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Flower Gardening in the Desert



My husband and I have been living in our cosy little house in the Desert Southwest for 7 ½ years now, 5 years as renters and 2 ½  years as owners. As I always say, “The house is OK, but it’s the yard I love.” At the time we moved, we had three large dogs so needed a larger backyard, unlike most of the postage stamp size yards that seem so prevalent now.  We have only one large dog now and the backyard is his kingdom. The landscaping was nothing great, the usual thicket of oleanders down one side wall, a vitex tree and nine arbor vitae down the back wall and some columnar jumipers along the other side wall.  As renters, I didn’t want to spend a lot of money and energy to make the flower beds look nicer. But, now as owners . . . it was time.




Oleanders along the wall.  Well, really these are the oleanders at our neighbor's house next door along the wall we share with them.  Unfortunately, I didn't think to take a before picture. The oleanders were MUCH thicker and droopier than this on our side.



The first flower bed I tackled was the one with the thicket of oleanders.  Oleanders have their place, just not in my yard (besides they’re poisonous to kids and animals).  These flopped over and cut out a lot of sunshine to the grass that was struggling to grow. Plus, I never saw any wildlife value in them (more on that later).  So I grubbed and chopped the massive root balls out, along with a couple of small palms and some invasive mulberries. The soil was actually pretty good (considering I had been dumping grass clippings for years there).  I also decided to plant the opposite side of the yard, along another wall. No grubbing needed there, just a lot of soil amendment.  


Next:  what to plant.  Over the past year, I have become more confident in my plant choices due to a blog and an online nursery.  The blog is called Hot Gardens, pulled together by a master gardener Carol Lightwood, and is a treasure trove of information on how to deal with and garden in this hot, arid climate.  The online nursery is High Country Gardens - a wealth of information can be found here, as well. So my criterion for plant selection was the plants had to be water wise when mature and they had to have wildlife value for hummingbirds, butterflies and bees, preferably all three, plus other all important pollinators.  So I hung out at Sierra Vista Growers, a local water wise nursery, and, since it's so close to the house, the local Lowes, where I picked up quite a few water wise plants for a fraction of their cost at the “bargain bin.”  I know some of the choices I made may not be the best.  And I know that, despite my best efforts, plants will commit suicide.  But it's all a learning experience.  


The meditative planting began . . .





A section of the flower bed just a few days ago:  a "Slim" Callistemon viminalis red bottlebrush tree, "mango popsicle" Kniphofia, various salvias, a "Regal Splendor" lavender and a bird planted sunflower.





I have totally fallen in love with these "mango popsicle" Kniphofias.  They are more compact than the normal "red hot pokers" and they keep throwing up new blooming stalks.  Hummingbirds are attracted to them. Their color absolutely glows, especially at dusk. I started out with three and have now planted 10.





Several different types of salvia have been planted, mostly red, pink and purple.  The red in the photo is "Autumn Sage" Salvia greggi.  The pink is "Flamenco Rose" salvia.  All of the salvias, up until the heat really set in about 10 days ago, were covered in masses of flowers.  They're a little more threadbare now but keep on blooming.    





Quite a few types of lantana have been planted, definite pollinator attractors.  The orange lantana might have to be replanted if the winter gets too cold, but the pink one (which was "bird planted")  comes back year after year.




Because they are so extremely heat tolerant, I use lantanas in flower pots.  This one sets on out patio table and takes full sun from sun up to sun down.  It even bloomed all winter long.  Wondering about the, "We don't rent pigs"?  If you are a fan of the mini-series "Lonesome Dove" with Robert Duvall and Tommy Lee Jones, you know what it is refering to.




I nick named this Gaillardia, "One Root."  It was a "rescue" from a front yard that is xeriscaped with rock.  When I tried to dig it up with my trowel, the (much) smaller plant came up with only one long root and no soil.  Knowing they are a hardy flower, I planted it anyway . . . and One Root has thrived.  Not a super showy plant, but I love it anyway.





Two of the purple plants in the flower beds are a "Black Knight" butterfly bush and a heritage morning glory called "Grandpa Otts."  The butterfly bushes (3 of them) are a trial.  I have seen several huge ones, covered in flowers, here and there, so assume they survive OK.  The one that gets the very hot afternoon sun droops a bit in late afternoon, but the other two, one a "Black Knight" and one a "Buzz Magenta," which get morning sun and afternoon shade, don't droop at all.  I always have to have Grandpa Otts morning glories because of their extreme beauty.  Oddly enough, I didn't plant the seeds for this one, it just came up and is now happily rambling up a columnar juniper tree. 





This beautiful sunflower was 'bird planted."  There is a black oil sunflower feeder on the other side of the yard.  Am assuming a bird dropped one of the seeds - lucky for me!  I have planted a mixture of sunflowers seeds and hollyhocks right along the wall, but it will be quite a while before they bloom.  The pink flower is a Gaura lindheimeri, also known as "Whirling Butterflies," an apt name.  They are exquisite when covered in the pink flowers.




Here is another view of the once oleander bed.  I look forward to seeing how the flower beds change as the plants grow in.  And as the sunflowers and hollyhocks planted against the wall grow and bloom.  I don't know about you, but I'm LOVING the way this flower bed has turned out so far.  The other long bed is much more a work in progress and has taken a break until the cooler temperatures of the fall. 



I hope you enjoyed my beginning journey of gardening in the desert.  I have also done a lot of planting in the more xeriscaped front yard.  But that will be another post in the future.  If you would like to make my day, please leave a blog comment.  And any promotion you can do will be greatly appreciated. Thanks!



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Beautiful Garden

Your hard work you put into this garden shows. It is magnificent! I love the variety of colorful flowers you have provided for all the hummers, bees and butterflies. Hope we get to see your garden as it grows!


Love it. Share again as the wall fills in

Desert Gardening

Such beautiful, vibrant colors!! Even with all the heat and lack of water, your plants are thriving! Beautiful Garden!!!
BTW the Pink Salvia’s are known as “Salvia Jamenis”. Did you know the Salvia Divicorums - have “psychedelic effects”!!

Glad you got rid of the poisonous Oleanders - not good for Shamus!

Thanks for sharing your beautiful gardens/


Desert gardening

Hello Catherine! Gosh, you sure seem to know a lot about gardening. Love your plantings. One of my favorites here in Georgia is Lantana. I have it planted in the large circle in front of our house every year. I love watching the bees, butterflies and hummingbirds that it attracts each summer.

Enjoyed reading this post!

Beautiful garden

Congratulations you got a beautiful garden, love the colorful choices.

WOW love your Gardens

Catherine your gardens/plants are beautiful. So many different varieties. I know it gives you a very happy place to be. Your flowers in Texas are so different from ours in Florida.
LOVE the Lantana in the pig pot......Just gorgeous.

As you can tell from my Tweet listing today -- my favorite plant in my yard is Bougainvilleas. Most people hate them because of the thorns, but properly trimmed they can be Huge & Gorgeous.

Thanks for sharing your handwork and knowledge of your garden.
A delight for sure.

Your garden is gorgeous -

Your garden is gorgeous - Love what you have done. I do lot of gardening myself and
know that it takes a lot of time and handwork to maintain.
Beautiful work.


A beautiful start for your yard. Like another comment above me, I really like Lantana too. It comes in so many colors!

Gardening in the Desert

You know, I have heard that there are people in this world who love to garden. Now I know this rumor is true.


Hey, the rest of my post didn't get through.


Knowing what beautiful jewelry you create, I'm not at all surprised that you are creating such a beautiful garden at your desert home. Love that it's bird, bee, and butterfly friendly too. I'm glad to see that all is well with you.

Gardening in the Desert

Catherine, your garden is just beautiful!
The plants you chose and their placement, is just perfect. I remember seeing your yard about 2 years ago and and the transformation is incredible. Your research for the perfect garden plants in the desert southwest has earned you an A+. That's not a surprise to me, as everything you do is always top notch.

Beautiful flowers

Beautiful flower garden, Catherine. I will have to show this to my mom, she loves flowers.


I love these images and look forward to seeing how the plants are maturing, along with your next stage of planting. Perhaps I can come and see it in person sometime in the near future! I wonder how the Mango Popsicles would do here as they are really beautiful!I have also made some improvements in the gardens here at Planeview and will share pictures this spring. All the best Amiga!

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