Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Southwestern Deserts
January, 2010
Regional Report

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Vividly colored winecups (Callirhoe involucrata) will draw attention in a wildflower garden.

Low Desert Flower Gardens

One of my New Year's resolutions is to reorganize my bookshelves, which are stacked pell mell with gardening and plant books. This is turning out to be a slow process because I tend to sit down and peruse every other book with a cup of tea. But it's also fun because I reread inspirational favorites, such as The Arizona Low Desert Flower Garden (Gibbs Smith, 2007, $21.95).

Author Kirti Mathura, Curator of Shrubs at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, is one of the most knowledgeable plant people I know. Her book's subtitle is A Seasonal Guide to Bloom, Height, Color, and Texture, and she has organized those characteristics to help you design attractive plantings. The book is spiral bound with pages precut into sections so you can mix and match potential combinations, displaying three alternatives together. Plant descriptions are divided into three height groups: those that average up to 1 foot tall, 1 to 3 feet tall, and those growing 3 to 6 feet tall. Within each height category, plants are divided into one of three seasons of peak interest (warm, cool, year-round). It's a helpful way to fill your garden with flowers year around, rather than have the typical overload of spring blooms, followed by long colorless stretches. Each plant description includes icons for birds, butterflies, caterpillars, or hummingbirds.

To whet your appetite, I've listed some lesser-known native perennials with unusual characteristics that are described in the book.

Callirhoe involucrata (winecups, purple poppy-mallow). Winecups is the perfect common name for this low-growing wildflower with cup-shaped, wine-red flowers.

Justicia sonorae (Sonoran-honeysuckle, Sonoran water-willow). Bright rosy-purple flowers bloom from early winter into early summer and attract hummingbirds.

Lobelia laxiflora (loose-flowered lobelia, Mexican lobelia). Butterflies and hummingbirds visit these tubular flowers that are orange-red with yellow "tongues."

Phyla nodiflora (frogfruit, matchweed, mat-grass). Growing 4 to 6 inches tall, this evergreen forms a groundcover that tolerates light foot traffic, an unusual trait for low desert plants. It attracts butterflies and their larvae.

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