Desert Design

Summer monsoon rains help cool the desert during July.

When I tell people I’m headed for the desert Southwest in July, people look at me like I have a screw loose.  Let me mention that I am not headed for Phoenix.

The desert is hot in summer, and particularly hot and dry in June.  However, in July, the monsoon season arrives bringing with it clouds, cooler temperatures, and afternoon rain.  My travel companion and friend, Charles Mann (the noted garden writer and photographer) is shown here in White Pocket with a rain storm behind him.   This is the desert in July.  Scattered thunderstorms.  

Desert design is definitely xeric.   However, when plants are installed in summer in New Mexico or Arizona, they are likely to get some natural rainfall.   For us to mimic the xeric landscape here in Spokane, we must water/irrigate.   God plants seedlings and gets them to live on “natural” water, but He is willing to plant 2000 or more to get a single survivor.  When you purchase plants at a nursery, you want better odds. So water.   If you really want to get a handle on the role of rain and water in the desert, read Craig Child’s Secret Knowledge of Water.  That’s a very entertaining book and full of information.

This photo of White Pocket emphasizes contour lines in the landscape. This is a key design element, regardless of climate.

Desert design is often simplified, pure.   For example, this photo of White Pocket shows the effective use of contour lines in the landscape to define areas and add interest.   The same way that contours help this landscape appearance, well shaped beds with good edging or edging plants can provide definition for the home garden.

Repetition is also a principle that works equally well in desert design and in the home garden.   Here, the repetition of the ponds makes this landscape photo more interesting.   In the home garden, we repeat features, plants and containers in that same way.  

Repetition is important in garden design, whether it is repetition of plant material or these temporary pools after a rain.

Many of the plants used in the gardens of the desert are identical to ones we sell and use here.  Annuals in particular look familiar.   This container with Papyrus and Sweet Potato Vine is identical to ones that are put together here at the nursery.  We use these same plants seen in the town square of Santa Fe.  The combination of Centranthus ruber with Euphorbia is familiar, too.  And shown is a planter with ‘Bubblegum Pink’ petunia with Verbena bonariensis…both are Tower favorites.

Petunia ‘Bubblegum Pink’ and Verbena bonariensis…popular in both the Northwest and
Southwest.

Papyrus and sweet potato on the plaza in Santa Fe. Just like we use here in Spokane.

Finally, to address that loose screw, let me mention that when I photographed sunrise at the north rim of the Grand Canyon it was 47 degrees, and at 2 in the afternoon at a wildflower festival at Cedar Breaks National Monument (elev. 10,500′) it was 64 degrees.   If you know the desert, you know where to go when you visit, summer or winter.  At Cedar Breaks we find the Colorado state flower in a white form:   Aquilegia caerulea.

The state flower of Colorado, aquilegia caerulea, in a white form found at Cedar Breaks National Monument.

Big and Bold Plants

Dogwood trees are not large, so what is one doing as the lead off in an article on big and bold plants?  Cornus kousa 'Venus' has enormous flowers, and that's how it makes the cut.  Compared to other dogwoods, 'Venus' has flowers about … [Continue reading]

Selecting Annuals

Selecting annuals is my favorite job of spring.  Choosing the flowers that will decorate my containers and beds for the summer is great fun.   Luckily, we grow a lot of containers, so I get a chance to grow many annuals every … [Continue reading]

Early Season Color in the Garden

Early season color in the garden is something all gardeners strive to achieve.  Particularly here in Spokane, where the long, cold, wet springs tend to bring gray days more often than most parts of the country.  (in the 40's and cloudy here … [Continue reading]

March Madness

In Spokane, we are usually rooting for the Zags come March.   I did my internship and post doctoral work at Duke, and so they are another team I could root for in a pinch.  There is also March Madness every year at Tower Perennial … [Continue reading]

The Desert Museum

  The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, commonly the Desert Museum, is a gem in Tucson, AZ.  It is a  top flight family activity with the incorporation of a minor zoo's worth of desert animals along with the plant exhibits of the … [Continue reading]

Tohono Chul

Tohono Chul is a botanical garden located in Tucscon, AZ.  Although not as famous as the Desert Museum or the Saguaro National Park, it is a fine garden and well worth a visit.  The design elements are worth noting.  They have … [Continue reading]

Garden Design for Four Seasons

Garden design for four seasons is crucial in a northern climate.  Winter is long.  If you don't plan ahead for its arrival, then it will be dull indeed. I get to watch people shop at my nursery.  The really great gardeners are easy to pick out.  … [Continue reading]

Mendocino Botanical Garden

I love botanical gardens (Missouri, Denver, Santa Fe, etc.) and I've found another one:  Mendocino Botanical Garden.  I also love Mendocino.  The combination is well worth the price of admission.   Free to the town, $8.00 to … [Continue reading]

Bristlecone Pine

The Bristlecone Pine (Pinus aristata) is the oldest tree on earth.  The oldest tree is located in the Methusala Grove within the larger Schulman Grove at the Bristlecone Pine Forest in California.   The oldest tree is not specifically … [Continue reading]