Xeriscaping without gravel
An introduction: I moved to Tempe a month ago into a rented 1950's ranch home near downtown. The landlord has let the front and back Bermuda grass lawn completely go to seed, and now I'd like to turn it back into something desert-style while I am here. The problem is that my wife and I have literally no money and I am wondering what I can do on as shoestring budget.
This is the situation of the front yard: against the south-facing wall of the house, we have, in a row, some kind of yucca, a monstrously overgrown prickly pear, and a tiny aloe, all in a bed of white quartz rocks that have been completely overgrown by tall Bermuda grass growing up against the wall and the succulents. The yard itself is covered first with Bermuda grass, then it's bare ground, and in the lowest portions there are these thick and very vigorous weeds, 6-12" in height, with small white flowers. These weeds are dense ground cover in the places where the rain puddles. There's 3' mesquite tree in the middle and Bermuda grass growing along the edges of everything. The whole thing is surrounded by flood irrigation berms that have been taken over by Bermuda grass. All of the grass and weeds has come up without any extra watering whatsoever. I don't even own a hose or sprinkler currently.
I want to create a natural Sonoran desert-type landscape of lots of cacti, wildflowers, and desert shrubs, and to do this WITHOUT dumping gravel everywhere - first, because it looks unnatural, and second, because it costs money. I would also like to do this without using pesticides such as Round-Up.
I don't need a totally tidy front yard. I don't mind some grass and weeds growing here and there. I want a natural look. But I don't want the landscape to be dominated by them. Some yards have cacti and desert plants growing in what looks like natural clay, without grass and weeds everywhere. Can I do this without gravel and Round-up?