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Four Local Landscapers Tell Us Their Favorite Flora

What plants do the pros choose when creating stunning Valley landscapes? We asked the experts to weigh in on some of their favorite desert-friendly flora.

By John Roark

GREG TRUTZA, Landscape architect

For me, Texas olive is a perfect substitute for white oleander. This dependable performer works well as an accent plant on its own or massed in the background against a wall or fence. After a decade of growth it becomes a small tree, approximately 20 feet in height. Butterflies are drawn to the abundance of bright white, yellow-throated tubular blossoms that can brighten up any day. Because this plant flowers from spring through fall, avoid placing it near water features or pools.

Texas olive tree (Cordia boissieri) and blossom (above).

DOMINIC GETTINGS, Landscape designer

Also known as the Dr. Seuss Tree, the Hercules aloe has beautiful symmetry and is sure to draw attention and curiosity wherever it thrives. Its overall appearance and performance put it at the top of my list. This low-maintenance plant is an awesome standalone statement piece where a strong vertical element is needed, and it also works well when grouped in odd numbers throughout cactus gardens. The last thing you want is for this drought-tolerant plant to be sitting in water. Be careful not to place it where the soil contains a rock vein or caliche, which prevent drainage.

Hercules aloe (Aloe barberae)

MARY ESTES, Landscape architect

The Brakelights red yucca is one tough plant that will do well almost anywhere you put it. While the red yucca, with its coral-colored flowers, is very common in the Valley, Brakelights is a bit more compact, and its vivid crimson flowers could stop traffic. I love to use this in mass plantings where I want to keep the vegetation shorter, such as in front of taller flora, lining a driveway or on a street corner. The leaves are deep green blades, so when not in bloom from early fall through early summer, it still provides dramatic color and shape that contrasts well with desert plants in the gray/green color palette, such as agaves.

Brakelights red yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora ‘Perpa’ Brakelights)

SUSANNA DAVIS, Landscape designer

Madagascar palms are a favorite of mine to use as tall focal points in a grouping of pots, with more colorful plants placed in neighboring containers. They have beautiful green foliage that gives them a tropical aesthetic, but they also have a desert vibe because of their thorny trunks. This plant has a medium growth rate. If they’re potted in partial shade on a patio, I typically buy the size that I want them to be rather than wait years for them to reach their ideal height. Several palms can also be grouped together within a single container for additional interest.

Madagascar palm (Pachypodium lamerei)


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