By Scott Calhoun
With mountain views in nearly every direction, many desert homeowners’ primary concern is preserving those views. However, the flip side of open vistas is making sure you have areas that feel intimate, private, and enclosed.
When I consult with garden design clients, I often tell them we can grow privacy or build it. Usually, growing it is the most cost-effective option. Below are some of the plant types I recommend.
Vines. Since most vines want to grow upward, in a narrow plane, they can be excellent choices for screening. One of my favorites (pictured above, growing on a masonry wall; and right, trained to trellises) is crossvine (Bignonia capreolata ‘Tangerine Beauty’). It takes sun and partial shade, is evergreen, and produces prodigious trumpet-shape reddish-orange flowers in spring. As a bonus, it climbs a chain-link fence without additional support.
Indian Fig Prickly Pear. Not many succulents grow large enough to be screening plants, but one does: Indian fig prickly pear (Opuntia ficus-indica), pictured right. This handsome hulk of a plant can reach over 12 feet high. It not only forms a visual screen but also can deter thieves who would rather not tangle with a cactus. (In fact it has minimal thorns — just small glochids.) Its new pads can be harvested, cooked, and eaten — they taste a little like green beans. Indian fig likes hot exposures and probably should not be planted in the coldest areas of the low desert, as it flops over when frozen.
Trees. Some of our native desert trees have fine, sparse foliage that doesn’t do a lot of screening. However, some natives, such as desert ironwood (Olneya tesota), right, are excellent for screening.
If you plant some high-water-use evergreens, consider using citruses (like the tree pictured right) as screening plants. Their dense, dark-green foliage provides a good sense of enclosure. Plus you get delicious fruit. Plant citruses in warm locations with full sun. If space is tight, select dwarf or semidwarf varieties.