A landscape should be more than some plants plunked down around the yard. As a comparison, think about eating a meal. Choking down an overcooked burger on a dry bun is like a landscape without a design. Wouldn’t you rather savor a rich and flavorful meal? Likewise, your yard should be designed to be a bounty of color, fragrance and delight for all of your senses all year long.
The truly fine “meal” includes a tree as the backbone, shrubs as the side dishes, plus perennials and groundcovers to add color, fragrance and texture — the spices that make the meal interesting and savory. An accent is needed to bring a focal point to the landscape composition. Think of it as the sauce that makes the meal memorable.
Since there are more than 10,000 plants that grow in the Southwest, it can hard for a homeowner to pick the right ones. Over the years I have collected some landscape “recipes” from landscape designer “chefs” around the Southwest.
This meal is a thrifty one! The designers focused on low-water use plants –- most of them natives to our region. These plants (after they have had time to become established in the landscape) will survive with our average rainfall.
These recipes are divided into “cold” for areas that often get below 20 degrees every winter; “midrange” for areas that rarely get below 20 degrees; and “hot” for areas that rarely get below freezing.
Cold Combo 1. Backbone: oak (Quercus species). Framework: chamisa (Chrysothamnus nauseosus), banana yucca (Yucca baccata), squaw bush (Rhus trilobata). Color: tufted evening primrose (Oenothera caespitosa), globe mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua), penstemon (Penstemon). Tied together with: blue grama grass (Bouteloua gracilis).
Cold Combo 2. Backbone: pine tree choice (Pinus species). Framework: Apache plume (Fallugia paradoxa), banana yucca (Yucca baccata), Parry’s agave (Agave parryi), and prickly pear (choice). Color: prairie zinnia (Zinnia grandiflora), gaura (Gaura lindheimeri), chocolate flower (Berlandiera lyrata), penstemon (Penstemon). Tied together with: side oats grama grass (Bouteloua curtipendula).
Cold Combo 3. Backbone: desert willow (Chilopsis liniaris). Framework: flame honeysuckle (Anisacanthus quadrifidis var. wrightii), grass tree (Nolina texana), turpentine bush (Ericameria laricifolia). Color: damianita (Chrysactinia mexicana), verbena (Verbena species). Tied together with: creeping germander (Teucrium chamaedrys prostratum) Accent: narrow leaf agave (Agave angustifolia).
Midrange Combo 1. Desert Museum hybrid palo verde (Parkinsonia ‘Desert Museum’) Framework: Baja fairy duster (Calliandra californica), Santa Rita prickly pear (Opuntia santa-rita), candelilla (Euphorbia antisyphilitica), desert milkweed (Asclepias subulata). Color: desert marigold (Bailyea multiradiata), desert zinnia (Zinnia acerosa). Tied together with: creeping dalea (Dalea greggii). Accent: American agave (Agave americana).
Midrange Combo 2. Backbone: mesquite choice (Prosopis species). Framework: Cimarron ranger (Leucophyllum zygophyllum ‘Cimarron’), damianita (Chrysactinia mexicana). Color: autumn sage (Salvia greggii), golden dalea (Dalea capitata), gopher plant (Euphorbia rigida), red emu bush (Eremophila maculata). Accent: ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens).
Midrange Combo 3. Backbone: desert willow (Chilopsis liniaris). Framework: giant hesperaloe (Hesperaloe funifera), bear grass (Nolina microcarpa), brittlebush (Encelia farinosa). Color: angelita daisy (Hymenoxys aculis), paperflower (Psilostrophe cooperi & P. tagetina), globe mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua). Accent: Mexican fence post cactus (Pachycereus marginatus).
Hot Combo 1. Backbone: palo brea (Cercidium praecox). Framework: chuperosa (Justicia californica), lady slipper plant (Pedilanthus macrocarpus). Color: desert ruellia (Ruellia peninsularis), angelita daisy (Hymenoxys aculis), desert zinnia (Zinnia acerosa). Accent: desert spoon (Dasylirion wheeleri) or giant hesperaloe (Hesperaloe funifera).
Hot Combo 2. Backbone: velvet mesquite (Prosopis velutina). Framework: beargrass (Nolina microcarpa), Mormon tea (Ephedra trifurca), red emu bush (Eremophila maculata ‘Valentine’). Color: golden eye (Viguiera deltoidea), desert zinnia (Zinnia acerosa). Tied together with: yellow dot (Wedelia trilobata). Accent: Mexican grass tree (Dasylirion longissimum).
Hot Combo 3. Backbone: silk floss tree (Chorisia speciosa) Framework: Baja fairy duster (Calliandra californica), little leaf cordia (Cordia boissieri), desert milkweed (Asclepias subulata), black dalea (Dalea fructescens). Color: desert marigold (Bailyea multiradiata), prairie zinnia (Zinnia grandiflora), flattop buckwheat (Eriogonium fasciculatum). Tied together with: creeping dalea (Dalea greggii). Accent: Parry’s agave (Agave parryi).
If you live in Southeastern Arizona, please come to one of my lectures. Look for me at your local Pima County Library branch, Steam Pump Ranch, Tubac Presidio, Tucson Festival of Books and other venues. After each event I will be signing copies of my books, including the latest, “Month-by-Month Garden Guide for Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico” (Cool Springs Press, $26).
© Article copyright by Jacqueline A. Soule. All rights reserved. Republishing an entire blog post or article is prohibited without permission. I receive many requests to reprint my work. My policy is that you may use a short excerpt but you must give proper credit to the author, and must include a link back to the original post on our site. Photos may not be used.
# # # # #