5 Garden Styles That Work in the Tucson Desert | Home & Garden

What is your favorite garden style? Some like more formal gardens while others prefer a more natural look. If you are in the process of designing your garden, you should consider which styles work particularly well in our climate.

cottage garden: I’ve always thought of this style as a quintessential English garden style, but it turns out you can achieve the same look here with our native plants – particularly perennial flowering plants. The key is an informal, slightly messy look with lots of different plants and flowers of different shapes, colors and textures. The bonus is that this type of garden is also friendly to wildlife – the biodiversity and general clutter make it a wonderful habitat for insects, birds and other small animals.






Mediterranean gardens are characterized by geometric shapes, straight, formal lines and water features. You can use drought tolerant native plants like olive trees, citrus, oleander, fig, cypress and pomegranate in your design.


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Mediterranean Garden: These are characterized not only by classic Mediterranean plants (such as cypresses, Mediterranean fan palms, olives, citrus fruits and the like), but also by a geometric and formal design. They almost always include a fountain or other formal water feature, as well as straight paths and paved or tiled courtyards. The plants can do well in our climate, but I encourage you to avoid formal hedges that require regular clipping. Plants that tolerate shearing in our climate are hard to find, and native shrubs that are sheared do not long survive the treatment.

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Tropical Garden: You don’t need a bunch of water eating plants to have a tropical style garden here. You can choose almost native palms like the California fan palm and Mexican fan palm, both of which are fairly drought tolerant. You can plant some lush green small trees like the pineapple guava or the Mexican bird of paradise. There are native hibiscus plants that are also relatively drought tolerant. If you choose your plants wisely, you can have a lush, beautiful garden without large water bills.






Contemporary design uses repetition of color, shape or texture. Here, the monolithic wall and repetition of cacti add visual interest to a narrow, tall area of ​​the garden.


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Contemporary Garden: These gardens tend to be very minimalist, with form and repetition being the main features. For this reason, many native plants (especially cacti) are good choices for this style. You can select sculptural hardscape features and combine them with a small number of plant species with geometric shapes (such as spherical barrel cacti, pillar cacti, or agave and yucca). Combine this with a minimalist gravel mulch and you’re good to go—and have a low water bill, too.






Native plants like ocotillo and agave offer different plant shapes and textures that add visual interest to a garden.


Dean Knuth, Arizona Daily Star


Native/Natural Garden: This garden style is also great for wildlife as it is made up of native plants and provides a natural habitat. When designing natural gardens, people generally choose to replicate a specific ecosystem in their environment. For example, you can create a garden that mimics a Sonoran Desert riparian habitat, with palo verde and mesquite trees upstairs and shade-loving native plants below—and maybe add a natural-looking water feature. Or you can plant a dry, desert-native cactus garden with Indian figs, saguaro cacti, and ocotillo as your tall plants, with cholla, prickly pear, creosote shrubs for the medium-sized plants, and other smaller cacti in the undergrowth.

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Do you have gardening topics you want the Tucson Garden Guide to cover? Email me at dheusinkveld@tucson.com with your suggestions and questions. Thank you for reading!

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