An outdoor fireplace after the addition of pots. Scroll down to see the before pic.

Many of our homes have been built with a kiva—or fireplace—in the backyard.

This leads to a question: Why? For those long, cold winters? I think not! But we have them, so let’s put them to good use.

Fire or No Fire?

If you think you will use the fireplace in the winter, then you will want to place ceramic pots with low-water, high-heat-tolerant plants closest to the flames. Another option is to use a lightweight pot that can be moved when the heat is on. Either way, planning ahead will make life easier—and lessen the risk of losing plants to the fire’s heat.

Pots that are more distant from the fire can contain your favorite seasonal bouquets with annuals, as well as perennials, trees and shrubs. Use colors that coordinate with your kiva wall color and tiles. Keep it simple, as there is probably a lot already going on with the hardscape, seating areas and pots. Consider a white garden to reflect the firelight and moon light in the cool of the evening. (See an “after” pic above, with the “before” pic below.)

Prioritize your relaxation time

Crafting a small garden around your outdoor fireplace area will create another draw to get you out into your backyard. This is the No. 1 complaint that I hear from desert homeowners: Even with our wonderful, mild winters, they do not use their patios enough. We get caught up in the daily life of work, volunteering and our infamous to-do list. We forget to put some priority on motivating ourselves or even allowing ourselves time to spend outside, on the patio.

Well, with flowers and plants that need attention … we must go out to care for them. While we are there, let’s stay a while.

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. Marylee’s book, Getting Potted in the Desert, has just been released. Buy it online at Email her with comments and questions at Follow the Potted Desert at