Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Southwestern Deserts
March, 2010
Regional Report

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Las Vegas Master Gardener Mary Rider created this eye-catching combo with variegated arrowhead leaves and needle-thin fiberoptic plant.

Inspiration from Fellow Gardeners

My favorite gardening activity actually takes place outside my own yard's boundaries. I like to visit other gardeners, enjoy their landscapes and chat about their experiences. No matter how much skill and knowledge any gardener may have, there are always fresh ideas to be gained from others.

Last fall, I visited with Mary Rider, a University of Nevada Master Gardener who has been gardening on her Las Vegas property for 40-some years. Photos on her walls show the surrounding landscape when her family first moved to this home- desert stretched as far as the eye could see to the mountains beyond, as if John Wayne might gallop into view at any moment. In the following decades, Las Vegas spread, overtaking much of that wild expanse and changing the view. However, Mary's gardening abilities created alternative beautiful sights from her windows.

Many desert landscapes can look worn out after our long, hot summers, but Mary's still offered loads of vibrant color, such as hummingbird trumpet (Zauschneria arizonica). (You may find similar plants sold as Z. californica or Epilobium canum.) This grows in the Phoenix area where I live, but Mary's was more densely covered with snazzy, orange-red blooms. Flowers hung in softball-size clusters on her yellow bells, Tecoma 'Sunrise'. Below I mention just a few of Mary's color and/or texture combinations that I enjoyed:

Canna lilies growing adjacent to twisted myrtle (Myrtus communis 'Boetica') Canna's jumbo-sized, flat leaves next to myrtle's whorled leaf arrangement created an eye-catching juxtaposition. Canna is a bulb-type plant that flowers in summer and fall and attracts hummingbirds. Mary allows the rhizomes to stay in the ground year round until they become too crowded; then she digs and distributes extras to lucky fellow Master Gardeners. She adds fertilizer and organic matter to the soil, then returns her rhizomes to the ground within a few days so they don't dry out.

Euphorbia, ruellia and salvia Icy-blue Euphorbia rigida stems, bright green ruellia leaves and splashes of red salvia flowers provide significant color in a small space. Their foliage shapes (whorled, linear and deltoid) also add pleasing variety. Mary says the euphorbia is bug-free, disease-free, and creates lots of young starts. "I have dug so many of these little plants and given them away that people started calling me 'Mary Euphorbia' as a takeoff on Johnny Appleseed," she says.

Pinks and purples Mary included a Peruvian pepper plant in the midst of a sun-loving combo of warm-season flowers, including purple verbena and pink vinca. This pepper's foliage and stems provide distinct purple hues to accompany its purple flowers and eggplant-colored peppers. Also, these peppers turn red as they mature. "In December, they look like miniature Christmas trees with tiny red lights in my garden," says Mary.

Foliage shapes I couldn't take my eyes away from a shady planting bed near the front door that included long, strappy amaryllis leaves, needle-thin fiberoptic plant (Isolepis cernua) and the variegated, arrowhead-shaped leaves of Arum italicum. The arum was a mail-order freebie accompanying a plant order. "They were small and insignificant looking and I just put them out there without giving them much thought," recalls Mary. "The leaves are beautiful, and one year they produced flower spikes that looked like miniature ears of bright red corn kernels that lasted for months."

Take some time out this spring to go on a garden tour or visit landscapes of friends and neighbors. I bet you'll find lots of fun examples to "transplant" to your garden.

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