Planting Shadows

Is the use of desert accent plants and the way light plays on their forms a happy accident, intentional, or some combination? For me, it’s the last.

First stop: my recent work at Sierra Providence East Medical Center

young Texas Red Oak in new spring growth, grabbing all that light…

When I moved to my first desert southwest town of Albuquerque, I was disillusioned with the HOG’s messy cottage gardens posing as xeriscape, which left out native plants and bolder accents. Weak.

After a few months there, I was driving many miles through town doing bids, and I began to spot old, neglected landscapes – many with those accents, happily growing, and they looked like they belonged, even if not found in natural areas directly nearby.

Now, we’re onto something. I knew this was one crucial puzzle to more enlightened, more dramatic gardens up to the par of surrounding natural drama of light, form, and sky.

the right Yucca torreyi on the left, the wrong Yucca elata on the right, coarse vs. fine shadows…

Aware of their forms and the way they interact with our skies and views, I never fully realize all I am playing with by including them in designs.

Until they are installed, that is.

almost like an illicit lower-back tattoo or illegal substance graphic on my car…nope, just a Yucca torreyi shadow

Keeping existing specimens of such skyline accent plants in a new design shows far more sophistication than replacing them with matching Stepford wife trees on 30′ centers, too.

Not bragging, as it wasn’t just I who wanted a certain yucca to stay – just sayin’.

On to my work at Crazy Cat Cyclery

isn’t the tropicalesque sky with a desert yucca / shadow great?
so glad we could keep this Yucca torreyi, and the subcontractors could work with it – the yucca is probably much older than me

And it’s been boldly playing in the desert sun for even longer than I.

3 Replies to “Planting Shadows”

  1. Those shadows are great, especially the one on the car and your commentary. The yucca “cousins” shadows tells the story better than a whole book would.

    I’ve got plans for a blank stone wall facing the street. The shadow maker needs careful selection.

    Thanks, I always need a reminder of just what they do – I forget it even when taking garden photos or designing. Interesting on the yucca cousins…very true. I’ll look at your blog to see that wall, to try to guess what you’re about to do…


  2. I’m always in awe of any landscape, but especially any commercial landscape that includes what I think of as Plant Elders in the mix. To me it signals a respect for those longer interactions of time, climate and biomass I have learned to deeply appreciate. Sure, I gripe that I’ve lost most of my sunny spots out front to overhanging oak trees. But one reason I can tolerate time outside year ’round is the way their shade gentles our summer sun. Those trees are ancient of days. They were here long before me and will remain long after. To them I’m just passing through.

    [High marks for the contractor and crew that worked around that yucca (is that the bicycle shop?). They ought to use that respect for existing plantings in their advertising. It would certainly draw my potential business.]

    I’m going to reuse your “Plant Elders” term in the future. Here yuccas, there oaks. When I go to Austin, I want to see your Plant Elders more than (trendy) knock-offs of desert landscapes (Tucson, or fill-in-blank)…not that in a smaller, specialized place there a touch of the deserts several hours west are not OK in moderation. ALl you say is part of it, plus they do look ancient. Here, some of my peers ignore our own distinctive plants, including our yuccas and cacti, and do desert-generic…yawn, too.

    I’ll have to note this to the owner…it’s the only thing for many blocks like it.


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