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California Gardenscapes


Desert Garden

Landscape Typology: Low and high desert ecosystem

Natural Places in San Diego: Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

Description: Agaves were the main plantings in a small inconspicuous area with a sign labeled “Desert Garden” before the redesign. A small stone wall and orange pea gravel dubiously alluded to a desert landscape. The area was doubled in size by removing sage and sagebrush and relocating ¾-inch gravel from the foothill area. Boulders were used to create a gradual terraced slope. Perennials such as desert mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua), desert lavender (Hyptis emoryi) and apricot mallow (Abutilon palmeri) were planted to contrast and balance the spiky specimen agaves and cacti with soft foliaged perennials. The area was seeded with colorful desert annuals, including Mojave prickly poppy (Argemone corymbosa), desert marigold (Baileya multiradiata) and desert dandelion (Malacothrix glabrata).

Helpful Tips:
A composition of different-sized rocks and decomposed granite is helpful in creating a perceived desert landscape. Darker boulders conduct and reradiate heat while lighter stones reflect light and create an albedo effect, conditions typical of the desert floor. In contrast to other native ecologies which like water during the cool season, desert plants benefit from infrequent year-round watering, with warm weather misting during the summer to mimic the humidity of afternoon thunderstorms. A bounty of uniquely adapted plants grow in this community, so it is easy to create striking contrasts between such specimens as Ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens), desert agave (Agave desertii), brittlebrush (Encelia farinosa), and sand verbena (Abronia villosa).

Wildflower Meadow

Banner Photo:Mojave prickly poppy | Rachel Cobb