Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Southwestern Deserts
May, 2012
Regional Report

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Careful planning resulted in a landscape with relaxing water, seasonal color, and great views, as well as a special plant collection in a raised bed that also provides screening, all in limited space.

Xeriscape Part I: Planning & Design: What Do You Want?

Xeriscape design includes a set of seven principles to guide you in the creation and long-term maintenance of a colorful earth-friendly landscape that suits your unique needs. First step: planning & design.

Regardless of your gardening knowledge or self-critical notions about your creative abilities, this step isn't difficult. Two elements are involved and you can do them in either order: make a list of everything you want from your landscape, and draw a basic plan of your space. I've included a variety of questions below to jumpstart your brainstorming process. My next report will cover how to examine your surroundings and the elements to include on your space plan.

I like to start by making a list of everything each family member would enjoy experiencing in the landscape. It's a fun way to get everyone involved and doesn't require any labor. Just gather around and toss out ideas. If you consult a landscape architect or design firm, they should be asking you similar questions. Whether you do it yourself or hire it done, you'll get the best landscape for your needs by spending a little time contemplating options.

How do you use your existing outdoor spaces? What works, what doesn't? How would you like to use the space? Do you have small children? Dogs who compete in agility trials? Teenagers and their friends you'd rather have stay outdoors than in? Do you expect kids in the future? Grandkids? What sort of play and entertainment areas do kids, pets, and adults require? Do you want a swimming pool or spa? Have one you don't use and would rather repurpose the space? Does the gang congregate at your house for game days, when a BBQ and outdoor kitchen would see plenty of use? How about a nook for contemplation, meditation, or yoga after the gang leaves? Does the household chef yearn for an herb bed at the back door? Or maybe a chicken coop with hens laying pastel colored eggs?

Would raised beds create gardening options for someone with creaky knees or a bad back? What about a children's garden to promote healthy eating habits? (Kids really do get excited about eating stuff they've grown themselves.) Nature deficit disorder is gaining attention as we immerse ourselves in electronic media. Every desert landscape can easily provide wildlife habitat for native birds, bees, butterflies, and lizards to soothe harried souls while instilling a love of nature in the next generation.

Function is just as important as fun. In the desert, we all want shade, for ourselves to extend our seasons spent outdoors and to improve energy efficiency and reduce utility bills. Do you have a specific need to screen traffic noise or create privacy because your house is so close to your neighbors that you can read their morning paper? Would a dense hedge or trickling water feature mask noise? Does the route across the landscape work to access, for example, compost bins, edible gardens, potting areas, trash receptacles, or storage sheds.

Do you work long hours and get home after dark most of the year? Alternatively, in the summer, maybe you prefer to be outside after the sun goes down. Consider an evening garden with white blossoms, fire pit, or path lighting that adapts better to your lifestyle.

Aesthetically, how will your landscape blend in with your home's architecture, the neighborhood, and its desert surroundings? Do you prefer a relaxed, natural look, a formal, traditional appearance, or something in between?

Finally, who in your household enjoys maintaining gardens and plants? How much time do they want to invest? I assume that if you are reading this, somebody likes to putter in the yard, but keep in mind that even well designed, low-maintenance xeriscapes require some upkeep. If your household can't handle chores, does your budget allow for outside help? In other words, don't place limits on idea generation, but be careful not to go overboard with elements you can't maintain!

Keep your wish list in your garden journal or folder and make modifications as other ideas occur or your needs change. Remember you don't have to install all ideas at once. Prioritize and add elements as time and budget allow.

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