Check out the pesky raised-bed garden above. This is what I call a “collection area”—a shady spot, a place close to a door, or any other convenient place to drop items on the way to or from the house.

These garden areas tend to become places for collections of things we’ve abandoned. We intend to leave something for just a few minutes. I’ll come right back. I’ll have the kids clean up, etc. However, the reality is that we don’t come back to get the things that have found their way to this natural collection basket.

A typical cause of this scenario is a failed garden. Since the space is so ugly, what harm will a few errant items do?

One of two things cause the demise of most of our desert plantings. First is the incorrect selection of plants for the area. Our harsh desert climate does not allow us much room for error. Second involves inappropriate watering. Too much, too little—if we don’t get it right, especially in the first two weeks of the young planting, the plants will begin to weaken, opening the door for all kinds of diseases or pests. We then throw our hands up in the air and say, “Forget it.” Hence the result pictured above.

Wouldn’t it be grand to instead have a garden such as the one pictured below? This garden will thrive in the desert shade from spring through fall; depending the winter temperatures, some plants will coast through the coldest months, too. Included in this bed are coleus, caladiums, begonia (not flowering at the time of the picture) and variegated vinca major. Black decorative stone added as mulch will keep the ground not only moist, but attractive around these well-deserving showpieces.

So, go and fix your garden’s collecting spot. Don’t settle for ugly!

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 Follow the Potted Desert at