The words “arid” and “tropical” and, indeed, the concepts behind them, may seem antithetical. Arid makes one think of dry, brown and prickly, while tropical implies wet, green and lush. But in the world of garden design, an illusion can be created that meets the criteria of low water usage with the beauty of foliage that at least feels tropical.

The actualization of this concept can best be illustrated with pictures, so rather than write the proverbial thousand words, take a look at the pictures that follow with their descriptive captions.

AgaveJoeHoak AloeCiliaris CoprosmaFamily
Contrasting colors with dramatic forms. Agave desmettiana ‘Variegata’ in the foreground with Phormium ‘Guardsman’ behind. Asparagus meyeri in the foreground with Aloe ciliaris climbing a fence in the background. The Coprosma family features a myriad of new and colorful hybrids. This one is ‘Evening Glow’ shown with Euphorbia characias ssp. wulfenii and its chartreuse flowers in the background. A large staghorn fern hangs from the trunk of a palm.
arctotis Calandrimia Guzmannia
The flowers of Arctotis ‘Pumpkin Pie’ echo the colors found in Coprosmia Coprosma ‘Tequila Sunrise!’ Calandrinia spectabilis blooms all spring and summer with airy purple flowers. The bromeliad Guzmania adds a tropical flavor to the dramatic foliage of Sansevieria in the background.
_EstelliaCathamaticaSilverSpear HollyFerns aeonium
Astelia chathamica ‘Silver Spear’ looks good but wants little water and casual care. Holly Ferns are tough, low water usage ferns with holly shaped, leathery foliage that will grow almost anywhere. Aeonium urbicum and Kalanchoe luciae are the succulents in the foreground, a Blechnum gibbum ‘Silver Lady’ fern in the center and a Vriesea imperialis bromeliad in the background, all working together with compatible foliage but living in arid conditions.
Echeveria AloeMarlothii Miscanthus
Another great combination of Aeoniums. The ever popular ‘Zwartkop’ combined with smaller companion ‘Kiwi’. An Aloe marlothii craddles a grouping of Aeonium ‘Sunburst.’ Miscanthus sinensis ‘Strictus’ is the center fold of this pleasing combination of plants including Fuchsia ‘Autumnale’ and Aeonium ‘Sunburst.’
AeonUndulatum BlueGlow CordylineFestivalGrass
Two lush Aeonium, the variegated ‘Sunburst’ and the opulent undulatum. Drama in form with contrast in color. Agave ‘Blue Glow’ with Aeonium ‘Kiwi’ and Phormium ‘Yellow Wave.’ Cordyline ‘Festival Grass’ is very pink, the Euphorbia characias ssp. wulfenii is very chartreuse providing strong contrast 
Anig 17_Furcrea Euplobia
Full of colorful flowers yet miserly with water, this clever combination features purple Calandrinia spectabilis and orange Anigozanthos. A backdrop of the purple leafed Agonis flexuosa ‘After Dark’ helps pop the colors of the large Furcraea foetida ‘Variegata’ with a border of low growing Aeonium urbicum in the foreground. Euphorbia tirucalli ‘Sticks on Fire’ in the foreground with a Dasylirion longissimum in the background.