Friday, September 18, 2009

Fall Planting Time: Four Flowering Shrubs for Dry Southwestern Gardens

Fall is just around the corner and for gardeners in the southwestern US it is a great time to think about planting perennial shrubs. This is also a great time to plan out your landscape for next year including preparing for more drought! Planting in fall brings a little extra free water from the rain and milder temperatures for new transplants who are trying to get established.

You can still grow beautiful trees and shrubs in a low-water garden. Here are a few of my favorite flowering shrubs. They all have beautiful blooms and are all drought tolerant too. I have written about them before, so I'm providing a quick rundown of the basics and a link to longer articles about each plant. Happy gardening!

Toyon or California Christmas Berry

USDA Zone: 7 - 10
Sunset Zone: 5-9, 14-24
Height: 25 feet. Good screen shrub
Flowers: White, followed by festive red berries

Toyon is also called California Christmas Berry or Christmas Holly or Heteromeles arbutifolia. These beautiful shrubs are prized for their bright red berries and deep green leaves.

Toyon grows to about 25 feet tall and almost as wide. They make good screen shrubs for dry gardens, but you can also trim them into multi-trunked trees or standards. They have white flowers which are attractive to bees, but the show stopper comes just in time for Yule when the bright red berries ripen against the green leaves. See more photos and read more about Toyon…

Chilopsis or Desert Willow

USDA Zone: 7 - 9
Sunset Zone: 3B, 7 - 14, 18 - 23
Height: 30 feet tall. Unique flowers and growth habit
Flowers: White, pinks and purples

Chilopsis linearis, or Sweet Desert Willow make a great alternative for traditional flowering cherry trees in dry gardens anywhere in the western US. The exotic flowers can appear from spring to fall and drip in giant clusters. Each flower can be about three inches long and an inch wide with colors ranging from white or pastel pink to hot pinks or deep purple. Like cherry trees, they are deciduous, but Desert Willow develop exotic seed pods with cottony down before giving up for the winter. They can be left as large shrubs, or trained into multi-trunked trees.

Desert Willow requires little to no water once they are established; only 10 inches according to the USDA. Desert Willow can grow up to 30 feet tall and up to 20 feet wide and are hardy to 3 degrees. Their shiny leaves are thin and up to 5 inches long, with the traditional willow look. The shrubs are pretty even when they are not in bloom. See more photos and read more about Desert Willow …


USDA Zone: 7 - 10, depending on species
Sunset Zone: Depends on species
Height: 20 feet tall, as shrub or tree
Flowers: White, cream to yellows

Acacia trees can grow up to 20 feet tall. They are drought tolerant and most varieties are evergreen. Flowers are clusters of small powder puff flowers in colors from white to yellow. The bright yellow varieties are striking and bloom in the winter. Acacia tolerates heavy clay, alkaline soils. See more photos and read more about Acacia…

Crape Myrtle or Lagerstroemia

USDA Zone: 7 - 10 depending on species
Sunset Zone: Most hybrids 7 - 10, 12 - 14, 18 - 21
Height: 30 feet tall as shrubs or small trees, good fall leaf colors
Flowers: White, creams, pinks, purples either pastel or bright

Crape Myrtle: Their Latin name is Lagerstroemia and the most common kinds sold here are l. indica or a hybrid of l. indica and l. fauriei (Japanese Crape Myrtle). They are also called Crepe Myrtle, or Crapemyrtle. These deciduous trees can bloom anytime from spring through fall. Colors come in bright white, dusty pinks, neon reds onto pink and purple shades, plus everything in-between.

Lagerstroemia can grow up to 25 feet tall and in the fall their leaves change color into deep oranges and reds. They do well in hot weather and withstand some drought once established. Crapemyrtle has smooth, tan bark that can peel off in sheets and provides visual interest even when it doesn't have leaves. These plants can be left as shrubs for a border or screen, or trained into standards or multi-trunked trees. See more photos and read more about Crape Myrtle…

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Garden Fresh Baked Tomato & Zucchini Recipe with Parmesan Cheese

Are you blessed with an overabundance of fresh tomatoes and zucchini this summer? Here's a great recipe that uses lots of each. It is a recipe I adapted from a Jeff Smith recipe he credits to Italy.

The baked zucchini can either be served in boats or cups; if you have small zucchini cut them lengthwise and hollow out the centers. If you have large zucchini cut them lengthwise and scoop out the centers to create cups that stand up.

Save the insides to add texture, flavor and richness to soups and stews. I throw my zucchini innards into the freezer until I am ready to cook them up in something savory.

This makes a hearty side dish or a great vegetarian main dish.

Baked Zucchini and Tomatoes with Dill and Parmesan Cheese

4 large, fat zucchini
OR 6 - 8 small zucchini

2 TBS Oil or Margarine
2 (or more) crushed garlic cloves
1 Small Onion, chopped or minced
2 (or more) Cups Fresh Diced Tomatoes
1/4 Cup Red Wine OR Juice OR Broth
1/2 Teaspoon Dried OR 1 Teaspoon Fresh Dill Weed
1/8 Teaspoon Sugar
Salt and Pepper to Taste
1/4 Cup Parmesan cheese (leave out for vegetarian version)
1/4 Cup Breadcrumbs (optional)
1/4 Cup Red Wine OR Juice OR Broth

If you use small zucchini cut them lengthwise and hollow out the centers. If you have large zucchini cut them lengthwise and scoop and out the centers to create cups that stand up. Place in a greased, deep baking pan.

In a saucepan use the oil to sauté the garlic and onion until soft. Add the tomatoes and cook for about 3 minutes. Add the broth, dill, sugar and salt and pepper and simmer for 5 more minutes.

Pour the tomato mixture over (or into) the zucchini to fill them. Pour remaining sauce into the baking dish. Sprinkle the parmesan cheese and breadcrumbs over zucchini dish and bake at 400 degrees for 30-40 minutes. Serve with bread to soak up all that extra sauce!

Drop by my cooking website at to find more recipes, kitchen tips, apron humor and retro art. Happy gardening and happy cooking!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Awesome Aechmea Bromeliad Flower Performance Continue!

Just in time for Friday Floral on theGardenPages; the flowers on my Aechmea just keep getting better. I showed you the prickly pink flowers when they first emerged from my Urn Plant. Now they have continued flowering with added features! The blooms develop what look like extra flowers consisting of deep blue petals deep inside the enormous main pink flower. They developed about a week after the flower first opened.

I have been gardening for decades, but this may be the plant that pushes me into a botany class -- just so I can identify all the crazy parts on this flower! I opened one of the blue blossoms; they are three petals surrounding a stamen. They secrete a clear sticky substance the ants seem to like. The plant is outdoors in a corner of my patio so the ants aren't too much of an issue. I am hoping they'll get bored and leave when the flower and nectar show is over so I don't have to get the chemicals out. For now, there's enough beauty on this plant to go around for everyone.

The light pink on the initial blooms has aged somewhat. It now has darker, hot pink spots on the petals and stem. It looks like it was 'distressed' by a craftsman. Either that or Monet dropped by to add a few impressionist highlights late one night.

Those of you with critical eyes should be able to a few brown spots on the leaves of my Urn Plant. This is from too much sun earlier in the season. Normally this plant gets a few hours of morning sun, but as the summer has progressed it got more sun in the afternoon. They like partial shade and that extra sunlight in the afternoon was too much. I have shifted the container a few feet so it is shaded in the afternoon. The leaves have greened up, but the spots will remain. Actually, after it is done blooming the entire 'urn' will die, but leave small pups to continue the show next time.

A fourth, smaller flower has emerged. It is what I would call a single flower, it is much smaller than the other three gargantuan flowers, but no less beautiful. The flowers do not have a scent, but with this summer show who cares? Happy gardening!


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