Birds and Blooms Blog

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Drought Tolerant Garden: Beauty in the City – Part 1

Mesquite tree and Aloe Vera

Mesquite tree, aloe vera and pink bougainvillea in spring.

What do you think of when someone mentions a ‘drought tolerant garden’? Do visions of a landscape filled with a few spiny cactus come to mind? Well, I am here to help dispel that perception.

As a native of California who now lives and gardens in the desert Southwest, drought tolerant gardening has always been second nature to me.  I know from personal experience, that drought tolerant gardens can be places filled with beauty.

Last spring, I discovered a jewel in the desert – in the middle of Arizona to be precise.  The Scottsdale Xeriscape Demonstration Garden is a place filled with beautifully designed landscapes composed of drought tolerant plants and real life examples of water harvesting.

Gabion walls (wire cages filled with stone).

Gabion walls (wire cages filled with stone).

As its name suggests, this is a demonstration garden, whose goal is to ‘demonstrate’ to the public certain landscape concepts.  In the case of this desert garden, saving water is promoted throughout the garden with examples of drought tolerant plants, innovative water harvesting methods and educational signage.

Gabion walls are used to create terraces along the sides of the garden, which help to slow down the movement of runoff that result from rainfall.  The terraces help to capture the water to allow it to penetrate the soil to water plants.  Boulders are also used to help slow the advance of water.

Gabion walls and drought tolerant plants.

Gabion walls and drought tolerant plants.

As you walk through the 5-acre garden, you are in for a visual treat.  Pathways are lined with palo verde trees with their characteristic green trunks and flowering drought tolerant perennials such as white and pink globe mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua), ‘Gold Mound’ lantana and the vibrant orange of flame honeysuckle (Anisacanthus quadrifidus var. wrightii).  Gabion walls in this area help to enable the plants to soak up rainwater, decreasing the need for supplemental watering.

Scottsdale Xeriscape Demonstration Garden-016

Toward the end of the garden, you encounter an artistic, terraced garden, which is truly stunning.  This creative design is made from curved walls of stacked stone and river rock.  Individual planting beds hold willow acacia (Acacia willardiana) trees, flowering desert marigold (Baileya multiradiata) and a variety of ornamental grasses, which are all drought tolerant.  *Note that there are no cactus present, further illustrating that a drought tolerant garden does not have to be filled with cacti.

Scottsdale Xeriscape Demonstration Garden-012

Another view of the unique terracing.  This terraced garden is a work of environmental art called ‘Terraced Cascade’.  It is both ornamental and functional.  Rainwater is channeled toward the middle of the planting beds where it falls down a series of steps and then underneath two bridges until it comes to rest in a shallow basin that allow the water to slowly permeate, helping to replenish groundwater.  Even when it is dry, this terraced garden creates the illusion of cascading water.

These are just a few of the wonders that this beautiful drought tolerant garden holds.  Come back on Friday, to see Part 2, when I will show you some other examples of water harvesting, beautiful plants and a VERY effective example of the need to conserve water.



Bird Species Profile: Black-necked Stilt

Rob Ripma

I’ve loved Black-necked Stilts since just after I started birding. The stilts were just returning to breed at one of my favorite Indiana birding locations, Goose Pond FWA, and I spent a lot of time watching them. As I’ve traveled around the US and beyond over the last few years, I’ve observed this species in many of the places I visit. From St. John in the US Virgin Islands to the endemic subspecies on the Hawaiian Islands, there are many locations to see this cool bird!

The endemic subspecies of Black-necked Stilt is called A'eo in Hawaiian. They can be found on all of the main islands.

The endemic subspecies of Black-necked Stilt is called A’eo in Hawaiian. They can be found on all of the main islands.



You can see Black-necked Stilts on South Padre Island in Texas all year long!

You can see Black-necked Stilts on South Padre Island in Texas all year long!

St John was one of my favorite place to watch Black-necked Stilts. This individual was running around right next to a flamingo!

St John was one of my favorite place to watch Black-necked Stilts. This individual was running around right next to a flamingo!

Let us know where you have seen Black-necked Stilts by commenting below!

Old-Fashioned DIY Rose Jar

Jill Staake

In the days before store-bought potpourri, our grandmothers knew the value of gathering their rosebuds while they may. Any gardener worth her salt would clip the best sweet-smelling roses all summer long, carefully dry the petals, and tuck them away in jars to scent her home in the months and years ahead. I hope this easy DIY rose jar project will encourage you to do the same with your own rose garden this year.

DIY Rose Jar

DIY Rose Jar Supplies

  • Jars with Lids – I used medium-sized corked jars I found in the dollar bins at Target
  • Recollections Lace Stickers (available at Michaels craft stores; if you’re unable to find these, you can also create this look using Mod Podge decoupage glue and actual lace)
  • Dried Rose Petals (see below)

DIY Rose Jar

Drying Rose Petals

My online research turned up a great deal of information about the best way to dry rose petals, including instructions for drying them in the microwave and using a dehydrator. I decided to dry my rose petals the old-fashioned way, but if you’re interested in other options, click here to learn more.

  • Gather roses at their peak, before they start to turn brown. Roses that are already dying will continue to break down in the jars, leading to an unpleasant smell instead of the sweet scent you’re looking for.
  • Pull petals from the roses when fresh, and discard stems.
  • Lay petals in a single layer on paper towels, newspaper, or clean dry cloth.
  • Place in a warm dry space for several days, until petals are crisp to the touch. Depending on the air flow, you may need to turn or stir them while drying.

DIY Rose Jars

Use the lace stickers (or Mod Podge and real lace) to decorate your jars as desired, and add your rose petals. My jars are only partly full, as I intend to keep adding to them as my roses blooms in the months ahead. Place them on a mantle or shelf, and open the jars when you want to get a whiff of summer!

DIY Rose Jar

You Don’t Say: Aquatic Flight Training

Lorie Enjoy some funny photography and caption this photo!

You Don’t Say: Aquatic Flight Training

In our September issue, we feature this fun snapshot from Connor Sokol of Sparta, New Jersey. Do you have a clever caption for this picture? Share it below and you might see your caption and name printed in the November issue of Birds & Blooms Extra!

Backyard Vegetable Garden: Summer Tips


Summer in the vegetable garden is a time filled with a seemingly unending supply of fresh vegetables.  But is your backyard vegetable garden performing at its best?

Here are a few summer tips to follow to make sure that you don’t waste a single day of delicious summer vegetables straight from the garden.

1. Give your pepper plants a needed boost using Epsom salts.  Want a lot of peppers from your garden?  Epsom salts are the answer.  Despite their name, Epsom salts aren’t actually a salt – they are a combination of crystalized sulfate and magnesium.  Apply 1 tablespoon of Epsom salts around each pepper plant every 6 weeks OR apply as a foliar spray by mixing 2 tablespoons of Epsom salts in 1 gallon of water and spray the leaves of pepper plants once a month.  Soon after applying, you will soon have a plentiful harvest of peppers.

Malabar spinach

Malabar spinach

2. Try growing something new in your summer vegetable garden.  Do you grow the same vegetables year after year?  How about trying out a new vegetable that you’ve never grown before?

One of the new vegetable plants in my garden is called Malabar spinach.  Unlike most greens, it will grow through the entire summer in the vegetable garden, long after my leaf lettuce and regular spinach have bolted due to the summer heat.  While not technically a spinach, Malabar spinach has a peppery, citrus flavor and tastes delicious when used in soups and stir-fry.  Some people enjoy its raw flavor too.  Malabar spinach does best when planted in a container, much like mint, or it can become invasive.  Provide a small trellis for support so that it can grow upward.

3. Water vegetables in the morning and keep the leaves dry.  Like most plants in the garden, it is best to water vegetables in the morning instead of in the evening where leaves remain wet and could lead to the formation of fungal diseases.  Vegetables should also be watered from the base since their leaves do not like to be wet.

Flowering carrots

Flowering carrots

4. Allow some vegetables to go to seed and collect them for next year’s garden.  Do you get tired of buying new packets of vegetable seeds every year?  Allow a few of your vegetables to flower and form seeds and then collect them.  *Note – this works best with heirloom vegetables because the seeds will produce the exact same type of plant.  You can use seeds from hybrid vegetables, but the resulting vegetables may have slightly different characteristics.

Another bonus of allowing a few vegetables to flower is that they attract pollinators in the garden.  My fellow blogger, Jill, wrote a great blog post on how to store seeds that you can read here.

Freshly harvested thyme and sage.

Freshly harvested thyme and sage.

5. Harvest herbs just before they flower.  The flavor of herbs is most intense before they begin to flower.  Herbs (and vegetables) should also be harvested in the morning for best flavor as well.  Use your herbs immediately or you can preserve them freezing into ice cubes or drying them.

Marigolds and leaf lettuce

Marigolds and leaf lettuce

6. Keep harmful insects away by adding companion plants.  No one likes to see bad bugs in the garden and the damage they leave behind.  Prevent damaging insects from bothering your vegetable garden by planting companion plants, which will repel bad bugs naturally.  Marigolds and nasturtiums are a great choice and add both color and beauty to your vegetable garden.

There are a large variety of plants that will help keep damaging insects away and will keep you from having to reach for pesticides.  For more information on companion plants in the vegetable garden, click here.

7. Get ready for fall and plant cool-season vegetables.  For gardeners in zones 7 and above, late summer is a time to get your garden ready for planting cool-season vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower and leaf lettuce. Vegetable gardeners in colder climates can plant short-season varieties of cool-season vegetables in late summer.

So, take a little time to make sure that your vegetable garden is in shape for the remainder of summer.

Low Tide Beach Birding Tips

Headed to the beach to check out the shore birds? Get birding tips to make the most of your time and protect our winged friends too.

Surprising Flowering Plants

From a cactus that produces a lily-like flower to what dogwood flowers really look like along with some other surprising flowering plants.

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