My Dream Garden Is In The Desert

By Mary Ellen Ellis | December 28, 2021
Image by Brent_1
by Mary Ellen Ellis
December 28, 2021

It may sound strange, coming from a gardener, but I love the desert. Many people assume there is little life and few plants, but most deserts have unique ecosystems, with plants adapted to the climate and conditions. If I could choose anywhere else to garden, it would be in the Sonoran Desert. 

The Arizona Desert

I fell in love with the Sonoran Desert the first time I visited Phoenix. I had never seen anything like it before: towering saguaro cactuses, citrus trees, and yards made of gravel instead of grass. It was hot, dry, and beautiful. 

I have since been back to the area more times than I can count. One of my favorite places to visit is the Desert Botanical Garden, which showcases the many native species in the area. It may be dry, but the Sonoran Desert is not boring or lifeless. It’s full of muted colors, prickly cactuses, green-barked trees, and so much more. 

My Dream Sonoran Garden

The climate and ecosystem of Arizona could hardly be more different from my native Michigan, but it speaks to me. If I could garden anywhere else, it would be here. I would avoid any trace of lawn and grass and fill in my yard with beautiful native plants: 

  • Saguaro. This is the king of the Sonoran Desert, the only place this giant cactus grows. It can grow up to 60 feet (18 m.) tall and live for 200 years. I would anchor my garden with a few of these “trees.”
  • Palo verde. Another tree I must have in my desert garden is the palo verde. The blue palo verde is native and has truly unique green bark. It’s not a large tree, which is perfect for creating just enough shade over a desert patio. 
  • Cholla. Another cactus from the area comes in a few varieties and is much smaller than a saguaro. I would fill in lower spaces with the fuzzy teddy-bear and bushier buck-horn cholla that produces stunning, dark red or yellow flowers. 
  • Ocotillo. Another striking Sonoran plant is the ocotillo. It’s a large shrub that sprouts tall branches that look like canes. The red, tube-shaped flowers bloom in spring and early summer. 
  • Flowers. The trees and cactuses would form the foundation of my native desert garden, but it needs flowers too. These include desert marigold, orange milkweed, desert thorn-apple, foldwing, western yarrow, and tansy aster

The colors, shapes, and textures of the Sonoran landscape is drastically different from my Michigan garden. It’s fun to dream about how I could create a nearly opposite outdoor space with some of my favorite gardens in one of my favorite places.

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