Southwest Landscape Design
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Landscape Design

Southwest Landscape Design

By Lauren Dunec Hoang/ Houzz contributor

Gardens in the American Southwest are just as diverse as the varied natural desert landscapes of the region. Elevation changes create huge temperature swings. Higher elevations can experience intense daytime heat with cold nights and light snowfall in the winter. Across the board, water is a precious resource. Design elements like adobe-mud walls, courtyards, shade structures and low-water plants including native cactuses, yuccas and mesquites give Southwest gardens their distinctive character. Whether you live in the Southwest or another arid desert region, here are a number of ideas to get the look in your own garden.


For a classic Southwest look, use traditional building materials like gravel pathways and walls made of adobe-mud or dry-stacked stone. Many contemporary landscapes combine traditional elements with more modern materials such as Cor-Ten steel and poured concrete for a striking .


Southwest gardens often turn to the desert landscape for color-palette inspiration. Warm sandstone, sun-bleached wood, gray-greens of native sage and vivid hues of the desert sunset are in keeping with the style of desert gardens. Embrace the wildflower bloom in spring with native penstemon species and hairy desert sunflower (Geraea canescens).

Garden Elements

Accent walls. Free-standing walls or those made to stand out with a vibrant coat of paint can be useful design elements, providing screens or creating backdrops for specimen plants. At this home in Phoenix, the designer painted an exterior wall a rich shade of rusty orange. The color complements the blue-gray agaves and soft green planted in the bed in front of it.

Water features. Environmentally friendly desert gardens recognize water as a life-giving resource that is to be savored and celebrated. While large pools and artificial waterfalls can be attractive features, the water loss through evaporation and the chemicals involved to keep them algae-free make them less sustainable. Smaller water elements, such as recirculating fountains, lose less water through evaporation, and can be beautiful and more ecologically mindful focal points for a Southwest garden.