Shrub Shaping 

A recent drive to my trailhead, and Texas Sage / Leucophyllum spp. in bloom.


roundabout #1 – balls, mushrooms but still flowering

Of course, the public street’s roundabout planting areas are too small for a 6’+ shrub, or such a plant given the need for safety and visibility. (3′-8′ high is the zone many towns require to be clear at intersections)

And the shrubs are under 3′ – by force.

But the usual suspects do it anyway, over and over. Even the city, violating their own rules. Crazy! (at least I try to design appropiately and explain / educate)


roundabout #2 – a different form, only the trees safe

Now, here’s a private planting of the same shrub on the same street, but left in its natural form, with space to mature.


a 10′ wide parkway strip

Which form of shrub pruning benefits drivers and pedestrians more? Or the plants?

Marfabout: Gardens in 2015

A home tour followed the Marfa design symposium, so of course, I turned that and my trip into a garden tour. No photos were allowed inside, though there were many great ideas – I compensated outside.

Musical pairing from the Eagles – James Dean, of course! (unsure that album cover was designed by local Boyd Elder, but you can find out and why I picked that song…hint: Giant)

Some galleries of many things I enjoyed; hang on, it’s a big post –

Now, off to the actual design symposium and my other wanderings, when I should have been designing… way.

I paid dearly for this later…but it might pay off even more later.

I forgot to capture the presentation of the first speaker, both architects now based in Tucson (Dust).

But the next speaker was a fellow Carlsbad native, even the same high school, is now a Brooklyn-based architect. Kelly Armendariz went into his works, many are commercial renovations in the Big Apple, but not to be left out was his own Marfa home in progress.

Serious Desert SW representation!

I’m glad the hard work of Tucson’s Brad Lancaster defining what should underpin all our work, continues to become mainstream in urban and landscape design. He’s the same smiling and fired-up / yet laid back guy who I shared ciabatta bread and vino at my old ABQ house years ago, in my other life.

And some homes on the tour…

The panel of architects, interior designers and engineer involved in a promising hotel being built by the railroad tracks in Marfa…the Hotel Saint George. A hotel actually stood on the same site decades ago.

Carlos is someone I’ll collaborate with to a degree on an upcoming residence, while it turns out that Nunzio and Mary Alice are 2 of the 1200+ firm HKS whom I’m working with on health care projects in El Paso. A small world.

I’ll close out on parts of the symposium and my own tour related to being more bike and pedestrian-friendly…and upping the economic bar for any great place that’s proud of itself and its place. (pay attention El Paso and NM: no more wannabe, learn to be)

I hope to post photos of the gardens from two years ago, at the last symposium, but the “day” job calls.

See anything you like, or that could benefit from water harvesting and other best design practices?

I hope you enjoyed this mega-post, too!

Color Spots

I like any garden style – when thought-out, appropriate to its location (with little input), and not done because it’s popular (no grounding or conviction). Many can pick out the latter…no thanks.

But there’s something about classics, which always fit and look good, transcending trends or fads. Fashion.

Great bones, simplicity, and just the right amount of color from Marfa TX –


roof, chairs…and the dreaded duo of desert phobes…

Cactus and yuccas. Oh no…and “the children”!

Seriously, this place uses the southern coastal Spanish Bayonet / Yucca aloifolia and native Spineless or Cacanapa Prickly Pear / Opuntia ellisiana. The former is named appropriately and has the sharpest leaf tip of anything I know of, but it’s smaller size provides a more tropical effect…the latter is almost cliche here, but I still like it.


chairs, roof, and a gray Leucophyllum spp. vs. green Rosmarinus officianalis


Mescal Agave / A. neomexicana nested in (cliche) feathergrasses

Marfa is clearly of the surrounding Chihuahuan desert grassland. Understated, yet grand.

Color too, and not just whites (the sum of all colors), used discretely as opposed to a floral print.


green is a color too, more Opuntia ellisiana as a hedge


hidden tile bench, Blue Nolina / Nolina nelsonii


bluish form of Beaked Yucca / Yucca rostrata…flaming red of Anisacanthus quadrifidus var. wrightii, Vauquelinia corymbosa var. angustifolia behind

Want to come here, and just walk around with your camera? I can relate…

A Place to Sit

I’m in Marfa again, this time for a design symposium. I splurged for little more than this town’s boutique “hotel”, but I have lodging with immense privacy and space, which I really miss.

Curiously, the front garden area is completely walled in with my favorite landscaping must-have, built-in: the seat wall.


restful and simple, but my design brain is revving up


finally, a durable hipster-panel fence / gate…steel

There isn’t one plant growing around these walls; I think it needs something discrete and to shade the hot NW evening sun. (29N latitude, 5000′ elevation sun) But planted so a group can still be comfortably accommodated inside.

Possibly add a few low-key containers?


morning has broken

Note there’s only one way into the graveled front area, via the steel gate. At 6′ tall and being a guy who wears jeans to dress up, no problem for me to hop over the seat walls.

While Marfa is informal, I would rather provide a space for the maximum types of guests. Had this been a Quercus project, I would have included 3 gaps to better access that space, each 3-4 feet wide – a pair at opposite ends of the portal (covered porch), where the lower walls meet it; the other gap stepping down, aligned with the front door.


a new day

After seeing Brad Lancaster speak at the end of the first day, before any planting occurs, we need to first build in passive water harvesting. I haven’t seen him in years, maybe since he was hanging out with a bunch of plant nerds at my old house. Loads of free resources on that – here. (both his books are a must, though)

With an adequate depth of mulch and planted, the soil acts more like a sponge, optimizing plant root system health – just like what happens in our arroyos. Low water-use, indiginous plants coordinated with water harvesting thrive and reproduce, because that now-moister soil in the plant root zone extends cooling and moisture into dry periods, that simply doesn’t happen without it.

Caveat – the uber-minimalist direction of gardens in Marfa, or other modern gardens, need to bend some, on being kept too neat. That perfectly clean ground plane is best left for the floors inside the house; some organic matter is necessary where plants grow. I hope my former home landscape of 15 years was proof of having such a balance.


great coffee…is there a better time of day?

With all the above in place, then we can sit back and enjoy the view and serenity just a little bit more.

This place is great to stay at, by the way. And the owner / host happens to host the Thursday night show on KRTS called Rockabilly. A fitting musical pairing from my high school days, which he and his sister play – here.

Desert Landscaping: Maintenance Fails and Fixes

If only I could be in charge of each of my projects’ maintenance, but then, who would design them? Just a few adjustments are needed in the below areas, looking at the big picture and then close-up.

Musical pairing, little to do with Las Vegas except it has a great beat and is about nightlife; I hear that city to the west has some of that – here

Photos from 6/24/2015 –


Do you see what the Honey Mesquite in front needs?

1 thing: prune off the 1″ branch growing low and into the building wall. If only I still had loppers, and I had driven there instead of flown.

From my last posts on how I wish I had designed something differently, you can tell how important I view even our smallish desert trees – which old guard definitions from cooler or wetter places refer to as “shrubs”.

Rabbits. Yet, there reaches a point when the wire cages can be removed, after the plants established and are no longer salad.

While the creosote bushes are growing, some are growing less so than the others. Such a difference, a simple light prune of taller stems back to the main stems is all that’s required to create a more appealing look, while maintaining some individuality in size. Even some of the lower, more dense creosotes could be thinned 10% to blend in some.

Balance, instead of unkempt or given the treatment.

Creosote Bush / Larrea tridentata

Creosote Bush / Larrea tridentata

Just imagine a little attention to some of the creosotes. While you imagine the few plants that die to be replaced by the same or similar plants.


see anything missing between both panels of windows?

A Joshua Tree once stood there.


position the Joshua Tree replacing the one that died, just like this one

I really enjoy the solar parking lights the architect specified. They fit the modern, space-age look there, with the sere Mars-like scenes beyond. But something else lurks…

Overall, I’m happy with much of what I see. Anyone who works outside in their heat should be thanked, even if one has to be insane to be in that line of work there… Though I forgot to mention in the last post, plant changes are often made without me – we cannot rule that and the other pitfalls.

But don’t you wish someone would step back, and pay a bit more attention to important areas of a planting, as I do this one?

Desert Landscaping: Design Fails and Fixes

Some have the idea I or any designer think we’re above reproach. No – some of us are actually our biggest critics, and that’s not being a perfectionist – it’s simply wanting to improve each time.

At the end of a long desert road, southern Nevada, late June 2015 –


that Joshua Tree should have stayed a Desert Willow…shade!

I’m unsure why I didn’t revisit Mike the architect’s suggestion (namely a tree for the L-shaped seat wall), but if only I stepped back and visualized summer – especially in Las Vegas!


too sparse…and plants at the gas meter, let alone agaves??!?

Now imagine a sunken swale down that planting area splitting the sidewalks. Catclaws, screwbeans or desert willows filling in the canyon created by both buildings, the entire length. Maybe some grasses or shady plants under, maybe just gravel.

Also, when I designed this in 2009-10, I hadn’t yet seen Loree’s blog to become more indoctrinated like today, so there’s no excuse for such an act :-)


and…should be trees in basins, not Joshua trees

While many of the above plants no longer get permanent drip irrigation due to the LEED Gold rating, basins and some hand-watering in summer could keep some going. Though perhaps not desert willows…

Where can people sit? Is there room once the plants grow in, those the contractor wants to substitute over the plants and alternates that I specified?


should be something smaller than the Brittlebush / Encelia farinosa

A favorite quote is from Antoine de Saint-Exupery, “a designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”

As I continue on a few designs, that plus starting with the big idea like shade, might help force the rest of the design how it needs to go.

Hot Date in Vegas – Pt. 2

Back to Reclamation’s Date Street Campus, their first project I designed with TSK.

Building 1400, the Lower Colorado Regional Office or just “the Green Building”, the landscape was on a *tight* budget thanks to the design-build process. A success thanks to all: owner to design team to the desert.

What worked? From Boulder City NV, too hot on 6/24/2015 –


front, E of the building entrance (S facing)

The plants were chosen for tight spaces, the creosote bushes providing green and visibility out the windows via the open forms; the building can shine.

Varied rock sizes act as mulch, like desert pavement does in the wild.

Some promising information on this odd agave hybrid, whose parentage had me questioning its toughness to high desert locales – here.

Onto one of the two largest planting areas on that property, this one including a small water harvesting tank. I might share more on the sides, rear and water harvesting tank another time.


front corner, heading to the W side (W facing)

The larger spaces allow near-native Teddybear Cholla / Cylindropuntia biglovii, plus native Catclaw Acacia / Acacia greggii, White Bursage / Ambrosia dumosa, with creosotes and Joshuas. The wildflower seeding in the swale is dormant now, so I’ll have to check it out in the spring.

With half the rain El Paso gets, it’s very arid; the LEED Gold certification attained on this project severely limits irrigation. Looking at the mountains, one can see why I use “Martian” to describe their land.

Do you ever wonder what your plantings would look like, if you could only use drip irrigation to establish, then hand watering afterwards in drought?