Desert homes are often built with sizable front yards and comfortable back patios. However, how many of us neglect our oftentimes unused side yards? They’re used as a thoroughfare, or an area to stash things—yet these small corridors are often an eyesore on the homeowner’s never-ending to-do list.

Here’s an idea: Transform this problem area with a beautiful potted garden!

Start with a few pots to define the areas you want to enhance. The empty side yard pictured above has a back wall, a side door with a walkway, and a wooden fence bordering the yard. This picture of the initial planting, to right, shows that a small concrete table and metal chair were added to give anyone who stops by a place to rest. Filled with morning sun, the yard begins the day on the warm side. In the afternoon, the entire yard is in the shade, as the western end of the yard is shaded by a monstrous pine tree. The pots range from 20 to 26 inches, with the largest pots for “yellow bells” and a Pittosporum (standard tree form).

In the more shady corner, below, a ground-cover plant of variegated vinca major is used as a mature trailing plant, along with a boxwood myrtle. These will stand up well to the summer heat.

As you see in the final picture below, the garden has filled in very well. Passers-by are often surprised to learn that this has all been done with pots, as the mature plantings hide some of the pots. Ground plantings are much harder to accomplish and care for—so to surprise visitors with this achievement is very rewarding!

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 Get a free copy of Ten Top Tips to Desert Potted Garden Success by visiting