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Hello, Yellow: 3 Favorite Flora That Bring Golden Charm to Your Garden

When it comes to Sonoran flora, blondes have more fun.

There is no denying the cheerfulness of the color yellow, and the Arizona landscape seems to smile when ablaze in the gleeful hue. Here, landscape designer Katie Coates shares three favorite flora ready to bring golden charm to your garden.


Type: Small shrub/groundcover
Size: 1’H by 2’W
Blooms: Spring through summer
Water needs: Low
Elevation: Low desert
Attracts: Butterflies
Soil: Well-drained; tolerates most soils
Light: Full to partial sun
Maintenance: Low; spring pruning to maintain shape and beauty


(Chrysactinia mexicana, ‘Damianita’)
Nothing beats the deep gold, eye-popping color of this small mounding plant in a desert landscape,” Coates says. Used in groupings, it brings a bold yellow border to a plant bed or retaining wall and looks striking when grouped with purples, reds and oranges. “I love using damianita in a desert landscape mixed with agave, cacti and boulders to add color and softness with its dark green needle-shaped leaves and daisylike flowers,” Coates says, noting that it also works well used en masse to soften a feature such as a low wall, patio or courtyard. “The beauty of damianita is its low-maintenance, low-water needs. In Phoenix, we have areas requiring only desert plants with no turf, along with areas that are known to be more green and lush. This plant can work in both,” the landscape designer says. “From Mediterranean to desert to oasis styles, damianita checks many boxes.”


Type: Vine
Size: 20’H by 20’W
Blooms: Spring through summer, small yellow orchidlike flowers; chartreuse, wing-shaped chartreuse pods turn to tan, papery pods in winter
Water needs: Low, once established
Elevation: Low desert
Attracts: Pollinators, birds
Soil: Well-drained soil but tolerates most soil types
Light: Full sun
Maintenance: Guidance around structures as it grows; prune as needed to maintain shape and size.

Yellow Orchid Vine

(Callaeum macropterum, ‘Yellow Orchid Vine’)
I love yellow orchid vine for its fast-growing habit that takes the hottest of our desert sun and thrives,” Coates says of this spring-through-summer high performer. Before the heat sets in, this Baja, Mexico, native’s papery-winged seedpods fall away and groupings of small, five-petaled yellow flowers begin to emerge. The evergreen oval leaves make this plant attractive year-round.

Yellow orchid vine likes to climb but needs a structure for support and guidance due to its twining stems. Plant it to wrap around an upright support for a pergola and allow it to climb over the top to create shade underneath. “I wake up every morning to look outside on my back patio with this large, glossy-green vine with bright yellow flowers popping out everywhere,” Coates says. “It also works well with trellises, arbors, chain-link fences or to cover less attractive structures.”


Type: Shrub
Size: 10’H by 8’W
Blooms: Spring through fall
Water needs: Low-water
Elevation: Low desert
Attracts: Butterflies
Soil: Well-drained; tolerates most soils
Light: Full sun
Maintenance: Prune to help create more dense structure and shape.

Yellow Bird of Paradise

(Caesalpinia gilliesii)
A shrub that is underutilized in desert landscapes, the yellow bird of paradise offers striking spikes of flowers with bright, long red stamens. Its fernlike leaves offer a bit of softness to the landscape. “I love the tropical and exotic qualities of this plant,” Coates raves. “With so much of our environment needing plants that can take full sun, it can fill a hot, sunny location with a more open growth habit and bright two-toned flowers, adding desired color for variety and interest. Many homeowners want to bring bees, butterflies, hummingbirds and other birds to their gardens, and this shrub attracts all of them.”

Note that after the bloom period, pods produce poisonous seeds. “Be sure to use this plant in an outlying area of the landscape or where there is little human/animal interaction,” Coates cautions.

Landscape designer: Katie Coates, Katie Coates, Palo Oco Design, Phoenix,


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