Dann Foley: Desert Landscape Can Be Lush, Colorful

Conserves water, cuts your time in maintenance

Here is an example of a textured desert landscape.

Photos Courtesy of Dann Foley


Every great designer knows that style begins not inside the front door, but at the curb. A great landscape is not only beautiful, but adds great value to any home.

I want everyone reading this to know that desert landscape is so much more than a barrel cactus, an ocotillo plant, and a boulder. Desert landscape does not have to be arid or barren; it can be as lush and luxuriously green and colorful as you choose.

It is about more than just water conservation (though that should be enough of a reason). A secondary benefit is that most of the desert plants that I regularly use need very little maintenance., allowing you to trim your landscaping bill along with your water charges.

Here are a few tips when selecting and planting drought resistant and desert species.

• Lantana is colorful and grows very quickly so, do not plant it in small areas or up against walkways. Please do not use it like a hedge! It is beautiful when allowed to spread and grow naturally.

• Layer desert plants the same way you would any others by planting the larger species in back and smaller in front. This will eventually create a beautifully layered look.

• Tropical plants used in abundance in the Valley are not drought resistant. Avoid hibiscus, tropical palms, and flowers that require too much water and much more maintenance.

• I prefer repetition of a few species of plants that are arranged in groups to the mix of plants “dotted” around the yard.

• Always keep in mind that we are so fortunate to live in this climate where you can have color year round. Forgo the annuals and choose plants that bloom at different times of year to ensure a colorful and textured garden and landscape design.

• Not all cactus have thorns. Crown of Thorns (one of my favorites!) is colorful all year and won’t stick you.

I will admit to not being a huge fan of artificial grass. However, today’s choices are better than they have ever been. There are tricks to using this product well.

  • Use it sparingly. It should not cover your yard.
  • Use it as background to your landscape design. Shape it into organic forms on the sides or behind planting beds.
  • Artificial grass still requires maintenance. Rake it and spray it with a hose. The desert is dusty!

Finally, don’t forget the lighting! Lighting is as important outdoors as it is inside your home. It can make or break your design.

  • Start with LED and low voltage fixtures.
  • Up light larger plants and walls.
  • Avoid the “landing light” look with those old fashioned pathway lights. Light your planting beds instead. The spread of light will catch the pathways as well.
  • Avoid those solar lights sold in packs; they just don’t work!

Dann Foley, Allied ASID, has been a Palm Springs interior designer for more than 20 years. Dann was featured earlier this year on NBC's "American Dream Builders". His monthly column will focus on trends, what's hot and design specific to the desert lifestyle. Visit www.danninc.com for more information.

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Desert Guide

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