While in Phoenix for other matters, I first took time out to visit their world-class Desert Botanical Garden. I was in search for design inspiration and some relaxation.

Contrast is something I appreciate, being a flowers-optional designer in a 2 dormant seasons climate. Somewhat like the low desert in Phoenix, except as you’ll see they have no true winter unlike Las Cruces’ 2 month “hit and run” winter.


The tans and browns of walls and permeable decomposed granite walkway, sure. But without the bold forms and dominant use of blue-green accent plants, this would look weaker. The yellow line of (overused) Echinocactus grusonii doesn’t hurt, here.



Same as earlier shot, except angular agaves with a semi-circular seat wall make this pop. So does something I learned at my first job in ‘8*: provide a reveal on a wall to create more shadow and dimension.



I enjoyed this on my cool, cloudy Monday as much as on a warm April day my first visit here in 2012. Yellow with tans and blue-greens, bold with the wall edge and crunchy walking.


The water feature in the middle was more captivating when warmer. Since I want a blue wall or two, a yellow wall might also be needed nearby. This is not a massed planting, but a highly naturalistic one, typical of many xeriscape designs in the Sonoran Desert.



Same direction and module, yet different materials…concrete and steel.



This is the closest thing I saw at DBG that fits in with the whole Marfa minimalism schtick. Oddly, this gridded massing contrasts 2 Chihuahuan Desert species…undervalued Agave lechuguilla and alienesque Euphorbia antisyphilitica.



This is a great, sculptural arc of dark with bright, and wet with dry. The dark beach pebbles are a good texture.

While out of my price range for now, something about it could be abstracted with my area’s own hardy desert plants behind it to work. Cholla anyone?


You bet, since chollas are a symbol of my region, yet highly underused or used poorly. I specified them occasionally including using a few different species of cholla at my old house. A colleague even admired my former trio of the silver-form Cylindropuntia echinocarpa in pots, saying, “of course you would use chollas!”


What seals the deal on the Desert Botanical Garden, other than various designers’ inputs, is the sense-of-place created.

There’s no denying their garden is in the Desert Southwest, right down to the specific location. There’s no compromise by using contradictory imagery, either.

4 Replies to “Contrasts”

  1. Gorgeous pictures, and I loved reading your commentary on why these work so well. I remember being captivated by that same yellow wall and arced fountain, but not being able to explain why…

    Thanks, and I just might post on the yellow wall with fountain on a future post! It really all works so well together there, even done over many years.

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  2. I live in Phoenix suburbs and I visit the DBG all the time! I love your critique of the work done there in the last few years! Very interesting!

    I bet you do, and if I lived nearby I’d have a membership there. Someone else there told me there has been much new work there since my last / first visit in ’12, in fact every year there’s new work. Glad you enjoyed, and more posts are coming up on this.

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  3. I loved this when I saw it a few years ago; you’ve helped me understand why, thank you.

    Great! And if you ever travel to the southwestern US, these gardens alone are worth a few days in Phoenix.

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  4. Wow, well done! Great photos and commentary helped me see things I would have missed. The wet fountain and dry bench are stunning. I love the subtle colors and restrained use of color. Very inspiring!

    I have more to share from there, thanks! I should post on my favorite water features there, though I’ll need to find a 2012 photo for one. That low wall is so simple but effective. I think the only time it’s not restrained is when their progression of blooms begins in the next few weeks, with Ironwood signaling the end of spring and start of summer.

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