When your plants threaten to wilt with the surging summer temperatures, you might offer them an alternative: a cool respite on an arctic slope—tell them you know of a little spot 14,780 feet (4,500 meters) above sea level, in the Swiss Alps. If your hydrangea balks ("No plant could grow there! So high, so cold!"), mention the purple saxifrage (Saxifraga oppositifolia), a plant that grows quite happily in these high snowy peaks.
Palm Springs, Calif. is a Mecca of modern architecture from mid-century restorations to futuristic open dwellings. When fences, partitions and screens are called for, the traditional cedar board fence just doesn't fit into these landscapes. Damage by wind, blowing sand, and extreme heat of the southern California desert excludes most outdoor wood products.
In arid northern New Mexico, the climate can be a hard row — 300 days of virtually cloudless sunshine, blistering summers, freezing winters and a temperature difference between night and day of as much as 40 degrees. Not to mention the mere 12 annual inches of rain and snowfall combined, which makes water a precious commodity and much on the mind of even the average, non-gardening citizen of the state. Runoff might be a nuisance in some places, but in Santa Fe, every drop counts. Yet the tough, natural beauty and distinctive Southwest character of the region are spellbinding.
John G. Fairey’s eyes widen when he is asked to name a favorite plant, as if he’s been asked to choose his favorite child. “Why, all of them,” he replies softly in a sandpapery Southern lilt. And given his surroundings—some 3,000 species of rare and endangered plants at Peckerwood, his 40-year-old, renowned private garden near the Texas town of Hempstead—you’re rather inclined to believe him.
With their chocolate-brown stems and fuzzy golden arms, the teddy-bear chollas really do seem friendlier than other desert dwellers. They tend to grow in clustered formations, like small societies in the sand, serving as a bright audience to the sun's rise and fall in the desert sky. If they appear to be waiting for something, it is you—to wander by, graze one of their many arms, and become an unwitting cholla propagator.
Rambling over the desert steppe and into our romantic visions of the American West, the iconic tumbleweed is the Clint Eastwood of plants—an itinerant survivor that seems to thrive on solitude, parched land, and a mean wind.
A weekend home in the high desert of central Oregon can only be reached by means of an old lifeboat! PLUS: New, web-only photos!
Half-buried in the far flung sands of the Namib Desert, in southern Africa, the Welwitschia mirabilis is a patient exile, and beloved among botanists who seek the very old and the very strange. The oldest individuals have been dated at almost 2,000 years old—among the oldest organisms on earth. And the gymnosperm is considered a living fossil, not for its superlative age, but for a structure (in this case, a bizarre one) that has remained the same for as long as the species has endured—for over 100 million years.