Regional Picks: Plant This With That—Southwest

Fine Gardening - Issue 162

1. Anacacho orchid tree

Name: Bauhinia lunarioides

USDA Hardiness Zones: 8–11

Size: Up to 12 feet tall and 10 feet wide

Conditions: Full sun; dry, well-drained soil

A widely available but underutilized dwarf tree, Anacacho orchid tree announces spring with its delightful flowers, and it matures to a size perfect for a small space. Delicate white blooms and an open canopy provide light shade to other plants at its base. Easily pruned from a large shrub into a tree form, it can provide a living sculpture to the garden as well as intermittent flowering into the monsoon season. Sometimes brittle, Anacacho orchid tree is best grown where it’s sheltered from strong winds.


2. Desert marigold

Name: Baileya multiradiata

Zones: 6–10

Size: 12 to 18 inches tall and 1 foot wide

Conditions: Full sun; well-drained soil

While yellow blooms and gray foliage are common farther West, this short-lived but heavy self-sowing perennial colonizes barren soils where winters are mild enough for the tiny, fuzzy leaf rosettes to survive. Desert marigold quickly produces blooms, which dance in the warm spring wind, and continues blooming into fall (although less prolifically), beckoning every butterfly. It’s mostly used in low-desert gardens, but it can add flower power to almost any dry bed.


3. Big Bend agave

Name: Agave havardiana

Zones: 5–9

Size: 3 to 4 feet tall and wide

Conditions: Full sun to partial shade; well-drained soil

My first introduction to this large cold-hardy agave was when I saw it sending up a tall bloom stalk in late spring at a colleague’s home. I soon noticed, however, that Big Bend agave was in many Albuquerque landscapes—and for good reason. It works in a repetitious mass or as a singular accent among plants, where the size of its blue-green foliage can truly be appreciated. As an added bonus, it readily provides free pups to transplant or give to friends.


4. Chaparral sage

Name: Salvia clevelandii

Zones: 8–11

Size: 3 to 5 feet tall and 5 to 6 feet wide

Conditions: Full sun; well-drained soil

If you’re in the market for a fragrant shrub, this is a great option. It has cool violet blooms with fuzzy gray leaves—allowing it to soften bold desert accent plants, such as ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens, Zone 13) and agave (Agave spp. and cvs., Zones 7–11). Chaparral sage is a Southern California native and quite drought tolerant. To create an impact, mass it under small trees or against walls for an informal hedge.

David Cristiani is a landscape architect and the owner of Quercus, a design firm in El Paso, Texas.

Photos, except where noted:; #2 and #4, Jerry Pavia. Illustration: Elara Tanguy.

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