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The Desert Botanical Garden

By Kirti Mathura

AFTER THE LONG, HOT SUMMER, it's time to get back into our yards and begin the fall gardening frenzy. This is the perfect time to lay all the groundwork that will make your spring garden dazzle the eye. Fall is the best time to plant desert adapted perennials, shrubs, and trees, except those that are frost tender. Warm soil will encourage new root development that will give plants a head start on establishing before next summer rolls around.

This is also the time to spread wildflower seed for the spring blooming annuals. Seed that is set out now will germinate in the summer-warmed soil; the plants will gradually develop through the winter, and burst into bloom for the spring months. Visit the Desert Botanical Garden's website ( for a complete Good Growing Guide on planting desert wildflowers.

One of the larger, showier spring blooming annuals is the Arroyo Lupine (Lupinus succulentus). This beauty has lush looking dark green foliage topped with spikes of rosy-lavender pea-like flowers. It will grow 2 to 3 feet tall and nearly as wide. Be sure to soak the seeds of lupines overnight before planting. They contain a chemical germination inhibitor that needs to be leached from the seed coat before they can sprout. Most of our native wildflowers don't need organically enriched soil, but this particular lupine would greatly benefit from some compost worked into the planting area.

A nice cheery yellow bloomer that would contrast nicely with the lupine is the Bladderpod (Lesquerella gordonii). This wildflower has a compact mounded form, reaching 8 to 12 inches in height and spreading 1 to 1½ feet in width. The silvery-green foliage is topped with four-petaled yellow flowers. After pollination, ornamental, inflated, round seedpods develop, hence the name Bladderpod.

If you like magenta, try growing Purple Owl's-clover (Castilleja exserta, or Orthocarpus purpurascens). This is a rather slight wildflower that is best planted in patches for impact. It only grows 4 to 6 inches tall with a single stem in dry years, but can reach a foot in height with a branching stem during more favorable winters. The flowers are tiny, with yellow and magenta petals. More noticeable are the bracts, or modified leaves, that enclose the flowers at the stem tips. Since the Owl'sclover needs the help of another plant's roots to get going, mix the seed with that of a grass such as Blue Grama (Bouteloua gracilis) and it will establish more easily.

Fiddleneck (Phacelia tanacetifolia) is a graceful wildflower. Erect stems with fern-like foliage are topped with branched, curving clusters of delicate lavender flowers. The plants can reach a height of 2 to 3 feet and width of 1 to 2 feet. This is certainly a nice background flower for shorter bloomers such as the Bladderpod.

Firewheel (Gaillardia pulchella) is colorful with its burnt red, golden-tipped daisy-like flowers. Blooms sit atop the bushy plants that grow 1 to 2 feet tall, nodding in the breeze.

Not only will these annual wildflowers add brilliance to your spring garden, they will also attract butterflies and hummingbirds. Allow some seed to develop and seed eating birds will visit your colorful paradise as well. So, if you plan (and plant) ahead this season, by springtime you can sit back and enjoy the fruits of your fall gardening labor.

The seeds of many wildflowers are available at the various botanical institutions around the state, which will be hosting their fall plant sale events in October, as well as at local gardening centers. Be sure to visit the Desert Botanical Garden's Plant Sale on the 13th and 14th. The Member's Preview Sale on the 12th offers the best selection of plants and seeds. If you aren't a member, obtain membership at the gate, and enjoy the early shopping on the spot!




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