I’ve wanted to do something like this for a long time. Since I bought the house, really. One of the first things I did was to weed out a patch of Mahonia repens along a south wall to turn into a dry land bed mulched with gravel. (I learned quickly that it wasn’t wise to mulch an area with gravel underneath a tree canopy.) But even then, I was only sold on the blowzy, cottage garden look for dry land gardens. Interest in cacti and other succulents has come more slowly, but I’ve turned a corner. At the moment we have representation from Agave, Echinocereus, Opuntia, Cylindropuntia, Pediocactus, Echinocereus, Maihuena, and Yucca. I’m on the fence on Dasylirion texanum; I may need more room for that one. In addition to these I’m adding softer structures of Salvia dorrii, Zauschneria, Stipa barbata (supposed to be hardy), and David Salmon’s “Blonde Ambition” Bouteloua. A Chrysothamnus nauseous (technically Ericameria) hedge is going in and I’m growing Hesperaloe parviflora from seed. They will need a place somewhere. Delosperma ‘Fire Spinner’ is in there, along with a whole flat’s worth of Penstemon sepalulus, endemic to scree in the mountain canyons. There will be some seasonal color added by the various “rockery” irises (reticulatas, histrioides, danfordiae), as well as species tulips, crocus, and some skyscraper Eremurus at the back. In the meantime, I’ve scattered several packets worth of Eschalozia and Phacelia campanularia to color the barren rock field for this summer.
I write this as much of a reassurance to myself as to my neighbors. Weaning one’s self off the visions of east coast green is one thing, but rototilling 4 cubic yards of squeegee into your sandy loam and then covering it with 9 tons of rock and boulders takes cajones. Especially when you’re the first in your neighborhood to do it.
I’ve got to say, this project has revealed people’s stripes. The woman who lives across the street thinks this is as exciting as I do and has the best view of it. She has a very interesting past and is liberally minded, so her enthusiasm isn’t surprising. All the same, I was glad to have her support when an older neighbor passed on her walk and asked what I was doing. Super-excited neighbor exclaimed “She’s putting in a desert garden! Isn’t it great?” Older neighbor: “Better her than me.” Later, as we were talking with some friends of ours with kids around the block, one of them asked what I was up to. I explained it away as a “xeriscape” to simplify things. I said that I was excited, but also nervous, to which he responded, “Yes, especially as it alienates a lot of people.”
Well, I hope by next spring, I’ll have brought those alienated folk back around.