Big: Not Just the Trucks

West Texas and it’s neighbors of New Mexico and Arizona have much in common: geography, culture and even some cuisine.

Many of those similarities must be insanely different from many coastal and international visitors’ realms. It’s fairly easy to see why people from even Austin or Houston visit! Photos from 9/27/2014 -


Xeric Pinus edulis and Yucca faxoniana…

Happy together on nearby mountains, these two common plants don’t seem to mind being together at a relatively low 4,000′ elevation, either. The drip irrigation needs to be buried, to not be so unsightly, and some underplanting of compatible natives would really help.

always scalloped block and Italian Cypress somewhere………

While I like breaking down perceptions and elevating reality, there is a reason for some stereotypes. And that’s fine.

And I bet restaurants serve grits here, but not green chile – it might be 2 hours west for that.

any questions where we are…these are small trucks for here, though…

Now to something more typical, and more grand, stately Y. faxoniana; some on this hotel’s property look to reach nearly 20′ in height. When planted with live roots, they grow to a similar size in Albuquerque, where it’s often called Palm Yucca.

The coolest place I’ve seen this species still look good is Santa Fe, just smaller. I’m not sure how they mature in the hotter, low desert areas such as Palm Springs or Tucson.


a more typical truck for here…it’s huge…but the yuccas dwarf it

Can you imagine those yuccas instead of palms in a prominent garden location?

Films Out Here

Returning to a favorite place of mine, still well within the Chihuahuan Desert, for a mini weekend to decompress – the Desert Dust Cinema in Lobo, and a stay in Van Horn.

Photos last night and this morning -

dusk and the waxing crescent moon, Sierra Blanca picnic area…

granite boulders and hills like this, with desert plants, will always delight…

the Lobo former-gas station / now-theatre and porch, to view an array of interesting short films

I’ll try to share more of the crowd and films if I stay.


even local native, Boyd Elder taking a smoke…

I’m one of the few people here who doesn’t smoke. Boyd lives in the nearby metropolis of Valentine, a character who designed one or more album covers for the Eagles, ages ago.

our regional landmark, Palmilla / Yucca elata…lit path to the distant outhouse…

I just read the latest population for Frankfurt is 2.5 million in the city limits, and 5.6 million in the metro area. The 2nd largest city in Germany, it is quite the global banking and commerce center, with impressive skyscrapers that are like nothing I recall from being a kid travelling from nearby Belgium. Perhaps this might offer clues on what they like a remote, quiet place like Lobo!

inside, many people here…I only came in for a beer and to take a look…

Lobo – well, locals here chuckle, wondering what the German friends and colleagues who bought it will do. After talking with them, and most seem to be from Franfurt, they like the peace and having no plan. Though they are into some more upkeep, even for their limited time there.

the next, damp and cool morning…

water is still a pleasure to hear…nice tile details…

so glad a peaceful breakfast is included here…

you always know where you are…not so much in El Paso…


some high desert locals, healthy Piñon / Pinus edulis and Faxon Yucca / Yucca faxoniana…

Mild, but unusually humid with all the rain…El Paso is noticeably drier and warmer. Their soft sky and clouds are telling of what it is like for my trip.

I may go to tonight’s films (left), or drive home (straight)…that a’way

The Apple Doesn’t Fall Far…

…from the Ocotillo!


my late father, on some rare “time off” from flying…

Across the street from “Old Mexico”. Check!

Dad was stationed in Douglas, Arizona briefly, training as a pilot for “the war”. It’s Chihuahuan Desert Grassland, a few hours west of where I now live, which is Chihuahuan Desert Scrub. Of course I never had to be a prisoner of war, nor did I help raise 1 child let alone 6, nor was I an immigrant, and so on.

Was it destiny that I like the desert?


me in 1991…a favorite place in the San Diego County desert…

I wasn’t dancing, but it’s hard to see my foot rested on a rock. And naturally, I had my eyes closed for the pic.

Not far from the same age as my father in his picture, I had moved from San Diego only months earlier. 23 years later, I now live in the land of huge ocotillos!

El Paso, along Rim Road…last month

Litter Over Oregon

Before heading to my *air conditioned* office on yet another Sunday, I caught a glimpse of my favorite litter – flower blossoms, this time.

Then back to the office, to attack my piles of work – mostly other’s litter. “My bad, David, but we need this project yesterday…” -

not my kind of landscape, but…

a brief bout of milder, wet weather made some Leucophyllum erupt in song…

Hopefully in a song more Mariachi than Selena…

glad the homeowners hadn’t gotten to this yet…

With some work challenges that arose, more than what I already cannot handle, I’m so glad I wasn’t able to schedule in or make the Garden Bloggers Fling in Portland this July. At least at some level. Too many things on my plate I had to accept, that would have dampened my enjoyment.

Yet, I enjoyed a small piece of Portlandia on a mid-July evening.

and we now know Oregon means agaves…plus salmon & cycling…

for a long dinner and one Oregon beer, following Tillamook cheese and another Oregon beer, I was there, looking at towering fir trees, cactus, madrones, and many plants I cannot even spell…

And thankful I wasn’t in El Paso, where it was over 91F…at 10 pm…when our July’s supposed to be cooler, with a couple rains each week.

But only for a short time. I was in El Paso, but it was OK too.

Out Of My Hands

I work for every penny I’m contracted for in the “Construction Observation” phase of my design work, but there’s rarely enough money left to complete that phase. Sometimes I do that work anyway.

Plus, things are out of my hands ultimately, no matter how clear I make my designs and plans. So much falls through the cracks, yet I survive.

All comments are based on my plans, notes in plain, modern (brief) English, graphics per industry standards -


1) pots were all in line, for a stronger effect…not installed that way; 2) winter annual plants never changed from project close-out in January, but it’s bordering on infernal in mid-July, winter annuals never changed

Not northern 88F heat, or eastern humid heat with 30″+ of rain / year…but it’s also not 4 months of Phoenix hyper-summer. Blessed!

There’s a balance between paying one’s mortgage (for 21 years), or rent that’s now 25% higher for less (with 1 and not 2 incomes), then not selling out.


boulders not buried 1/4 into grade, just set on top of mulch…or even with mulch fudged up to boulders……….

This installation was during an unusually cold period in the coldest month (December) of a mostly mild winter, with more than one day;s high at 32F. And a few nights near 0F…yes, they used pick axes in some areas to do work, to meet the big restaurant opening.

boulders installed after they were specified – during finish grade and before planting…

see anything other than far-off storms during the monsoon or “rainy” season?

anything? Buhler?? Buhler-rrr??? (#80’s)


Greek Germander was sneaked into the middle of specified Trailing Germander…the clay loam soils will have the final say…

Some excuse such things as, “well, David, …”, but that’s lame. I wonder how many of them do the same? Would their client$ excuse it with their real money expenditures? Many of us know how / the amounts of money and time are divided among any project team.


1) the development entry monument is still not constructed, hense the sparse look; 2) weeds…could be worse, but…

no water harvesting basin…summer downpours will run off more…

I’m just happy when the contractor on one of my projects gets 80% a project right; with all my work over 8 states, it hasn’t always been that great. So, 80% is like awarding them with an A+ to me. But that’s my 25 years in the field, and I know others who have it easier.

Luck does not come from working harder. It just is, or is not.

Client – “David, you forget that it rained and was humid all week”…

mold…why the Zephyranthes were not establishing – 3x / week irrigation

Me – “you don’t realize that monsoon season humidity and rain means no irrigation”. Maintenance guidelines were swiftly sent a 2nd time…no response. My fault to be sure – not!

Am I blessed? I sure am, at some level.
– – -
Even though an unusual amount of humid weather lingers and for so long, it actually turned into real rain…3.5″ last week, doubling our 2014 rainfall.

And the Sooners won a football game they might normally choke at in WV. It could be worse!

Surprises and Not So Much: Part 1

People have asked me about what it’s like in my new town, many less familiar with it here than they even were with where I last lived 21 years.

Part of that involves “what kinds of plants do you have?”

Since I had seen a number of plants over a year ago, that I never photographed, I set out to capture those: some usual, expected, and surprising plants for El Paso. Photos from the last 2 weeks -


I spotted this a few times on work errands…

Crape Myrtle is common here and other high desert towns; I’ve seen countless ones here. But many, even in more heavily irrigated situations, look stunted at best.

They lack the lushness in foliage and flower that they do in, say, New Orleans or North Carolina. Crape Myrtle is native to the steamy summers of southern and eastern parts of Asia (analogous to the US southeast, including Austin, Jacksonville or Memphis), not the dry heat of a desert.


Crape Myrtle / Lagerstroemia indica – common, though not so much as in Abq


nice bloom, and this is on a hot south-facing aspect…

It seems success here is by choosing a proven, superior selection or cultivar for here, plus deeper soil, a less dry microclimate and similar companion plantings. (not one sage and one yucca, with 10 feet of landscape gravel between them!)


I spotted these happy crapes on many trips towards Las Cruces and points north…


also on a hot S exposure, yet fine…

Jeff Anderson, the Doña Ana County extension horticulturist in nearby Las Cruces, showed me his own ‘Natchez’ and ‘Muscogee’ selections, and they looked much more full and lush than the norm. I hear there may be a couple more, that can handle our high desert conditions.


a few crapes  in a a densely planted landscape…they were planted at 10’+ tall several years ago…


still looking happy…not a clue on their varieties…

Now for something unusual:


Ponderosa Pine / Pinus ponderosa – very uncommon here

I spotted that tree on a couple mountain bike trips, returning from the trail another way. This one is actually not bad – about how the exceptional ones mostly grow in miles of Albuquerque – short of expensive spray applications for pine tip moth, favored cooler parts of town, or possibly with lower elevation selections.

Note all the heavily irrigated lawn, and a crammed-in Southern Magnolia to its right…poor thing!

Still, P. ponderosa would be best enjoyed in cooler places, above 7500′ in elevation. The taller Italian Stone Pine, which I cropped in front of the ponderosa, are far more suitable here. Even far from the “bucolic hills of Tuscany” which I’ve seen several times in person.


Arizona Cypress / Cupressus arizonica var. glabra – very common, always happy…even in that gravelscape front yard


Piñon / Pinus edulis – uncommon but many here grow well


a hedge of Creosote Bush / Larrea tridentata – common in the wild, but there are more in Albuquerque landscapes than here


Velvet Mesquite / Prosopis velutina – unusual here, common just to our west


bluer leaves, smaller leaflets…more delicate than honey mesquites….


a tough, old-fashioned standby found across the US…


Rose of Sharon or Althea / Hibiscus syriacus – unusual here


Littleleaf Cordia / Cordia parviflora – unusual here


the way the large, floppy blooms dot the plant, it reminds more than I of someone’s front yard getting teepeed, at least from a distance…


a locally native trio of Fouquieria splendens, Tecoma stans var. angustata, Yucca torreyi – very common

Even the expected here look amazing, and rarely grow this well anywhere but the 3000-5500′ elevation belt, a few hours either side of I-10…which happens to be the sweet spot of where chiles reach their pinnacle.

What are your favorite common and uncommon plants? Or reasons you think they are that way?

Renting Mid-Century San Diego

Just inside USDA Zone 10a [coastal Southern California] / Sunset Zone 24 [room temperature often], lies this apartment complex. I often drove by it when I lived in San Diego 25 years ago, going to my nearby aunt’s / uncle’s home, or a friend’s bachelor pad. I never paid it another look, except to get through Clairemont and their often marginal areas quickly.

How I’ve changed my thinking about Mid-Century Modern architecture, which I mostly disliked then. Or anything that fell into disrepair in need of renovation. Now I see the great bones – including plants.

Plus, I was born near the end of the Mid-Century period, and I’m heading towards a mid-century age. How time flies…

Photos from my vacation in mid-January 2014 -


the original sign…nice detail on these walls…

This is where minor pruning of the tree, to see the sign better, would make all the difference in the world. I think it’s a Carrotwood, but I may be wrong…if so, that’s an invasive in some areas.


Yucca elephantipes and Tecoma stans var. stans…blooming in January!

Such flowering, but they had a warm winter. It was also a dry winter, and the media has covered their uber-drought. That part of San Diego, though not as hot as further inland, only averages 9″ of rain / year and most in winter – they are up to 2.90″ for 2014. They depend on water from the few watersheds in the mountains to the east, plus the Colorado River.

All are good reasons to renovate using low water-use native and adapted plants, while protecting the existing palm root zones from drying out.


but on the ground, we have some issues, starting with red lava rock mulch…

A neutral-toned mulch, inorganic or organic depending on additional plants desired, would really go further. Then again, so would some additional, suitable plantings.


a general lack of upkeep, large rocks that need to be re-set…


wood railings very nice, but replacing with steel in a similar pattern would last indefinitely…

In some markets, this type of place with such architecture, but add interesting hardscape to existing planting bones – and 10 minutes from legendary beaches and countless local amenities – would be renovated and priced into the stratosphere. Not that San Diego is cheap, but somehow this spot is escaping such gentrification.


gentle re-grading could allow the edges along the stepped walk to go away, allowing a cleaner look…


mini-jungles using palm groves always make a lush interior space…

It would be great to form a quality design-build team, then get paid to renovate a number of details on this property – architecture to the site, grading, water harvesting, and landscape! But in a way that present renters are not priced out of their homes. I would certainly be game.


no clue what this is  a mature Finger Tree / Euphorbia tirucalli looks like an undersea plant…that blue sky… (thanks for the ID, Forest and Laurin!)


one of a few Cereus peruvianus…


quite happy…so was I, that perfect last day in San Diego…


the grand finale…the interior space…what bones to work with

That grouping of stately, huge “cacti” looks like yet another Euphorbia for milder places than mine…but there just perfect to work around. (yes, I said work-around:-)

This space implies some low walls, part paving and part sandy beach to relax on in more style. I’m also picturing complimentary plantings, mostly a mix of xeric flowering plants – including locally native species – and varying heights of succulents.

Since it’s San Diego, with Palomar Observatory not far away, dark night sky laws will negate the idea of uplighting of the palms can occur. But more modest changes are all that may be needed here?

What do you think?