Edge of Reveg

One cold and blustery day over 3 years ago, landscape contractor Robert Macias and I walked the linear ponding areas, in advance of their revegetation seeding once it warmed up.

The goal: restore the Las Cruces east mesa’s former Chihuahuan desert grassland cover, stabilizing slopes as well. Goal met.

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10/13 – two years after seeding…parkway strips too narrow for seeding; container Soaptree and Sideoats Grama blend with the same in seeded areas

A few stray NOID bluestems volunteered into the sideoats and soaptree, from the seed mix or the wild. I’ll re-check the plans; also works, so they can stay.

The golf course crew is following my maintenance plan; they remove volunteer plants from edges and that are overgrown, but keep others.

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10/13 – Western Pygmy-Blue butterflies abound

In fact, a variety of wildlife already appreciate our native plants. Part by design, part just by using what grows just beyond the development.

I’ve never accepted that native landscapes need to look terrible.

A minimal rotary irrigation system was designed in seeded areas, to establish seeding and help it during drought periods. Some insist such seeding needs no irrigation, though they have few examples, especially if the monsoon or winter moisture fail.

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11/13 – some reveg seeding allowed to colonize slopes to the edge of ornamental plantings, here it’s Purple Threeawn / Aristida purpurea

The low green mounds are Thompson Broom / Baccharis x starn, and the colored trees are Texas Red Oak / Quercus buckleyi.

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7/2014 – thanks, temporary irrigation and solar power

The yellow wildflowers behind the the steel boxes are Desert Marigold / Baileya multiradiata. You can tell from other posts how I like that one almost as much as it likes our disturbed ground.

More on this project later, including how the ponds changed from the original developer intent.

Pruning Into Spring

For a needed break each month, I became a volunteer at the UTEP Chihuahuan Desert Gardens – blocks from home. Plus, it gave me a discount on attending a public gardens conference in a few weeks :-)

Photos from yesterday’s 40F and biting east winds, 2/27/2014 –

Mexican Plum / Prunus mexicana announces *early* spring

It includes 600+ plant species native to our Chihuahuan Desert and adjacent ecoregions, so there’s much variety to do here, short of starting over! After a 15 minute walking survey, the dwarf trees were my target.

Not even my plan, until I looked closely.

Chisos Rosewood / Vauquelinia corymbosa ssp. angustifolia – before pruning

Chisos Rosewood – after pruning

Subtle, eh? I was only 3/4 finished, but my work filled that trash can.

Pruning is about health, then aesthetics. About 1 year after planting (or establishment), with basic care, pruning a smaller tree is simple:
1) remove dead stems and branches
2) remove crossing live stems and branches
Only additional, minor pruning for form may be needed now – most of that was addressed in the first 2 steps. Limit pruning to under 30% of live growth each year, and what’s appropriate for the plant and climate.

That’s it, until the plant becomes larger than one’s skills and equipment – time for an arborist, qualifed in deed and mindset – not just by testing.

Silverleaf Mountain Mahogany / Cercocarpus montanus var. argenteus (?) – before some handiwork (or el jefe & co. misguidedly cringe)

Silverleaf Mountain Mahogany – after

Notice the Mountain Mahogany now, with the grasses and wall? Health and form. Lateral growth to grow into the walkway? Gone – function.


Are you daunted by pruning a dwarf tree or other plant? Don’t be.

Many hear someone appreciative of the natural world, yet unknowing of a need for healthy plants, in a time frame in line with typical property ownership – gardens aren’t for geologic time.

Health and beauty, wildness and order, function and form – all together, now.

Winter Campus

The El Paso version of “snowy” weather over, with decent cold for over a month, I finally made it to the Chihuahuan Desert Gardens. I think of it as plant therapy, to help me through an unusual amount of work stress since about May.

Scenes from a dull, brisk day at UTEP, 1/10-12/2015:


gray and brown…did I take a wrong turn to Albuquerque?

Bugs Bunny was a little off; most turns from there are not wrong :-) This landscape looks to have been designed for the growing season, not winter. Tsk tsk… But with that a 250 day growing season, not bad.


more interest – Savia x ‘Trident’, local boulders

And what would it be without some trendy gabion structures? Biology students could have a blast on summer nights, armed with flashlights to see scorpions, vinegaroons and the like, creeping in and out of the gabions.


native Purple Threeawn / Aristida still green in protected areas


Texas Persimmon / Diospyros texanum green, about to lose some leaves


Texas Pistachio / Pistacia texana even mostly green

I agreed to do some minor volunteer work at these gardens, more garden therapy for me. Caveat – this is a plant collection, not a designed garden. We’ll see how it goes.


Texas Olive / Cordia boissieri not so happy…#NotBrownsville


Big Bend flora meets Bhutanese architecture

That Weeping Juniper / Juniperus flaccida is really a rare one to see growing in gardens, native to the tiny Chisos Mountains of the Big Bend. Birds love the berries, but no berries on this one.


patchy sun…Populus deltoides ssp. wislizenii and Washingtonia filifera both riparian, good for the lawn area


Sweet Acacia or Huisache / Acacia farnesiana still green

There must be alot of untapped genetic diversity in this acacia, given its highly variable hardiness in close distances. Worth selecting for, since the live ones are left and look great.


Boundary Epehdra / Ephedra aspera literally growing out of rock (andesite)

Wish I colud buy that one.


Blackspine Prickly Pear / Opuntia macrocentra with some O. camanchica genes…also happy in a crack in the andesite bedrock (unmotivated to remove the trash)


native creosotes, yuccas, ocotillos…planted fan palm


some new work on the university’s Campus Transformation Project…by Christy Ten Eyck’s office

A healthy budget to pay for all the corten steel bridges over her “arroyas”. It really looks good and hopefully the edges aren’t a tripping hazard. The use of ‘Regal Mist’ Grass / Muhlenbergia capillaris low where water collects, and Giant Hesperaloe / H. funifera high where it’s drier, is good, but so is the mix of rock sizes from local work.

Trust me, LA’s don’t often get projects like this, where free-reign, commitment to salvage and reuse / discard of the inappropriate, and budget all meet. Bravo.


urbanite walkways connect the Geology oval to the campus walking areas


liking these new seat walls…an abstraction of the UTEP pick?

I’m curious how the natural cracking in concrete will occur, or be controlled, over time. Though these are beefy and perhaps less susceptible with TELA’s top-secret layout of rebar in the concrete?

Those of you from outside the southwest, did you know durable but blah concrete can become an appealing amenity? Yes, via some finishes and thoughtful layout. I didn’t have a clue until I moved to San Diego out of college. I’ve been happily designing it in different ways since, though we’re talking about relatively mild, dry winter climates, without the freeze-thaw of points N-E.


the sun’s back for 30 minutes

So, what was your favorite mid-winter plant or hardscape feature?

Campus: Warm Edition

We had more than a few days of near record warmth lately, almost 80F highs, and it looks to be a mild winter with decent moisture, and now an early spring. No (twisted) feelings of guilt for that at my end!

But it’s nothing like the post-monsoon season warmth and growth seen in fall. Photos from the Chihuahuan Desert Gardens at UTEP, 10/25/2015:


Centennial Museum courtyard…something signalled the Chilopsis linearis to stop flowering…something ripped the colorful umbrella


Purshia plicata / Antelope Bush…I’m used to yellow Purshia mexicana


similar leaf and fragrance, but pink

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Populus wislizenii turning, campus transformation work moving


the cactus garden, Aristida purpurea ripe with tawny seedheads


Astrophytums and other regional cactu in grasses


tough Fourwing Saltbush / Atriplex canescens with friends


saltbush seeds ripening…cannot tell if seeds have 4 wings, but the curator is sure this plant started as a male


Giant Sacaton / Sporobulus wrightii, massive and waving seedheads


delicate, silvery Boquillas Sage or Ranger / Leucophyllum candidum ‘Thunder Cloud’


that’s one amazing flower color


Giant Muhly / Muhlenbergia gigantea, a new grass to me


tall grasses waving always gets my interest


Vauquelinia corymbosa var. angustifolia…steady supplier of green


Turk’s Cap / Malvaviscus drummondii

Sage + BBQ

When it comes to shrubs, it’s often refreshing to see native or adapted plants in a landscape with little to no maintenance. Such is the case of a planting near my office.

Caution: such neglect doesn’t work with trees; thoughtful pruning and training when young, less with age, helps reveal their benefits.

Scenes from 10/2014 and 1/2015 –


Leucophyllum frutescens in fall, ample room to grow unpruned

While some flowering shrubs can erupt after over-pruning during a milder, wet period during the monsoon season, that’s the exception – don’t count on it.


one of many blooms

This is the most basic Texas Sage – AKA Cenizo or Texas Ranger – one of many in that genus used to cover larger areas and with little irigation, even in most desert climates. It’s native mostly to the South Texas ecoregion with an odd mix of oppressive summer humidity and borderline aridity. So, it takes insane levels of heat, but a decent amount of cold; even Albuquerque and Roswell winters are not too cool for this Leucophyllum.


this gray-leaved species and varieties are a bit dull and thin in winter

But in this post, I’m concerned more with the advantages gained by planning and planting a shrub, to reach maturity without over-pruning, needless shaping or shearing. We have a long way to go there.

No one has covered this most-important topic of productive vs. counter-productive shrub pruning, so enjoy AZ Plant Lady’s posts – here.


no blooms and the foliage more sparse

Being chilly after seeing some winter-dormant, silvery sages, I had to get something warm to eat before returning to work. Off to Tony’s The Pit BBQ, for one of our few different types of barbecue sold in El Paso.

And for a reader in Boise, who sounds like he’s missing out –


I ordered the shredded brisket

Sliced is their usual way to serve up a brisket sandwich, but this is new to their menu. So, I had to try it…


I asked for some burnt ends, for extra flavor


after some sauce, they add a touch of medium green chile

This might not go over well with many folks, since Texas brisket is supposed to be served with sauce optional in some circles. And certainly not green chile.

But, not in El Paso, where many happily add anything spicy to food…this is where jalapenos and chiles meet. Possibly the most concentrated chile-growing region in North America begins under 10 miles from downtown El Paso. And everyone here wants you to make sure and eat their salsa.

This was more juicy, messy, and bolder in flavor than their sliced original.


stepping back in time here


two vaqueros, and what do you know?

They’re pictured riding through Yucca elata and Agave lechuguilla…can it get any more local?

I’ll close with an excerpt from Mean as Hell, a spoken-word by Johnny Cash –

The red pepper grows upon the banks of the brook
The Mexican use it in all that he cook
Just dine it with one of ‘em and you’re bound to shout
I’ve Hell on the inside as well as the out…”

Sound like a familiar place? Make sure to read the legendary Man in Black’s entire piece, though. With brisket, or whatever good BBQ you can find.

Perfect, as you ponder not taking the wild out of the west, or it’s shrubs.


A new rental and retail center is being developed in a rugged, infill area of El Paso: Time at Montecillo.

Some interesting concepts were employed, and some even work – usable while being attractive. If one cannot have function and form in a design, it didn’t work. I’ll concentrate on outdoor spaces within the retail section.

From the serene afternoon of Thanksgiving 2014 –


retrofitted shipping containers galore…sky and mountains


steel and CMU block are durable…attractive when well-designed

One of the two patios, this is more than most places do…thought-out, with ‘Desert Museum’ Palo Verde trees and real seperation from vechicles.


a sheltered patio off several restaurants…even a coffee / donut place

Yes, it’s a knockoff of one of those urban sophisto donut places. Exactly (1) edible type of donut was found on the rack for my visit, one wet Saturday AM in October. But not the rest; we eat with our eyes, right?

At least with such food-du-jour, hipsters are less likely to over-eat.

The counter staff that day was friendly and helpful, so that’s a plus, as was the coffee. Even my (24 oz?) donut, made with a touch of cinnamon and Mexican chocolate, wasn’t bad…


industrial trash cans…custom and probably durable


shades of Aztec, plus Hendrix or the female drummer Lenny Kravitz had?

She’s at 0:11 – here. “But what I really want to know is…Are you gonna go my way?” You’ll have to picture the air guitar.


durable w/ the steel barrier…not for everyone, but I can get behind this


railroad ties look better *anywhere* than landscape borders, I’m seeing


even walkable access onto Mesa St…into our gorgeous desert mountainscape

Not that anyone would want to walk next to Mesa, directly faced with chaotic traffic. Thinking about it, I don’t want to even drive Mesa. But I digress…


the generous scale is comfortable


water features are essential in the desert…not so much at 57F…sure I dislike this brick, though unique


random potted plants for a comfortable feel

I’ve been running into the term, “boho modern”. Or is that, “boho moderne”, by some artiste?

Chihuahuan Desert cacti doomed into a cool, shady microclimate, OK now

Time to settle in for the evening, so one last scene while leaving.

a dreamy scene to us desert rats

Seasons at High Lonesome

Time flies! The first streetscapes for the new Metro Verde development on Las Cruces’ NE side were by two landscape contractors, the same LA (me), over a few seasons. As always, click images to enlarge –

Spring 2014

time to spare, nearby Red Hawk GC Road…young, in spring glory

With expansive views of their stunning Organ Mountains, it directly borders the smaller Doña Ana Mountains, the lengthy spine of the San Andres Mountains, and the broad and equally long Jornada.

The latter place’s actual name is Jornada del Muerto (Journey of Death), named by raiding Spaniards because it was a long distance with little to no water. It bypassed El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro and the Rio Grande valley’s more reliable water, including occasional Apache raids visits. Probably a higher reward – risk ratio than being closer to the water, but still the risk of no water.

Years ago on a roadtrip, at one point on US-380 the driver and I spotted the distant ends of both the Organ Mountains and the Sandia Mountains, at opposite directions. They are 200+ miles apart.

Ironically, the Jornada was named long before the first atomic bomb was exploded at its more remote north end on the Trinity Site, over 1/2 way to Albuquerque. Spanish-speaking people might rightfully question using the area’s name as the town grows that direction.

Nolina texana…looking to the Organ Mountains and our desert skies

Quercus polymorpha and Yucca rostrata taller…Aristida purpurea lines are opposite golden Chrysactinia mexicana lines in each median…clumps of azure Salvia chamaedryoides at the crosswalk

Small, young, and with a limited budget that still exceeds City minimum plant requirements: masses make it, while flowers flowering don’t hurt. Just wait until this spring.


rotary heads not putting out enough water to establish the reseeded basin areas

The irrigation mainline extended from the west was too small, given diminished water pressure. Piping and valves were enlarged following our meeting; my design would have been better to just do a new irrigation connection.


battery-powered irrigation controller in the main valve box

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wrong yuccas…these are Yucca baccata, my plans say Yucca rostrata

The yuccas were also the wrong size – the plans state 6-7′ height, not 5 gallon. A huge difference in price and impact; impact is important in a new development, at least in key areas.

The shrubs are wrong, too. I specified green ‘Green Cloud’ or “Rio Bravo’ leucophyllums. But since they didn’t forget the water harvesting basins in this streetscape, we let these stay. They are so healthy, just grayer than the developer or I desired.

Summer 2014


John speaking to Jesus (+ City of LC landscape architect Cathy Mathew[s])…yep

I’m unsure where Luke or Mark were, but David captured it all; we’re all out doing our final punchlist a day before my birthday. Thick clouds with virga kept it in the low 80’s, a great present for our hour onsite to wrap up a new installation.

Virga = rain falling into dry air, evaporating before reaching the ground. I hear not all of you get this like we do out west! #DryHeat

Some of those green Ericameria laricifolia were planted too close to the path, so those need to be moved as per plans…..

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the wrong yuccas were replaced with another wrong plant, this time Nolina texana…not a yucca, but the same family (I think)

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previous portion of the same streetscape from 2 years ago…filling in

Seeding to create meadows, AKA “crazy color quilts” or “tapestries of (gray and brown) …”, don’t translate to tight spaces. This is why I designed in 1 gallon grasses and 5 gallon yuccas. All tripled in size in 2 years; the grasses are mature, but the yuccas need more time, and often mature to 15′ or more.

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the Texas state grass, Bouteloua curtipendula…Yucca elata soaring with the granite spires

Just imagine what the yuccas and grasses will do for this scene, given a decade or two of chile roasting seasons, roadrunners with lizards in their beeks, and occasional virga-filled skies.

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Cercis texensis, masses of moundy Baccharis x ‘Starns’ punctuated with a few pincushions of Dasylirion wheeleri

The 4,200′ elevation sun is burning lingering clouds into submission. Maybe it did reach the forecast 100F+ high after all, as I drove back in air conditioning?

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narrow street plantings of Ulmus crassifolia and Hesperaloe parviflora

This xeric planting already has some promise to be a green canopy and oasis, as much as possible without more than drip irigation.

similar on the other side of the housing area entry

Winter 2014-2015

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mix of gravel sizes…winter plant bones

After I finished some errands up in Las Cruces last Saturday, I had to catch a quick glance at how things look. Even while patchy snow and cold are ruling their few times every winter. An interesting contrast to the growing season to be sure, right to the look of the skies.

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winter’s rest looking west

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and looking east…dormant Dalea capitata, plus the other same plants noted

On the right, Lantana spp. once thrived at both entries into the housing area. They were stolen, of course, but the rabbits at least are igoring these tender morsels plantings.

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a brisk afternoon walk near New Mexico’s state grass, Bouteloua gracilis

If this couple stays there a bit longer, this will really fill in, and not just houses and commercial buildings. The winter-dormant, broad view on half-built Engler Road. 9-month-old plantings taking shape as the timeless San Andres and Organ Mountains loom under the chilled sky.

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bare Quercus polymorpha, evergreens Yucca rostrata and Ericameria laricifolia, and the dormant balance of plantings

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part of why I use negative space, grass masses, and some evergreen

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3rd time’s a charm…the right yuccas were finally installed

Only chest high, they aren’t the height specified. But from decades of past projects, I’m sure plan sizes we’re missed while bidding, or the supplier didn’t have larger sizes. Anyway, how could John not work out such a matter with Jesus?

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most definitely Yucca rostrata

Time to get back to the office for some more work, then a relaxing evening grilling up some goodies and enjoying the warmth inside my tiny place.


headed down to-o-o Old El Paso


detour over Anthony Gap, to slow it down and take it in