Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Southwestern Deserts
July, 2008
Regional Report

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White blooms, such as this coneflower, create a focal point for an evening garden.

Cool Off in an Evening Garden

When desert summer sun blazes overhead, thermometers read 105+ degrees, and humid air seems thick enough to carve and stack like bricks, sitting in the garden becomes more endurance test than relaxing activity. Don't fight it. Instead, start planning an evening garden that features white and silver flowers and foliage. During summer's intense heat, an evening garden becomes a welcome retreat after the sun sets.

White Flowers and Silver Foliage
Bright, intense flower colors like red and blue, although focal points during daylight, will fade away in the dusk. White flowers, on the other hand, appear to shimmer as the day slips away. Silver, gray, or white-variegated foliage or white bark contributes a similar effect.

We are lucky to enjoy unique desert plants that are night-bloomers, waiting for the end of day to unfurl their flowers. Arizona queen of the night cactus is one example. Its striking white blossoms, accompanied by an intensely sweet fragrance, act as beacons to lure pollinators who work the night shift.

For an eye-catching display, group whites together in drifts or odd-numbered clumps. The exception is a solo accent plant, such as yucca with its tall bloom stalk, that will draw the eye wherever it is placed. As days shorten after the fall equinox, the same features can expand the hours spent enjoying the garden. Although there aren't as many white-blooming plants for winter, silver foliage or intriguing white bark will do the trick.

Try some of these desert-adapted plants with white flowers:

Anacacho orchid tree (Bauhinia lunarioides) (choose white flowers; some bloom pink); spring to summer

Arizona rosewood (Vauquelinia californica); early summer
Flattop buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum v. polifolium); spring
Little-leaf cordia (Cordia parvifolia); spring to fall
Texas olive (Cordia boissieri); spring to fall
'White Cloud' Texas sage (Leucophyllum frutescens); blooms sporadically summer to fall
White dwarf ruellia (Ruellia brittoniana 'Blanca'); summer
White plumbago (Plumbago scandens); summer to fall

Blackfoot daisy (Melampodium leucanthum); blooms year-round
Desert zinnia (Zinnia acerosa); spring to fall
Gaura (Gaura lindheimeri) (choose white flowers; some bloom pink); summer to fall
Pineleaf milkweed (Asclepias linaria); spring to fall
Rain lily (Zephyranthes candida); bulb; summer
Sacred datura (Datura meteloides); spring-summer
Spreading fleabane (Erigeron divergens) (annual that self-sows); spring
White coneflower (Echinacea purpurea 'White Swan'); summer. Not a sure-fire performer in low-desert gardens. Prefers a higher, cooler elevation of at least 3,000 feet.

Ground Covers
Bush morning glory (Convolvulus cneorum); silver foliage and white flowers; ground cover; spring
Tufted evening primrose (Oenothera caespitosa); fragrant flowers open at dusk; ground cover; spring to fall

Arabian jasmine (Jasminum sambac); shrub/vine; fragrant; spring to fall
Bougainvillea 'Mary Palmer's Enchantment'; year-round
Lady Bank's rose (Rosa banksiae) (choose white flowers; some are yellow); spring
Star jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides); fragrant; spring

Cacti and Succulents
Argentine giant (Trichocereus candicans); fragrant night bloomer; spring
Arizona queen of the night (Peniocereus greggii); fragrant night bloomer; early summer
Hildmann's cereus (Cereus hildmannianus); night bloomer; spring-summer
Night-blooming hesperaloe (Hesperaloe nocturna); summer
Yucca (Yucca spp.); fragrant; spring-summer

Desert-Adapted Plants With Silver or Grey Foliage or White Bark (some may have colored flowers)
Bahia (B. absinthifolia)
Bluebush (Maireana sedifolia)
Brittlebush (Encelia farinosa)
Desert lavender (Hyptis emoryi)
Desert marigold (Baileya multiradiata)
Dusty miller (Senecio cineraria)
Ghost gum (Eucalyptus papuana); tree; brilliant white trunk
Hoary mint (Poliomintha incana)
Superstition mallow (Abutilon palmeri)
Lavender (Lavendula spp.)
Palo blanco (Acacia willardiana); tree; off-white trunk
Silver leaf cassia (Senna phyllodinea)
Violet silverleaf (Leucophyllum candidum)
Wooly butterfly bush (Buddleia marrubifolia)
Wormwood (Artemisia spp.)

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