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When people think about what a desert garden looks like, what comes to mind? Perhaps, visions of lots of brown with rocks and a cactus or two?

While you can settle for rocks and some cacti, BUT the truth is, we can have so much more! Imagine a landscape filled with the colors of the rainbow – shades of red, orange, purple, pinks, and yellow.

I’m going to share with you 8 colorful plants that you will find in my desert garden. All are colorful and thrive in a hot, dry climate:

Bougainvillea – Bougainvillea ‘Barbara Karst’

You can’t beat Bougainvillea for vibrant color in the garden. It thrives in our dry, hot climate and flowers off and on spring through fall. Record-breaking heat doesn’t bother it in the least. It is a great choice for covering a bare block wall and can handle those challenging west-facing exposures. For maximum flowering, they need to be in full sun. For those that don’t like the messy flowers, you can opt for dwarf varieties or plant one in a large pot, which will limit its size.

Hardy to 20 degrees F. Plant in full sun for optimal flowering.

Coral Fountain – Russelia equisetiformis

Often referred to as Firecracker Bush, this tropical beauty has a lovely cascading growth habit. Arching stems are produce orange/red tubular flowers that delight hummingbirds. Blooming occurs spring through fall. This shrub takes a year or two before really taking off, but it’s worth the wait – I like to use them in groups of 3 to 5. It is also a good choice for adding to large containers – especially blue ones!

Cold hardy to 10 degrees F. Plant in full sun.

Firecracker Penstemon – Penstemon eatoni

Winter color is often lacking in desert gardens. However, there are many plants that offer color through winter. This western native is my favorite during winter and spring in my front garden when it burst forth with brilliant orange/red blooms. Hummingbirds really enjoy the blooms as there aren’t many other plants for them to feed from this time of year. Prune off spent flowering stalks once the flowers begin to drop and you may get another flush of blooms to extend the season. It can be hard to find Firecracker Penstemon in box stores but local nurseries usually carry them.

Hardy to -20 degrees F. Plant in full sun.

Yellow Bells – Tecoma stans var. stans

Admittedly, there are many yellow-flowering plants in the desert, but this one is my favorite! I look forward to the gorgeous yellow blooms to open each spring in my back garden. Yellow bells bloom spring through fall, and hummingbirds are attracted to their flowers. They are fast growers and have lovely, lush green foliage. To keep them looking their best, prune them back severely to 1-2 feet tall once the threat of frost has passed in spring. There are several notable varieties of Yellow Bells in shades of orange including ‘Crimson Flare’ and ‘Sparky’.

Hardy to 10 degrees F. Plant in full sun to filtered sun.

Shrubby Germander – Teucrium fruticans ‘Azurea’

Photos don’t do this Mediterranean native justice. When viewed in person, people are immediately transfixed by the light-blue flowers (they appear more purple in photos), which appear in spring. I have several scattered throughout my back garden, and for me, they blooms throughout winter too! Using plants with silver-gray foliage near those with darker green leaves is a great way to add interest to the landscape, even when not in flower. I dearly love this shrub for its colorful winter/spring blooms in my desert garden.

Hardy to 10 degrees F. Plant in full to filtered sun.

Purple Lilac Vine – Hardenbergia violaceae

Here is another winter flowering beauty. Purple flowers cover this vine in February into early March. Believe me when I say that they are a welcome relief to the winter blahs. Bees enjoy the blooms, which resemble lilacs but aren’t fragrant. It does require a trellis or other support to grow up on. When not in bloom, its attractive foliage adds a welcome splash of green throughout the year on vertical surfaces. Purple Lilac vine is usually found in nurseries in fall and winter, during its flowering season.

Hardy to 20-25 degrees F. Plant in full to filtered sun but avoid west-facing exposures.

‘Rio Bravo’ Texas Sage – Leucophyllum langmaniae ‘Rio Bravo’

If you love the color purple, you’ll want to include this variety of Texas Sage in your garden. Branches covered in masses of purple flowers appear off and on spring through fall, often in response to periods of increased humidity. The more humidity, the more flowers produced. There are many different types of Texas Sage and all add color to the desert garden. Now, you may not see them looking like this for the sad fact that many people prune them into unnatural shapes like balls, cupcakes, and even squares. Which would you rather have – a green ‘blob’ or a gorgeous purple beauty like this?

Hardy to 10 degrees F. Plant in full sun for maximum flowering.

Desert Willow – Chilopsis linearis

I want to include a tree in our list of colorful plants for the desert garden. Desert Willow are small to medium-sized trees that are native to the Southwest. Throughout the warm season, branches with bright green leaves are covered with pink blooms. The flowers add a lovely shade of pink, which is a color not always seen in the desert. There are many newer varieties of Desert Willow – I have four different ones in my garden, but ‘Bubba’ is my favorite. This is a deciduous tree and will lose its leaves in winter. 

Hardy to -10 degrees. Plant in full sun.

SO, where can you find these plants?

I am often asked where is the best place to buy plants. Yes, you can head to your big box store, but they usually lack variety and are known to sell plants that don’t do well in our hot, dry climate.

My advice is to look to your local garden center and nursery for these and other plants for your garden. 

I’d like to share with you about a new nursery that is mixing things up in a good way! Four Arrows Garden is a family business, located in Vail, AZ, where you order your plants online and they deliver them to you!

The Chavez family began their business with cuttings from succulents in their backyard that soon grew to people wanting them to offer other types of plants. She explains their unique nursery, “Our business model has changed over the year to fill the need in our community. We have transformed into “not your average nursery” because of a niche market to deliver landscape plants and creating an online shopping outlet for desert adapted plants. We are different because we allow customers to shop for plants from the comfort of their homes.”

They source their plants from wholesale growers in the Phoenix and Tucson area. While their delivery area is primarily in the greater Tucson area, They can accept special requests from Phoenix area customers.

I encourage you to incorporate colorful plants within your desert garden to improve your curb appeal and your enjoyment of your outdoor space. Local nurseries are best sources for these plants. If you are in the Tucson area, visit Four Arrows Garden’s online nursery to make your special order and they will deliver it to your door. Check them out on Facebook where Linsay keeps you updated on the latest plants available!

*Disclosure: This post has been sponsored by Four Arrows Garden. My opinions and advice are my own.

palo verde tree bougainvillea backyard landscape

Do you have parts of your backyard landscape that you would like to change? 

Perhaps you have areas you like, but there are plants you are tired of or are struggling with.

I want to show you what I did in my backyard, where I blended both old and new elements.

First, a little history:

I was fairly happy with with the areas bordering the walls of the backyard. They are filled with colorful shrubs such as Bougainvillea, Coral Fountain, and Yellow Bells.

However, the center of my backyard space was dominated by a large lawn, which we had removed last year.

The decision to replace the grass was made with a focus on plants that I love and would blend well with the existing plants.

The focal point is a new flagstone seating area with Adirondack chairs arranged around a portable firepit. Around this area, boulders add height and texture. Angelita Daisy, Artichoke Agave, Blackfoot Daisy, and Pink Muhly grasses surround the seating area, which adds year-round color and texture.

In another area, a gentle mound stands planted with a ‘Bubba’ Desert Willow tree. Purple Trailing Lantana grows around the tree and will soon cover the entire mound in a mass of purple blooms.

At this point, the new plants are still rather small. However, plants grow quickly in the desert climate and, in another year, will soon reach their mature size.

The result? A backyard landscape where the new and old will blend seamlessly together.

I must admit that I am delighted with how it turned out. It took me a long time to decide what to do with this area – it is so much easier to design someone else’s yard than your own.

I look forward to seeing it evolve and promise to share it with you 🙂

Progress! One-Year Post Desert Landscape Renovation

December Happenings: Ballet, Sideways Agave, Pumpkins, and Snickerdoodles

The holiday season is a time where I try to balance out the preparations for Christmas with time to sit back and enjoy the particular elements that only occur this time of year. On that note, I’m happy to report that I’ve finished shopping for gifts, which are all neatly wrapped underneath the tree or on their way to recipients who live far away. I must admit that I have never finished this early before and it is a bit disconcerting as I keep feeling as if I’m forgetting something important.

Phoenix Symphony Orchestra

Last weekend, my mother treated us to an outing to The Nutcracker, by Ballet Arizona and the Phoenix Symphony Orchestra. 

December Happenings: Ballet, Sideways Agave, Pumpkins, and Snickerdoodles

We arrived a bit early, which gave us the perfect excuse to walk through the downtown area. Years ago, I worked in a tall office building as a landscape designer, but it had been a long time since I had spent any time there.

I was delighted to discover a tall Christmas tree in the center of an ice-skating rink – yes, there is ice-skating in downtown Phoenix.

December Happenings: Ballet, Sideways Agave, Pumpkins, and Snickerdoodles

Walking further on, we saw a unique use of umbrellas as art.

December Happenings: Ballet, Sideways Agave, Pumpkins, and Snickerdoodles

My younger daughters couldn’t figure out why the umbrellas were hanging upside down, but I quite liked the artistic effect.

yellow bell shrubs (Tecoma stans stans)

A row of yellow bell shrubs (Tecoma stans stans) added a welcome splash of lush green and yellow color. While you’ll see them grown as a shrub, here they are pruned into small trees. Underneath is the groundcover yellow dot (Wedelia trilobata).

inside the Phoenix Symphony Hall

Once inside the Phoenix Symphony Hall, we admired the colorful Christmas trees. It was all quite festive, and my daughters were excited to watch their first ballet performance.

My mother and daughter, Gracie.&nbsp

My mother and daughter, Gracie. 

Although Gracie has autism, and many things cause her acute anxiety, she was doing very well as she had always wanted to see The Nutcracker.

My sister-in-law, daughters, and me!&nbsp

My sister-in-law, daughters, and me! 

There is one thing about the performance that I haven’t mentioned yet. My cousin’s daughter is one of the dancers in this ballet. She is a ‘snowflake’ in Act 1, and a ‘wildflower’ in Act 2.

December Happenings: Ballet, Sideways Agave, Pumpkins, and Snickerdoodles

This is all I can show you of the stage as photos of the performance aren’t allowed.

December Happenings: Ballet, Sideways Agave, Pumpkins, and Snickerdoodles

It was marvelous, and everyone enjoyed themselves. After the performance, we met my cousin’s daughter at the stage door, (Gracie hoped that she would still have her costume on). She was so happy that we had come to see her performance and I was struck by the fact that all the dancing genes in the family went to her (as well as her mother) – I certainly didn’t get any 😉

chuparosa (Justicia californica), octopus agave (Agave vilmoriniana), and yucca

On our way back to the car, we passed by a striking vertical garden, filled with chuparosa (Justicia californica), octopus agave (Agave vilmoriniana), and yucca. Even though the chuparosa was a bit too overgrown, the overall effect was lovely.

Back home, things are rather quiet in the garden, with one exception:

December Happenings: Ballet, Sideways Agave, Pumpkins, and Snickerdoodles

My Halloween pumpkins that I filled with birdseed are still creating quite a buzz with the neighborhood birds. We have had Alber’s towhees, curved bill thrashers, finches, Inca doves, and sparrows come for a visit. It’s been a real treat watching them out the kitchen window. The pumpkins will probably have to be thrown out in another week, but it’s been nice to find a way to reuse them.

December Happenings: Ballet, Sideways Agave, Pumpkins, and Snickerdoodles

Lastly, we’ve been busy baking cookies for upcoming holiday events as well as to give to friends and neighbors. Snickerdoodles are by far our favorite, and they are so easy to make with ingredients that you probably already have in your pantry.

The recipe I use is an old one. I received it at my wedding shower, back in 1986, from a college friend. It has never failed me and cookies are delicious. I’ve had many requests to share it, so here it is:

December Happenings: Ballet, Sideways Agave, Pumpkins, and Snickerdoodles
December Happenings: Ballet, Sideways Agave, Pumpkins, and Snickerdoodles

*Please feel free to print it out and start your own annual Snickerdoodle cookie tradition.

December In The Garden….Sit Back And Relax

Caterpillars Eating Shrubs , Yellow Bells (Tecoma stans stans)

Caterpillars Eating Shrubs , Yellow Bells (Tecoma stans stans)

Do you have caterpillars lurking beneath the leaves of your shrubs?

If they look like the yellow bells shrub, pictured above, probably not.

Caterpillars Eating Shrubs

Caterpillars Eating Shrubs

But, if your leaves look as if a vampire came along and sucked them dry, then they are there, whether you can see them or not. Other telltale signs include little black pellets, which are caterpillar ‘poop’. 

Damaged bougainvillea leaves

Damaged bougainvillea leaves

Bougainvillea can also fall prey to hungry caterpillars, who leave behind ragged holes and edges.

So, what do you do?  Nothing?  Or should you pull out all the stops to get rid of them?

I address these questions and more in my latest video:

 
 
 

Do you enjoy winter?

I do. Surprisingly, the desert Southwest has definite seasons and winters can get cold with temps dipping into the 20’s.

Frost-damaged natal plum

Photo: Frost-damaged natal plum

Unfortunately, the cold temperatures can wreak havoc on our frost tender plants such as bougainvillea, lantana and yellow bells – to name a few.

Let’s face it, no one likes the sight of brown, crispy, frost-damaged plants in the landscape – including me.  Often, my first impulse is to prune off the ugly growth – but, I have to remind myself that I can actually do more damage by pruning too early.

Learn what plants are most commonly affected by frost damage, when to prune and how in my latest article for Houzz.com

 
 
 
 
 
 

 

I hope your week is off to a great start!

yellow-flowering shrub

The back wall along my backyard is covered in yellow blossoms spring through fall.

Every year, I find myself pleasantly surprised that such this lovely, yellow-flowering shrub is native to southwestern deserts on into Mexico.

Most of the flowering plants in my garden have a long flowering period.  I tend not to waste time on plants that flower for less then 2 months.  

My yellow bells (Tecoma stans) provides me with beautiful, yellow, trumpet-shaped flowers spring through fall.  

Hummingbirds love the flowers too!

Want to learn more about this lovely shrub?  I invite you to check out my latest plant profile for Houzz.com

Great Design Plant: Yellow Bells, a Screening Queen

Freezing temperatures are coming tonight and forecast to last for the next several days.

Take a drive down the street in your neighborhood, you will probably see landscape plants covered with assorted sheets, towels or frost cloth.

How to Protect Plants From Frost

Those that don’t protect their frost-sensitive plants such as lantana, bougainvillea, yellow bells, orange jubilee or hibiscus will soon have plants that look like this…

Protect Plants From Frost

In most cases, you do not have to cover your frost-sensitive plants when temps dip into the lower 30’s.

There is nothing wrong with allowing the top growth of your ornamental plants to get frost damage.  You just prune it away in spring.

For those of you who don’t like the look of frost-damage, then you will need to protect your plants from the cold.

**If temperatures are predicted to dip into the 20’s – then I do recommend protecting them from frost because temps this cold can kill a plant.

I wrote a blog post earlier this year when temps hit the low 20’s.  It talks about how to protect plants from frost (and how NOT to) along with the types of plants to protect.

You can read it here…

“Prepping For Deep Freeze”

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

I hope you are having a great week.  I must confess to being a little behind on writing blog posts this month with all the Christmas goings on 🙂

 It’s about to get really cold…

Desert Southwest

Well, cold for this area of the Desert Southwest.  Temperatures are predicted to dip into the 20’s for a few days, which is quite cold for zone 9a.

As a result, I am being asked by quite a few people about what they should do to prepare their semi-tropical plants for the cold temperatures.

semi-tropical plants

The best thing you can do is to cover your frost-tender plants.  Do this in the evening and don’t uncover them the following day until temperatures are 50 degrees or above.  Recover them later in the day if another freeze is expected.

Earlier this week, I wrote about how to protect your plants during a normal winter freeze (30 degrees and above).  You do have the choice to protect your plants or not.  I mentioned that I only protect my high-profile Lantana near my front entry.

BUT, when temperatures are forecast to fall into the 20’s for a few days, I start pulling out all my old linens, including my kid’s old character bed sheets…

semi-tropical plants

I cover most of my semi-tropical plants including my other lantana, young citrus tree, yellow bells, bougainvillea and pink trumpet vine.

The reason for this is that I don’t want my plants killed to the ground by the frost, which can happen when temperatures dip into the 20’s for a few days.

You see, frost damage can be cumulative with each additional night of freezing temps, creating more damage to plants.

So, if you have frost cloth – use it.  If you don’t, then start raiding your linen closet and pull out towels, sheets, tablecloths, etc.  Believe it or not, even newspaper can provide some protection.  Just anchor it down with rocks to keep it from blowing away.  (I once used canned foods from my pantry to anchor frost blankets 😉

What you shouldn’t use is plastic.

Also, if you want to protect your plants – you have do better then this person did…

semi-tropical plants

What they ended up with was plants with green areas, surrounded by brown, crispy frost-damaged growth.  You need to cover the entire plant with no gaps.

Watering you plants at dusk also helps because water releases heat into the night.

semi-tropical plants

If you have columnar cacti, then protect the ends using styrofoam cups.

Young citrus trees should also be protected….  

semi-tropical plants

So what do you do if you didn’t protect your plants and they look like this afterward?

semi-tropical plants

Relax, first of all.  More then likely, it is still alive at the base and will grow back once spring arrives.

Whatever you do, DON’T prune them now!  That can damage or even kill your plant.  I know it is ugly, but it is only until spring when you can prune all the frost-damaged foliage away.

**Even if you protect your plants from frost, there can still be some frost damage that occurs.  It all depends on the severity and duration of the cold.  But, covering them increases the chance that they will recover once temperatures warm up in spring.

Cold Weather in the Desert ? Are You Kidding ?

I didn’t post a blog on Friday, but I had a very good excuse…

Frost-damaged Bougainvillea ,  Annual pruning

Frost-damaged Bougainvillea

It was time for my springtime annual pruning.

In my zone 9a garden, we do experience temperatures below freezing and as a result, some of my frost-tender plants always suffer some frost damage.

The best time to do this is once the danger of frost is over, which in my area is approximately March 1st.

Arizona Yellow Bells with frost damage.

Arizona Yellow Bells with frost damage.

I really don’t mind, because they look beautiful 9 months out of the year.

'Rio Bravo' Sage needing a trim.

‘Rio Bravo’ Sage needing a trim.

This past Friday, I had no consults, the kids were at school and I wasn’t scheduled to babysit my granddaughter.

So, I put on my old gardening clothes, boots and gloves and headed out into my back garden.

Tobey came out to supervise.

My Bermuda grass is still dormant, but once nighttime temperatures stay above 55 degrees, it will start to green up fast.

It was a beautiful, sunny day, in the upper sixties.  I started first on my Orange Jubilee shrub and then moved on to my ‘Rio Bravo’ Texas Sage shrubs.

 Annual pruning

Annual pruning

Every  2 – 3 years, I prune back my ‘Rio Bravo’ severely, which rejuvenates them.  Old wood doesn’t produce as much leaves or flowers and eventually dies.  Severe renewal pruning stimulates new growth and helps keep your shrubs from becoming too large.

To say that I am a bit passionate about pruning flowering shrubs the right way, is an understatement.

You can read more if you like in my previous post….

Shrubs Aren’t Meant To Be Cupcakes

I spent three hours pruning 10 large shrubs.  It was so nice to experience the outdoors with nothing to listen to except for the breeze and the birds.

There is something so satisfying about surveying how much work you have accomplished after you have finished pruning.

Of course, after I finished, I went inside and took 2 ibuprofen for my sore back.

I think I will let my husband put my pruned branches in the trash can 😉

How about you?  Are you ready to prune yet? 

Do you ever wonder what plants look good together?  Below are pictures of some of my favorite plant combinations along with some general guidelines that I follow when designing a garden.

plant combinations

Sometimes red and pink colors always compliment each other.  Introducing yellow flowering plants provide a high color contrast that brings out the red and pink colors.  Above is a golf course landscape that I planted with Valentine shrub (Eremophila ‘Valentine’), Parry’s penstemon (Penstemon parryi) and desert marigold (Baileya multiradiata) against the backdrop of foothill palo verde trees.

plant combinations

 Parry’s agave (Agave parryi) with purple trailing lantana (Lantana montevidensis)

Also, succulents paired with perennials almost always compliment each other with their contrasting shades of green and textures.  Other recommended succulent and perennial pairings include desert spoon (Dasylirion wheeleri) alongside black dalea (Dalea frutescens), prickly pear species with penstemon or try octopus agave (Agave vilmoriniana) with purple or white trailing lantana.

plant combinations

 Autumn Sage (Salvia greggii ‘Red’)

plant combinations

 Blackfoot Daisy (Melampodium leucanthum)

I use plants with white flowers as a backdrop for plants with red, pink and purple flowers; I like the way the white flowers emphasize the other colors.

plant combinations

 ‘Rio Bravo’ Sage (Leucophyllum langmaniae) & Red Bird-of-Paradise (Caesalpinia pulcherrima)

Most of the time the pairing of purple flowering plants with those that have orange flowers always looks great.  When deciding what colors look good when paired together, it helps to look at a color wheel.  In general, the colors that are opposite each other look great when paired together because their colors contrast so well.  Other orange, purple plant combinations to try are cape honeysuckle (Tecomaria capensis) with (Leucophyllum species), or  Mexican honeysuckle (Justicia spicigera) with purple lantana. 

plant combinations

 Angelita daisy (Tetraneuris acaulis) and parry’s penstemon (Penstemon parryi)

Also, I believe that any garden looks better with some yellow flowering plants.  As I mentioned earlier, the color yellow makes the other plants look better, (think of the color wheel).   I have had clients that have said they do not like yellow until I show them how much better their other plants look when we introduce just a few yellow flowering plants to their landscape and they quickly change their mind.

Yellow Bells

 Yellow Bells (Tecoma stans stans)

Bougainvillea 'Barbara Karst'

 Bougainvillea ‘Barbara Karst’

I often recommend the following for those who are looking for large shrub combinations.  Okay, I realize that many people either love or hate bougainvillea. Personally, I love them.  I have two bougainvilleas and since I don’t have a swimming pool, so I am not bothered by their litter. Their beautiful and vibrant colors are amazing.

I pair my bougainvillea with yellow bell shrubs.  Their colors contrast nicely, and they screen out the back wall of my garden.  I give them plenty of room to grow, and they produce beautiful flowers spring through fall.  If you do have a swimming pool and don’t like bougainvillea, how about trying orange jubilee (Tecoma hybrid ‘Orange Jubilee’) and Texas Sage (Leucophyllum frutescens) together?

Weber's agave

 Weber’s agave (Agave weberi) and purple trailing lantana

I have just one more tip –  if you want to pair flowering plants together to enjoy the contrasting colors, make sure that they bloom at the same time of year.  It is so easy to visit the plant nursery and see the pretty photos of flowers on the different plants and pick what ones you think will look great together only to discover later that one flower in the fall while the other blooms in spring and so you never see their flowers at the same time.

So, visit your local nursery and try some of the suggested plant combinations or see what beautiful plant pairings you come up with for your garden.