Garden Designers Roundtable – Bold

Some people are told to not rock the boat; not all take heed.

Yet, the loudest voices are often those advising others to just fit in, even belittling the unique – probably at least as bold as those they criticize. Sometimes bold is cultural (compare the “genteel southerner” to the “brash Yankee”), from upbringing or ancestry (I compare dinners with a friend of Swedish ancestry to my own family at dinner), but often it’s in gardens.

Maybe it’s perspective. Or perhaps it’s also being afraid, or even being downright boring since “everyone is doing it”.

Let’s explore my take on what bold might mean, as a part of this month’s Garden Designers Roundtable.

Radical vs. Conservative?

An everyday scene for many westerners, but bold for others…but no matter where they live, many like this kind of sunset…Music Mountains, E of Kingman AZ

In this Henderson NV front yard, a native plant like this Joshua Tree is often called bold, maybe even radical, especially without that lawn for everyone passing by to “roll around on” or “rest their eyes on”


Like this hilarious ad from the Southern Nevada Water Authorityhere

Yet many don’t consider this as radical – it’s a non-native, thirsty honeylocust, native to the eastern US, used blocks away from the Joshua Tree – it and others struggle to maintain a full canopy in this well-irrigated landscape
That’s one bold blue sky! But what’s radical and conservative at an open space area parking lot? Spiky Sotol plants in the desert? Or shaping each member of this Turpentine Bush mass into cubes, destroying the mass effect, and taking load$ of time (where the naturally-tight-growing plants need none of that), and the design is far from formal (look out sotols, I think you’re next!)
But since I was “already there”, I couldn’t let things end on such a bad note. With only 8 hours from Las Vegas to Albuquerque, I fit in a 2 hour mountain bike ride at Bootleg Canyon…bold! So was my wipe-out 1/2 way through the caldera…



blue and yellow walls at this Tucson residence, with various cacti, hesperaloes and agave…bold, beautiful
In this case, I had first-hand insight that the bold purple wall was objected to, by someone who thought nothing of the purple Russian sage, and loved their own blue spruce they had to baby (talk about radical in the desert)…I’m partial to the design of both properties you are looking at:-)
Bold and gold in historic Boulder City, across from one of my projects…I wish I could park this classic in front of my retro landscape renovations…
…such as this project…sometimes bold restraint is designed, in walls, mulch and walking surfaces, and plants
bold design can let a stunning background stand on it’s own…that’s why I put the retaining wall where it is, and kept most of the regional but non-locally-native agaves and sotol this side of that wall, in part of a 2002 Sandia Heights design of mine



the obvious is bold here…clumps of these cacti in pink bloom…miles of desert punctuated by these
Doña Ana Cactus / Coryphantha macromeris
‘Lavender Spice’ Mexican Oregano / Poliomintha madrensis bold against the tans of this UTEP wall

In the end, I think bold is as simple as being more real, having the grace in seeing interest in something and someone less flamboyant…and the wonder of someone more that way. Believe it or not, I do…every day. I actually think my Swedish friend is every bit as passionate as my hand-waving, boisterous paisanos talking about their favorite meal, while still feasting on a great meal.

And there’s more! Please join my fellow lords and ladies of the Roundtable, as we nosh on more bold views, from across our slice of the globe –

Jocelyn Chilvers : The Art Garden : Denver, CO

Lesley Hegarty & Robert Webber : Hegarty Webber Partnership : Bristol, UK

Douglas Owens-Pike : Energyscapes : Minneapolis, MN

Scott Hokunson : Blue Heron Landscapes : Granby, CT

Jenny Peterson : J Peterson Garden Design : Austin, TX

You might even find some more to add to the discussion, that we failed to add or hadn’t even thought of!


13 Replies to “Garden Designers Roundtable – Bold”

  1. I do not subscribe to ‘native is best’…sure use em if they are worthy BUT to use plants from around the globe (as many of we homo sapiens are) with a firm eye on ‘weediness’ (that was not applied to the H.S…joke) in my not so humble opinion is the way to go. Throw away your International gloss dreams (books) and get yerselves some decent plant reference books..the ones without celebrity garden owners/gardeners. (gee do we need to know about the plants!) and a decent set of eyes.
    Thus spake Martin of the overthrow.

    We’ll have to agree to disagree here, with some qualifications at my end. I actually agree with you more than not, though on natives – in case you missed my page on that, taken from my old blog –

    Hopefully that clarifies my thought. Ultimately, with me it’s preserving a sense-of-place, minimizing water and maintenance inputs, healthier gardens, and better habitat for humans and other fauna. In another sense, I think Doug Tallamy’s philosophy is more comprehensive and thought-out than Del Tridici’s.

    Agreed on your approach to watch for weediness with exotic, adapteds (and some natives, to fulfill a design best). And advancing beyond pretty books by celeb authors/media. I guess we’re both overthrowing the “guard”.


    1. David my comment ‘Native is best’ needs fleshing out. I am fully supportive of the use of indigenous plants in our often comprehensively ‘altered’ landscapes.

      A thought/opinion by some knowledgeable plant fellow (I wish i could remember the source) back in the 18th/19th century before too many folk were the slightest bit concerned about ecology etc etc

      ..Many plants that ARE ‘native’ are there very often not because that is where they are happiest but they are merely hanging on in an environment that was once more conducive to their general good health requirements.

      .In other words many changes (climatic etc) subtle or otherwise have rendered them sort of strangers in their own land! Back then of course the impact of man was considerably ‘gentler’ than what followed. The changes wrought (from soil pathogens UP) by our very often heavy handed control of the land must have rendered a huge amount of native plants ‘alien’.

      I think the word ‘native’ to be too much of a catch all for almost nationalistic reasons (yep in the plant world too) In Australia for example I regard plants from say the far western Australia to be just as exotic as plants from South Africa!!

      I wonder how many American/Australian folk etc could ‘transplant’ well back to their original European homelands?
      Now thats a long bow!!

      This article I wrote some years ago might shed some light on my general approach!

      Click to access diggers.pdf

      P.S. Are WE of European stock not the greatest WEEDS in the new world??

      Ummmm I think I best have some breakfast!!

      Let me know which of my intents or definitions on my page didn’t address what you are stating, including which caveat –

      Perhaps that might clear up all you and others with similar views bring up?

      Yes, many Europeans (and Africans & Asians, …) who’ve come to the New World are weeds to some point. But that’s more of a conscious, cultural issue of intent, while plants are sentient, biological without intent.


  2. Fortis Fortuna adiuuat.
    I think of all the ‘arts’ almost all things garden are about the least bold…EVERYWHERE.
    I have tried to fathom the reason for such general drabness for many a year..Ultimately I think on a domestic level most folk do not want to be ‘seen’ as different. And on public level those spaces are very often under the control of career ‘public servant’ (govt employees) who are not really known for their boldness..I am quite sure there are many exceptions but in general thats about the strength of it!

    On another note I think it is often in the ‘interest’ of the formal garden ‘industry’ to keep any concept down that might have impact on their economic base…I know from experience…. Lets face it the plant selling industry thrives on plant death and any significant push to use plants that actually suit ones given growing conditions is viewed as a threat.
    I think most folk including the many in the professional sector would be amazed at the massive waste of resources in the pursuit of Sissinghurst in Arizona…an example but I am sure they exist..or rather half exist!!

    But never mind all this talk about about plants..lets spread organic mulch (big business bucks) over the THAT is right and sustainable..As I live and breath…..

    Thanks for the great links; I saved them for reference! The reasons bold is somehow ignored in gardens but not other arts sound right-on, whether people in control positions or profit$. The mulch one (or dare I say, “sustainable” and “green” speak, is a dead-on hit, too. So is your Arizona scenario, or forcing Des Moines and Aspen into Abq…or San Diego and Phoenix into El Paso. The last two are often by the same person…horticultural dyslexia!

    Thanks for your excellent thoughts!


  3. LOVE, LOVE this post for so many reasons….oh those poor Turpentine shrubs :-(

    Thanks, thanks! Yes, and you should(n’t) see what they do to live oaks here.


  4. David, As usual, you’ve created another post with lots to think about. I like the idea that bold can be going against the norm and not making the traditional ‘bold’ statement.

    Thanks – where I am, radical is too often misnamed conservative. Arrgh!


  5. Good insights, bold and standing out while doing what you know to be best. Ignoring the loudest voices. Too bad for the turpentine bush, the sotol might really be next. Someone did cut a row of sotol back in my neighborhood, new homeowner probably surprised that the “grasses” haven’t grown back by now.

    I can still hear the neighbors trying to push us into planting a proper green lawn for more than 15 years. How times change, the new neighbors in that house now love our landscape and plan to borrow a few ideas.

    Yes, the loudest are usually a few hold-outs! (like 2-3 at a meeting with the “dam people”) As to maintenance, I think our blogs on what to do and what to leave alone, if promoted well and with $ figures, might really help? I like hearing about your neighbors coming on-board slowly.


  6. Beauty in the bold! Love the Sandia Heights transition — the bold agaves really work to bring the natural backdrop in and make it part of the space.

    I think you’re right. I only wish I could have found a photo w/ some agastache in bloom there!


  7. Great examples…I like very much how you also showcased bold on the flip side (the pictures of the water guzzling trees in the desert, etc). Your NV modern design with the mesquites is looking soooooo good! All your design pics are wonderful…and the mex. oregano in the container looks delicious!

    I was wondering where I might go with that “what’s really radical or conservative” topic – voila! Thanks, hope to see the NV project in a few years. Yes to all! But watch the video link…


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