How to design a desert garden

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Cacti have unique architecture and can add interesting vertical form and spiky texture to your garden design.

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Dominika Heusinkveld

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Visual layering: This is one of the ways you can add more depth and dimension to your garden. You can create layers most easily by grouping plants together according to size: smaller in front, mid-height, then tallest in the back. This will give a more natural impression, since that is how plants grow in nature — any given corner of meadow or forest will have varying height plants. If you want a more formal, balanced look, you can add layering by adding plants of a different color rather than varying the height. You can also use structures such as walls, water features, and trellises to add layers.

Focal points: You can use focal points to bring the eye towards a certain area. Focal points can consist of unique plants, water features, sculptures, walls, paths, colors, and many other things. Use these very sparingly, or your eye will be bouncing back and forth between them and the overall experience will be jarring.

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These pink and red flowers provide a focal point against the adobe wall. The warm colors bring the plants visually closer.

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Color: Judiciously using color in your garden can add a huge dimension to the design. Warm colors such as reds and oranges tend to bring the eye forward, while cool colors give the impression of receding. So if you have a small space, you can use cool colors in the background to make the garden seem larger. You can also use color to add focal points–for example, colors on the opposite side of a color wheel from each other (like purple and orange) will tend to stick out, while colors next to each other (like green and blue) will blend together.

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