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The Wild Desert Garden

– Posted in: Garden Musings, Garden Photography, Wild Gardens

This past spring I witnessed the superbloom in the California deserts. It was a sensation.

Sonoran Desert wildflower superbloom at Anza Borrego California State Park

The superbloom began in late winter in the southern most deserts and progressed northward, a result of ample rain after five years of drought.

I was particularly intrigued, and made two separate visits to the Sonoran Desert east of San Diego in the most southern part of California at Anza Borrego State Park, where the good winter rains brought a spectacle of bloom that, in turn, brought tens of thousands of gawking flower lovers to the desert.

Most folks were drawn to the vast fields of annual wildflowers that carpeted the broad valley floors between mountain ranges, but as a gardener I was attracted to the mix of perennials, shrubs, and cactus that were also having a superbloom.

Natural desert garden – Sonoran Desert at Anza Borrego California State Park

Truly this was Gardening Gone Wild; and there was much for a gardener to learn about how nature combines plants, how she covers the ground, how the natural spacing and heights of plants work in the wild.

Desert landscape of California native plants in early morning, Glorietta Canyon, Anza Borrego State Park

Before I became a garden photographer, and as I came to appreciate native plants, I took photographs that I hoped would inspire gardeners to bring native beauties into their gardens. Now when I photograph the native landscape, I can’t help but see the gardens that nature creates.

I saw gardens everywhere in the Sonoran Desert.

Evening light on the Sonoran Desert – Anza Borrego State Park, superbloom March 22, 2017 with Brittlebush, Ocotillo, and Barrel Cactus

I had never been to the desert for a superbloom and admit to being astonished by the acres of perennials and shrubs that were enjoying a spectacular year along with the annual wild flowers. I felt like the proverbial kid in the candy store, treats everywhere.

I camped on a dirt road away from any trails and at first light just walked into this dream, eyes wide, alert to nature’s plant combinations.

Actually, first light was stunning and I took a few pictures before I ventured out into the desert.

Dawn light – Sonoran Desert at Anza Borrego California State Park

To me, the highest form of garden plant design is the art of a mixed border, where different types of plants are combined to fill the vertical and horizontal spaces with complimentary shapes and colors. Here is how Mother Nature interprets the mixed border in the desert.

Natural desert garden – Hedgehog Cactus flowering with Desert Chicory, Brown-eyed Primrose Creosote Bush, and Blue Phacelia

Against the background of the tall dark green, yellow flowering Creosote Bush this tapestry of succulent cactus and annual wild flowers would make any desert gardener envious. All that is needed to make this a garden in the real desert is the camera to frame it.

Cactus have become increasingly popular in drought tolerant gardens (anyone noticed Debra Lee Baldwin’s posts here ?), and garden designers often suggest softening their tough spiky look by planting annuals around them. Perhaps as seen here in the wild ?

Desert Agave nestled among Phacelia

As I wandered in the desert looking for photographs I found myself working into the canyons and washes where the rocks provided background and shelter from the bright sun. The rock formations helped create a sense of intimacy and also provided a bit of scale whereby I could really start to see garden vignettes, contained.

Rock outcrop in Sonoran Desert at Anza Borrego California State Park

As the light streams into a garden a photographer looks for any opportunity to use backlight against a shadowed wall, as I did with these poppies in this sheltered desert canyon.

Eschscholzia parishii, Parish’s Poppy yellow flowering wildflower in Sonoran Desert

The narrow canyons provided great opportunities to see plants with rockwork and the natural erosion that was deposited in the dry washes created soft pathways of the finest crushed rock.

Nature’s desert garden with natural gravel path, perennials, and rock outcrops.

Along these pathways we see borders of flowering perennials spilling out on the paths against the background of the rock walls.

Back in the larger canyons with more flat bottomland I sought out taller plants to frame my compositions, just as a gardener might design with vertical punctuation points to help organize the garden. These Teddy Bear Cholla cactus (Cylindropuntia bigelovii) bear no resemblance to the little pots we so often see in nurseries.

Cylindropuntia bigelovii, the teddy bear cholla cactus in Sonoran Desert

I particularly began to notice the shrubs as they are the backbone any good garden. While the wildflowers grab attention of the superbloom it was the profusely flowering shrubs that made me see the gardens in the desert.

They, too we’re having a spectacular bloom, and where they grew together I saw the potential for shrub borders. Here, gray foliage Bushmint (Condea emoryi), red flowering Chuparosa (Beloperone californica), the ever present Brittlebush (Encelia farinosa), and the durable dark green Creosote Bush (Larrea tridentata) with its yellow flowers tying everything together create a beautiful, sustainable, drought tolerant, desert garden composition.

Shrub border in Sonoran Desert

Because the Creosote Bush was having its own super bloom I noticed it everywhere. It’s yellow flowers helped it blend easily with the brittlebush that was covering the hillsides with gold.

Here with the Ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens), one of the signature plants of the desert, we see a wild mixed border.

Creosote Bush with Brittlebush and Ocotillo

The Ocotillo is a prized in many desert gardens; it’s explosion of vertical limbs is graphic and stunning. It’s tough to grow well outside of the desert because it requires hot dry soil with fast drainage.

But of course this is a trick of any naturalistic garden, finding plants that are naturally adapted. Any of these vignettes I found in the desert would qualify as a garden. All that’s needed to define the garden is to add a bit of human construct to make it look a bit tame and intentional. Perhaps a fence to claim it ?

Front yard desert garden with rustic split rail fence

I found this “real” garden as I drove through the small town of Borrego Springs, the headquarters of Anza Borrego State Park. This garden, effortless in Borrego Springs, would be virtually impossible to do and the sprawling cities along the heavily populated, coastal regions of California. Here in this place, the gardener simply embraced the native landscape. This is a brilliant idea for those who live in these types of areas. For those living in Arizona, Nevada and other desert climates (Middle East
comes to mind), has a great list of all the plants that can
grow in sand and hot conditions so it’s well worth a look at the improve your garden.

Ocotillo and cactus in Sonoran Desert at Anza Borrego with Coyote Mountain

Learn more on how Anza Borrego got its name on this post I did for PhotoBotanic.

“On March 15, 1774 and December 24, 1775 Juan Bautista de Anza, leading expeditions from Mexico into Alta California, camped in Coyote Canyon in Anza-Borrego State Park – where I too camped my last night of documenting the 2017 superbloom.” For those partial to spotting some wildlife, this might not be a bad place to use one of the best electronic coyote call products on the market to get a better look at coyotes in their natural habitat.

Photo Gallery of Anza Borrego superbloom

5 Tips on Using Quantum Physics To Create Your Dream Garden

– Posted in: Garden Musings
Dream Garden-Locus Flevum


Dream Garden-Locus Flevum

How do you go from gardening on a ‘hum drum’, or even ‘horrific’ piece of land to creating the garden that you never dreamt possible on that same property?

Is it possible? Or is it the stuff of fairy tales?

I know for a fact that it can be done because that’s exactly what I did.

Thanks to the laws of quantum physics.

If you think I’m bonkers, then feel free to stop reading the article.

But if there’s something intriguing to what I’m saying, then please read on.

This is a true story.

For those of you who are familiar with my book, Digging Deep Unearthing Your Creative Roots Through Gardening, you already know how I transformed an aberrant shaped and barren piece of land into my own personal paradise. The book shares the creative process I used (7 Stages of Creative Awakening) in revamping my property as well as the process I used with clients in helping them unleash their own creativity and design a uniquely personal garden.

[continue reading…]

10 Tips on How to Ignite Your Creativity and Productivity in The Garden

– Posted in: Garden Musings

Would you love to learn how to ignite your creativity and productivity in the garden this coming season?

If so, then listen up.

Now is the time of year when we’re bombarded with messages that repeatedly tell us that in order to be successful this year, we should immediately take charge, be productive, and make sweeping changes in our lives.

My response to that is hogwash!

I’ve always felt that the focus on making resolutions and committing to action just because the calendar says it’s the New Year is ridiculous.

Our culture has done an excellent job at brainwashing us into believing that resolutions are a necessary ritual.

To the contrary.

Rather than scurrying around trying to get your spring garden plans and purchases in order, I suggest another approach.

It may feel counter-intuitive when practicing the ideas below because you’ve never approached your garden making this way. But if you give it a try, my hunch is that you’ll be more than pleased with the results.

 10 Tips on How to Ignite Creativity and Productivity In The Garden 

1. Be Still.

I can think of nothing more rejuvenating than taking time during your day to be still. Whether it’s 15 minutes of meditation in the morning, or having your cup of morning coffee or tea and gazing out at the winter landscape, just sit quietly, take some deep breaths, and let your mind be.

2. Get grounded.

This phrase may sound a bit dated but it isn’t at all. You can only get grounded when you slow down—really slow down—and start thinking about what truly matters to you.

3. Dig deep and own your values.

Spending time thinking about your values and how you want to live your life will reap significant benefits. My suggestion is that you actually keep a notepad where you can jot down whatever comes to your mind over the next few weeks.

For example, some values that are important to me are: integrity, kindness, compassion, creating beauty, connection, authenticity, generosity, and consciousness.

There are no right or wrong answers with this exercise. Write down whatever comes to your mind—this list is for you and you only.

4. Link your values to your garden-making.

You may be thinking “What is Fran talking about?”

What I’m suggesting is not difficult to do. It’s really quite simple.

If nature and gardening are an integral part of your life, then it makes sense to contemplate what mindsets you internalize and actions you take in the garden that represent your values.

Does your garden represent your commitment to creating beauty? If so, how?

Continue to ask questions in order to deepen your perspective on what’s motivating you and what possibilities are awaiting you this spring in your garden-making that you’ve never considered.

For someone like me who values integrity, how would that be conveyed in my garden making? Perhaps it would be the integrity of the materials I use to create the garden; the integrity of my soil, or the integrity of the specimens I choose to plant in my garden.

5. Visit art museums.

I’m not a person who spends large blocks of time in museums. But even spending an hour, quietly perusing through one or two exhibits, is nutrition for an artist’s eye and soul.

You have no idea how the colors or subject of a painting or sculpture can impact decisions you make in the garden months—or even years—from now.

Try to visit museums at least 3 or 4 times over the next couple of months.

6. Change the narrative about your garden.

We tend to spend a lot of our time thinking and feeling from a scarcity mindset; feeling that we never have enough. In the garden, that can translate into thinking “ If I only had”…then my garden would be more beautiful or “I can’t because…”

Try something different this year. Write down what it is that you love about your garden; it may take a few weeks to come up with a list that feels complete to you. Once you do, close your eyes, visualize what you’ve written down and sink into and experience whatever feelings arise.

For example, in one of my past gardens, I remember how much pleasure it gave me to sit on a periwinkle bench looking down onto my front property from a back hill in the garden.

In another garden, I loved coming out on my rooftop early morning and observing dozens of sunflowers with their smiling faces slightly bobbing in the morning breeze.

Taking on a mindset of abundance, focusing on what you’re grateful for and what you love about your garden, will have a dramatic effect on your creativity in the garden.

7. Think about what you ‘deeply desire’ in your garden.

This is not about what you ‘think you can do’ this year, given your time and financial resources. Oh no!

This is about letting loose and coming up with ideas that you would want to implement if you could—with no restrictions. It doesn’t have to be logical or make sense: As a matter of fact, in most cases, it won’t.

In other words, you could garden on a small urban lot but dream about having a field of lavender like photos you’ve seen in magazines depicting the South of France. Add that idea to the list.

Once you open up the door to possibility, you’ll be surprised at how it fuels other innovative ideas that you’ve never thought of until now.

8. Practice efficiency and effectiveness.

So many of us, including me, are sloppy in our decision-making as gardeners.

A good example is seed buying. I don’t know about you but when I flip through the pages of seed catalogs and see all of the incredible offerings, my “I’ve got to have it impulsive brain” runs wild and I imagine that all of the glorious varieties I want will make for a smashing cutting garden.

The truth is that in any given year there is only room for about 25% of the seeds I’m convinced that I need.

Over the years, I’ve become more restrained in making purchases. I’ve also learned to take a thorough inventory on what seeds from last year can be sown prior to buying any new ones.

We live with the illusion that if we could have whatever we want, with no financial restraints, then our gardens would be a stunning mirror of our creative souls

Not necessarily so. When it comes to creativity, studies have shown that limitations are beneficial. They tighten up our boundaries, organize our thoughts, and get our neural pathways opened up and get us thinking in new ways.

9. Make bite-size changes in your garden this springif your time or commitment challenged.

Passionate and committed gardeners can be successful at making sweeping changes to their garden in one season.

But these folks don’t represent the majority of gardeners.

A lot of gardeners start off with grandiose ideas about what they plan on getting done: But after a few weeks when things don’t turn out as envisioned, they become frustrated and lose interest.

Those are often the people who end up telling me that they ‘can’t garden’ or that they have a ‘black thumb’—neither of which is true.

Studies consistently show that folks who make very small changes in their life on a daily basis have a much greater degree of success than those who start off in a flurry of excitement trying to make big changes.

So, if you’re a gardener limited with time and commitment, be realistic and do daily tasks in the garden  that can be broken down into 15 minute spurts. For example, you can set a timer to do 15 minutes of weeding in a garden bed and continue to weed it throughout the week, 15 minutes a day, until the job is completed.

This may not sound like a lot of time but once you start adding it up, you’ll be surprised at how productive limited time spent in the garden but done on a regular basis can prove to be.

10. Commit to making well-thought out choices.

When it comes to selecting plant material and creating a garden design, I’m a big advocate of taking your time, working on a garden design plan that offers both beauty and efficiency, and being thoughtful when selecting plant material .

We have so much information at our finger tips today that not to research out plants before buying them, or checking out a design to see if it holds up under scrutiny before implementing it is negligent.

The days of walking into a garden center and buying a slew of bushes or perennials just because you love them and think they might work are over.

The ideal situation is this: You have a list of plants that you’ve researched,  know you want to incorporate into your garden, and then search out a source from which to buy them.

But if you happen to walk into a garden center (and who doesn’t?)  and find a plant that you fall in love with, don’t impulsively buy it: Rather, take a photo of it (and get all other necessary information), and then return home and envision how it will look in your landscape.

You can become spontaneous once you have the basic design and plants in place. Then play to your hearts delight with annuals, containers, seeds, and selected bulbs.

Follow these 10 tips and you’ll experience your creativity and productivity in the garden sky-rocketing this spring.

Wishing you a magical, playful, and joyful 2017!

With love, xo


P.S. Your time is almost up to take advantage of the FREE 1000 Digging Deep Book and Course Giveaway. We are almost out of stock and are closing the Giveaway on January 10th (if we have any copies left). To have a copy of Digging Deep sent to you and get immediate access to my 3 part course on “How to Transform and Ordinary Life into an Extraordinary Life”, click  here.

You can also find Digging Deep at Amazon, other online retailers, and at Barnes and Noble stores.

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How the Winter Garden is a Perfect Metaphor for Life

– Posted in: Garden Musings

As I sit and write this post, I marvel at how the winter garden is a perfect metaphor for life.

Regardless of what you feel about the results of the U.S. Presidential election, the country has been through a difficult time. Millions of us are still reeling from the rancor and divisiveness that took place this past year. We need quiet time to heal: Our souls yearn to be nourished by beauty.

The simplicity of winter has a deep moral. The return of Nature, after such a career of splendor and prodigality, to habits so simple and austere, is not lost either upon the head or the heart. It is the philosopher coming back from the banquet and the wine to a cup of water and a crust of bread.  ~John Burroughs, “The Snow-Walkers,” 1866

For most gardeners, it is indeed a quiet time in the garden, when the ebullience of spring, the maturing of specimens in the summer, and the majesty of the fall color, have long passed.


Beyond harvesting the bounty of a fall harvest that you’ve protected from the cold weather, pruning back weak limbs on deciduous trees, or cutting back overgrown growth on an evergreen so that a large snowfall doesn’t wreak havoc, you now have more time to appreciate and study the beauty of the winter landscape.

“Nature has undoubtedly mastered the art of winter gardening and even the most experienced gardener can learn from the unrestrained beauty around them.” ~Vincent A. Simeone

It’s an opportunity to see what your own garden looks like practically naked… when all but the foundation is slumbering.


When you take a ‘walk about’ in your garden, you may be surprised at the majesty of the Metasequoia glyptostroboides that you planted at the back of a large deciduous border that has, until this moment, been largely forgotten, just a backdrop for your larger perennials. You halt, awed by its elegance and symmetry, realizing that you’re seeing it only now ‘up close and personal’.

Or how about that self-seeded Heuchera ‘Palace Purple’ that is nestled up in the corner of your steps-that when otherwise grouped in a vignette with more showy perennials goes unnoticed? When you nestle down and touch the upper and lower sides of its coiled deep purple leaves, you feel a deep sense of kinship and respect for this stalwart and hardy specimen.


Now is an ideal time to analyze what about the ‘bones’ of your garden makes sense and what doesn’t. If you find this subject a bit confusing, read up on ‘how to create strong bones for your garden’. Or bring in a few designers and let them tell you how you might improve the layout of your garden.

I prefer winter and Fall, when you feel the bone structure of the landscape — the loneliness of it, the dead feeling of winter. Something waits beneath it, the whole story doesn’t show. ~Andrew Wyeth

I tend to be a stickler when it comes to using pathways, evergreens, pergolas, and deciduous trees and large shrubs in an effective and well thought out manner.


Unlike other elements of the garden, where I normally would suggest that you improvise and have fun experimenting, when you’re dealing with costly elements like stone pathways, a flagstone eating area, a row of evergreens for privacy, or a large pergola, you best take your time and really figure out how to create a design and layout that is not only visually pleasing but that suits your specific needs as well.

“The color of springtime is in the flowers, the color of winter is in the imagination.” ~Ward Elliot Hour

In the silence of winter, it’s the perfect time to let your imagination run wild and dream about what your deepest desires are for your garden come this spring.


Let your mind roam and travel to destinations that you never knew existed. Peruse through magazines, look at luscious photos in books, and watch inspiring gardening videos: Over the holidays, treat yourself to watching some of your favorite movies with majestic gardens as backdrops. Then sit back and dream.

Wishing you a magical, replenishing, and fun-filled holiday.

With love, xo



P.S. You only have a few more weeks to take advantage of my FREE Digging Deep  Book and Course Giveaway before this one time only opportunity ends. To get a send a copy of Digging Deep and get immediate access to my 3 part course on “How to Transform and Ordinary Life into an Extraordinary Life”, click  here.



Pathways In My Backyard

– Posted in: Garden Design
eruphorbia and eremerus

Pathways In A Garden

This article was originally published in November of 2007. I thought it worth posting again as we get closer to fall and gardeners are beginning to contemplate making changes in their garden. I hope you enjoy!

Thanks to Nan’s November Design Workshop on pathways, I am compelled to get this final post up before the end of November. Earlier in the month, I did a post on the redesign of my front garden pathway: this one will focus on a significant pathway that was created in the backyard of my garden, which literally transformed the way that I was able to garden.

Upon moving into my new home, I realized that my backyard consisted of a very steep hill with about 8 feet between the back door and where the hill sat. The only good news about the property was that a mature maple tree was perched on the hill with another one situated on the rear right side edge of the lot (where the land was flat). Mind you, we paid a premium of a few thousand dollars to even get a property that had some trees on it (can you believe it?). It quickly became apparent that retaining walls were desperately needed: otherwise our house would be hit with a mud slide if there was torrential rainstorm. [continue reading…]