Garden Designers Roundtable – Boundaries

In some of my past blogs’ posts, creating different spaces with some type of division is important to me.

Valuing water, sense-of-place and reasonable budgets to create a smaller oasis within a drier, yet appealing context, is part of good living in a dry land; even wetter places like the Mediterranean climates have that tradition. That’s a manmade boundary abstracting contrasts found in nature.

Appealing garden design organizes spaces, via observation, learning and refinement; beyond being a mere artiste, it integrates art and science.

So, step across the boundary; I even numbered each photo –

1) sere Sonoran Desert outside this Paradise Valley, Arizona home…

2) a grand wall and gate into the front courtyard of what I call “Spanish Colonial” or “Mexican Colonial” style…sour oranges and what else behind it?
3) an oasis of lush, annual flowering plants and a small water feature…a boundary worth passing through
4) spectacular boundaries of landform in the southwest: mesa, escarpment, valley, bajada, foothills and a “sky island” mountain behind Albuquerque

Boundaries are often obvious in the vast desert southwest – my home since 1992 – desert valley low, desert scrub above. Mountains, changes in elevation along an escarpment, or even different sides of a shallow valley can be quite the division of vegetation, geology and soil types, day-to-day weather, or especially long-term patterns of climate and vegetation.

Multitudes of visitors for decades often note their enjoyment at such boundaries, more than our landscape industry celebrates them.

5) C is for creosote, or is it L is for Larrea tridentata? I forget.

The boundary can be seen in Tome, New Mexico between each edaphic condition – fancy talk for soil types and moisture regime.

Some state an opinion that attempts to show boundaries in nature are merely artificial constructs. Well, they are – when observable elements and patterns of climate and species are not studied, ignored or even left out by humans.

But that’s a cop-out, and I’ve yet to see anyone stating such things put that on paper – without copying someone else – to see how, or if, it all lines up.

6) looking up this time…riparian, now-irrigated valley at 4,900′ elevation, then desert foothills, then the high montane Sandia Crest at 10,600′ elevation…

That scene has 4 or 5 of the world’s 7 life zones occurring upward, in 12 miles of distance, arranged by elevation/temperature-driven ecological boundaries.

Not to mention plenty of broadleaf mistletoe in those Corrales valley trees to kiss your sweetie under, since it is almost Christmas!

7) in graphic form on my draft map of the Chihuahuan Desert and its subdivisions…solid lines, dashes, hatches, etc. show approximate boundaries of different natural places, depending on the amount of change or overlap
8) a grand courtyard wall and gate as the boundary from outside, public space to private space…what if the inside was more heavily planted than the outside, so that boundary meant more? (I was inside on a 6/2012 tour, in an old post)
9) down the road, an old design of mine employed more difference…spare xeric plants with only the owners’ thirsty Chitalpa out front…but behind that adobe property wall boundary…
10) desert willows, Texas red oaks, some lawn, other heavy plantings of native shrubs and grasses make for a private, interior oasis (it should be on my website, for a closer look)
11) the walls and steps here are a boundary between thirstier plants in a cool microclimate, to the drier and exposed to the prairie desert climate…actually a man-made desert of sickly midwestern lawn and lollipop trees, with loads of gravel
12) Yucca rostrata x thompsoniana are thriving with Chrysactinia mexicana…the blue fescues are wishing they were some place less like Albuquerque…but a missed opportunity for the boundary from street into habitation?
13) I think not…green, dryland native and adapted plants 15 feet away…potted Hesperaloe funifera, Opuntia ellisiana, Rosmarinus officianalis ‘Prostrata’ soon to fill in, over that gravel mulch…


What’s missed in many commercial landscapes in my region, is commonplace in the low desert areas – a garden wall and or heavy native tree planting, to further reinforce such a boundary. But that takes space, budget, and design.

14) the same median a couple photos back…notice the xeric plants are more lush than the riparian-native Arizona Ash trees lining the median, now that it’s winter…
15) “Isn’t ironic, don’t you think?” Alanis Morissette aside, in our brief winter, green that’s more water-thrifty is a good great thing…

The cactus on the left looks poised to reseed, replacing struggling gestures to past deeds such as red barberries (almost dead) and fescues.

16) Vauquelinia californica got so many search hits on my old blog, so here it is…sure looks good in winter, and for less water than deciduous butterfly bushes, lilacs, etc…this could be part of quite the lush boundary in my region
17) before security stopped me (more on that another time:-), I noticed the stand-out green of Baccharis x Starns, a boundary between hard paving, parking and storefronts…
18) speaking of parking, compadre Jennifer Barr of Desert Elements did this with a permeable surface…a tactile, visual boundaries between parking spaces…
19) finally a good use of railroad ties…set flush with the granite or crusher fines surface (my former Honda, pre-Pronghorn Antelope incident)
20) someone else’s effective, locally-rooted design…a hedge of spineless Opuntia ellisiana, forming a boundary to the curbless street and front area…
21) and my design for a low garden / seat wall in this temporary boundary at Sierra Providence Eastside Hospital in El Paso…native plants inside, barren site for a future tower outside
22) a New Mexico-tough garden in Las Cruces…this wall boundary is more a privacy passageway, than to separate desert from oasis…even the plants inside or outside are nearly the same species and densities
23) a boundary via this fortress of a house…in front, an old-guard xeriscape ala Santa Fe catalogs or Denver books of a decade past…but beyond, the dramatic, ecoregional context of Albuquerque’s desert foothills…wow!
24) but a nearby boundary…this time separating a naturalistic, ecoregional planting outside…inside, an oasis of roses…beckoning a person in…
25) a mix of native and some adapted plants in front of the low garden wall boundary…trees behind it more midwestern, mesic…

That may be my design out front, given the planting resembles my late 1990’s work….and since some of my projects were filed behind the boundary on my PC in the wrong location…um, folder…I’m unsure!

26) a Chris Callott design, xeric plants in front…the boundary a contrast to some plantings, and to mimic the spring background of the cottonwood bosque…
27) this is definitely one of my designs…garden-height courtyard walls form the boundary between…
28) sunny, sparse and dry (and hot) outside, with…
29) a lush, and slightly cooler-wetter-humid oasis inside…a water feature with a lower budget than the first Paradise Valley courtyard…
30) also on a fairly do-able budget, Urban Earth’s design in Scottsdale AZ…a stone curb boundary ending the lawn and shade ramada oasis…
31) relating to the low stone wall boundary, where it becomes desert…inside, a firepit with Chihuahuan desert-native Candelilla / Euphorbia antisyphillitica…outside, natural Sonoran Desert along an arroyo

Some create boundaries with a plan they are paid to draw; others can do it without a plan. And even those gardeners who dismiss the value of a plan (who may say they can’t draw), end up planning spaces and the boundaries between each by their constant moving of materials and plants, as they “get it right”.

See, we’re all designers in some way!

So, please join the Garden Designers Roundtable, as we each take on what a boundary means to great garden spaces – here. Including:

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


9 Replies to “Garden Designers Roundtable – Boundaries”

  1. I’m curious about the “Old Guard xeriscape” with the artemisia, feathergrass, and Russian sage a la High Country Gardens — is it not suited for Albuquerque, or NM in general? Too thirsty? It looks pretty to me, but I know you favor native plants, so I’m just curious for more of your thoughts on it.

    I love seeing pics of your former garden again — love, LOVE that purple wall and chrome-yellow pot and plant accents. Can’t wait to see what you end up with for yourself one day in your new home.

    Plants – suited but many better choices sold for 15+ years; Abq 7F warmer and drier than Santa Fe. Imagine if ATX sold itself short by removing native oaks & marginalizing native plants or recent addition of adapted agaves? Design – lacks drama of background, habitat, native species / cacti sculpture, massing, winter interest, tie-in to architecture and geology. Other photos in post illustrate better ways. I must design colored walls into my projects, for now!


  2. Love this post. Boundaries are such an important part of design because they define the space, whether in nature or at home. And your example photos are gorgeous.

    Thanks; I found most of the pics I wanted! Yes, the boundary is VIP in larger gardens w/ outdoor rooms.

    (and I found pic #4 inside the Paradise Valley ctyd, somehow deleted in the HTML code…)


  3. Good discussion of a range of boundaries beyond the typical box. Keep showing those Arizona (Tr)ash trees and someone might get it eventually. The boundaries are there to see. Around here we can easily see the changes by driving just a few miles east.

    Good to see photos of your old garden again. My garden boundaries were existing and I’ve tried to use them and even reinforce them.

    So far though, Arizona and cultivar Modesto Ash, are avoiding the ash borer here. True, from E of Seguin to SA was quite different, as it is W of Uvalde or just S 30 miles. Do parts of SA have houses with courtyards?


    1. We don’t see that look much in SA. Low stone walls at the street with big porches are more common in older homes. The small entry courtyard with large lawn has always been popular so you will see homes of different vintage with that look. Some of the newer upscale developments are putting high walls at the sidewalk with a swimming pool in the large front entry courtyard and no backyard at all.

      Odd, as courtyards seem a tie-in to SA’s / STX’s more borderland ambiance, and would separate larger / dry planting areas from small / exuberant ones. Though the newer homes you mention sound intriguing…must see!


  4. Terrific juxtaposition of the skeletal column of Ash with the evergreen xeric fellows. Hydrozone issues aside, a small evergreen component under the Ash might tie the whole together. Makes me wonder what you would do…

    Good point on the ash. Since they are higher water use, I would underplant all with lush, evergreen Rhaphiolepis indica or ‘Blueberry Muffin’ (the trees would protect them from May-July heat/sun).

    With more money, add a large container at each median-planter-end with something bold (Hesperaloe or Yucca) with flowers spilling over, and add more of the same spiky/flowering plants in containers but on pedestals between every 2-3 trees. Seems another option would be something leafier. If not for being Albuquerque with insanely low humidity May-June, wind from all the cars and heat off the paving, something tropical-esque as an occasional accent might be fun…but fried cannas, hardy bananas not so nice.


  5. David, it’s hard for this city-dweller to wrap her mind around gardening in these wide open spaces. Our edges are much closer together.

    I think city and forest dwellers have some built-in boundaries. So, creating a boundary is key out here!


  6. Good to see your garden again.

    Scientists agree, Life happens on the edge.

    Boundaries are entries, they are frisson.

    They are endings.

    Boundaries are great excitement in garden design. And where I use contrast the most.

    Garden & Be Well, XO Tara

    Wasn’t sure I would look at it again so soon, but glad I did. Exactly…even clouds and rain converge at a front, but plant life, emotions, all get stimulated in that passage! I wonder why some dismiss boundaries…sad.


  7. Wonderful stuff David. A REAL breath of fresh air.

    And later –
    I have a handle on a lot of plants but I feel dumbo when reading much of this stuff! So many of these plants are quite alien and wonderful for me and i would love to play with many of em! Many have such strength of ‘design’ and i would love the challenge of assembling them into ‘garden’! Another lifetime perhaps!

    Glad for you to join me…I was only going to post a few photos, too! Interesting, but when I see (drool over) your imagery, some of the dryland plants in your garden from AU, the Southern Hemisphere, etc have many of the same forms as here, just less sparse?


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