Last updateSun, 30 Aug 2015 2pm

Potted Desert Garden

Anyone can throw a couple of pots together—but with some planning and a little open-mindedness, you can create a work of art with pot combinations and plantings.

The first thing I suggest you do is go out and get a sense of what’s available. Nurseries, pottery stores, home-furnishing establishments and botanical gardens all should have pots. See what colors and styles strike your fancy, and check prices to see what fits in your budget. Keep the decorating style and colors of your home in mind, especially the rooms that will have the focal points of your pots as you look out to your patio and yard. Remember, when it comes to pots here in the desert, bigger is better—larger than 18 inches, for sure. Actually, you will have much better success if you go for 22 inches and up! The bigger, the better.

In the photo above, you can see a grouping that’s definitely suited more to homes in the mid-century modern style. Of course, primary colors, as shown in the picture to the right, also work well in most mid-century modern homes. Bright and cheerful combinations will stand out in your yard and can bring a smile to your face each time you see them. The yellow pot pictured here holds a young bouquet of flowers, including profusion zinnias and pentas. This pot will need daily water during most of our year in the desert. However, the succulent planting next to it, in the orange 20-inch pot, requires only weekly water during our hottest months, and water every three to four weeks during the winter. The lady slipper (pedilanthus) is a great upright succulent which will flower with orange “lady slippers” that attract hummingbirds. The pot is “dressed” with Mexican river rock, which is used to retain moisture, keep water away from the base stem of the plant, and finish the look of the combination.

A more traditional-style home would be a perfect place for the combination shown in the first photo below, of burgundy and cream pots, with complementary color plants. Look carefully to see how the pot colors move from one to the other, starting with the 24-inch belly pot in Chinese red. This pot provides the foundation of the grouping. The taller cream-colored pot supports the tall burgundy plant (phormium) which will do well in the winter. The third pot ties it all together by uniting the red and cream of the larger pots with a coppery sheen that brings in the burgundy and the cream color.

Finally, the outdoor shower setting shown in the second photo below offers a perfect demonstration of matching colors. We were fortunate to find this trio of pots that united the shades of the shower, the side wall and even the honey-colored door. With the square vase-shaped lines of the pots, the contemporary theme holds true—and the simple low-water plantings will help keep the floor free of water buildup. A Texas mountain laurel tree is in the back pot. This slow-growing tree is perfect for pots, as it will not outgrow the pot for years. The low front pot includes a gopher plant, which in this partially shaded area will bloom in the spring. Succulents, including a health-conscious aloe, round out the plantings without a lot of fuss.

I mentioned open-mindedness at the beginning of this column. I say that, because you never know what pots and plants you will find when you go shopping. You might think you want a specific look, but the pots available might not fit your original vision. With an open mind, you may find something surprising that will totally satisfy you. Just have fun!

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, has just been released. Buy it online at 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

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