Visualizing A Desert Garden: The First Step to Designing A Desert Garden

We’ve all seen movies of caravans crossing a desert and coming upon an island of green – the oasis. If you were forced to live in a desert, that’s probably where you would chose to live.

Why? Because that’s where the water is. That’s where we have the most chance of surviving.

Now, picture yourself in the center of that oasis, standing next to the spring that provides water to it. Look around.

There are plants growing in this oasis which could not grow further away from the water source. Palms, flowering plants, cool green ferns, moss on rocks. There are birds in the trees and bushes. Lizards and insects scurry around. If you dig in the soil beside the spring, you will find other insects, worms and, if you had a microscope, millions of microbes necessary for the life of the soil.

In the pond fed by the spring, you might find frogs, tadpoles, fish, and aquatic insects. You smell the air. It is fresh and cool and somewhat humid.

Alongside the spring, there is a patch of grass, cool and green.

New, let’s make a slight revision in our way of thinking and perception. Instead of being an island of life in a sea of dryness, let’s begin to look at an oasis as the center of the desert, the impetus, however small, for life.

Let’s walk a little away from the spring. The plants are sparser here. There is still green, but the plants seem a little hardier, a little more rugged. The birds and insects are still here, but there are fewer. There are also reptiles and small mammals that live in this arid, but not-yet-desert environment.

You are now in the transition zone, the area that separates the oasis from the desert The soil is poorer here, and the microbes and other organic life in the soil are fewer. Decomposition of dead matter is not as rapid as it would be in the oasis. Plants here have adapted themselves to using less water and nutrients.

Finally, let’s walk out into the desert zone. Are there plants there? Sure. There are four-winged salt bushes, sage, some sparse prairie and desert grasses, perhaps an old desert pine, and a number of other plants.

These three elements, oasis, transition zone and arid plain are the essence of any desert. So, when planning a desert garden, try to shift your thinking by perceiving your garden in this way.