I love using color in the garden, which is why I welcomed the opportunity to review the book, ‘The Colorful Dry Garden‘ and host a giveaway.

In my work as a horticulturist and landscape consultant, I find that people often have the mistaken impression that desert landscapes are destined to be brown and barren, but nothing could be farther from the truth. There are many plants that offer vibrant color to outdoor spaces while thriving in an arid climate.

Horticulturist, Maureen Gilmer, makes her home in the Palm Springs area, in the midst of the California desert, and she has put offered her expertise in creating colorful dry gardens in her latest book.

Her book is broken up into two different parts, with the first taking you through the steps of how to convert your landscape into one that saves water. Whether you want to do a total renovation or do it in phases, the book provides you with helpful guidance.

Part two has a comprehensive list of plants that add welcome color to the arid landscape. However, unlike many plant lists, the author groups plants into groups that focus on their role in the garden such as structure (shrubs), canopy (trees), accent plants, and those that add beautiful texture.

I have reviewed a large number of books that deal with gardening in a dry climate and ‘The Colorful Dry Garden’ approaches it a bit differently by focusing on color, design, plant function, as well as real steps on how to transition your landscape to one filled with water-saving, colorful plants.  

I enjoyed reading through the book and feel that it deserves a spot in your garden library. 

**The folks at Sasquatch Books are giving away a free copy of ‘The Colorful Dry Garden’ for readers of my blog. To enter, leave a comment telling me what your favorite colorful plant is. I will announce the winner on March 22nd.

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Noelle Johnson, aka, 'AZ Plant Lady' is a horticulturist, certified arborist, and landscape consultant who helps people learn how to create, grow, and maintain beautiful desert gardens that thrive in a hot, dry climate. She does this through her consulting services, her online class Desert Gardening 101, and her monthly membership club, Through the Garden Gate. As she likes to tell desert-dwellers, "Gardening in the desert isn't hard, but it is different."

46 replies
  1. Carla Magee
    Carla Magee says:

    My favorite colorful flower is the Bogan via. I love how it lines the highways and you can grow it at home. You can really shape it or make it grow anyway you want to

  2. Nina
    Nina says:

    Bougainvillea but I’d love to learn more about other colorful plants that will work here in Scottsdale!

  3. Gina Zingaro
    Gina Zingaro says:

    I love the desert globe mallow. I love the contrast of the apricot orange blooms against the light green leaves of this shrub. I also like how it gives off volunteers in your yard.

  4. Thalia S.
    Thalia S. says:

    The desert daisy (Chrysactinia mexicana) is a beautiful and cheery dry plant that providesa warm, welcoming color. I’ve even seen them pruned as a patio tree! Definitely a favorite.

  5. Debbie
    Debbie says:

    I enjoy the annual vinca, it can grow as high as three feet and often resends itself….and is drought tolerant once it is established….great plant that costs around $4 for a 6 pack.

  6. Kathryn Lansden
    Kathryn Lansden says:

    I have a rubber tree plant in a large container that I can see out my window. New leaves are red until they unroll themselves. I used red tomato sticks to keep the limbs upright. The color combination makes me very happy.

  7. Lynn W
    Lynn W says:

    So hard to choose just one!! Angelita Daisies are pretty special :). Happy yellow flowers and low water use makes them a winner!

  8. kh
    kh says:

    Nasturtiums! They are beautiful, wild & have a delicate fragrance. Unfortunately where I live I only grow them indoors but I value every bloom.

  9. Lucy Rasmussen
    Lucy Rasmussen says:

    My favorite….Eriogonum grande rubescens! Long lasting red color and hates water. Beautiful anywhere. Runner-up is Eriogonum umbellatum polyanthum ‘Shasta Sulfur’ Sunshine sunshine sunshine!!!!

  10. Bella Romain
    Bella Romain says:

    My favorite colorful plant is Mexican Firesticks. It is drought tolerant, thrives in most sunny areas, and really adds stunning color where other plants might not survive.

  11. June Veloce
    June Veloce says:

    Hmmm- a toss up between Bougainvillea and Lantana! Oh wait – Cesalpina Pulcherrima beats them both!

  12. Lori J.
    Lori J. says:

    My new fave is the Emu bush, which I read about in your blog and realized that I have a large one in the backyard of my new, yet-to-be-moved-into home – I had no idea what that unusual plant was! This book sounds perfect for what I’m up to in this new chapter of my life: I’m downsizing my the house but am gaining a lush, resort-like backyard with the water usage and bills that go along with it.
    I want to transition to desert-adapted, but still lush in their own way and (the main joy) COLORFUL yards!

  13. Christine M
    Christine M says:

    Lately I am loving tecoma sparky both for its fun colors as well as its willingness to thrive in a desert environment.

    But my favorite big “plant” is a blooming Texas Mountain Laurel. Stops me in my tracks every single time!

  14. Carol LaPorte
    Carol LaPorte says:

    There are so many! I really love all the Agastaches–they attract hummingbirds, too. This book looks really interesting–thanks for the opportunity to win a copy.

  15. Theresa Gredig
    Theresa Gredig says:

    I think the variety of color and texture you can have in the desert is truely outstanding. But I can name two that are at the top of my reliable list; Red fairy duster and Mexican honeysuckle.

  16. Mike Montgomery
    Mike Montgomery says:

    I just discovered the Pink Dracaena Palm, and I love it. It’s a great way to bring in a bright pink color near my pool without attracting bees.

  17. Elizabeth Srutowski
    Elizabeth Srutowski says:

    Love lots of different ones but Chuparosa has to be my favorite for color pop. It is also easy to care for and always looks healthy.

  18. Sharon M.
    Sharon M. says:

    I have got to say that the local Bird of Paradise, the caesalpinia is the plant that gave me hope that desert gardening didn’t have to be “brown and barren”. 🙂

  19. Carol
    Carol says:

    I don’t think there’s anything that can beat the bougainvillea the abundance of flowers and the colors sure make it hard to resist but I’ve also been a lifelong lover of poppies, they’re so delicate looking and the colors are just beautiful.

  20. Larry
    Larry says:

    Many nice plants mentioned, but I will have to go with the Desert Willow as a favorite colorful tree, but the Mastic as my favorite dry garden tree. There are too many favorites within shrubs, vines, groundcovers, and accent plants.


    Okay … my the most favorite colorful plant that I enjoyed once I was in Palm Desert was Caesalpinia pulcherrima – with its intense vibrant colors during the heat of summer 🙂

  22. Julio
    Julio says:

    Attracting birds, bees, and wild life to my garden is may main goal as well as having as many colorful plants. During this time of the year I love my garden so much because the Eschscholzia californica – California poppy add so much color and life to my garden that just by looking at it – brings a smile to my face.

  23. Mica keller
    Mica keller says:

    I love all the shades of the Gopher plant when it’s in bloom. I planted mine last summer so I missed their spring bloom. This year, I’m so happy to see their beautiful bloom!! It’s one of my most favorites in my garden right now. Yet, they are so hardy in the vegas sun. I also love how they perk up in the spring. Such a cheerful spring bloom!

  24. Denise Anderson
    Denise Anderson says:

    Gosh, there are so many colorful, blooming plants I love!
    I would have to say my favorite colorful tree is the Sweet Acacia. The soft, yellow puffballs and the light, sweet fragrance that wafts through the air is something I look forward to each Spring. However, my favorite blooming bush/herb in the desert is Rosemary. I love the delicate leaves and lilac colored blooms that cascade over my wall. Plus, I harvest the plant almost nightly for cooking, and the dog smells wonderful after walking through my rosemary bushes!

  25. Tory Gloriani
    Tory Gloriani says:

    I never had any problem with my blue bell emu. Not even a year old when I planted it,it flowered profusely. I rarely watered it but its presence in my small garden gives me lots of excitement.

  26. Bonnie
    Bonnie says:

    There are so many favorites, but I think I would choose the bougainvillea for its incredible and dependable display of color.

  27. Carrie
    Carrie says:

    I love a lush green plant, but if it has blooms, the purple blooms are my favorite. My garden is filled with lavender!

  28. Marci Shephard
    Marci Shephard says:

    For me, desert gardening can be challenging….especially when builders strip the land. Getting shade takes a few years so most color comes in bits and pieces for the first few years. Yet one plant that I love is Salvia clevelandii or Cleveland Sage. It is fragrant and has interesting flowers. As I gain more shade, in the next few years, I am hoping to fill my desert yard with color and texture. Thank you AZ Plant Lady. And I hope you will keep sharing your plant wisdom.

  29. Louise Smith
    Louise Smith says:

    Roses. I’m English si there is probably some law forcing me to say that, along with the law that means I can only drink hot tea.

    Recently bought a house and recently found your site. Longing to make my smal west valleyl backyard a pretty cottage garden and you are giving me hope. Lots of pretty and colourful desert plants it seems. Just purchased two bower vines today. I read that you think they are a nice choice.

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