In the Garden:
Southwestern Deserts
January, 2002
Regional Report

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Craggy texture from tree bark adds a striking visual statement to the landscape.

Plants with Texture

Before we know it, spring planting in the low desert will be upon us. There are many different plants available to choose from, but unfortunately we tend to see the same old standbys used over and over. Peruse some plant books or take a stroll through nurseries or botanical gardens to get ideas.

Appeal to the Senses

Our eyes tend to jump to color first, whether it is flowers or foliage, but plants with texture can add an equally stimulating element to the garden. Look for plants with soft leaves (think lamb's ears) that feel soothing to the touch. Notice how peeling bark, or even prickly spines on a cactus that is backlit by sunlight (teddy bear cholla, for example), can provide a textural focal point in the landscape.

Touchy-Feely Plants

One of the favorite "pettable" plants in my landscape is superstition mallow (Abutilon palmeri). It has leaves that feel just like velvet cloth, and I can't resist rubbing one between my fingers every time I walk by. Leaves are grayish, about 1 or 2 inches across and shaped like maple leaves. It is an extremely drought tolerant shrub and will bloom sporadically with small orangish-gold buttercup flowers from spring through fall.

Mexican sage (Salvia leucantha) is another soft-to-the-touch plant that thrives in a desert landscape. It sends up flower stalks that have deep purple fuzzy flowers that can't be ignored.

The Craggy Look

I love the appearance of rough, grooved bark. It creates an air of timelessness in the landscape, as if this tree has been rooted here forever, and will be here long after we humans have moved on. Mesquite trees are excellent desert trees to provide this effect.

Take time to notice all the features of plants, not just the colorful flowers. Look at them in new ways, and you'll be able to spice up your landscape with an unusual sensory experience.


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