Create a Color Palette in Your Xeric Garden

Who says xeric landscaping has to be boring? Not me, that’s for sure. In fact, one of my goals on this blog is to prevent extreme reactions to drought and educate people so that they make measured changes. In other words, you can still attract pollinators, and people, to your garden while saving water!

One of the ways to attract birds, bees and believers is with a creative color palette from mostly xeric plants. It’s not that hard to do, as long as you remember a few guiding principles of xeric gardening: choose native plants and place them in the right conditions to help keep them healthy.

variety-color-palette
The purple blooms of the blue mist spirea in the background attract bees, and finches land on the cosmos blooms.

I love the drama of several different colors of blooms, and the uncertainty when plants spread or reseed each year, so that areas of the garden have a delicate balance between predictability and surprise. It helps to have plants of different heights and textures or bloom times.

Now, all you have to do is decide whether you want lots of different colors or mostly one color. Then match your wants with what’s available. Here are a few ideas for xeric plants in a number of colors:

Blues and purples: Get some height and plenty of bees with Russian sage or Blue mist spirea (Caryopteris x clandonensis). A penstemon will give purple blooms with less bushy shape. For more height, a butterfly bush (Buddleia) really pops. And for a low grower, try salvia or Veronica speedwell.

Yellow: The choices are endless for yellow xeric flowers. It’s really a matter of placement and bloom or plant size. My favorites are desert zinnia and several varieties of coreopsis. Evening primrose (Oenothera macrocarpa) is a great xeric choice in the desert Southwest that produces large yellow flowers. Chocolate flower is a perfect native wildflower, and the Maximilian sunflower (Helianthus maximiliana) blooms later in the summer season. Creeping gold buttons (Cotula) make a terrific ground cover as a backdrop.

Orange or red: I can’t grow one here, but if you live in zones 9 through 11, and you love orange and red blooms as much as I do, the red bird of paradise (Caesalpinia pulcherrima) is the bush for you! The Hummingbird trumpet flower (Zauschneria arizonica) attracts hummingbirds, and several salvias and penstemons come in red.

red bird of paradise
This is one of my favorite plants, the red bird of paradise. Tim got a shot of this one in Carlsbad, N.M. I’ve got a close-up of the stunning blooms on my Photos page.

Pink: Iceplants are my favorite pink blooms that do well in New Mexico at several zones. They’re a groundcover, though, so if you want pink up high, try a native rose, Santa Fe phlox or Texas sage (Salvia greggii), which is a dark pink or red, low-growing xeric bush.

White: Add some dawn, dusk or evening drama with white. To make white work, especially in a nighttime garden, I think you either need a substantial amount or large blooms. Tim loves jimson weed (Datura meteloides), which opens at dusk. A grouping of white Echinacea, or coneflowers, would also be a great contrast to low-growing purple or red blooms.

blazing star bloom
The blazing star (Mentzelia decapetala) really shines in the evening.

I didn’t even cover succulents, which might not bloom for long, but have some of the brightest, richest colors in the desert. Trees also add color with their blooms and foliage. That’s especially true of some of the smaller, xeric trees, such as the desert willow or smoketree. Use of colored containers, or a few annuals in them, can contrast or complement your palette.

monochromatic xeric palette
This monochromatic palette is far from boring, especially when the light hits all of those yellow blooms. A potted geranium adds a mobile touch of pink.

To plan your color palette, you could also start with a few native plants you love, or that are already in place, as a foundation. Then build on those plants. I think I’ve mentioned that we have lots of yellow in our garden and all over our place (either alyssum in spring or dandelions right now!). So we are trying to balance the yellow and purple with more white and red. Of course, you can go with a monochromatic palette, using nearly all yellows and oranges, for example.

Learn more about color palettes in this Proven Winners article, and check out my Resources page to learn more about native or xeric plant sources. Some of the plants I mentioned in this post are pictured on my Photos page.