Low Desert Light

In the low desert, there’s more atmosphere to hold in moisture and absorb heat than in the high desert, such as my home at 4,100 feet elevation. And in adjacent areas, most know that increasing elevation generally lowers the temperature.

There are other effects on the garden from elevation, too.

Bright, sunny days have more glare with more atmosphere to scatter light and dust. That’s in contrast to days with dense cloud cover and lower or heavier cloud bases than in the high desert, with less light available to scatter. It would be interesting to study and document this more scientifically.

Here it is in a public garden by Ten Eyck Landscape Architects in Scottsdale, the elevation about 1,300 feet.


The yellow blooms on the Parkinsonia trees do a good job of brightening an otherwise gloomy afternoon, including the gray Leucophyllum shrubs and dark gabion walls.

But there’s no mistaking the day’s moody light in that space.


At this park, a talented design team used gray and brown but with skill; they also understand the art of plant massing and pops of color. This showcases water harvesting, uses desert succulents as more than curiosities, and uses boulders well.


The fleshy, bodacious, and blue foliage of Agave spp. really pops with the golden blossoms already fallen or still on the branches, to enliven the grays and cloudy light.


Do you have your own list of plants that take advantage of low or special lighting? If not, I recommend creating such a list, or finding a good one showcasing native species.

For 15 years, I enjoyed the moon garden I designed at least monthly, created in my former courtyard.

2 Replies to “Low Desert Light”

  1. Thank you so much for your wonderful posts on the low desert areas around and in Phoenix AZ! You do such a great job of highlighting plantings and how they should be created!

    You’re welcome! The PHX metro area & Tucson are clearly one of the worlds’ horticultural centers, but this time for arid regions. Posting on it helps me learn faster, in case I end up here…

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  2. I always plant pots on my summer, heavily shaded by the Wisteria with white flowers they really sing in the evening and also during the day. There are also lots of silver leaved plants that sparkle in the bright sunshine

    Seasonal containers to handle hot shade is an excellent idea I might explore on my own home…need to get back to that design work, since I’m now settled in my summer home. I never thought of silver foliage in day, only in moonlight gardens!

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