Sage + BBQ

When it comes to shrubs, it’s often refreshing to see native or adapted plants in a landscape with little to no maintenance. Such is the case of a planting near my office.

Caution: such neglect doesn’t work with trees; thoughtful pruning and training when young, less with age, helps reveal their benefits.

Scenes from 10/2014 and 1/2015 –

Leucophyllum frutescens in fall, ample room to grow unpruned

While some flowering shrubs can erupt after over-pruning during a milder, wet period during the monsoon season, that’s the exception – don’t count on it.

one of many blooms

This is the most basic Texas Sage – AKA Cenizo or Texas Ranger – one of many in that genus used to cover larger areas and with little irigation, even in most desert climates. It’s native mostly to the South Texas ecoregion with an odd mix of oppressive summer humidity and borderline aridity. So, it takes insane levels of heat, but a decent amount of cold; even Albuquerque and Roswell winters are not too cool for this Leucophyllum.

this gray-leaved species and varieties are a bit dull and thin in winter

But in this post, I’m concerned more with the advantages gained by planning and planting a shrub, to reach maturity without over-pruning, needless shaping or shearing. We have a long way to go there.

No one has covered this most-important topic of productive vs. counter-productive shrub pruning, so enjoy AZ Plant Lady’s posts – here.

no blooms and the foliage more sparse

Being chilly after seeing some winter-dormant, silvery sages, I had to get something warm to eat before returning to work. Off to Tony’s The Pit BBQ, for one of our few different types of barbecue sold in El Paso.

And for a reader in Boise, who sounds like he’s missing out –

I ordered the shredded brisket

Sliced is their usual way to serve up a brisket sandwich, but this is new to their menu. So, I had to try it…

I asked for some burnt ends, for extra flavor
after some sauce, they add a touch of medium green chile

This might not go over well with many folks, since Texas brisket is supposed to be served with sauce optional in some circles. And certainly not green chile.

But, not in El Paso, where many happily add anything spicy to food…this is where jalapenos and chiles meet. Possibly the most concentrated chile-growing region in North America begins under 10 miles from downtown El Paso. And everyone here wants you to make sure and eat their salsa.

This was more juicy, messy, and bolder in flavor than their sliced original.

stepping back in time here
two vaqueros, and what do you know?

They’re pictured riding through Yucca elata and Agave lechuguilla…can it get any more local?

I’ll close with an excerpt from Mean as Hell, a spoken-word by Johnny Cash –

The red pepper grows upon the banks of the brook
The Mexican use it in all that he cook
Just dine it with one of ’em and you’re bound to shout
I’ve Hell on the inside as well as the out…”

Sound like a familiar place? Make sure to read the legendary Man in Black’s entire piece, though. With brisket, or whatever good BBQ you can find.

Perfect, as you ponder not taking the wild out of the west, or it’s shrubs.



A new rental and retail center is being developed in a rugged, infill area of El Paso: Time at Montecillo.

Some interesting concepts were employed, and some even work – usable while being attractive. If one cannot have function and form in a design, it didn’t work. I’ll concentrate on outdoor spaces within the retail section.

From the serene afternoon of Thanksgiving 2014 –

retrofitted shipping containers galore…sky and mountains
steel and CMU block are durable…attractive when well-designed

One of the two patios, this is more than most places do…thought-out, with ‘Desert Museum’ Palo Verde trees and real seperation from vechicles.

a sheltered patio off several restaurants…even a coffee / donut place

Yes, it’s a knockoff of one of those urban sophisto donut places. Exactly (1) edible type of donut was found on the rack for my visit, one wet Saturday AM in October. But not the rest; we eat with our eyes, right?

At least with such food-du-jour, hipsters are less likely to over-eat.

The counter staff that day was friendly and helpful, so that’s a plus, as was the coffee. Even my (24 oz?) donut, made with a touch of cinnamon and Mexican chocolate, wasn’t bad…

industrial trash cans…custom and probably durable
shades of Aztec, plus Hendrix or the female drummer Lenny Kravitz had?

She’s at 0:11 – here. “But what I really want to know is…Are you gonna go my way?” You’ll have to picture the air guitar.

durable w/ the steel barrier…not for everyone, but I can get behind this
railroad ties look better *anywhere* than landscape borders, I’m seeing
even walkable access onto Mesa St…into our gorgeous desert mountainscape

Not that anyone would want to walk next to Mesa, directly faced with chaotic traffic. Thinking about it, I don’t want to even drive Mesa. But I digress…

the generous scale is comfortable
water features are essential in the desert…not so much at 57F…sure I dislike this brick, though unique
random potted plants for a comfortable feel

I’ve been running into the term, “boho modern”. Or is that, “boho moderne”, by some artiste?

Chihuahuan Desert cacti doomed into a cool, shady microclimate, OK now

Time to settle in for the evening, so one last scene while leaving.

a dreamy scene to us desert rats

Seasons at High Lonesome

Time flies! The first streetscapes for the new Metro Verde development on Las Cruces’ NE side were by two landscape contractors, the same LA (me), over a few seasons. As always, click images to enlarge –

Spring 2014

time to spare, nearby Red Hawk GC Road…young, in spring glory

With expansive views of their stunning Organ Mountains, it directly borders the smaller Doña Ana Mountains, the lengthy spine of the San Andres Mountains, and the broad and equally long Jornada.

The latter place’s actual name is Jornada del Muerto (Journey of Death), named by raiding Spaniards because it was a long distance with little to no water. It bypassed El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro and the Rio Grande valley’s more reliable water, including occasional Apache raids visits. Probably a higher reward – risk ratio than being closer to the water, but still the risk of no water.

Years ago on a roadtrip, at one point on US-380 the driver and I spotted the distant ends of both the Organ Mountains and the Sandia Mountains, at opposite directions. They are 200+ miles apart.

Ironically, the Jornada was named long before the first atomic bomb was exploded at its more remote north end on the Trinity Site, over 1/2 way to Albuquerque. Spanish-speaking people might rightfully question using the area’s name as the town grows that direction.

Nolina texana…looking to the Organ Mountains and our desert skies
Quercus polymorpha and Yucca rostrata taller…Aristida purpurea lines are opposite golden Chrysactinia mexicana lines in each median…clumps of azure Salvia chamaedryoides at the crosswalk

Small, young, and with a limited budget that still exceeds City minimum plant requirements: masses make it, while flowers flowering don’t hurt. Just wait until this spring.

rotary heads not putting out enough water to establish the reseeded basin areas

The irrigation mainline extended from the west was too small, given diminished water pressure. Piping and valves were enlarged following our meeting; my design would have been better to just do a new irrigation connection.

battery-powered irrigation controller in the main valve box
MV Engler E_WrongYucca03_2014-04-29-SML
wrong yuccas…these are Yucca baccata, my plans say Yucca rostrata

The yuccas were also the wrong size – the plans state 6-7′ height, not 5 gallon. A huge difference in price and impact; impact is important in a new development, at least in key areas.

The shrubs are wrong, too. I specified green ‘Green Cloud’ or “Rio Bravo’ leucophyllums. But since they didn’t forget the water harvesting basins in this streetscape, we let these stay. They are so healthy, just grayer than the developer or I desired.

Summer 2014

John speaking to Jesus (+ City of LC landscape architect Cathy Mathew[s])…yep
I’m unsure where Luke or Mark were, but David captured it all; we’re all out doing our final punchlist a day before my birthday. Thick clouds with virga kept it in the low 80’s, a great present for our hour onsite to wrap up a new installation.

Virga = rain falling into dry air, evaporating before reaching the ground. I hear not all of you get this like we do out west! #DryHeat

Some of those green Ericameria laricifolia were planted too close to the path, so those need to be moved as per plans…..

MV Engler E-WrongYucca02_2014-07-01-SML
the wrong yuccas were replaced with another wrong plant, this time Nolina texana…not a yucca, but the same family (I think)
MV S Ph 1-Engler_2014-07-01-SML
previous portion of the same streetscape from 2 years ago…filling in

Seeding to create meadows, AKA “crazy color quilts” or “tapestries of (gray and brown) …”, don’t translate to tight spaces. This is why I designed in 1 gallon grasses and 5 gallon yuccas. All tripled in size in 2 years; the grasses are mature, but the yuccas need more time, and often mature to 15′ or more.

MV S Ph 1-Engler02_2014-07-01-SML
the Texas state grass, Bouteloua curtipendula…Yucca elata soaring with the granite spires

Just imagine what the yuccas and grasses will do for this scene, given a decade or two of chile roasting seasons, roadrunners with lizards in their beeks, and occasional virga-filled skies.

MV S Ph 1-EntryW01_2014-07-01-SML
Cercis texensis, masses of moundy Baccharis x ‘Starns’ punctuated with a few pincushions of Dasylirion wheeleri

The 4,200′ elevation sun is burning lingering clouds into submission. Maybe it did reach the forecast 100F+ high after all, as I drove back in air conditioning?

MV S Ph 1-EntryN01_2014-07-01-SML
narrow street plantings of Ulmus crassifolia and Hesperaloe parviflora

This xeric planting already has some promise to be a green canopy and oasis, as much as possible without more than drip irigation.

similar on the other side of the housing area entry

Winter 2014-2015

MV S Ph 1-EntryW02_2015-01-24-SML
mix of gravel sizes…winter plant bones

After I finished some errands up in Las Cruces last Saturday, I had to catch a quick glance at how things look. Even while patchy snow and cold are ruling their few times every winter. An interesting contrast to the growing season to be sure, right to the look of the skies.

MV S Ph 1-EntryW01_2015-01-24-SML
winter’s rest looking west
MV S Ph 1-EntryE01_2015-01-24-SML
and looking east…dormant Dalea capitata, plus the other same plants noted

On the right, Lantana spp. once thrived at both entries into the housing area. They were stolen, of course, but the rabbits at least are igoring these tender morsels plantings.

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a brisk afternoon walk near New Mexico’s state grass, Bouteloua gracilis

If this couple stays there a bit longer, this will really fill in, and not just houses and commercial buildings. The winter-dormant, broad view on half-built Engler Road. 9-month-old plantings taking shape as the timeless San Andres and Organ Mountains loom under the chilled sky.

MV Engler E-MedianE02_2015-01-24-SML
bare Quercus polymorpha, evergreens Yucca rostrata and Ericameria laricifolia, and the dormant balance of plantings
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part of why I use negative space, grass masses, and some evergreen
MV Engler E-RightYucca01_2015-01-24-SML
3rd time’s a charm…the right yuccas were finally installed

Only chest high, they aren’t the height specified. But from decades of past projects, I’m sure plan sizes we’re missed while bidding, or the supplier didn’t have larger sizes. Anyway, how could John not work out such a matter with Jesus?

MV Engler E-RightYucca02_2015-01-24-SML
most definitely Yucca rostrata

Time to get back to the office for some more work, then a relaxing evening grilling up some goodies and enjoying the warmth inside my tiny place.

headed down to-o-o Old El Paso
detour over Anthony Gap, to slow it down and take it in