something completely different that catches your attention?

A few weeks ago, I was leaving a client’s home in North Phoenix and started on my way home, when I drove past this beautiful, drought tolerant landscape.


The corner of the landscape was anchored by an ocotillo whose graceful canes added needed height to the landscape.

Palo brea trees add year round green color and yellow flowers are so set appear later in spring.

Globe mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua) adds a welcome spot of orange in late winter and into spring and will bloom again in fall.

Cacti and agave add great texture contrast with their unique shapes.  The Argentine giant cactus (Echinopsis candicans) will produce large, lily-like flowers in spring.


Several species of agave have been used throughout the landscape including Agave species americana, lophantha and victoria-reginae.  With so much variety in the color and sizes available in agaves, there is one for almost any landscape situation.
Several different cacti are tucked in here and there leading one to want to walk around and discover what else is growing in the garden.
The thin, upright succulent stems of candelilla (Euphorbia antisyphilitica) add great texture contrast when planted next to succulents and cacti with thicker leaves/stems.

The main planting area in the center is on a slightly elevated area, which offers a glimpse of the plants located toward the back.  Landscape design that creates areas that artfully take center stage and then recede into the background as you walk through, which creates intrigue and heightens the desire to see what else is present in the garden.

Aloes, which do best in light shade, are scattered throughout the landscape, which add color in late winter into spring.  

In the background, the orange, tubular flowers Mexican honeysuckle (Justicia spicigera) attracts hummingbirds all year long.  

Variegated agave americana adds great color contrast with their bi-colored leaves while Indian fig prickly pear (Opuntia ficus-indica) adds height in the background.  


I love this unusual pathway that zig-zags through the landscape.  Golden barrel cacti (Echinocactus grusonii) are used to greatest effect by grouping them in 3’s.

Large boulders finish the landscape adding mass and texture while not needing any pruning or water. 
It’s important to note that large boulders like this may need heavy equipment to place.  If you want to avoid the hassle and expense of using heavy equipment, you can place 2 medium-sized boulders next to 
each other for a similar effect.

There are several things that I enjoyed so much about this landscape.  One is how they used a large amount of different plant species without it looking ‘busy’.  Also, instead of laying out the entire landscape where you can see everything from the street, this one leads you on a path of discovery when you are treated to glimpses at what is located further in.

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This past week was event filled along with some rather unexpected occurrences for me.  One was that for the first time since early January, my calendar was quite suddenly empty.  I had several landscape consultations scheduled that were cancelled at the last minute by clients and rescheduled for various reasons including a flooded house to a puppy eating a cigar.

It was rather disconcerting to go from trying to keep my head above water to having the gift of extra time on my hands, but I enjoyed it and got some gardening articles finished ahead of looming deadlines.


Last week was also a big milestone for my husband who turned 50.  We celebrated throughout the week, but one of our favorite outings was breakfast at Joe’s Farm & Grill with our granddaughter, Lily.

On a sad note, our friend, neighbor and vet passed away unexpectedly on Friday.  He had treated the furry members of our family for 18 years with love and respect.  We were also blessed to have been his neighbor for over 15 years.  

We will miss his loving care for our animals, seeing him and his wife walk their dogs in the evening and even the lemons he would leave at our door.

After hearing the shocking news of his death, I had a hard time focusing on anything else this weekend and even writing took a backseat – hence the lack of blog posts.  But, it was a blessing to be able to set work aside for few days and let the loss sink in.

My schedule is now filled up again with appointments and the desert is awash in spring color, which is a busy time in the garden. 

I hope your week is off to a good start.


Have you ever taken out an area of grass and added plants in its place?


I have – numerous times.


My past was filled with grass – acres and acres of it, when I worked as a horticulturist for golf courses.  Nothing made me happier then when areas of grass were being removed and I was able to design a new landscape area.


It’s been 8 years since I worked as a staff horticulturist for golf courses, but the past few weeks have found me spending a lot of time back on the golf course.  

Earlier this week, I told you about my most recent project – creating landscape designs for up to 30 acres of former grass area.  Two golf courses, that I have worked with in the past, are removing large areas of turf in favor of a more natural, desert-scape.

The plants that I have chosen are extremely drought-tolerant, need very little maintenance and are native to the deserts of North America.  

Another important criteria for my choices of plants was that I have to had experience growing them myself, either in my own garden or professionally in landscape areas that I have managed.

Here are the plants that I am using in this first area:

Desert Ruellia (Ruellia peninsularis)

Desert Ruellia is a favorite shrub of mine.  It is incredibly drought-tolerant.  I like to use it as a smaller substitute for Texas sage.

In this first landscape area, I wanted a shrub that could survive with intermittent deep-watering, limited maintenance while still looking attractive.  The purple flowers that appear spring through fall will add color to the area.

Chuparosa (Justicia californica)

This flowering native, will find a place underneath the filtered shade of the large mesquite tree already present.  

Chuparosa explodes with color off an on throughout the year, attracting every hummingbird in the neighborhood.  It does well in full sun or filtered shade.

Desert Spoon (Dasylirion wheeler)

Succulents are a vital part of the plant palette for all of these new areas.  Their unique colors and shapes add texture to the landscape and contrast well with the more softly-shaped plants.

Desert spoon will be interspersed throughout this first area where its gray color will contrast with the darker greens of the shrubs.

Santa-Rita Purple Prickly Pear (Opuntia santa-rita)

Santa-rita purple prickly pear is also high on my list of favorites.  You just can’t beat the purple coloring that appears toward the tips of gray/blue pads.

Desert Marigold (Baileya multiradiata)

Often grown as a annual, Desert Marigold is a short-lived perennial that flowers throughout the year.  

Cold and lack of water don’t bother these tough little perennials.  They require little to no maintenance – but I cut them back severely to 3 inches once a year to improve their appearance and promote more flowering, although you don’t have too.

Whether you or not you are a fan of yellow – it is an important color to include in the garden because the color yellow helps the other colors in the landscape to ‘pop’ and stand out more vividly.

Although short-lived, desert marigold self-seeds, ensuring that they remain a presence wherever they are planted.

Firecracker Penstemon (Penstemon eatoni)

If you are a fan of penstemons, this is one to consider adding to your list.  Firecracker penstemon has a long bloom period in the low-desert.  It starts blooming in late December and continues into spring.  

You can often prolong the bloom period by removing spent flowering stalks, which will promote a second flush of bloom.  I have several of these growing in my own garden – some are 15 years old and still going strong – although that is uncommon.

Bursage (Ambrosia deltoidea)

I’ll be the first one to admit that this low-growing shrub is not exciting – one may even call it ‘boring’.

But, bursage is seen carpeting the ground throughout the Arizona portion of the Sonoran desert.  Its gray/green foliage serves as an understory plant that helps to tie the separate elements of this ‘natural landscape’ together.

Example of bursage use in a natural desert landscape planting.
The key to keeping bursage attractive is to prune it back severely to 6″ tall and wide every 2 – 3 years in early spring.

So, this is the plant palette for the first of many ‘natural desert landscape areas’.  I do have a few more plants that I will show you as I create designs for the other areas on the golf courses.

Do you grow any of these plants in your garden?