Steve and I recently took a trip down to Palm Springs, California to check out the area that has recently been named the “Most Stylish City in America”. While much of this is attributed to the amazing modern and mid century designed homes in this area, the gardens deserve a nod too. Why? Glad you asked! Well, first, because we can all learn a little from desert gardening, especially with the ongoing drought and changing weather in many parts of our country. But also from a straight forward design standpoint as well, and there are a few that any gardener can copy no matter where you live. Here goes…  “Kathy and Steve’s Adventure in Palm Springs”! (And it wasn’t just drinking margaritas while perched on a pool float!)



First off, thanks to my hubby for taking all these great pics! And always making sure I had a water bottle in my hand. ;) Actually, it was unseasonably cool in Palm Springs for the time of year, barely hit 90! Most of these photos in this post were taken at an amazing garden nursery in Palm Desert, just up the road from Palm Springs. Moller’s Garden is the perfect place to check out everything related to cacti, succulents and tropicals. Yes, they grow plants in their gardens all year that we can only grow as houseplants! And it is huge. We were in plant paradise. Until it hit 90 ish and we ran out of nursery rows. Then a cool thing happened. I’ll keep it a secret for now, but check out the last pic in this post to find out.

Our Trip to a Desert Nursery


Palm Springs gardens have one thing in common… they know how to use drama. They use focal point plants to lead the eye around the garden, then make them important. How do they do it in PS? They don’t have streetlights on the residential streets there, and they really don’t need them. Gardeners there make sure lighting their focal treasures are a mainstay of their garden design, and it’s is amazing! Make it important! They use larger plants, or mass plant one type. We kept seeing bright spots of color right in the center of a garden full of texture.

PS gardeners also know how to use detail. Cacti and succulents are gorgeous plants, especially up close. They are made for close up detail. Steve has always loved them. When we met, I assured him we would never be planting them in our yard. Was not going to happen. They made me think of old, dusty, unkempt yards I would see in Cali where I grew up. Suburban houses in nice neighborhoods had green grass and foundation plantings. Ok, so reality check. Palm Springs changes all that! Perspective is everything people. Good design and a love of the minimal is evident there, and because of that, barrel cactus and Palos Verde trees will forever more be linked in my mind with high end homes, restaurants and resorts.

Ok, let’s get on to some of these desert gardening pics! My fav is the barrel cactus, above. I love the form and pattern of these plants. Small and compact, but they are amazingly glamorous. The photographer in me can’t get enough.

This was a row of Agave and Yucca… Now we can grow Yucca here in Eastern Washington, but not the Agave. I could not believe how many different varieties there were!

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Ok, back to the detail… all the different colors, some with smooth edges and some with spines, long pointed leaves, or wider, smooth ones.

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This is a Mediterranean Fan Palm, and I only know this because Steve knows. I am not a note taker. I was having too much fun!

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Sago Palm. This one I know. This is my fav palm that we saw. Shorter but regal, and as you can see, an amazing tropical look when grouped. You can use tropical plants in desert gardening as well. Some of them, like these Sagos, require some afternoon shade or protection from hot desert wind.

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Giant Bird of Paradise. These bloom with a white blossom, shaped like a tropical bird. They grow huge down south! Literally, taller than a house…

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Ok, this is where we started getting into more familiar territory for me. Flowers! This, of course, is the amazing ‘Bougainvillea’, which to me, is the hallmark of Southern Cali. desert gardening. It is technically a vine, but we saw it in PS sheared into shrubs both large and small as well. The thing I did not know is that they come in several color combos, not just bright fuchsia. This one has a coral secondary petal. I could see myself covering a home in this if we lived there.

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So, we can grow Trumpet Vine just about anywhere, but it thrives with the sun and heat of this desert place. And the hummingbirds love it!

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I think this Cacti should be called “Bunny Ears”… Anyone with me?

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I love the color, texture, and form of these desert plants!

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This is actually one cactus plant with many stems… So. Freaking. Cool.

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Many Mediterranean herbs grow well in a hot desert place, and this one is Santolina. It’s grown as an annual most places in the country, but can be sheared into a neat hedge here.

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Plumeria. Hawaii, anyone? Totally tropical feeling from this fragrant tree/shrub… We saw this all over in Palm Springs.

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Ok, this is Vinca. I grew it often as an annual in Northern Cali in my younger years. Here, it’s a tropical ice cream cone for us flower loving gardeners. You could just eat it it looks so lush.

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This is a shot of just what I was talking about. Focal plants, and they light them at night. Simple, but makes it feel like a vacation every day. Make it important!

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Ok, so our fun little story. Hummingbirds are everywhere in PS. We had little bird friends visit us at our rental house, the pool, while shopping downtown. But these two gave us an amazing show. Just as we were getting ready to call it a day at Moller’s, and looking for a little shade cover, these two hummingbirds started flying around our heads, and landed just a few feet away on this wire. They seem to have very little fear of people in the desert. As we watched, the one on the right started feeding the one on the left from it’s beak. I’ve never seen that before with a hummingbird, you can usually never get close enough to them to see such a behavior! My educated guess is that the hummingbird on the left is a teenager that should probably be getting his own cookies and milk by now. But my romantic guess is going with kissing hummingbirds. I like that better. You? Steve did a great job with snapping a pic before they moved off, with the limited camera lenses we had with us. So glad we went seeking shade. :)

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So yes, I still dream about my Seattle garden full of lushness and green and evergreen trees, complete with it’s own stream and waterfall. But I have a perspective that I can carry with me now that opens up my mind to much more. If you are a true garden lover, isn’t that what we do? We just love gardens. And we find a way to make them happen. Not only have they made it happen in Palm Springs, but they took a barren desert landscape, called it an oasis, and made it the most “Stylish City in America’. Huh. Attitude makes mountains move. Yep, I just made that up. Go ahead, you can tweet it. :)

Hopefully you enjoyed our little nursery tour of desert gardening ideas! We think you will also love our post on 10 No Fail Perennials for Low Water Gardens and 10 Gardens to Visit Before You Die!



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  1. Steph Bauman September 27, 2018 at 2:15 pm

    Enjoyed your post on desert gardening and loved the picture of the hummingbirds!
    One small correction: the “one cactus plant with many stems” is not a cactus; it’s a euphorbia commonly known as “Moroccan mound”. Euphorbias include such plants as pencil cactus, firesticks, gopher plant, crown of thorns, and poinsettia.

    1. Kathy Woodard February 12, 2019 at 4:29 pm

      Thank you Steph! We are native to the Pac NW, but we are building a house in Palm Springs, so I need to get this DOWN! Thank you for the correction!


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