Santa Fe – More Than Monet

Many people see Santa Fe romantically from vacations or the media. It’s a marketing and tourism success, starting with the early 1900’s plaza area face-lift and gentrification since, but rarely very deep.

But how about Santa Fe from a horticultural standpoint? Past, present, and possible…via reality and place.

A tour through my landscape architect’s eyes; a prelude to my upcoming presentation at next month’s master gardener’s symposium. It’s more than Monet.

a 1500′ climb up to Santa Fe from the last of the Chihuahuan Desert north of Albuquerque…the distant Sangre de Cristo mountains are the southernmost end of the Rocky Mountains

No “Eat Bertha’s Mussels”, “Towanda”, or other “non-conformist” sticker?
new housing development entry – native / adapted plants and the all-important spikiness
the rest of their entry…mesic trees and a national grass symbol of Japan…in a gravel median in the southwest…..
toughness (adapted Wisteria and native Chamisa), but one obvious gesture out-of-place visually and culturally
getting there…more necessary sculpture plants  are being used, like this Datil / Yucca baccata, but the tree and some other plants are still not there
a passive park to walk the dog or stroll…a nice inclusion, using or retaining natural xeric Saltbush among grama grasses, adding Goldenrain Tree; if existing grades and plants, no ability to do passive water harvesting…if new, they missed the opportunity to better sustain plantings
water harvesting cisterns to store storm water; imagine this changed to mostly native, low water-use  grasses and other native plants

Nice hardscape and plant massing was designed. But instead of the habitual use of mesic exotics, how about a local sense-of-place via dry-region plantsmanship? Like using those exotic grasses as curiosities or as a last resort, and xeric native grasses as the overall bones and broad-brush strokes.

Most of the same people I’ve met over the decades, who rightfully extol local-everything, forget that when using plants. Many who go so far off the observably obvious, calling arid desert or even dry, semi-arid savanna (i.e. Santa Fe) as “prairie grassland”, somehow don’t use the native grasses they should admire. And if nurseries continue to make only exotics and invasives available, then there must be some serious business opportunities to do much better…not make excuses to keep the status quo.

It’s long past due to change all that.

It’s changing for the better, thanks to fresh blood in designers of varied ages and origins, working in Santa Fe. Old-guard isn’t always classic or old-age, nor is innovation the domain of the young or against design principles.

at the far end of that school, something native was used – Giant Sacaton!
a home using plant massing, over cliche clumps of three – roses in back, evergreen juniper groundcovers in front – a winter drive-by is in need
plant boldness is now used, more appropriate to the pueblo architecture than the HOG’s crazy color quilts…here wild-dug Faxon Yucca and Mescal Agave, with nursery-grown Red Yucca
native grasses and color clumps in lieu of gravel to cover the land…nice, but it works in tight spaces like this only with skilled maintenance, and selections of only low-growing species…but something seems missing, though a good start
the play of blue gramas and a few dropseeds left to remain and wash against the wall is smart…but in winter, oops…this will be all brown (and the walls don’t help), and even with that blue sky, it short-changes the drama nearby natural land has…evergreen and spikiness is needed (in the wider parkway)
I’m just glad someone left these grama grasses to remain in this tight space, similar to how they often catch the light and sway in the breeze…now it’s also time to begin considering the icing on the cake, as necessary…flower color in season

4 Replies to “Santa Fe – More Than Monet”

  1. What fun catching up with you. Your photography is always so beautiful…or is the beauty just waiting for you?! :)

    Yes, and thanks…I think the beauty awaits everyone, when ready to appreciate it!


  2. The last time I saw Alkali Sacaton in the wild was in 2011. We drove through the community of Elgin where the road junctions or branches off. It was just through where the road crosses the old railroad tracks along what I believe is Baocomari River. The station and tracks are gone, but the nature of Alkali Sacaton is filling in again.

    I also love the grama grasses when they bloom. There is something soft and pleasant about them.

    Elgin AZ? Nice, Sporobulus spp. seems to fill in well! In fact, the north end of the Jornada and Tularosa Basin in NM have miles of S. airoides. Carrizozo NM was even named after it. Very soft.


  3. I’ve been considering adding a Sporobolus wrightii as a specimen where I’m removing a Privet next year…but I just don’t think I have room…they can get quite large! In the last few pictures, I actually like the grasses along the wall as they are…I think they will bleach out and glow nicely all winter…adding so much light and movement…plus, in such a narrow space…simpler is better ;-)

    How about Alkali Sacaton / S. airoides…or treat a single S. wrightii as an overstory to something lower? Simplicity – I was only thinking about the wider parkway/hellstrip. I almost want to take out the couple dropseeds from along the wall!


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