Sun City?

Years ago, hanging out with some fellow OU alumnuses, one remarked what they thought of Albuquerque winters – the way “everything has to come together for it to snow”.

They should live in El Paso.

A day after Santa’s visit, we had our first snow. The sun didn’t even come out for 2 days, including for…drum roll…the Sun Bowl! Photos 12/26/2014 –

3780′ – at my place in Sunset Heights

Can you almost see it falling and on my car window? Large flakes over 1″ in size fell for an hour, but I wasn’t yet dressed up to venture outside, except during smaller snow flakes either side of that for another 45 minutes, or so.

Our 5″ / year average snowfall must come from one huge dump and then nothing for three or more winters, plus some creative measuring. Though I’ve heard about those Aprils in the 1980’s, with an accumulation either side of 12″ both times. Even if that’s really 12 cm., I fear driving these hills with these drivers if that happens again!

the first wintry vista, where I-10 rounds the hills W of UTEP

Our area got needed moisture, or so I thought. About .15″, but that beats 0.

the dusting…on warmer days, I’ve mountain biked up this bajada
cold solitude
an Ocotillo frames the mountains
4600′ – where Transmountain Road was closed to uphill traffic

No more going up further…a mere 2″ at the 5280′ pass, but exposed and icy there, or so I was told.

snow brings out the scent of Creosote Bush, too
Torrey Yucca lightly dusted
Sotol also in the White Christmas motif
I took photos of almost every time it snowed on the desert…such sculpture

My favorite part of this event might be the people having fun.

the little redhead girl about ready to hit dad with a snowball!

Those cute El Pasoans scraping up all one inch of it, spoken by someone who grew up partly in Denver!

I remember back in ’82, when we shovelled 3′ of it, after digging out from a 12′ drift…

when I was the ages of the youngest in Belgium, there were no cactus to dodge…both times it snowed in 4 years

When I lived in San Diego, a few people told me they drove 1+ hour up to the mountains after a high elevation snowstorm, to load their truck beds with snow, then back to dump it in their front yards.

shorts…maybe it’s a “dry cold”
still dressed for the Florida on their license plate
almost a snowlfie
geology and layering under a brooding sky
RE: geology…almost reasonable prices for trips like this!

Lawn In the Desert?

Of course. Right plant – right place, right?

I’ve designed so little lawn (AKA turf) during my career since college graduation (1988), and especially since moving to the desert southwest (1992) – in numbers of projects, or percentage of area on those projects. Most of that turf was for at least one use, to justify high water and soil fertility needs in the desert.

This project is no different – photos from Sierra Providence East, 11/12/2014:

walking up for my final inspection, this initial green view threw me…and I was the person who designed in that lawn…

The excess water and puddle is from a valve that stuck, about to be repaired…

El Paso = 8″ average annual rainfall, 4″-17″ range over 70+ years of record.
‘Santa Ana’ Bermudagrass = 30″ annual rainfall required to form a sod.

intially, it was amended soil, an underground rotary irrigation system, and a sand or silt fence…
west side turf…even Bermudagrass turf needs serious soil amendment in the desert…soils here a pH of 8.5, sand over packed sand and caliche…
even more turf to be installed on the east side…bike racks in front to come to that crushed, compacted DG area…
more green, dryland plants towards the building…

It’s still hilarious with so many taking out lawns, that here I am featuring a lawn. It’s been years, and it may be years, again!

Never mind, I’m finishing 2 subdivision parks with…2 main lawn areas and 3 smaller lawn areas.

dizzy yet?…east side turf installed with…more dryland plantings and undulating grades between it and the building…

While people in El Paso rarely use lawn due to local practices and water costs, some uses of a space require a lawn.

Even before the owner came up with new uses like events, movies, and the like, I already saw this area as enclosed by building walls. That screamed “oasis” to me, as well as, “breaks and lunches, sitting on the lawn”.

curves…dry plants high, wet plants low…

Remember a past post – movies on that far wall in the dark? And community and hospital staff events outside on the lawn?

The (5) red oak trees relocated to parking lot areas have in their place openness to better accomodate those events and not having to be so close to the “screen” and tilt one’s head up a bit much. There’s still (5) trees left for those warm season, shady picnic lunches, so it could be worse.

across most of the alternate lawn space…no longer an alternate

This post shows but a small area on the project that’s been landscaped. In this area, lawn looks over 50% of the landscape, but in my past post, you can see there’s still more dryland and native plantings than lawn. (38% lawn, 62% dryland plantings, plus the edible garden by others)

The total landscape area built to-date on this 42 acre hospital property = 155,935 square feet / 3.58 acres (8.5% of the property…more to be added)

The turfgrass (higher water-use) area = 7,568 SF / .17 AC (4.9 % of the landscape) 

The dryland plantings (lower water-use) area = 148,367 SF / 3.41 AC (95.1 % of the landscape)

Do you think that amount of lawn is acceptable in a desert town, given the setting and potential uses?

Have you owned a lawn, or begun replacing lawn with lower water-use plantings?

Progress at Sierra

Here’s a sampling of the last part of the rather disjointed* landscape installation at Sierra Providence East, in the alternate landscape area that the owner approved, anyway! (* more on that later)

Now, back to making progress on final design for the other Providence facilities. That’s part of what I’m trying to work on the design of, in between everything else.

Photos from October to early November 2014:

wrong cactus, will freeze, Opuntia ficus-indica...
wrong cactus…it will freeze once it overgrows the space…Opuntia ficus-indica…

The switch of these exact two cacti species is all-too-common.

right cactus, as per plan, Opuntia ellisiana...
right cactus, as per plan, Opuntia ellisiana…
beds being laid out, but just (3) trees left of my original grove…there’s a reason for it, but not my reason…

A month or so before the last phase of this landscape installation, was when the architect and I found out about not only an owner-driven edible growing area, but also the east side being envisioned for hospital staff and community gatherings and events. Even movies.

Do you think that would have been more effectively designed when I was designing that space?

I do. But at least I was involved by the architect, the general and landscape contractor, and met the owner to discuss this. My first call on the trees was only to take out (3).

too many trees, even though this relocates (4) of them...
more like it, but to the owner, too many trees…and this relocates (3) of them, already…


west entry plants laid out, but the wrong grass...
west entry plants laid out…
west entry planted
west entry planted…so many utilities and irrigation boxes now worked around…

“Whoa, what’s that green area, Desert Dweller?”

“Not to worry, compadre!”

Until a future post as to why, just be comforted that it’s not just to rest your eyes on, and that I’ve been designing lawnless new or conversion landscapes before most garden blogs spoke of such craziness. Especially those in far wetter areas…which is most :-)

west berm plant / gravel path placement...
west berm plant / gravel path placement…
west berm planted
west berm planted
drip irrigation, how I usually design it...
drip irrigation, how I usually design it…

Contractors on my jobs often still put in too much 1/4″ distribution or spaghetti tubing to each plant, but we’re getting closer to doing it per the plans, and to minimize future maintenance problems when raking.

but the wrong grass…

If you recall the HOG, Miscanthus spp. is cherished in their arsenal of about 12 cool-mesic plants for my former desert town…not in my arsenal for 20 years. That’s when I learned so much about arid-region horticulture, there was no going back.

Thanks Judy, Mielke that is. And Schuler, Martino, even Ten Eyck. Speaking of before…

In fact, within a year, there was no way but to start my own business and/or move. Glad in many ways that I could do both in time.

the right grass, Muhlenbergia rigens...
the right grass, Muhlenbergia rigens…

That grass is in this LA’s arsenal of 142 42 plants…I keep forgetting about supplier-caused-limitations of plant availability for the high desert. That’s the reason for the 100 species cut. But I do try…

Each was planted in 2’s, to compensate for the 5 gallon sizes I specified not being available.

east berm plant placement...
east berm plant placement…
east berm planted...
east berm planted…
good use of the Zephyranthes candida from the deleted dining courtyard...under each Acacia greggii...
good use of some of the 100+ Zephyranthes candida from the deleted dining courtyard planting areas…under each Acacia greggii…
just a week, a frost, and domrmant deergrass, revealing the sculpture elsewhere...
just a week and a frost…now, dormant Deergrass masses, revealing the sculpture elsewhere…

This part of town gets frosts 1-2 weeks before my area in the fall. And the nights cool down more in summer. Just 20 miles away, a different climate zone, not a microclimate.

Hint: a microclimate is something one can mostly walk in and out of; not usually so with a climate zone.

the right number of trees, for our compromise…

I designed the center of both lawn areas to have a depressed grade up to 12″, to hold and percolate stormwater, instead of running it into the paving. But that puddle is from an irrigation valve that stuck; it was swiftly repaired.

the future outdoor / gathering area and film screen wall…
some trees relocated at the sidewalk by the physician parking,l so not a total loss...
some trees relocated at the sidewalk by the physician parking, so not a total loss…
east entry planting, lawn, and berm planted...
east entry planting, lawn, and berm planted…

I hope this shows one way how I do more with less, and that it also has you wondering why there’s lawn in the desert.

Stay tuned!