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A relaxation garden, no matter how small, turns your house into a home

This very tropical looking plant survives in a desert garden with afternoon shade. Its flowers are visited by hummingbirds. (Photo: Pixabay.com)

Behaviorists have stacks of data highlighting the fact that getting out in nature can calm and restore the human spirit. This applies to all humans, even if you never lived in the country, even if you hate to hike, and no matter what age. Five, 35, or 85, we all have stresses in our lives we need to unwind from, and being out in nature helps.

A water feature located in the center of the garden offers the soothing sound of flowing water for the entire space. (Photo © Jacqueline A. Soule)

After a day dealing with traffic, demanding people, or what have you, a pleasant way to unwind is to sit in the garden with a gentle breeze, birds chirping, and perhaps a trickle of water in the background. There are four main components to a relaxation garden: nature in the form of plants, a space that is welcoming to wildlife, the element of water, and a comfortable seat from which to enjoy it all. Yes, even in a tiny yard, on a tiny lot, here in the desert, you can fit in these four elements.

Plant and Animal Life

The landscape needs to be filled with plants that do three things — thrive here, are pleasing to you, and support native birds and butterflies so you can enjoy their visits. You may adore hostas, but they really don’t thrive here, and they are not an ideal pollinator plant. Instead, you can achieve a similar feeling (in a shady area) with plants that do well in our low humidity and alkaline soil, like Strelitzia (tropical bird of paradise) or even peace lily grown in pots with rich potting soil. Even better is a Mexican bird of paradise for bright flowers, a tropical feel, and attracting butterflies and hummingbirds alike.

Consider desert lavender — it thrives in the Southwest, and offers you the scent you adore all year long without extensive fussing on your part. Photo courtesy Keith Morse)


Humans like water. Some spend vast sums of money for waterfront property. In the desert, even a little bit of water adds an element that helps soothe our spirit.

Do not feel guilty for adding a water feature. The seven principles of xeriscape say to go ahead and enjoy the water, just put it in a space that is heavily used — like near the house, not out an of the way area.


Comfortable seating that is easy to care for is necessary to truly relax in the garden. If you like a chaise, get yourself one. If you prefer a glider, get that. A hard concrete bench may look pretty, but it is not a seat to inspire relaxation. Do spend at least as much as you would going out to dinner and a show! The night out lasts a single evening — your relaxation space is for years.

Not a new idea

Back in the 1970s, my grandma wanted grass in her tiny town-home yard in Tucson. I’m talking a very tiny yard — three feet from patio to back wall. Grandpa got creative. He installed a patch of grass one foot wide and about 45 inches long, just long enough that the two of them could sit side by side on their gliders on the patio, stick their bare toes in the grass, and gaze into the rose garden squished in against the back wall. At the edge of the rose garden, he added a small cement fountain that he would turn on only when they sat outside. Grandpa would cut the grass with the giant shears he had used when he was in the “schmatta” (clothing industry) trade in New York, working for Schiaparelli, but that’s another story.

The landscape around your dwelling is an important part of turning your house into a home. A home should do so much more than protect you from the elements. With some attention to the landscape, your home can offer you a restful place to find respite from the slings and arrows of life.

Jacqueline A. Soule, Ph.D., is an award-winning garden writer, author of over a dozen books about gardening in our unique area, and popular public speaker. She also offers classes across Southern Arizona. Read more about growing and using the plants of the Southwest on www.GardeningWithSoule.com, www.SWgardening.com, and www.SavortheSW.com.