Queen  Butterflies | Desert Wildflowers | Desert Spiny Lizard

 Before : A concrete driveway, running the length of the front yard, was removed to create room for a path flanked by planting areas. The sunken planting areas receive roof runoff, and are mulched to conserve soil moisture.After:  Screwbean mesquite, whitebrush, burro weed, prickly pear, hackberry and creosote are just a few of the plants that make up this urban desert jungle. The dense plantings provide escape cover for wildlife (lizards and rabbits can escape from neighborhood cats, and birds can take cover from patrolling Cooper’s Hawks).First "Cardinal" level Habitat at Home yard in Tucson.<>First Audubon-certified Habitat at Home in Tucson

Wilder Landscape Architects is proud to have its headquarters recognized as the first Tucson Audubon Habitat at Home site. The landscape is constantly evolving to keep up with the maturing plants and knowledge my husband and I have gained. The story starts with what was once a manicured yard (the transformation had already begun in the ‘before’ photo shown) – an even, well-groomed layer of rock, a single south American mesquite, a border of purple-heart. Neat, orderly, and utterly sterile.


I grew up on the east side of Tucson, and played in a yard and neighborhood that took its birds for granted. Cactus wrens, thrashers, Cooper and Harris Hawks, coveys of quail, vermillion flycatchers, the constant murmur of doves. My new mid-town residence was sadly lacking all of these. The only constants were mockingbirds and the occasional verdin and, of course, English sparrows and Rock doves (pigeons).


Flash forward a decade or two. Gambel’s quail, brown-crested flycatchers, curve-billed thrashers, and cardinals are consistent sights. A Phainopepla has shown up the last three springs to feast on wolfberries. This spring a pair of Abert’s towhees nested and successfully raised a baby in a wolfberry-ironwood thicket outside our bedroom window. There are warblers and vireos and birds we call skulkers that have so far evaded identification.


It’s our refuge, and has become a haven for a variety of wildlife. One plant at a time, small additions have blossomed into a desert jungle.

 In advance of the anticipated summer monsoon, seed was spread onto ground that was first contoured and furrowed. A scattering of rock mulch was applied over the seed. Larger rocks were placed prior to seeding. The monsoons did not materialize and the client despaired. But a heavy rain in the fall jump started germination.The following spring, wildflowers are flourishing and perennials are starting to emerge.Eighteen months after initial germination, native shrubs including creosote, salt bush and wolfberry dominate. Wildflowers have been relegated to the edges.Dense with growth, the homeowner may now wish to cull the plants, selecting those that she wants to encourage, and removing those that are less desirable. Or, the homeowner can let nature take its course, and the numerous shorter lived salt bush will gradually give way to creosote and other longer-lived shrubs.<>Starting from Seed

When you have more time than money, seeding can be an inexpensive way to establish an abundance of plant material without irrigation. The time factor is critical for several reasons: a person has to be patient as the seeds germinate with the rains (and sometimes the rains do not come when you hope), and one must be willing to spend time cultivating the desired mix of shrubs and trees that come up where they please (and not, perhaps, where you desire them).


That said, if you have time and patience, definitely consider seeding. Plants established from seed are robust (they establish themselves, rather than requiring weaning as nursery plants do), and the density of plant material is much greater than what would typically be achieved via planting. Depending on what seeds are included in your seed mix, the resulting landscape can be very dynamic - with different species dominating as the landscape matures.


At this home, seeding was used almost exclusively to vegetate the poolside landscape. In less than two years, bare dirt was transformed into a lush Sonoran Desert landscape.

 Prior to the landscape design, the Client’s backyard consisted of a terraced Bermuda grass lawn with several mature trees at the edges.A seatwall flanks the flagstone patio and screens the fencing of one of the tortoise enclosures. Boulders and a diverse mix of plant material unite the yard.A rich palette of tortoise and pollinator-friendly native plants have transformed this former lawn. An above-ground cistern (not shown in photo) captures roof runoff and is used to supplement irrigation of the landscape.Each tortoise enclosure offers an abundance of forage.The tortoise burrows were sited in the landscape plan and designed by the homeowner.<>Separate but Equal

The clients of this eastside home wanted to improve the overall appearance and functionality of their yard, while providing separate enclosures for their desert tortoises.


The landscape design established distinct zones within the yard: a flagstone patio flanked by seat walls provides an entertaining area; two fenced enclosures provide each tortoise with his/her own space; and a plant-screened area at the edge of the yard serves as a secluded seating area.


A variety of tortoise tempting plants such as desert senna, desert willow, globe mallow, sideoats grama, dalea, fairy duster and penstemon were used. Each tortoise area includes a concrete water hole, burrow, and is secured with steel fencing, the bottom 8” buried to protect against escape.

 The steel enclosure is simple and elegant. The metal will rust to a burnished orange after a few rains.Before: The softener is highly visible, and exposure to the sun has caused some deterioration of the plastic. Screening is in order.The enclosure complete except for the door latch. A flowering agave with feeding bat graces the west side. The door is accented with a flowering agave stalk.The completed enclosure. One side opens fully for easy access to the appliance.<>Steel Enclosure Adds Beauty and Function

Wilder Landscape Architects designed a steel enclosure to protect an existing water softener from the sun, as well as to screen the appliance from view. The design, featuring a lesser long-nosed bat feeding on an agave flower (a primary food source for the bat along its migration route) stemmed from the clients love of the outdoors.

 Three bin compost system. Soil-cement walls divide the bins. Thickness of the walls holds moisture and mimics in-ground composting. The custom gates turn a garden necessity into a focal point.Towhee nest in desert scrub.Sphinx moths on sacred datura.Lesser long-nosed bat and agave flower.<>Compost – All Dressed Up

This three-bin compost system with soil-cement walls and decorative hinged gates was designed by Wilder Landscape Architects. Each compost bin has an original gate expressing the Owner’s passion for all things wild.