What is a Desert Garden?

Mary McMahon

A desert garden is a garden which is designed to cope with the unique conditions of the desert environment while showcasing a variety of plant species. Although many people think of deserts as dry, barren places, there are a number of different types of desert environments in the world, and an assortment of plants, trees, flowers, and succulents can be found growing in the world's deserts. Desert gardens can be strikingly beautiful when they are well-landscaped, and for desert dwellers, there are a number of advantages to cultivating a desert garden.

A desert garden is a garden which is designed to cope with high temperature and low moisture.
A desert garden is a garden which is designed to cope with high temperature and low moisture.

One of the more obvious reasons to grow a desert garden when one lives in the desert is that the garden will be easy to manage. Taking care of plants which are not adapted to the desert can require a lot of water, time, and other resources, and these plants may generally fail to thrive in the conditions of the desert. Using native plant species also helps a garden blend in with the surrounding landscape, a feature which some people find appealing.

Desert gardens often include easily manageable plants like cacti.
Desert gardens often include easily manageable plants like cacti.

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A well-designed desert garden can help to make a home more efficient. For example, tall cacti and desert shrubs can be planted near the home to provide shade, reducing cooling bills. These same plants will insulate the plants from the intense cold of desert nights, requiring less energy to heat the home. Desert plants also help to scrub the air around a home, keeping the air fresh and pleasant, and their respiration processes can also increase humidity, an advantage in extremely dry desert climates.

Desert plants tend to have a number of features which help them cope with heat, relentless sunlight, and minimal access to water. These features include things like large, fleshy leaves, extensive root systems, night flowering habits, and the ability to move as the sun travels the sky, rotating leaves to reduce their exposure to light. In a desert garden, people can grow things like cacti, succulents, and desert wildflowers, along with desert trees and grasses. Garden stores in desert regions usually have a range of desert plants for gardeners to choose from.

A desert garden may include a rolling landscape, which may be interspersed with rock and other features. Larger shrubs and nurse trees can be used to trap water for their smaller and more fragile counterparts, while groundcovers can be used to secure sand and poor soil, reducing soil loss to storms, erosion, and other processes. Some desert gardens also include garden features like artwork, carefully constructed pathways, benches, and so forth to make them especially pleasant to visit.

People who are struggling to design a desert garden might want to consider visiting a botanic garden in a desert region for inspiration. The Huntington Gardens in San Marino, California has one of the oldest and most extensive desert gardens in the world, along with examples of other types of gardening and landscaping.

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