Gato Loco…A Re-Cycling Story

Surprise, surprise! Everything came together on one of my designs – the crucial installation part – as I happened to drive by one day, doing errands. Including buying a helmet lamp for my late rides that push the onset of dark…

Photos last week –

color but few flowers, form, plants integrated with angular walls…
shallow water harvesting basins and limestone boulders slow downhill water…boulders buried 1/4 into grades, staggered to imply the meander on an uphill trail…

Locals are not just the boulders from a nearby site, but include Dasylirion wheeleri. Adapted plants were used elsewhere – Yucca pallida lines the wall (5′ white flower-tower stalks), Chrysactinia mexicana are tucked in at boulders, (yellow blooms) and the owner’s encinos – Quercus fusiformis clumps in each basin.

The Desert Tan rock mulch is large in size to minimize wash-outs in heavy storm events; it was the closest color available to mimic the lighter desert pavement nearby. It would have cost more to crush smaller rocks on the same site our boulders were harvested from, into sizes for use here, plus hauling costs.

If this were my property and money, given the scale, the trees might have not been exotic live oaks (encinos), but a local native – deciduous, better scaled, contexted, and spineless – Acacia constricta var. paucispina.

Likewise, the low yuccas might have been local spiky groundcover, Agave lechuguilla.

In the future, there might be a place to tuck in a few more small locals, such as lechuguillas and/or some Echinocereus spp.

downhill, more shallow water harvesting…new plants meet uphill plants for some future phase’s planting along the street…car parking…

The Texas State Grass, Sideoats grama / Bouteloua curtipendula surrounds ever-bluegreen Yucca pallida. That tough bunch grass occurs natively just a few hundred feet in elevation above this property, in rock outcrops along small, steep arroyos facing west. It’s able to be stepped on, with minimal damage. Tough!

Perhaps so many overplanted landscapes fuel why many think a landscape like this looks so immature? The annointed designers get huge budgets to do things well or simply over-plant / over-design, but even more designers do that, creating future owner expenses.

Or perhaps people forget this is the desert, where plants grow thin and with purpose, which we have to plant if we want it back?

the most important parking, not yet set up…outdoor bike display + customer bike parking area…”human parking” behind…uphill plants brought down into that communal space…

Martina the architect said this will probably be the smallest design I do this year. Ha!

While the budget or timeline were tight, I was paid fairly and valued. There’s nothing small about that.

sun back out…monsoon season skies…more color without a flower…
a smaller, new planting area…an old, existing Yucca torreyi framing our mountains and skies…shadows…nothing small…
looking back towards previous pictures…under the grand yucca are Bouteloua curtipendula, Anisacanthus quadrifidus wrightii ‘Mexican Fire’ (red blooms for hummingbirds), Agave murpheyi…

The required irrigation backflow preventor / enclosure takes up space, but the other plants will soften it. Day over!

all closed by dinner…picture this soon with people sitting out here…more on the communal area’s good, bad and potential later…

People sitting out in a greatly-upgraded space in the near future, a former asphalt and gravelscape hell. Cyclists, customers and sales people, all excited to live and ride here, in an outdoor setting to drive some into outdoor living?

There’s nothing small about such potential, people or place.

into the desert dusk
I even saw this flier to take…

It advertised a public showing during our town’s film festival. I was 12 when it came out, saw it in high school and many times since. Some attending weren’t even born in 1978, and one told me how he enjoyed it.

I rode there on my bike, of course, like many others in attendance.


On the Way to a Concert…

A few blocks away from my abode, one hot June evening I walked to see a local (and good) country band play at the convention center plaza. I saw this landscape again, on the corner of Santa Fe and Franklin.

I’ve driven by it many times before, but it’s better by foot.

Returning weeks later with my camera, photos from 7/13/2014 –

a stand of Hesperaloe parviflora ‘Yellow’, a statuesque Yucca faxoniana…


Like those TV Energizer Bunnies, this Hesperaloe planting just keeps blooming – they still are, and it’s late August.

Lantana X ‘New Gold’ for lower, trailing interest…

Where I moved from, I often heard a bias, how “xeriscape” or “desert plants” work best with southwestern architecture. Unwilling to see it as a simple design issue.

Parroting misinformation is never good, especially in my region from someone without their desert eyes on.

No. It works best when plants are chosen for the climate and soil type that meet their needs, then designed to be in context with their space and architecture. Any space or architectural style. Design.

simple and timeless…desert natives, brick architecture

I’ll ignore the railroad ties [gag], seen from walking but not in my smaller car!

Clean Desert Plantings

Borrego and the Art of Hot Landscapes? I’m not sure.

Back to the art institute / former-grocery store-reuse, in the serene desert town of Borrego Springs. This time, more of a look at their landscape design, recently implemented. Photos from 1/14/2014 –

a mass of Agave parryi ‘Estrella’ (arid z 8a, at least) welcomed me, in the morning light…a distant mass of golden barrels


The palm in this landscape is California Fan Palm or Desert Fan Palm / Washingtonia filifera, native in the canyons just west of here, and for some distance north and south near water seeps (or wet-winter runoff flows).

A surprise: neither this nor any other palm is native to the LA basin, San Francisco Bay Area, or San Diego. Their legendary palms were all planted.

many locally-native plants, including Justicia californica between the fan palm and another agave…
Totem Pole Cactus (?) alternates with softening, late-winter blooming Aloe spp.

That’s a refreshing change from the often-too-minimalist xeric gardens in some southwestern mid-century-modern gardens. Do others try too hard to be minimalists? The difference in forms and textures here helps.

Justicia californica / Chuparosa (arid z 9b), blooms play against shadow and light on a boulder…

With our sere atmosphere, there’s little like light and shadow in the desert.

Chuparosa = Spanish for hummingbird, and hummers do frequent this species!

looking back to Christmas Circle, through a mix of native plants, dormant ocotillo soon to don it’s radiant red tips…here in the low desert…

In high desert areas, those red blooms pop two or more months later.

Lady Slipper Plant / Pedilanthus macrocarpus (arid z 10a, damage at 30F)
rows of protected Pachypodium lamerei mimic the distant row of Washingtonia filifera…facing Borrego Palm Canyon, by the way

This man’s take on Borrego is as enjoyable and humorous as his others in the Golden State – here.

their Hispanic Month meant local art inside – the favorite bird in all the southwest? – but as a horticultural post, it’s back outside…
Madagascar Palm / Pachypodium lamerei (z 10a, damage <32F) starting to bloom…do bats pollinate this one?

Probably best in warm spots near the rarely-frosted So Cal beaches. Much is written on this one in lower coastal Florida. Time to drive home…10+ hours.
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Some final things to consider –
A number of the plants in this post are low desert plants – arid, some light frosts most winters, and a hard freeze every few years – below 28F. Often never below 15-20F – ever. Borrego, much of Phoenix, Laughlin, Palm Springs, Yuma, etc.

Not me, or Las Vegas, or Albuquerque, or…

So, some of this post’s plants may not take to the crazy zone-pushing (to warmer climes) that I’ve watched in recent years in some locales.

But zone-pushing isn’t bad in moderation, with some thought. I’ve seen more than a few intersting, xeric plants naysayed for a given locale – especially from a place 5F or a touch warmer – become pleasant surprises, then staples, taking all extremes.

So, how do I handle using a new plant in a design for a paying client?

I go online to quickly learn documented temperature and rainfall where I’m working – averages and ranges of extremes – and the soil type. Easy. Then, I compare to where I’ve seen something I like growing. I filter out and ignore uninformed biases, though that’s not so easy. Then, I go for it!

This might help, from my links page near the top of my blog – here

Some readers have had a run of 10+ years of unusually mild winters, but just got hammered with a harder winter – actually closer to averages than those recent ones. Yet, still not close to infrequent but record lows near 0F.

What can you do when you see extremes that exceed the plant’s documented ones?

1) One can favor perception, then ignore facts and wonder about any failure.

2) One can verify information and have good fun with confidence. Then, if a plant is small enough at maturity (i.e., not a tree or plant too large and heavy to affordably haul off), and there are few such plants, precautions can be taken within reasonable extremes (a 20F difference from your garden to a plant’s documented extremes = not reasonable). Placing in containers that can be brought inside, or covering, during extremes, are an alternate to enjoying that plant somewhere else.
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I’ll get back to more posts of my own work, as well as other trips where I took too many photos. But there’s so much inspiration out there!