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The Quest for “Lush”, “Green”, and “Colorful” Landscapes in Arid Regions

I get these requests all the time, and actually part of me is going for the same thing in my own space, but with a different set of parameters in mind.  Lush, green, and colorful can all be achieved in the arid West, but they come with some asterisks.  I mean this in the nicest way possible, but if you’re looking for tropical foliage, dark green grass, and ever-present blooms, I hear Hawaii is real nice.  How about we all go soak up the rainforest for a couple weeks, take note of the vastly different ecological conditions, then come back with renewed appreciation for our lovely deserts and western landscapes!  You pay, I’ll blog about it.

 

Now, I also want to get something else straight.  I keep hearing about the California drought on the radio, and the conversations invariably boil down to residents either having grass (old model) or cactus (new model) as landscape plants.  This is off the mark as far as an understanding of dry climates goes, and I’m going to take two minutes to expand on that today, but more in relation to southern Arizona (though plenty applies to CA as well…along with most of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah…you get the idea).  Yee haw!

 

lush desert

 Lush: We can do lush.  In fact, the Sonoran desert in particular has some very lush areas, including those in and around Tucson.  If you were to take a walk in Greasewood park, on the west side of Tucson, you would see bountiful vegetation.  The mix includes saguaro, foothills palo verde, triangle leaf bursage, jojoba, hopbush, prickly pear, ocotillo, mesquite, acacia, creosote, and dozens (hundreds?) of other plants packed together.  It is far from the iconic wind-swept dunes of the Sahara.  And it’s a variety of plants that is infinitely more interesting than whatever you can import from other climates that may or may not survive long-term.  The key to achieving this type of lush look in your outdoor space is to reintroduce complexity, by which I mean nooks and crannies, a small bit of topography, passages for water to flow through, and a mix of rocks of all sizes.  I’ll hit on that in another post because it’s a biggie.  But trust me, we can do lush.

 

behr-colorsmart-20

 Green:  Being the plant nerd I am, I took my Behr paint color book outside and checked out the actual hues of green in my yard (p.s., I don’t work for Behr, I swear, but they make some great paint.  You don’t even need to get the paint + primer they offer, just go for the normal flat finish and you’re in business.  Low odor, zero VOC, the whole nine.  Plus, you can get a color sample book for free!  Behr, call me, I will work for you).  Our plants tend to be olive green, gray green, and other shades that are better at deflecting some of the sun’s potent rays.  You might get some of the traditional grass-green color in small bits, or on plants that thrive during the monsoon and then fade back into brown.  So we all just have to adjust our expectations of what we mean by “green” and come to appreciate “Mother Nature” (actual Behr color that matches many of my shrubs).

 

prickly pear color

Colorful:  We’re never going to have the same brand of color as you see in botanical gardens across the Pacific Northwest, Midwest, South…I guess actually most of the rest of the United States.  The scenario we have in the West is much more subtle, with pops of ridiculous color here and there as plants gain the energy to put on a show.  You will definitely see hot pinks, rich yellows, saucy oranges, and every other shade you can think of, but they will come and go as seasons and patterns permit.  You have to soak it up here and there – orange globe mallow this month, yellow palo verde blooms next month, white Saguaro flowers in May and June – the colors are fabulous and somewhat fleeting.  So yes, we can do color.  Not the azalea and dahlia kind, but a palette that is strictly ours that reminds us of the seasons and the sun.

 

That’s all for today, folks.  Riveting, I know.  Tune back in tomorrow for some craigslist high jinks!

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