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Potted Desert Garden

Have you ever looked at a picture of a stunning garden and wished you could have someone create it in your home … right now?

Living in the desert, we do have some limitations regarding what we can achieve, but not so many that we should stop trying to create lovely gardens for ourselves. For both newcomers and experienced desert gardeners, it sometimes pays to begin with a few new pots—and a little success will give you the confidence and motivation to go for more.

One way to achieve an enjoyable container-garden landscape at your home is to think in terms of small spaces. Divide your property into separate areas based on the following:

  • Home entries (front door, front gate, front courtyard)
  • Other doorways, gates and sliding doors
  • Back patio
  • Pool area
  • Shade structures
  • Shady areas (under/around trees)
  • Bordering walls
  • Key viewpoints from inside your home, where you look out
  • Viewpoints from your most-used sitting areas
  • Your favorite sitting area outside
  • The path you use the most in moving from one side of your home to another outside

After looking at this list, I may have your mind spinning: You see so many places where you would love to do something different, and you don’t know where to begin! Well, take a moment and unwind as you finish reading this column. In fact, take the paper outside, and enjoy your coffee or tea as you proceed with these garden ideas.

Patio Makeovers

Go out onto your patio, and sit down in your favorite spot. Don’t have a chair? Find something you can put there on which to rest for a while, and just look around. Give yourself some time to breathe in your surroundings. Think about how the sun moves. Think about what you see as you slowly turn your head. Think about how your patio could include various different sitting areas; imagine areas with different functions. You might want a dining area, a conversation-seating area and a quiet sitting spot just for you.

Some of our homes have long, running patios that span the width of the house. The patio roof serves as a shade for our windows—and that provides us with another area we can utilize for our long outdoor seasons.

I have often heard homeowners express their frustration over this type of patio, referring to it as a bowling alley! Well, you can divide your patio into the areas you were just dreaming about a moment ago—using your furnishings and pots to do so!

Think of drawing imaginary “walls” for each area, and consider placing a pot in each corner of those adjoining walls. Once planted, perhaps with large leafy plants, your mind will understand that this is actually a divider, and will be happy to come into the “room” for whatever purpose you have in mind.

Consider a Bench

A bench is an easy accessory to add to a front entry, a back patio or any sitting area of your property. In fact, adding a bench is a simple solution for many vacant spots around your home. You may have one under a big tree, along an empty wall or at your front door. I always think a bench is a message to your guests that you want them to come to your home and rest a while. It is also a very convenient place for your delivery driver to leave your packages.

However, a bench on its own is … well, just a bench. By adding a couple of striking plantings, at one or both ends, it becomes an inviting vignette—to experience both as a seat and as living art.

Soften a Patio Corner

Patio floors are made up of what we refer to as “hardscape materials”: Concrete, tile and flagstone are all hard materials and typically create a floor with square corners. Well, you can always use pots to soften or break up those rigid shapes and surfaces!

You can place a single yet sizeable pot at the corner or add a grouping of three pots. We use the same odd-numbered design philosophy—the rule of three—when it comes to pots as we do in our interior decorating. You can replace one of the three with an art piece or statue. (I really hate calling those animal statues or gnomes “art”!) You can even use a post that might be part of the corner roof structure as one of the three.

Just be sure you put the pots up on toes, stands or something else to get the drainage hole above the patio floor. If you use saucers, you’ll still need to raise the pot above the plate. You can also use small tiles or pieces of flagstone. The reason for this is to get air circulating under the pot and an additional source of oxygen into the soil. For desert areas where the water is alkaline or salty, raising the pot means it is not sitting in the water and reabsorbing the salts back up into the root zone.

For more on container gardens for your home, be sure to sign up for my free e-newsletter, Potted View at www.potteddesert.com/m.

Your April To-Do List

1. Watch for spring winds, and secure loose garden items. Water your pots well to add weight and protect them from toppling.

2. Monitor irrigation and watering as heat rises and winds dry out plants.

3. Plant summer flowers late in the month.

4. Continue to harvest veggies and herbs in the morning.

Marylee Pangman is the founder and former owner of The Contained Gardener in Tucson, Ariz. She has become known as the desert’s potted garden expert. Marylee’s book, Getting Potted in the Desert, is now available. Buy it online at potteddesert.com. Email her with comments and questions at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . Follow the Potted Desert at facebook.com/potteddesert.

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