Grow a Southwest Meadow Garden

Deserts are places of extremes, but meadow gardens can thrive even in heat and dry soils, says author Judith Phillips. Try these plants for your Southwest landscape.

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Photo By: Photo by Judith Phillips / Courtesy Timber Press

Photo By: Photo by Scott Calhoun / Courtesy Timber Press

Photo By: Photo by Hunter Ten Broeck / Courtesy Timber Press

Photo By: Photo by Judith Phillips / Courtesy Timber Press

Photo By: Courtesy of Timber Press

Photo By: Photo by Judith Phillips / Courtesy Timber Press

Photo By: Photo by Judith Phillips / Courtesy Timber Press

Photo By: Photo by Judith Phillips / Courtesy Timber Press

Photo By: Photo by Judith Phillips / Courtesy Timber Press

Photo By: Photo by Judith Phillips / Courtesy Timber Press

Photo By: Photo by Scott Calhoun / Courtesy Timber Press

Photo By: Photo by Judith Phillips / Courtesy Timber Press

Photo By: Photo by Judith Phillips / Courtesy Timber Press

A Water-Thrifty Meadow Garden

Sedges and sages are just a few plants that adapt beautifully to meadow gardens. In Growing the Southwest Garden, author and garden designer Judith Phillips features the best trees, vines, grasses, perennials, shrubs and bulbs for extreme conditions.

Mexican Bush Sage (Salvia leucantha)

Mexican bush sage, sometimes simply called bush sage, is a herbaceous perennial that blooms from July to November. Bees and hummingbirds flock to the violet-purple flowers, which are held on arching, stiff stems. 

Gayfeather, Amsonia and Salvia

Desert natives are well-adapted to the region's intense sunlight, scarce water and "lean, well-drained soil," Phillips says. Gayfeather, with its spikes of purple flowers, can even handle low temperatures; in dry soil, it's hardy to -30 degrees F. It blooms in September, so it's a great choice for fall color.

Hens and Chicks

Sunburn can be a problem with hens and chicks (Sempervivum tectorum), so grow these plants in a cool, shaded spot if you're in the desert Southwest. Hardy to -30 degrees F., hens and chicks open cup-shaped blooms from June to August. The "hen" dies after flowering, but lots of "chicks" will soon take its place in your meadow garden.

Growing the Southwest Garden

In Growing the Southwest Garden, author Judith Phillips covers garden styles suited for the region, as well as techniques for working with the soil and handling pruning, pests, weeds and more.

Wright's Buckwheat (Eriogonum wrightii)

Cold-tolerant Wright's buckwheat, with its clouds of white blooms, will draw butterflies to your Southwest meadow garden.The mounded plants self-sow readily, and you won't need to do much more than cut them back in the spring and thin any unwanted seedlings.

Lindheimer muhly (Muhlenbergia lindheimeri)

For a very drought-tolerant meadow grass, try Lindheimer muhly. The plants have mounding, slender, green leaves and soft yellow flowers in autumn. In areas that get nightly frost, the entire plant turns platinum by midwinter. Phillips says the plants are happy in dry sites or rainwater ponding basins.

White Tufted Evening Primrose

Oenothera caespitosa stands up to the Southwest's extremes of heat and cold. New, cup-shaped white flowers open every evening and fade to pink, attracting sphinx moths to your garden. Phillips suggests growing white tufted evening primrose around paths and patios, to enjoy the glow of the blooms under the moonlight.

Wild Four O'Clock (Mirabilis multiflora)

Try wild four o'clocks for a low-maintenance ground cover in your Southwest meadow garden. The dark pink blooms open in the afternoon, from April to October, luring thirsty hummingbirds and sphinx months. These undemanding plants thrive in well-drained soil, but water deeply every few weeks to keep the flowers coming. Avoid wet soil in winter.

Prairie Zinnia (Zinnia grandiflora)

Perennial prairie zinnias spread by rhizomes, sometimes forming ground covers up to 10 feet across. The plants thrive in heat, cold (to -30 degrees F.) and lean soils. The yellow flowers make a soft, pleasing contrast to succulents and other "strong personalities," says author Judith Phillips.

Perry's Penstemon (Penstemon parryi)

Each spring, Perry's penstemon puts out tall stems of pink wildflowers in low-desert gardens. Hummingbirds can't resist stopping for a sip from the flowers, which appear from February into April. The plants re-seed freely and like well-drained soil. They're cold hardy to -10 degrees F. for short periods of time.

Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium)

Little bluestem grass puts on a show in autumn, when its tall stems and fuzzy, purple-bronze flowers move in the breeze. Look for cultivars in many other colors, says author Judith Phillips; 'Blaze' turns brilliant scarlet, while 'The Blues' turns pink as frost arrives, gradually fading to russet tones.

'Siskiyou Blue' Fescue

Native to the Great Basin Desert, Festuca idahoensis offers silvery-blue, mounding leaves and bright-green flower heads for a meadow garden. Heat and drought-tolerant, it seldom invades flowerbeds, Phillips says, and provides a colorful accent and soft, pleasing texture.