Beautiful Borders

Red fountain grass society garlic roses
A narrow flower border of white roses, red fountain grass, society garlic, flax and star jasmine is sophisticated and, except for the roses, water-wise.


Beautiful Borders in Hot Climates

Yes–you can create beautiful flower borders like the ones we all see in magazines — even though you live in a desert or desert-like climate like Nevada or Arizona or many regions of California. You can have flowers to admire in the garden for months on end or cut for fresh bouquets in your home. And it is easier than you might imagine. Simply select drought-tolerant plants that are suitable for our climate extremes, such as the ones we have listed and shown below.

Now here are two secrets to creating those lush-looking borders you see in magazines: 1) group 2 or 3 of the same plants close together. When they grow they will give the appearance of one large plant. And 2) plant your flowers fairly densely. If you plant them far apart it may take several years before the border fills in and looks good. You can always transplant if your border gets too crowded. Densely planted borders keep down weeds and help maintain moisture, too, which is particularly important in a desert garden.

A Lavender and Yellow Border

Try some of these as a basis of a drought-tolerant, xeriscape border that has predominantly gray-green foliage with purple, blue, lavender and yellow blossoms. These plants need some water, of course, but many are considered to be at the heart of a low water-usage garden. The taller ones go in the back of the border; medium height in the middle; then the short ones at the front edge.

Coreopsis flowers

Coreopsis (Coreopsis grandiflora) – expect golden yellow blooms for months if you pick off the old flower heads. These daisy-like flowers stand 1 to 2 feet tall and grow easily from seed. Coreopsis self-seeds, so all you have to do is plant it once and it will grow again and again — sometimes in places you did not expect.

Lambs earsLamb’s Ear (Stachys byzantina) – a low grower that is good for edging borders and it grows fast and spreads quickly. Soft, fuzzy gray leaves are what they are usually planted for. Small purple flowers bloom from thick erect stems. This Lamb’s Ear in bloom shares a border with varigated turf lily (Liriope muscari) and a sunflower (Helianthus)

Powis castle artemesia


Artemisia (Artemesia ‘Powis Castle’) – artemesias are native to the American west, and many are known by the generic common name of sagebrush. The “Powis Castle” variety was developed for use in areas that get regular watering and can grow to 6 feet wide or more. The ‘Silver Mound’ variety does not do well in a desert climate.

santolina and petuniasLavender cotton (Santolina incana) – not related to lavender at all, this low growing gray or green lacy-leafed plant has a burst of yellow button-like flowers in early summer. Should be trimmed back after blooming and even then it is a short-lived perennial and quite drought-tolerant.  The  purple petunias won’t last long in heat even if you soak the flower bed with water.

Salvia leucantha sageMexican Bush Sage (Salvia leucantha) – another drought-tolerant gray-green plant with soft fuzzy leaves topped by spires of intensely purple blossoms. Long blooming. It grows to 2 or 3 feet tall and flowers both in Spring and Fall/Winter. Hummingbirds love these blooms and will feast on them from dawn to dusk.

Yarrow (Achillea) – a hardy native plant with very fine gray-green leaves. The flat flower heads stand 3 feet tall on slender steams. Yellow and white are the traditional colors, but new varieties come in pinks, purples, even a coppery red variety.

Russian sageRussian Sage (Perovskia atriiplicifolia) – soft gray leaves with small lavender blue flowers that give the appearance of a blue cloud above the plant. Grows to 3 or 4 feet tall and is ideal for the back of a perennial border


gold lantanaLantana’s yellow blooms stay in flower into early Winter. Lantana also comes in purples, pinks, and brilliant orange flowers. A new Lantana hybrid has variegated leaves with chartreuse green edges. Very drought-tolerant.

Lavender (Lavendula) – a lovely favorite in Mediterranean gardens. Sweetly fragrant purple flowers. Will reseed itself and hummingbirds love it.

White iris Arlington Garden Pasadena Bearded iris (Iridacae) – select from dozens of yellow, purple or white iris. After the short bloom period in the spring, the leaves of bearded iris provide a nice vertical element. A vigorous grower in our climate with relatively little water needed, so give it some room to grow or you may find yourself dividing the clumps annually. Adding white flowers to an otherwise all purple and yellow border makes the other colors ‘pop’.

Verbena (Verbena – various hybrids) – this low growing plant makes a pretty edge along a xeriscape border.  Both annual and perennial varieties of Verbena are readily available in many colors, including purple and lavender.

Then, for variety, tuck in clusters of annuals like zinnias or marigolds in sunny orange, gold and yellow. Include dark green herbs such as rosemary or scented geraniums for fragrance and leaf color contrast. Or shrubs such as white roses or tall yellow hollyhocks for an old-fashioned look.

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