High Desert Garden
Creating a high desert garden is a challenging and rewarding gardening experience. On this page we will share some of the ideas we used in creating our red rock garden. Our style is decidedly eclectic with a mixture of native and non-native plants combined into a series of informal gardens.
This garden was created at 5,000 feet at the base of the Vermilion Cliffs on a sloping site where the Pinyon Juniper Belt intersects with sage brush. Soils were very porous, infertile and alkaline.
Here's a shot of the house when we moved in. Native vegetation and unwanted tumbleweeds had established themselves in areas disturbed during construction. One of our first projects, other than pulling tumbleweeds, was to install an in-ground irrigation system. We were fortunate to have a good water supply
Our biggest project was transforming the house entry with a large sweeping walkway and terraced garden beds to the front door. Because we lived near a BLM flagstone rock quarry, we were able to use Moenkopi sandstone flagstones extensively in our design. All rocks were dry stacked, leaving planting areas in cracks and niches. To add color to the space as the native plants became established, we grew annual flowers from seed.
The backyard was barren except for a mound topped by a gnarled Juniper. We kept this mound as a focal point, adding a pond at one edge and flagstone paths encircling it.
We planted a lawn area at one side of the mound using Blue Gramma Grass (Bouteloua gracillis), a tough, short grass that did not need mowing.
We kept as much of the native vegetation as possible as we began to work the garden spaces. These photos show the dramatic effect of irrigation in this harsh climate.
Truls dug the pond into the side of the Juniper mound. We then used thin, lichen encrusted rimrocks to create a trickling waterfall and to edge the pond located near our flagstone patio retreat.
We created a meadow area by seeding the area with a mixture of native grasses and encouraging regrowth of the native shrubs such as Rabbit Bush (Chrysothamnus sp.) and Snakeweed (Xanthocephalum (Gutierrezia) microcephalum) at the perimeter. This area was watered occasionally in summer.
Native plants in the area included native Sunflower (Helianthus sp), Purple Sage (Poliomintha incana), Claret Cup Cactus (Echinocereus triglochidiatus),Navajo Tea (Thelesperma spp), Palmer's Pentemon (Penstemon palmeri), Eaton's Penstemon (Penstemon eatonii), Coral Bells (Heuchera sanguinea), Aquilegia caerulia, Penstemon utahensis, Sego Lilly (Calochortus nuttallii) , Prince's Plume (Stanelyia pinnata), Navajo Prairie Clover (Dalea flavescens), , Gilia (Ipomopsis aggregata), Kodachrome Bladderpod (Lesquerella tumulosa), also Sego Lily, Indian Paintbrush, Pussytoes and Locoweed