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Friday, May 3, 2024


Spring is a wonderful time for all gardeners but particularly so for desert gardeners. It is the season of spectacular bloom brought on by winter rains. I have taken advantage of that by adding many blooming plants to my garden to complement the cactus and succulents. Some are perennial and some are annuals like this scarlet flax Linum grandiflorum rubrum. Annuals like to seed themselves along the edge of the paths where they driven by rain. Not always the best place.

Flax are dotted all over the front garden among rocks and cactus. I have always favored growing from seed and finally had success with damianita, Chrysactinia mexicana. This one I grew from seed planted 2 years ago. If I'm not careful it will be crowded out by these penstemon seedlings and a desert marigold. Despite the enormous numbers of seed they produce I have only ever found one growing naturally in my garden. No doubt the fault of the hungry quail who frequent the garden.

Damianita, blackfoot daisy and skullcaps are perfect low-growing perennials for the desert rock garden although not easy to come by. I did manage to find 2 purple skullcaps but unless they are in bloom they are sometimes miss-labeled and turn out to be the more common pink variety. Despite the many flowers and seeds produced it is very difficult to get these three to self-seed.

I'm trying to maintain a good balance of flowers and succulents for the quieter time of year when the cactus are center stage.

The damianita will  need to be sheared back soon so they can bloom again when and if the monsoon rains come. 


Just coming into bloom is the chocolate daisy, Berlandiera lyrata. I bought one plant 2 years ago and have been able to grow several more plants from seed over the winter. It has always performed well throughout the year opening new flowers every day. It is a morning bloomer, closing its petals by noon. It's chocolaty fragrance cannot be missed when walking around the garden. 

 This is one of three hedgehog cactus, Echinocereus triglochidiatus, I inherited,  which has bloomed successfully each year.  Their location is not ideal as they receive sun only in the later parts of the day. A place in a more open spot would probably result in a more spectacular bloom. I have allowed this native cudweed to remain. I love its silvery soft leaves which are the closest we would get to growing lambs ears in the desert. Some call it pearly everlasting as the flowers do well when cut and dried. 

My desert marigold,  Baileya multiradiata, has become so successful that it threatens to overgrow the driveway. I think it must be getting too much water. It reseeds quite readily where the layers of rock are not too deep or too large.

Spring is a very yellow time of year in the desert and I think I may just have a little too much of it. Between the brittle bush, damianita and the desert marigold I need to find a happier balance. Brittle bush is a wonderful desert plant which also reseeds heavily. I think it is underused as a native plant filling the roadsides with its yellow and dusky sage colored leaves. 


Seeds of blanket flowers grown from seed last year have been immensely successful. They are acting as though they are perennial. Last year they bloomed all summer long. You couldn't ask more of a plant in this desert climate.

 And there are frequent pop-ups in the spring of native wildflowers like the verbenas.

                                                         Verbena gooddingii

                                                              Moss verbena, Verbena tenuisecta

 The mix of colorful annual, perennials, cactus and succulents is a joy to behold on my early morning stroll around the garden. And it is always early.  Spring and summer in the Sonoran desert is a time to get up early to enjoy the cool mornings. The sun rises early and we must make the most of the best part of the day. Now we are in our dry summer with no rains expected until the monsoons arrive in July. Fingers crossed we will get good rains this summer.

Saturday, April 27, 2024


I have thought about changing my blog name to Gardening on the Edge, which is exactly how I am gardening these days. Each of my gardening spaces follow the footprint of the house. The edge that needed attention was at the side of the house leading up to the side garage door. I get the feeling that the previous owners never walked around there because there were several bushes whose branches would grow at odd angles and grab you as you walked by. We use this way frequently and were tracking dirt intot he house. First step was to remove them leaving only the photinia and the Texas olive at the front and at the back a beautiful Anacacho orchid tree. 

In the spring the arching branches hang over the walkway and are reminiscent of times when I had apple and crabapple trees in my garden.  The fragrance isn't quite the same but not unpleasant and the bees love the flowers which give them black pollen.

This narrow 7' space is bounded by a low wall with fence on the left had side. On the right the garage wall. There are two scuppers coming off the roof. They carry water of the flat roof which drained away along the bare ground. The first job was to create a place on which the water could land before passing into a proposed wet weather channel.  And make it possible to walk past without getting muddy feet.

I marked out a winding channel which David lowered a few inches so water would flow out towards a drain at the front of the house. I knew we did the right thing bringing our pick axes with us.

This is a budget project using rocks abandoned by builders in the area and some taken from areas of our lot where we created more garden space.  To add more interest I found a couple of large ones and then filled in with smaller stones.

 I wish I had some larger rocks to create a rock garden but as my mother used to say " beggars can't be choosers" This is what I had to work with.

There will only be planting along the left side. I already have some native plants growing from seed( thanks to a gift from Syd Teague)  and hopefully they will soften the jagged rocks that I am making do with. By late April native Desert marigold, Bailey multiradiata, and Goodings verbena, Verbena gooddingii, are already flowering. They are short-lived plants but reseed easily. I['m also saving seeds from my very successful damianita and chocolate flower.

I have also added a few pups of Octopus agave. I really don't have a big enough garden for this large agave but they will stay until I find substitutes or they grow too large. 
As I mentioned this is a shoestring garden of native plants that are not attractive to the javelina. We finished off the walking area bu adding a small clean gravel. Most of them were bought at the 50% off bin at HD where they put their opened bags.

Tuesday, April 9, 2024


When it rains in the desert at just the right time, the desert becomes a carpet of flowers. These are plants that rely on rainfall to grow, bloom and set seed in a very short period of time before the summer heat arrives.. It doesn't happen every year but this year was a particularly good one and we made the most of it by visiting the places where wildflowers were blooming. We took trips to the Anza Borrego Desert, the Boyce Thompson Arboretum and surrounding areas of Superior and our nearby Catalina State Park and Pima Canyon. We have hiked there multiple times this spring awaiting the desert bloom.

 The Mexican poppy or Gold poppy, Eschscholzia californica ssp mexicana is the most prolific of the annual desert flowers in our area. It is similar to the California poppy except for missing the small green sepal underneath the flowers.

 It appears in shades of gold and yellow and seen here with owl's clover, Castilleja exerta..

 The first time I saw it I thought how much it reminded me of Indian paintbrush and I was correct. It is in the same family.


Cream cups, Platystemum californicus, also blooming alongside the poppies and as the poppy prefers the open, hillside meadow area. Where it finds a happy place it blooms in large swathes opening its petals once the sun shines but remaining closed on cloudy days.

The desert zinnia, Zinnia acerosa, is on my list of seeds to buy. I hope to find a small patch of my garden to plant a wildflower patch. 

This hike is is one of my favorite hikes, the wildflowers just adding an extra layer of joy. The scenery is superb and at this time of the year there is water trickling down the mountain into pools known as bathtub tanks.

Another wildflower blooming prolifically is the scorpion weed, Phacelia distans. It is very showy when found in large numbers.

 Some flowers are prolific along the roadisdes including the Arizona lupin,  mallows and penstemons where they receive just a little more rain. They are different from the Texas bluebonnet in being a little taller, having finer leaves and smaller more upright flowers. 

                                                   Lupin, Lupinus arizonicus


                                                       Mallow  Sphaeralcea ambigua

Desert chicory, Rafinesquia neomexicana, is abundant in washes and on the hillsides and is particularly showy when found in a clump. 

 There are many more wildflowers blooming in the spring and every day when we are out hiking I feel fortunate when I find another new one to add to the list of the many flowers that bloom under the harsh conditions of the desert.

As the gold poppies fade the brittlebush, Encelia farinosa, comes into flower. It is a perennial shrub growing to about 3'. It seeds easily and I don't understand why it isn't used more frequently in the landscape. In our neighborhood of landscaper-tended gardens there is only one. The use of pre-emergent means it never gets to germinate. As you might imagine my garden has many blooming specimens with more showing up every year. It is so plentiful that I can be choosy about where it gets to grow.

But our visit to the Anza Borrego Desert yielded the most prolific of blooming carpets. It was a spur of the moment decision. We packed up the car for an over-nighter along with picnic supplies and headed west towards the Salton Sea. We had been only once before on a Thanksgiving trip in our VW camper in 1981. We had forgotten about the fact that it would be dark by 6 o'clock and with no campfires allowed and no other campers foolish enough to be out there. We ate and had the earliest night ever. And it was cold. We did enjoy hiking the next day and determioned to go back during a better time of the year. It had taken 43 years!

We knew exactly the spot to aim for. Henderson Canyon and were not disappointed.


It was incredibly windy and trying to get the flowers to sit still for a photo was almost impossible. The best spot was to find a larger growing creosote bush and hide behind. We planned to come back the next day.

I was on the lookout for the desert lily, Hesperocallis undulata. If someone on instagram had not mentioned he had found it I would not have known what or where to look, but as we drove along I had my eyes peeled for them. They are mostly found growing alone but I could spot the open lily from the car as we drove along. We had to stop and then walk back. The ones we saw were about 1' tall although I hear that in more favorable conditions they can reach as high as 3'

How could such beauty spring from this cracked earth?

We spent the night in Indio and returned the next morning. The wind had dropped and the fragrance from the field of flowers was incredible. Then we drove to look at the desert sculpture we had heard about stopping first at the Friday market in Borrego Springs. 

                                                                      The serpent or dragon

                                                                        The Spanish priest

                                                                    The gold miner

                                                The scorpion and the grasshopper

Over 100 pieces of metal sculpture created by Ricardo Breceda are spread over 1500 acres of undeveloped land. These are just a few of our favorite pieces. They were gifted to the town by the town's benefactor Dennis Avery. All manor of animals; camels, sloths tigers, pigs, sheep, tortoise and the dragon seen above. Also the Spanish explorer Juan Bautista de Anza. 

The Anza Borrego desert is surrounded by BLM land and camping is permitted in many areas. Most of the people who camp here have all terrain vehicles and derive enjoyment from driving the desert trails. Not our cup of tea but we are open to dry camping inside the park where there are one or two designated campsited. It is our plan to return next year and explore more of the hiking trails. 

Because we had a long 6 hour drive home we quickly went over to look at one of the hikes into a slot canyon. We had not planned to hike so had no boots or poles with us. We did a short distance but the going got tough and a 5' drop made us turn back. Next time!

All in all it was worth those long drives there and back.

Sunday, February 25, 2024


 I might have expected David to find something special for our 56th Wedding Anniversary, and he did. I walked into the guest bedroom and immediately spotted something new on the wall. A photograph, on canvas, that I had taken last summer while hiking in Idaho.  It is the elephant head, little red elephant, Pedicuaris groenlandica.

This sub-alpine plant blooms in mid summer and our timing for the hike was perfect. We had hiked the Norton-Big Lost Lakes loop many times. There are three sub-alpine lakes, Norton Lake, Big Lost Lake and Smoky Lake. It was at Smoky Lake where I wandered into the lakeside meadow filled with wildflowers  and where I found the plant. 

At first I thought it was an orchid  but then I saw the little heads and a light went on. I had seen it in my book, Idaho Mountain Wildflowers, A Scott Earle. It was the elephant head. Do you see his little face, two large ears and trunk? 

The location was just a described where other lovers of moist ground were blooming; the Explorer's gentian, Gentiana calycosa. Found between 9000'-10000' 

and the Elegant camas, or mountain death camas Anticlea elegansm. Also a lover of boggy ground and high places.

From the gorgeous flower-filled meadow the hike takes you down along side the creek which runs out of the lake. The sides filled with monkey flowers and all manner of stream side plants. It has to be one of my favorite hikes in Idaho for the wealth of wildflowers.

What a wonderful idea for an anniversary gift. Every time I walk into the room it will bring back memories of that wonderful hike and that wonderful find. We will be heading back there again this year and this time I will find the Steers head, Dicentra uniflora

It even got me blogging again!