Ornamental kale!

The desert boasts a year-round growing season, and during the winter, you can create an easy-to-do but colorful garden by only having one plant type—yet you can go crazy by purchasing various varieties of that one plant type.

Take ornamental kale, for example, as seen in the photo above. More and more varieties are available in nurseries, each with different color variations, textures and growth structures, ranging from very short (up to 6 inches) and wide (up to 12 inches) to tall with a rose-like stem.

Plants you typically think of as house plants are actually tropical plants. Many have pleasing trailers and will supplement a pot arrangement with a strong spilling element. Variegated needlepoint ivy (right) creates a formal look in any pot. It is cold-tender, but in the low desert, protected under a needed shade cover, it will do very well all winter long. If it’s in absolutely no sun, it will thrive year-round.

Those in the mid and high desert regions will need to protect all tropical plants when temperatures drop below 40 degrees.

Other trailers for desert shade with great color include the ground cover vinca (periwinkle), which comes in many varieties: green, variegated major, and minor (which is a smaller-leafed dwarf variety), as well as vinca “illuminations.’ Another gray-leafed trailer is the licorice plant (Helichrysum petiolare), or “small leaf helichrysum.”

A magnificent plant that is well-suited for full sun with stunning year-round beauty is in the duranta family and is a variegated variety of the skyflower. Pictured in the photo below, this plant, like so many others, is cold-tender, but here in the Palm Springs area, where winters are very mild, it will do very well.

Marylee Pangman is the founder and former owner of The Contained Gardener in Tucson, Ariz. She has become known as the desert’s potted garden expert. She is available for digital consultations, and you can email her with comments and questions at potteddesert@gmail.com. Follow the Potted Desert at facebook.com/potteddesert.