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Wed05252016

Last updateSun, 30 Aug 2015 2pm

Potted Desert Garden

Do you hate it when you look through your yard and see a fence or block wall?

A majority of our desert homes are cordoned off by walls. These walls can seem restrictive—but they certainly do not have to be prison-like. Walls are linear—that is, they go on in a line. Even when the wall is curved or turns a corner, it is still linear (just not straight). Unless your design is minimalist in its truest, purest form, this can get rather tedious.

If your walls are boring, be creative while enhancing the view from your home. This can certainly be done with landscaping: Trees, shrubs and even vines can go far in limiting the view of the wall. Structures such as a gazebo, shade sails or even a planting shed can also move the eye away from the wall.

But sometimes, we just don’t want to put more things in the ground—or perhaps we don’t have the ground to put plants in, if there is a solid “floor” of pavers, bricks, flagstone, concrete or tile.

Well … container gardens can come to the rescue!

When your home has a wide backyard with a wall or, as is the case in the two pictures below, a metal fence, you can add potted plants to serve any purpose you want.

If you have a view beyond the barrier, you do not want to block it—instead, you want to lead the eye beyond it. With the large pots as a backdrop to the pool, the viewer is encouraged to look from the front pots, to the pool, on to the back pots, and then off to the distant mountain view. If a guest visiting this home in the “after” picture were asked whether there was a wall or fence around the yard … that guest might not even remember!

Not all of us have wide backyards, of course. Smaller homes often come with diminutive yards, patios or courtyards. In community developments, these spaces are always bounded by walls of some sort. These walls can give you a boxed in feeling—a feeling that does not make you want to spend a lot of time in these outdoor living areas.

Once again, you can use a container garden to soften the setting, as well as create a small living feature that will attract birds—especially when you add a water feature. People often think that they need a water source to have a fountain. However, you only need power and a way to fill the fountain, which is easily accomplished with a hose or bucket. Be sure you don’t let the pump run dry, though.

Notice in the picture above how the shadows of a nearby tree cast interesting effects on the wall. As the tree moves in the desert breezes, these shadows will cool the area and provide a tropical feel.

Also, some of us have “seat walls” that are so long that we’ll never have enough guests to fill them. Many builders use these seat-height walls as dividers to create different “rooms” on a patio. Well, I’ll bet we can come up with even more ways to put them to good use.

Some seat walls are built into an outdoor “room.” I once worked on an al fresco dining area enclosed by full and half walls in a U-shape, with a large barbecue on one side. Between the dining table and chairs as well as the banco, this corner was not missed when the planters were added.

Sometimes all it takes to change up your viewpoints is to look at what you already have. You do not always have to go shopping for new pots and plants. Think about adding some metal art; hanging pots from the wall in shadier areas; or even painting the wall. A little creativity and imagination is all it takes. Just be sure though to make necessary adjustments for the desert. We are not going to put a wax candle on a sconce in the sun … right?

Your May To-Do List

1. Plant summer flowers in pots and beds.

2. Monitor irrigation and watering as heat rises, especially with newly added plants.

3. Place shade cloth over tender vegetables and herbs, like tomatoes and basil, especially in the low desert.

4. Fertilize citrus trees around Mother’s Day. Water in thoroughly.

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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