The desert homeowner can choose from hundreds of low-water use plants and a myriad of hardscape materials for pathways and edging. The challenge is to emulate the natural desert and keep to an overall water-wise design while still incorporating your own sense of style. Some higher water usage plants, and even a small area of grass, can be included while still maintaining an overall desert theme.
Low-Water Usage Flower Garden
One of the easiest ways to make a bland desert yard come alive is through planting a selection of the amazingly colorful groundcovers, shrubs and perennials available to the desert gardener. Many of these require little maintenance and have low water requirements. A desert flower garden would feature the desert marigold, which has soft green foliage and yellow daisy-like flowers with long stems. The superstition mallow has attractive orange-yellow flowers that appear in springtime. A more exotic-looking choice is the yellow bird of paradise, whose flowers are yellow with red feather-like stamens. The fast growing lantana plant's flowers come in colors as varied as orange, gold and lavender.
The saguaro cactus brings a signature statement of majesty and permanence to a desert landscape, growing to heights of 30 feet or more, with broad, curving arms. Their lovely white blossoms are Arizona's state flower. Use their soaring height as the centerpiece of your yard design. Put other low-water usage plants around them in a semicircular pattern. Be careful not to over water these kings of the desert. Their shallow roots extend out in a perimeter equal to the plant's height and the root systems are particularly efficient at gathering in any water available in the soil.
Desert landscape designs often feature plants spaced further apart, and typically fewer plants, than other designs, such as a country garden, would. This feeling of openness is meant to emulate the natural desert. It is important to create focal points within this open design to make it more visually interesting. The natural look doesn't mean randomly spaced. Clusters of boulders are a popular choice for desert landscapers, with groundcovers or shrubs nestled underneath them for contrast. Another focal point is to create zones of 20 feet in diameter and group plants of varying height and color in a more densely packed design.
Raised Vegetable Planters
A small slope or a flat surface can be converted into dramatic terraces of greenery and color by using retaining walls to create raised planting beds. Cement blocks that interlock are often used. These come in shades that blend harmoniously with desert hues. Raised beds also have the advantage of using fresh topsoil rather than the sometimes nutrient-deficient desert soil, which has to be amended with organic material to grow vegetables or flowers. The edges of the raised beds also create a platform for flower pots as accent features. Try planting vegetables and herbs used in Southwestern cuisine, such as tomatoes, sweet or hot peppers, garlic and cilantro. Plant marigolds around the border for additional color and visual interest.