Have you noticed that landscapes around parking lots and shopping malls look somewhat lackluster? This is often due to a combination of over-pruning, over-planting, and the wrong plant in the wrong place. 

Sadly, this is so commonplace that a beautifully designed and well-maintained landscape stands out, which is where I found myself recently.

My husband and I went to our local outlet mall to buy some clothes for him, and I hadn’t walked more than a couple of steps when I realized that something was wrong – actually right! The parking lot islands weren’t filled with overcrowded shrubs pruned into round balls and cupcake shapes.

Most of the plants were natives and allowed to grow together and in their natural shapeswhich begs the question, who created a rule that plants can’t touch each other?

Shrubs such as Baja fairy duster (Calliandra californica), turpentine bush (Ericameria laricifolia), and chuparosa (Justicia californica), intermingled with ornamental grasses like pink muhly (Muhlenbergia capillaris)

I confess that I wasn’t a very helpful shopping companion for my husband as I kept being distracted by the attractive landscaping and stopping to take pictures.

My favorite area was where a fabulous yellow orchid vine (Callaeum macropterum) was growing up a large wall. 

Due to the large scale of the wall, there were likely at least three vines planted together. Yellow orchid vine deserves to be used more in the landscape, yet is rarely seen. 

I find that it does best in morning sun or filtered shade and regular water. Its yellow flowers are lovely and form a papery seed pod that resembles a butterfly. You can learn more about this vine here. While they aren’t a common vine that you’ll find at the nursery, you can usually find them at botanical garden plant sales or your local nursery may be able to order one for you.

If you live in the greater Phoenix area, and want to see some great examples of desert natives and natural landscaping, visit Phoenix Premium Outlets in Chandler. And who knows? You may even find some great deals at your favorite outlet stores.

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."

5 replies
  1. june veloce
    june veloce says:

    LOVE the Orchid Vine too – Never seen one.
    Most of the plantings around my area range from fairly decent to half-dead.
    I’m always ogling whatever is growing too – always looking to see what’s growing and how it’s taking the heat.
    Thanks for posting all that beauty!

    Reply
  2. Winnie Schiffgen
    Winnie Schiffgen says:

    I bought one at the Desert Botanical garden plant sale for my backyard and it is doing well. Love it!

    Reply
  3. Darcie Naylor
    Darcie Naylor says:

    I wonder if we could find out who did their landscape planning and who does their landscape maintenance? More HOA’s need to employ this dynamic duo whoever they are. It would save homeowners a lot of money in HOA fees that are due to plant/tree replacement and it would preserve perfectly good plants that are just being mistreated. P.S. I love that yellow orchid vine! I saw it a month or so ago and asked you about it. I’m going to find a spot for one in my garden this fall.

    Reply
  4. Lynn W
    Lynn W says:

    I have been known to wander and look at the landscaping there as well. :). Whoever they hired to design and now handle the upkeep is doing great.
    I’ll have to try the orchid vine. So beautiful!

    Reply

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