Garden Photo of the Day

Gardening in the Desert

Dry doesn’t mean dull

Today’s photos are from the Sonoran Desert garden of Alan and Melissa Grosso in Fountain Hills, Arizona. Fountain Hills is a very picturesque town, with rolling hills dotted with the iconic Saguaro cacti (Carnegiea gigantea), and is known for its world-famous fountain. Located northeast of Scottsdale, this beautiful town is surrounded by the McDowell Mountain Range, which includes the mesmerizing Red Mountain, or Firerock, and the stunning Four Peaks of the Mazatzal Mountains.

The Sonoran Desert, which has a subtropical climate, is the most complex desert in North America. Compared to the other types of desert regions, it has great diversity in geological structures as well as the number and types of plants and animals. Additionally, it receives rainfall bi-seasonally—during winter and also in late summer. This is one of the reasons why we have such diverse flora and fauna. For the flora, aside from the beautiful and splendid sculptural cacti and succulents that come in so many different forms, sizes, and shapes, we have a variety of flowering plants as well, including shrubs, trees, palms, and vines that love the climate, making it easy to mix and match colors and architecture of the garden and surrounding space.

The pictures below were taken at different seasons of the year. In the Sonoran Desert we have five different seasons: winter, spring, dry summer, wet summer, and fall.

In the backyard, mesquite (Prosopis) and Acacia trees provide the ceiling and walls for the garden as well as a perch for a visiting great horned owl. In their shade grows a Hercules tree aloe (Aloe ‘Hercules’, Zones 9–11).

In the backyard, aloes, agaves, and cacti appreciate the light shade from the intense desert sun.

golden barrel cactusIn the corner side yard, dominant plants include golden barrel cactus (Echinocactus grusonii, Zones 8–10), Mexican fence post cactus (Pachycereus marginatus, Zones 9–11), senita, or whiskers, cactus (Lophocoreus schottii, Zones 9–11), and Agave americana (Zones 8–10).

jacaranda treeBlue flowers of a jacaranda tree (Jacaranda mimosifolia, Zones 10–11).

Totem pole cactusNote the way this totem pole cactus (Pachycereus schottii ‘Monstrosus’, Zones 9–11) looks like it has faces/heads on top of one another.

palo verde treeIn the corner side yard, facing the pool, a palo verde tree (Parkinsonia florida, Zones 8–11) with a beautiful green trunk and spreading branches dominates and gives a little shade.

Arizona bird of paradiseArizona bird of paradise (Caesalpinia pulcherima, Zones 8–11) with masses of fiery flowers.

This photo of the side yard under the palo verde tree shows that a desert garden doesn’t need to be full and vibrant.

Echinopsis cactusBlooming Echinopsis cactus near the pool.

snow in ArizonaWinter in Fountain Hills sometimes includes snow!


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View Comments


  1. User avater
    treasuresmom 06/30/2020

    Oh, my, goodness, it truly is a desert paradise. And that owl!!!!!

  2. sagebird52 06/30/2020

    Beautiful and diverse, great photos of jacaranda and cactus . Mature landscape - great .

  3. alicefleurkens 06/30/2020

    We were in Arizona once and I loved all the different Cacti. However I saw nothing as beautiful as your flowering Jacaranda tree. And your fantastic garden.

  4. User avater
    simplesue 06/30/2020

    This has been such an enlightening post, and so fascinating to see a garden in this part of the USA. It's really a different world compared to the part of the country I've gardened in all my life.
    As I scrolled down through the photos I was totally surprised to see the snow!
    The garden is really beautiful and the plants so exotic.
    Love the Totum Pole Cactus, the Jacaranda and the Palo Verde tree.
    The visiting Great Horned Owl is such a great photo next to the Aloe tree- I thought it was a garden ornament at first!
    I've really enjoyed this post and garden!

  5. Sunshine111 06/30/2020

    Wow! I Feel like I just visited a foreign country! Loved seeing your photos, especially the one of you with your snowman

  6. cheryl_c 06/30/2020

    What a magical, whimsical, delightful garden yard you have created. Your photos show it off to perfection. Thank you for giving us such an imaginative view of how to garden in a desert!

  7. perenniallycrazy 06/30/2020

    Very cool!

  8. btucker9675 06/30/2020

    Stunning! The color of the jacaranda blooms is so intense and beautiful. Thank you so much for sharing this magnificent garden.

  9. DallasPlantLover 06/30/2020

    I am amazed by the diversity of your plants! You really prove that gardening in a desert climate isn't limiting. Many of the GPOD are from cooler, rainy regions of the country, and it's refreshing to see such an amazing garden in the high desert. Thank you for the inspiration!

  10. joe_green_thumb 06/30/2020

    The cactus with the faces is pretty cool. Nice garden.

  11. User avater
    vanhatalosuomi 07/01/2020

    Wonderful photos and interesting plant diversity.
    thank you so much for posting!

  12. kimfarmfoodfamily 07/01/2020

    Blue flowers of a jacaranda tree is gorgeous

  13. hebertju56 07/12/2020

    Love your garden! It is so exotic compared to what I see here up north in Montreal. Please tell me how fast do your totem cacti grow? I have a potted one I put outside in the summer but it doesn't seem to have moved in the 3 years it's been in my care. And how do they tolerate the winter? Do you have to protect them?

    1. busybee4 02/10/2022

      We have to cover them with nets or blankets when the temperature goes down to below 32 degrees F
      It happens may 0 to 5 days a year. My totem pole cactus grows maybe 2 inches a year. It's in the sun all year round.

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