Unkind Beauty: Bringing the Badlands to Your Backyard Design

backyard landscape with artificial pond

The works of celebrated 20th century painter Georgia O’Keeffe are among the finest treasures of American culture. Her most memorable works revolve around two subject matters: flowers and the desert.

Scholars and art students have exhaustively analyzed her abstract paintings and drawings of flowers. O’Keeffe’s unique style of mixing abstraction and realism gave blooms an idealized look but also exquisite detailing.

But it’s her work that was inspired by the majesty of the desert that can stir the spirit. Few artworks can match the evocative power of her paintings of the New Mexico desert. She wrote that even though the desert is “vast and empty and untouchable” it is also “keenly alive.” The harsh environment gave O’Keeffe solace and inspiration. The unkind vastness was also the source of amazing beauty, which she reflected in her paintings.

You could also feel the majestic solitude and solace of the desert. You can work with local landscapers, and bring the badlands to your backyard with a few changes and additions to your hardscaping and garden.

Strength of Stone, Shades of Sand

You can capture the warm and arid earth tones of the desert by using the right hardscaping materials. Install rough-hewn stone walls to represent the distant mountains. Walls coated with or made of adobe give soft shades of dunes and dry earth that are prevalent in New Mexico and Arizona. Put a dry creek bed of smooth river stones or gravel in your backyard. Not only will this fixture evoke the dryness of the desert, it can also help your yard manage intense rainfall and channel runoff.

You can have carpenters build pergolas and sun screens. You can choose materials that keep the dry desert vibe. Wood that has been sun-bleached or warped and dried like driftwood can give an authentic badlands aura to a gazebo or patio shade.

Paint installations or walls with the colors of the New Mexico wastes, such as reddish browns, chalky oranges, and dusky pinks. You can decorate your backyard with adobe pottery and metal art pieces.

Life from the Dry Dunes

Macro photo of succulentsO’Keefe painted flowers that she found when she roamed the desert. You can infuse your backyard with these rustic and vibrant colors by using the right plants.

Certain species of yucca and dwarf oleanders have vividly red flowers. Mexican oregano plants have pink blooms for a softer shade. Other plants with brightly colored flowers include the yellow blooms of the paper flower and desert marigolds. For a cooler tone, Russian sage grows lovely blue spires that will give a soothing contrast to your backyard desert.

No desert landscape is complete without cacti. You can plant Mexican organ pipe cactus for graceful spiny columns, or prickly pear cactus for the variety of their colorful blooms. Arrange these prickly plants carefully and strategically around your backyard badlands.

Most desert flora require smaller quantities of water than other plants, and this can help you keep your new desert dry and lower your utility bill.

Georgia O’Keeffe found the desert to be unkind, but full of beauty and wonder. She also found solace and deep spiritual connection in the vastness of the desert. You can set your backyard apart by choosing starkness to opulence, and comforting warmth to cloying damp. Enjoy solitude and appreciate the simple emptiness with a desert landscape.

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