Yuccas y Los Cowboys

Finishing my day’s construction observation run down the block, these sense-of-place / time scenes appeared.

Born and bred Texans: a few photos may boggle your minds:

Yucca torreyi in spring flowering…an inviting porch

If I get a house again, I would like a generous, shady porch with some heavy walls like that one.

standing proud in spite of neglect…an Opuntia ellisiana, too

I bet some still disregard those two green desert dwellers. Crazy!

but the other way, I somehow missed this earlier

see anything odd here in El Paso?

El Paso, being in Texas by several miles, is closer to the state capitols of Arizona and New Mexico, than it is to Texas’. The cultural pull here is to the large cities to the west: Phoenix and LA.

In fact, New Mexico’s governor Susana Martinez is from El Paso.

This might say it all.


New Mexico’s Zia symbol, the Dallas Cowboys’ insignia…or perhaps a Texas Lone Star /Dallas Cowboys combination

The cultural pull to the yuppies is different – they want to recreate Austin here.

That’s misguided. From the number of native central Texans I’ve known and talked with, Austin is unique, and it didn’t become Austin by wanting to be somewhere else. Plus, from everywhere I’ve been in life, world-class places are themselves.

Huge difference. Case and point: Tucson, which seems at peace with itself!

El Paso needs to be like El Paso can be, and as some connected, native El Pasoans tell me, “we’re not Texas, New Mexico, or Mexico…we’re El Paso.”

Coming from 21+ years in EP’s tattooed biker sister to my north (ABQ), and having visited its pretty, hippieish sister to my west (TUS), I agree.

Los Cowboys y Nuevo México, y’all?

Native Structure

I enjoy seeing the use of native plants to an area when designed to abstract patterns in nature. Those patterns come out of the common processes of land most anywhere, plus each space’s architecture.

Many areas of Texas use plants well with a space’s architecture, native or not.

Photos from Austin TX and nearby, 3/18 to 21/2015 –

look to your left, down the small woodland path

a potted Sabal mexicana…can’t do this with only soft, loose plants or crazy color quilts…even if you pay me loads of money and ask kindly :-)

Looking out onto the semi-arid sub-humid (southern) prairie.

a mass of local Yucca rupicola and the view

Sidebar: in a similar pattern of temperatures and atmosphere, for Austin to be something else, it’s long-term average might read like this –
semi-arid = 12″ – 24″ of precipitation (Ozona)
arid = under 12″… (Van Horn…but a different atmosphere)
humid = over 36″… (Houston)
Austin’s average and more years than not receive 28-32″, mas o menos. Smack dab in the middle of sub-humid.

Juniperus virginiana, Liquidambar styraciflua, etc all native but formalized

Not that I like their change of this space to ground glass, but it does help people visualize before going overboard.

some would not have allowed such a thing, but perhaps since Lady Bird was behind the whole place… (as opposed to little me)

I just appreciate how all the hardscape and planting design works…Yucca rupicola and Melampodium leucanthum included

clipped Ilex vomitoria helps the cut-back, early spring perennials…without those and the axial layout, it would be lame and lifeless all winter

A return home via Fredericksburg netted something stunning – not exactly native, but adapted – from the ecoregions adjacent to the central Texas prairies, wetter and drier sides. Mas or menos


a rhythm of Agave parryi var. truncata among subshrubs, and a linear grove of Prunus caroliniana

Do you wonder why native plantings or xeriscapes can look visually unappealing, even if filled with good native or adapted plants?

I wondered, so I now strive to design with more thought.

Great gardens aren’t only about massing, but they can involve other design principles such as repetition, or just making that which thrives and is native as the majority – not the freak.

Plant Network

Unfinished designs and an out-of-town conference aren’t a good idea.

I’m at the APGA Native Plants Symposium in Austin, which also coincides with South by Southwest, which would also be enjoyable to take in – music, tech or film included. But the array of like-minded, bright people I’ve interacted with is more worth it than words describe.

leaving the desert, a moisture-laden sky rapidly developed

A major climate division lies at that location, running from just west of south, then northward into the great plains; it divides the dry and high Chihuahuan Desert to the west, and the lower and more humid country to the east and south. The Pecos River is near that change.

green, freshly-washed Austin…temporary irrigation at a mini-mart

stop #1 – scout plants for the annual UTEP sale


dealing with paperwork, we missed many areas including this…Yucca treculeana in bloom, oaks in boxes

conference stop #1 – residence…Dasylirion texanum, Nolina lindheimeriana, Muhlenbergia lindheimeri…Ferdinand Lindheimer got around

Environmental Survey Consulting did the design and implementation here…David Mahler R explaining the project, partner Judy Walther L in jean jacket

broad view towards front, then more intimate spaces

conference stop #2 – Wild Basin Preserve, to see the natural context of Hill Country native plants

natural, sub-humid prairie and woodland within a booming city…Nolina texana on rocky ground in front

conference stop #3 – Wildflower Center reception, executive director Susan Rieff welcoming all

This is quite a great, small conference group, too. I’ve not attended a conference like this, so I’m figuring it out and soaking it in.

a balmy, moist evening on the front terrace, live oaks and other natives starring in the show

Something I’m not used to seeing in less sophisticated places than Austin – natives are actually key in everything at this series of gardens, not marginalized.

Same with the residence we visited prior; exceptional.

It is beyond amazing, and one would be well-served taking people here you’re trying to convince to see for themselves, even clients, if you are able.

even all-native table settings

Good With Bad

Most people, even some landscape architects, regularly see odd plantsmanship.

Gestures to the past, fear of native plants, bad precedences, “giving the ‘client’ what they want”, or inadequate time – all culprits. I’ve been guilty of one or two.

This is the same development, most likely by the same designer. (and I think I know who) From 3/9/2015 –

east Asia’s photinias get huge, but this is a small space

On alkaline soils, add calcium leaching from wall footings, desert sun, and xeric plants on the same irrigation valve, and that’s the result. Photinia easily grows to 8-10′ tall and wide; keeping most plants at less than 75% of mature size brings painful issues, in time.

My foot is size 9-1/2, so I don’t stuff it into a size 4 shoe.

Pinus mugo is a gesture to cool, wet places

It helps to glance at climate data and photos of Mugo’s home (the mountains of central Europe), and that of arid Albuquerque (right behind those plants). Then, imagine the effort it takes to grow those exceptions in the desert.

Baccharis x Starns isn’t…20′ away, same slope…any questions?

50 feet away, Jasminum nudiflorum and Vitex agnus-castus

Dasylirion wheeleri, Chilopsis linearis, Agave parryi

There’s a cue…what works universally should be the bones, but don’t use what hates life – gesture or curiousity. What’s to be curious about, anyway?

an excellent combo, blue-green and red

Its cool enough for ‘Harbor Dwarf’ Nandina to be red, while Dasylirion wheeleri has its ever-present look. I’m not sure this was intended, since that combination isn’t seen elsewhere along the streetscape.

Very nice; that idea can be adapted where one gets some winter. I’ve seen evergreen plants with winter berries used as key area color, too.

What causes you to wonder, “what were they thinking?”

Drought or Spring?

Spring has arrived, but it isn’t the verdant one many get. Add to that years of drought, some studies showing it’s actually a return to typical after 3 wet decades.

We call it Spring though things are dying – Bill Callahan, Austin TX

From the day of my mountain bike ride, 3/10/2015 –


remember this house? spring – ocotillos, sotols, a juniper, ephedras and various cacti are all A-OK

spring – little maintenance, but they added some pots

drought – Dasylirion texanum worse than D. wheeleri

It’s from places with at least 2X the yearly precipitation and more humidity.

mountain biking time – Señor Correcaminos greeted me

Roadrunners aren’t usually shy; this one ran when I got close. A teen?

drought – Opuntia valida

drought – dead Juniperus monosperma…spring – warm-season grasses

drought – about 1/3 dead woody growth…I’m out of breath, too

drought – evergreen Cercocarpus breviflorus, Quercus turbinella

I wasn’t even in my zone, but I still made the most difficult climb on the loop ride – with some stops and mishaps.

drought – dead Cylindropuntia imbricata, 50% dead Bouteloua eriopoda


now the best part…a curvy roller coaster, only minor hazards

Perhaps if more LA’s got out in the natural areas on the edges of town, they might embrace place, be less uppity, and design better? Like neglected landscapes in town, one sees what looks good in drought.

fitness like this = work + fun

you’re welcome, ABQ

I miss only a few things about Albuquerque, and my house of 15 years is in the past. Each drive through, I grin seeing the same plants massed, which I did 20 years ago. Plants thiving decades before I or their “creative class” arrived :-)

And I stay in touch with friends, though not enough.

Do you ever see what grows in the wild, or lasts in your area’s gardens, with little help? I hope so, whether the old friends are people or plants.

What’s Under the Opuntia?

After posting on a grouping of Opuntia camanchica in a suburban landscape, I saw a specimen Opuntia macrocentra, while finishing a site inventory for clients at their valley house – 3/11/2014.

Perfect to show subtle differences between two different cacti for gardens. But upon a closer look…

Opuntia_mac Agave pups-LosRanchos01-SML

see anything?

Opuntia macrocentra / Purple or Blackspine Prickly Pear is native on dry, gravelly hills in the Chihuahuan Desert, but it appreciates richer clay loam soils, too.

The purple color comes out in colder weather, but even in the growing season, the pads turn a pale green with subtle hints of purple. Perfect for yellow walls or brighter backgrounds, it’s more compact in scale for smaller spaces, and it offers winter color.

At first, it looked like new green leaves sprouting at the base of the Opuntia – some weedy, herbaceous growth seen in early spring.

Opuntia_mac Agave pups-LosRanchos02-SML

Agave parryi (?) pups galore

Too bad I was unable to liberate any agave pups or cactus cuttings, for the more discerning garden bloggers in places like Portland or San Antonio…

Opuntia_mac Agave pups-LosRanchos03-SML

and the Opuntia macrocentra isn’t bad…3″+ long spines

New Spring, Old Place

Starting two new projects, I’m visiting Albuquerque as early spring is coming on strong. And some pleasant landscape scenes in the morning light.

Photos 3/9 and 10/2015 –

the bluish junipers and cacti make this

The usual Mediterranean style home looks great with the purple tile roof.

But what makes it are those two xeric plants, which also fit right in the foothills – the similar form of Oneseed Juniper mingles with that same cactus in the wild. Sure, I’d do something other than the struggling barberries or crepe myrtles, and too much gravel expanse.

But even if this were those junipers and cacti, it would work.


and the cactus…Comanche Prickly Pear / Opuntia camanchica

I never saw this Opuntia until hiking nearby, and it’s not sold. In El Paso, where it’s also on mountain slopes, everyone calls it Opuntia macrocentra…nope.

O. macrocentra has black spines, they are sometimes longer than on O. camanchica, and they almost always are limited to the top edge of each pad. But equally hardy.


pads with bluish hints…those long spines, red to black


cottonwood tree budding out to signal spring, from the original landscape…it will be dead soon…while eternal morning light erupts over South Peak

That’s the long-time-coming evolution of ABQ horticulture, in one photo.

Phreatophyte trees like cottonwoods are along constant water sources and not arid uplands for a reason, where their short lives, invasive roots and weak wood do no harm and even good.

While sotols do good and provide “wow factor” against our skies, dotting rocky uplands…without a drinking problem :-)

a young, double-stalked Sotol / Dasylirion wheeleri signals the new classic

Is there a plant or scene you relate to your favorite time of day?