Arizona desert

Mother Nature’s Rock Garden

Can you imagine a more perfect natural rock garden than the Arizona desert? The southwest is home to some serious rocks from tiny pebbles to mountains and everything in between.

The scenic Arizona desert always inspires

I recently became a member of the North American Rock Garden Society (NARGS), an organization that encourages the study and cultivation of wildflowers that grow well among rocks. NARGS’ focus has made me pay more attention to plants that like rocky soil and drier conditions such as those thriving in the Arizona desert.

Eschscholzia californica ssp. Mexicana (Mexican Gold Poppy) is a beautiful plant that seeds around, taking root among rocks and blooming profusely. Wouldn’t you love to be greeted by its cheery orange blooms each day?

Mexican Gold Poppy – a delight to see.

Another prolific rock garden plant in Arizona is Encelia farinosa (brittlebush). I would describe this plant as a mini-shrub with sage colored leaves and yellow, daisy-like flowers. The contrast in color is very appealing. Brittlebush served as a welcoming committee along our hiking trail, greeting us frequently as we meandered our way through the mountain trails.

Brittlebush with its sunny flowers and blue-gray foliage

Sometimes rock garden plants aren’t as bold as brittlebush. Occasionally, they are shy like this sunflower, just barely peeking out from a rock’s protection to seek attention. That’s one of the things I love about rock garden plants. They cause the garden visitor to pause and take notice. To slow down and to learn how to really see.

A shy desert sunflower shows its face

While I don’t have the ability to grow Arizona plant material in my Pennsylvania garden, I can still enjoy rock garden plants and I don’t even need the baking sun. Two of the rock garden specimens in my landscape do best in part shade. Corydalis lutea readily seeds around in the crevices of my boulders and creates yellow rivers everywhere. Korean rock fern (Polystichum tsus-simense) makes itself at home in my boulders by nestling into larger spaces and slowly expanding.

Corydalis lutea with Japanese Painted Fern


Korean Rock Fern and Anemone

Just about all my clients tell me they want ‘low maintenance’ landscapes. Rock garden plants are a perfect solution for dry, rocky sites in the sun or shade. If you have a challenging situation that demands a rock garden plant, seek out some that match your environment and your growing zone. You won’t be disappointed and you’ll enjoy your landscape without all the fuss of constant watering. Be sure to share your favorites with me. Let’s start a rock garden plant love fest!