To sum up a Southwestern landscape, the best words are "rustic" and "simple." Gardens of the Southwest include Native American elements and Spanish mission style. Combining bright colors with rough textures and drought resistant plants, a southwestern garden is a functional, low maintenance project that takes advantage of strong sunlight and minimal access to water.
The sun beats hard on a Southwestern garden, which is great for desert plants, but difficult for people spending time in the garden. A prominent feature of the Southwestern garden is a covered patio, offering a natural continuation of a home or office. Patio covers, pergolas and gazebos should be adorned with hooks holding hanging plants and terra cotta potted flowers. Mexican, Santa Fe or Native American rustic artwork can add flair and color. Vine plants, such as grapes, can be grown to cover or weave in and out of the structure.
While it may seem like the use of water in a Southwestern garden is a complete departure from the goal of water conservation, water features such as a small pond or a fountain can create a colorful oasis in your design as well as offer water to birds. Commercially available fountains can be found resembling terra cotta pots or wooden barrels. The inclusion of a Koi pond, while not traditionally Southwestern, is growing in popularity. Well designed, a pond can lose less than 1 inch of water a week in the summer to evaporation, which is far less than a turf grass lawn of the same size would need to remain green.
Rocks and Boulders
The natural landscape of the Southwest is punctuated by rocks ranging from dark umber to bright red, offering a contrast of texture and color. Rocks of all sizes should be used prominently in a Southwestern garden. Crushed stones make attractive walkways, and boulders and river rocks are often used within the gardens as accent features. A popular element is called "chat," which consists of the fine grains of rock recovered from the crushing process. Chat will harden once watered, making it good for a walkway as well as creating a weed-resistant barrier.
Plants of the Southwest
The key to a successful Southwestern garden is the plants themselves. While many think the desert regions of the Southwest are devoid of color and life, the opposite is true. A well-researched Southwestern garden will offer beautiful shades of lavender, reds, pinks and yellows. Xeriscaping is the operative word when designing a Southwestern garden. Referring to landscaping without (or reduced use of) irrigation, a true Southwestern garden should be able to thrive with minimal rainfall and few additional water applications. While drainage is a key element in a xerixscaped garden, the selection of plants is paramount. Some of the better plants to consider are natives suitable for arid climates including cacti, geraniums, coral-bells, violets and azaleas.