Posts

*This blog post contains affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase, I may receive a commission (at no additional cost to you). Thanks for your support in this way.

Have you ever made a discovery that was literally under your nose?  

I did.

Earlier this month, I embarked on a tour of low-water gardens that displayed sustainable design throughout the greater Phoenix area.  

The earlier parts of our tour showed examples of water harvesting using cisterns along with man-made arroyos.  Then we viewed a creative example of sustainable design for a beautiful parking lot that needed no supplemental water and little to no maintenance.


I mentioned last week that I had saved the best for last and I can’t wait to share with you this jewel in the midst of a desert city.

The last stop on our tour of low-water and sustainable gardens was the Scottsdale Xeriscape Demonstration Garden.
 
The garden is just over 5 acres and sits hidden from the street next to Chaparral Park in central Scottsdale.

Over 200 different types of plants are used throughout the garden, all of which are drought-tolerant and well-adapted to our hot, dry climate.
 
My friend and fellow blogger, Pam Penick, came with me to this beautiful garden (you can see her at the top of the terraced planters).
 
One of my favorite parts of the garden included this innovative design, called the ‘Terraced Cascade’ which creates the appearance of water traveling down between terraced planters filled with Palo Blanco trees (Acacia willardiana) and Desert Marigold (Baileya multiradiata).  
 
 
 Water does flow down discretely hidden steps between the terraces during times of heavy rainfall toward the water harvest basin where it waters existing plants before flowing underground toward the nearby lake.
 
 
Raised planters were filled with flowering Ocotillo  as well as Birdcage Evening Primrose (Oenothera deltoides).
 
Birdcage Evening Primrose (Oenothera deltoides) in the foreground and Mexican Evening Primrose (Oenothera berlanderi) growing against the Ocotillo.
I must admit that I was surprised to find this garden in an area that I used to spend a lot of time in.
 
Years ago, before the garden existed, my husband and I would take evening walks around the nearby lake with our daughter.  Believe it or not, before there was a garden, there used to be a miniature golf course in this location. 
 
 
I love stone walls and would have some in my own garden, if I could afford them.  The stone walls were capped with flagstone and had rows of round stones, which added an unexpected touch of texture.  
 
 
From our vantage point, we could see to the other side of the garden where a tall, dead tree stood.  Trees like this are called a ‘snag’, which is a dead or dying tree.  This tree provides a home for hawks, which help keep the rabbit population down. 
 
Baja Fairy Duster (Calliandra californica) and Desert Marigold (Baileya multiradiata)
Gabion walls were used along pathways to created terraces to help slow down storm water in order to reduce flooding while watering the plants.
 
The demonstration garden is located next to a water treatment plant and part of the garden sits on top of a reservoir that contains 5.5 million gallons of treated water.
 
Deer Grass in the foreground.
 
One of the things that I enjoy about demonstration gardens is that they ‘demonstrate’ different gardening methods as well as showcasing plants.
 
In this case, I was impressed with the collection of plant species used, which aren’t typically seen in residential or commercial landscapes, which is a shame.
 
 
As we walked down the main path, we came upon a man-made, mesquite ‘bosque’.  The word ‘bosque’ is used to refer to stands of trees nearby rivers or washes throughout the southwestern United States.  Usually, you’ll find these bosques made up of mesquite trees.
 
This bosque was planted with Honey Mesquite trees (Prosopis glandulosa), which is simply stunning in spring when it’s bright-green leaves reappear.  A warning though – it has thorns.
 
Palo Brea (Parkinsonia praecox) trees and gabion walls line the main walkway.
 
Plants are maintained just the way I like them – no shearing or over-pruning.  
Gold Mound Lantana, Orange Bush Lantana and Pink & White Globe Mallow.
 
The main pathway parallels the local dog park.
 
 
There is little that can compare to the beauty of the  new spring leaves of mesquite trees.  I love how the coral-colored variety of Bougainvillea and the yellow flowers of Aloe Vera look like brightly-colored jewels along with the leaves of the mesquite.
 
 
Nearing the end of the trail, I couldn’t help but marvel at this beautiful garden and its creative design.
 
Throughout the garden were educational signs talking about a myriad of gardening subjects that were clearly illustrated by the garden itself including planning and design, plant care and desert habitat.
 
 
A large cistern was located on one end of the trail, which was filled with the average amount of water that a household uses in 1 week.  
 
Around the outer border of the cistern is an American Indian saying that says:
 
“THE FROG DOES NOT DRINK UP THE POND IN WHICH HE LIVES”
 
Those are words that all of us who live in the dry, southwest should all ponder…
 
*******************
 
The Scottsdale Xeriscape Demonstration Garden is located at Hayden and McDonald Roads in Scottsdale.  It is open from sunrise to 10:30 at night.
 
I hope you have enjoyed these posts of our tour of sustainable, southwestern landscapes in the greater Phoenix area.
 
Pam and I drove about 170 miles in one day and we weren’t able to see all of the great examples of sustainable landscaping.  However, if you are interested in seeing examples of sustainable gardening, then I would recommend starting at the Desert Botanical Garden, which is filled with arid-adapted plants that thrive in our climate with minimal water and fuss.
 
If you haven’t visited Pam’s blog, Digging, I encourage you to do so.  Many of the plants that she grows in Austin do well in our climate too.  Did I also mention that she is an author?  She has a fabulous book called Lawn Gone!: Low-Maintenance, Sustainable, Attractive Alternatives for Your Yard, which I highly recommend.

What do you think of when someone mentions ‘sustainable landscaping’ to you?  


Do visions of stark landscapes with a few dried out plants and cactus come to mind?  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Sustainable landscapes are beautiful, low-maintenance and drought-tolerant.

Scottsdale Xeriscape Demonstration Garden
Last week, I spent an entire day visiting some great sites throughout the greater Phoenix area, which have some great examples of sustainable landscaping.  

Now if you are thinking that I did this all by myself, you would be wrong.  My friend and fellow southwest-blogger, Pam Penick, came up for a visit from Austin, Texas to see how we do sustainable landscaping here in Phoenix.

Our first stop was a visit to Arizona State University’s Polytechnic Campus in the East Valley.  

A row of Palo Blanco (Acacia willardiana) trees stand along the side of an arroyo that catches rain water.

The campus is located on a former Air Force Base and it was decided that the lackluster appearance of the location needed a huge facelift.

The new academic complex consists of several buildings connected by separate courtyards – each with great examples of sustainable landscaping.

Chinese Pistache (Pistacia chinensis) trees, Jojoba (Simmondsia chinensis) shrubs and potted Aloe vera (Aloe barbadensis)

Each courtyard had inviting, shady areas along with sunny spots so that whatever the season, students were drawn to enjoy the outdoors.

All the plants were arid-adapted and relatively low-maintenance.


Concrete cisterns collected sporadic rainfall and the overflow is directed toward a swale that collected excess storm water.  Plants along the swale benefit from the extra water.

Most of the area within the courtyards was covered in stabilized, decomposed granite (DG) that allows rainwater to permeate and keeps the ‘heat island’ effect away in the absence of excess concrete.

Gabion wall with Lady’s Slipper (Pedilanthus macrocarpus)

Gabion walls are filled with river rock that had been saved from the previous site and were used throughout the complex to create low walls.  One of my favorite succulents, lady’s slipper, looks great when planted against walls like this one.

Aloe Vera planted in rows underneath Palo Blanco trees.

I must admit that I have not been a huge fan of aloe vera plants.  But, after seeing how effectively they were used throughout the courtyards, I have changed my mind.

They are so striking when used in masses like this.  Of course, I realize that this is their best season and soon they will be done flowering, but even when out of flower, the striking texture of the leaves would still look great in this area.

Aloe Vera

Here is another photo of the aloe vera – I’m really loving this plant now.

Anna’s Hummingbird and Aloe Vera flower.

The hummingbirds were very busy feeding from the flowers of the aloe.

The concrete that was removed during construction was repurposed into step stones, benches and retaining walls.

Called ‘urbanite’, this recycled material is becoming increasingly popular and is one great choice for hardscapes.

If you are renovating your landscape and concrete removal is part of that – think about reusing it in the landscape.  Want to use ‘urbanite’ and don’t have any broken concrete?  You can sometimes find it available on Craigslist.


Palo verde trees were in full bloom and used to great effect with the straight, modern lines of the building.


One of the reasons that I love palo verde trees so much (I have three in my own garden), is that they have great branch architecture – meaning that they shape of the branches and how they grow is beautiful.


During heavy rainfall, excess water runs from the cistern down the swale, watering the plants alongside it.

River rock removed during construction was saved and reused for the cisterns and the swales.


The outside of the buildings were covered with grape ivy, which help to keep the building cooler as it helps shield the building from the sun’s rays.


The walkway the ran alongside the buildings was planted with Sonoran desert natives such as Palo Verde and Creosote.


Along the walkways, arroyos were created to help channel storm water in this area that was previously covered in concrete and would flood frequently.


Mesquite trees were salvaged for use in this area and smaller shrubs and cacti were planted along the arroyo.

There are many different elements of this landscape that contribute to its sustainability – the use of recycled plants and materials, areas formerly flooded now direct storm water toward cisterns and plants, reduced concrete areas decrease the heat island effect, and finally arid-adapted plants decrease the need for supplemental water.

*I attended school at the main campus of ASU in Tempe.  Since then, my major (Urban Horticulture) has been moved to the Polytechnic Campus.  How I wish that I had had the opportunity to study at this beautiful campus!

This landscape was designed by Ten Eyck Architects who won an ASLA award for the sustainable design of the landscape.  To learn more about this well-designed landscape, click here.

Pam and I had a wonderful visit and this was just the first stop on our tour!

Next time, I will show you the next spots along our journey including some innovative landscapes that need no supplemental water, while still looking beautiful.