Ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens) is a vase shaped cactus like plant with spiny canes that are covered with small green leaves typically after substantial rains and have a reddish orange tubular shaped flower at the tips in Spring. But most of the time, they are deciduous and look like a clump of thorny dead branches.  Sedona native Ocotillos are also found in the lower deserts and into Mexico.

When I first moved up to Sedona from the Phoenix area, I was surprised to see Ocotillos growing among the pines and junipers. At an elevation between 4200-4600 feet Sedona is probably at the upper level of its range. When in bloom – and when I say bloom, I mean the leafing out period where the green leaves cover the canes, they are striking sculptural features that add an unusual accent to any landscape where you want a bit of a desert flair. Ocotillo is often said to “bloom” due to its on and off leafing out cycles due to the amount of rain. However, some Ocotillos hold their leaves for longer periods between seasonal rains. Otherwise, they take on their deciduous persona which is not the Ocotillo that most clients are looking for when they request a Sedona native Ocotillo in their garden.

Sedona Native Ocotillos

But being patient is what we can learn from them

As a landscape designer and contractor, I am reluctant to suggest the idea of Ocotillos in a design for a few reasons. One of which was recently articulated in an article by the Backyard Gardener, Jeff Schlau of the Arizona Cooperative Extension Yavapai County titled, Native Ocotillos Require Patience. 

Ocotillos are native to Sedona and are useful as sculptural elements in the gardens

Ocotillo is known for its upright slender spiny canes covered with small green leaves.

Most people expect their Ocotillos to look just like the picture, but that’s not what they look like when you buy them at the nursery. Most all Ocotillos are harvested bare root from their native habitat, wrapped tight with wire for easy transport and handling. The roots are severely cut to sometimes to the point where there is not much to go into the planting hole and you wonder what is going to keep it from falling over. The process of taking a native plant from its habitat and putting it into your garden is considered transplanting Ocotillos and what Mr. Schlau is referring to as “patience required” is that some Ocotillos can take anywhere between 6 to 24 months before any signs of blooming or leafing out. Presumably because of the severe root pruning during harvesting from the desert.

I tell clients who are interested in Ocotillos that they will be planted bare root and will not have any leaves. I then tell them it could take years to look like what they expect. I also say they are unpredictable as to when they will leaf out and to be able to appreciate them in their deciduous state because that is what they will look like most of the time. I have had countless former clients complain that their “Ocotillo is dead” or “When is it going to leaf out?” I tell them to scratch a branch with a knife and if its a pale green, that its still alive and to be patient. The problem is, I am the guy with the great idea to plant the Ocotillo which is constantly under performing expectations and makes me look not so cool.

The point of this blog post is to forewarn anyone considering planting Ocotillos in their yard. Not that they should be avoided but to fully understand why they may  not meet your expectations. Ocotillos are great specimens that symbolize the southwest and provide a sculptural element that provides instant vertical height and looks great when lit at night. The otherwise brown deciduous state should be considered as the predominant look most of the year.

Many a garden writer who delves into the more deeper aspects of gardening will tell you gardens can teach you about yourself. Those inner aspects of your being are often reflected in the garden if you pay close attention . Patience is a virtue that can be learned through gardening. The Ocotillo is a wonderful teacher to instill patience. Sometimes it is more enjoyable to one day notice the buds on your Azalea that hasn’t bloomed for three years than to come home to a bountiful display of riotous color in your container garden every day.

There is a common request I get from landscape clients: they want low maintenance, lots of color and don’t want to spend very much – and they want it now, not have to wait three years for everything to look great. Usually after I get a little introspective talking about patience, being in the present moment, allowing things to be as they are, people come back down to earth.

Yes, Sedona native Ocotillos do inhabit our surrounding national forest and is perhaps the best way to appreciate their beauty and elegance. Walking in silence, being at one with nature, not thinking about anything in particular, and then as you come to the top of a crest, you are greeted by an Ocotillo in full bloom as if it was waiting for you.

If you do buy a bare root Ocotillo on your own, check out this publication from the Phoenix Botanical Garden.


As I said in my previous post, one of the reasons some people are disconnected from nature and that sense of paradise is because we think too much.  Here I will now tell you the five tips to making your yard into a lush paradise and which capture the essence of what we think of as paradise in our own yard.

1) Water

Whether it’s a natural oceanfront setting or a small pond with waterfall, water is symbolic of the essence of all life on earth and so it forms the fundamental basis of creating paradise.

2) Enclosure

We need to have the feeling of sanctuary, both physical and psychological. A structure such as a ramada, an overhead patio cover, or a grass hut provides shelter, enclosure and a sense of security. We also need walls so as to screen objectionable views and to create a sense of privacy. Walls can be structures or plant materials, but natural materials will more closely emulate the concept of the Garden of Eden.

3) Sensory stimulus

We need to be reminded that we are alive by being aware of our surrounding through our sensory perception. A distant view of the horizon reassures us that we are not locked up in a cage with nowhere to go. A warm breeze across our skin reminds us of the power of the sun to give warmth and light to all life. Scents and smells add pleasure and delight to our surroundings and uplifts our spirit.

4) Nature

The raw state of nature in the form of lush vegetation and wildlife reminds us that we are not too different than animals but with a more evolved consciousness. We know on a deep level that there is truth and meaning in nature and all of its miraculous manifestations.

If we don’t often get to see resident wildlife, we can attract it to our garden or provide our own in the form of fish, pets or birds. Create a paradise for wildlife to visit and they will come.

5) Sound

The sounds of birds singing and calling reassure us that everything is well. We are secretly fascinated that they have their own language and that they can communicate with each other even though we have no idea what they are saying.

The sound of moving water as from a rippling stream, waterfall or fountain is a reminder of our connection to the essence of life in the form of water. Water is such a symbolic element and represents not only life, but prosperity, purity and energy.

Once we have these five elements, a paradise begins to take form, but not without our own state of mind. Paradise is not just a location, but a feeling of being in a special place, of knowing you are a part of the greater whole.

I have just released a new ebook that actually goes through a step by step process for someone to go about creating a backyard paradise, called aptly, The Paradise Garden.

How To Create a Sacred Sanctuary in Your Own Backyard

As a Sedona garden writer who not only specializes in reviewing books about gardening and landscaping, I also write about spirituality, and mind-body-spirit industry. So when I was asked to review this new ebook about Spiritual Garden Design, I jumped at the opportunity because in the niche of garden books and design in general, I have never seen anything bridging the gap between spirituality and ho-hum gardening. But it wasn’t until I got deeper into the book that I realized what the author was getting at.

You see, spirituality has different meanings for different people but I think everyone would agree what a sacred sanctuary in their backyard would look like for them. But here is where the actual design of the garden is split between the inner garden of your mind (spirituality) and the outer garden in its physical appearance.

The author makes a bold assumption that the enjoyment of and the proper design of a garden can bring one closer in touch with one’s own spirituality. By the end of the book, I was however, convinced that I too could delve into the area of design and use some of his techniques to raise not only my own consciousness, but that of my sacred garden.


The author makes a case for the average person with no design experience being able to design their own sacred sanctuary. He does this by defining exactly what makes a garden sacred and goes through a series of design examples that develop what is called the “spiritual criteria”. In order to design something into a garden, you must first understand spiritual principles and more importantly which of those are meaningful to you on a personal level.

Everyone is at different levels of being on the path of spiritual development and the author recognizes this all too well as he admits the initial ideas and the actual writing of the book was part of his spiritual journey that is still ongoing.

The material is refreshingly presented in a practical, down to earth manner unlike many other new age type books that have an airy fairy flavor to it that makes you wonder if the author was born on this planet.  But this author is certainly grounded having a Masters degree in Landscape Architecture and who takes this knowledge and expertise to deliver a section of the basic principles of landscape design.

Spiritual Garden Design would seem like a daunting task to overcome without some basic knowledge of landscape designing without the spirituality tossed in. This section of the book provides an anchor and support system for all of the esoteric and symbolic language that makes up much of the spirituality and mind body spirit sub culture.

People will find this material to resonate with them as many of the subjects have been addressed in many other non-garden formats. There are also several bonuses included in the cost of the book such as Secrets of Garden Design, Spiritual Garden Design Resources and personal email support from the author.


Perhaps not everyone would find this book useful if they are not already on the spiritual path. Nor would they find some of the esoteric garden ideas interesting if they never heard of the term “chakra” or “sacred geometry”. The only other reservation I have is that overall the book seems to be more focused on eastern philosophies such as Buddhism, mindfulness, higher conscious, connection with nature and not so much on Western religious ideology. So if you find Paganism to be objectionable, then maybe you should stick to Square Foot Gardening.


In a sea of gardening books, it is a nice welcome to find someone who explores the deeper meaningful side of gardens and how learning about design, you are learning about yourself. Using the garden as a metaphor for your own consciousness, but then taken a step further, you realize that the garden is you and that you are actually designing a new consciousness for your own being. That is hard to encapsulate in the title of a book, but I believe Spiritual Garden Design is a subject well worth reading and discovering your inner garden designer. I would recommend that all gardeners with a higher conscious get this book.
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