Garden Design for Hot Spaces with Scott Calhoun

Welcome to Workshop Wednesday! Today’s feature highlights some of the work of Scott Calhoun, the Tucson garden designer, teacher and writer.

While attending the 15th Annual Water Conservation and Xeriscape Conference in Albuquerque earlier this year, I had the chance to hear Scott Calhoun give a presentation on Small Yard Landscaping.

Scott’s a well-known garden designer from Tucson, owner of a company called Zona Gardens and the author of  a number of excellent landscape design books.

His newest book is called “The Hot Garden: Landscape Design for the Desert Southwest.” Not only does this beautiful book show off his excellent design instincts, but his good humor, too. It’s also filled with fabulous design photos that are sure to inspire.

On his blog, Scott wrote that with the “The Hot Garden” he’s  “Attempting to create a minor new religion, or at least a fervent cult, based on the worship of desert plants and design.”

Scott’s Small Yard Landscaping presentation promoted his low-key approach to small scale urban gardens in the desert. I appreciated his comments about the East being “unbearably green” and how he quickly he fell in love with the Big Western Skies.

His talk was sprinkled with dry humor like comparing gardening in the Southwest to gardening on Tatooine, the fictional desert planet in the Star Wars films.

“The dry interior west is a weird place to garden,” he said. “Especially to people moving here.”

Scott talked about how small gardens are actually an asset and are easier to work with because of their physical limitations.

Here are a few design ideas for landscaping in small spaces:

1. Shape comes first. Start by looking at the space from a bird’s eye view and then working with the patterns. He recommends looking at all the different shapes of garden beds, fences and even the house to see where the design would lead naturally.

A couple of interesting ideas included creating keyhole gardens to make a yard look larger or building a modified labyrinth with stone and plants included in the design instead of a traditional garden bed.

2. Don’t freak out about spines. Scott said designers and gardeners alike should integrate cacti and succulents into their garden design. Use a water feature, short wall or other boundary to separate especially thorny plants from well-used areas.

3. Make a canyon connection. Think vertically and “grow up” by building a rock hog back with steep sides and planting in it and around it.

4. Fit for wildflowers. “Wildflowers knit the desert garden together,” Scott said. He specifically mentioned planting bulbs and adding Mexican gold poppy, a spring-blooming native that forms a brilliant gold carpet in the garden.

5. Bring on the color. Small spaces pop when the background wall is painted with bold colors, like bright blue, purple or lipstick pink. He recommended taking a leaf with the color you like to the paint store and matching it. Then coordinate the color of the garden furniture to the brightest color.

6. Add accents or as Scott called them “accoutrements” to the garden. Be sure to use lovely-to-look at recycled items. “Conservation has to be beautiful.”


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