Clean Desert Plantings

Borrego and the Art of Hot Landscapes? I’m not sure.

Back to the art institute / former-grocery store-reuse, in the serene desert town of Borrego Springs. This time, more of a look at their landscape design, recently implemented. Photos from 1/14/2014 –

a mass of Agave parryi ‘Estrella’ (arid z 8a, at least) welcomed me, in the morning light…a distant mass of golden barrels


The palm in this landscape is California Fan Palm or Desert Fan Palm / Washingtonia filifera, native in the canyons just west of here, and for some distance north and south near water seeps (or wet-winter runoff flows).

A surprise: neither this nor any other palm is native to the LA basin, San Francisco Bay Area, or San Diego. Their legendary palms were all planted.

many locally-native plants, including Justicia californica between the fan palm and another agave…
Totem Pole Cactus (?) alternates with softening, late-winter blooming Aloe spp.

That’s a refreshing change from the often-too-minimalist xeric gardens in some southwestern mid-century-modern gardens. Do others try too hard to be minimalists? The difference in forms and textures here helps.

Justicia californica / Chuparosa (arid z 9b), blooms play against shadow and light on a boulder…

With our sere atmosphere, there’s little like light and shadow in the desert.

Chuparosa = Spanish for hummingbird, and hummers do frequent this species!

looking back to Christmas Circle, through a mix of native plants, dormant ocotillo soon to don it’s radiant red tips…here in the low desert…

In high desert areas, those red blooms pop two or more months later.

Lady Slipper Plant / Pedilanthus macrocarpus (arid z 10a, damage at 30F)
rows of protected Pachypodium lamerei mimic the distant row of Washingtonia filifera…facing Borrego Palm Canyon, by the way

This man’s take on Borrego is as enjoyable and humorous as his others in the Golden State – here.

their Hispanic Month meant local art inside – the favorite bird in all the southwest? – but as a horticultural post, it’s back outside…
Madagascar Palm / Pachypodium lamerei (z 10a, damage <32F) starting to bloom…do bats pollinate this one?

Probably best in warm spots near the rarely-frosted So Cal beaches. Much is written on this one in lower coastal Florida. Time to drive home…10+ hours.
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Some final things to consider –
A number of the plants in this post are low desert plants – arid, some light frosts most winters, and a hard freeze every few years – below 28F. Often never below 15-20F – ever. Borrego, much of Phoenix, Laughlin, Palm Springs, Yuma, etc.

Not me, or Las Vegas, or Albuquerque, or…

So, some of this post’s plants may not take to the crazy zone-pushing (to warmer climes) that I’ve watched in recent years in some locales.

But zone-pushing isn’t bad in moderation, with some thought. I’ve seen more than a few intersting, xeric plants naysayed for a given locale – especially from a place 5F or a touch warmer – become pleasant surprises, then staples, taking all extremes.

So, how do I handle using a new plant in a design for a paying client?

I go online to quickly learn documented temperature and rainfall where I’m working – averages and ranges of extremes – and the soil type. Easy. Then, I compare to where I’ve seen something I like growing. I filter out and ignore uninformed biases, though that’s not so easy. Then, I go for it!

This might help, from my links page near the top of my blog – here

Some readers have had a run of 10+ years of unusually mild winters, but just got hammered with a harder winter – actually closer to averages than those recent ones. Yet, still not close to infrequent but record lows near 0F.

What can you do when you see extremes that exceed the plant’s documented ones?

1) One can favor perception, then ignore facts and wonder about any failure.

2) One can verify information and have good fun with confidence. Then, if a plant is small enough at maturity (i.e., not a tree or plant too large and heavy to affordably haul off), and there are few such plants, precautions can be taken within reasonable extremes (a 20F difference from your garden to a plant’s documented extremes = not reasonable). Placing in containers that can be brought inside, or covering, during extremes, are an alternate to enjoying that plant somewhere else.
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I’ll get back to more posts of my own work, as well as other trips where I took too many photos. But there’s so much inspiration out there!

One Reply to “Clean Desert Plantings”

  1. That row of totem pole cacti alternating with blooming aloes quite catches my fancy. Those cacti look like they are melting, which in our current August heat here in Austin, would be quite appropriate visually.

    I appreciate your thoughts about zone pushing. Many of us in CenTex got lazy with our string of mild(er) winters and paid a price for that this past year. Lesson learned (for the moment). I’m hoping the milder/wetter forecast for this year holds true because and I’ll have a chance to infill with natives that took it all in stride.

    Same here – it was a nice way to stay clean, but give more interest and color. Melting – I can see that in both instances! Zone-pushing – I look at enough weather records and talk with enough old-timers who know their stuff, I’ve heard it all. You may be right on the winter…


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