Back to My Garden

Soon after fall crashed in, yielding to a mild winter, I’ve been busy with a parade of unanticipated and challenging events. Gone for now are my incessant pursuits of the last 15+ years.

I’ve finally started back on my own garden spaces, started this past summer. NORTH is on the lower left of each sketch.


OPTION A: I added screen walls to the right side. (southwest) The trick will be to see the unbuidable desert hillside behind me through my dining room picture window, and yet have a fireplace and possibly some dwarf trees.



OPTION B: I added screen walls and a vine trellis to preserve views to the hillside lot, but direct them to the fireplace to the northeast.



OPTION C: More screen walls and a vine trellis, but seat walls and a water features in this axial arrangement using low desert trees to soften any future house to the northeast. I started adding in a cistern, somehow forgotten on the summer’s A & B plans…



OPTION D: Sort-of axial, this relies on screen walls and seat walls, but a harder screen wall on the east, serving as a backdrop for something sculptural. Now, a cistern is used to screen the wide northeast side, allowing a grilling area.


Looking back at the initial plan sketches, I see some great ideas I forgot about. The perspective views revealed good ideas and oversights that need rethinking. So, I’ve embellished the old plan sketches and added a couple more.

I may still add a serpentine or curvilinear theme, though that may clash with my angular house.

Some common themes above are:

  1. Front outside the courtyard – only use plants native in my neighborhood. Which means a mix of yuccas, low bunch grasses and wildflowers, and a refined, more studied arrangement of all things sandy soil. Low, native trees to shade the front courtyard from the brutal afternoon sun, which faces NW.
  2. Grilling area on the northeast side, accessible across the kitchen across the house via a tile floor and the office patio. I grill over half of my dinners.
  3. Orient away from my neighbor as much as possible. I roughed in the plants he might add right against my property line, probably all inappropriate.
  4. Keep views to the unbuildable hillside lot behind me, which serves as stormwater ponding at either end. The dining room on the far upper right of the house must have a view there; it’s stunning all day.
  5. Outdoor fireplace and seat walls, including screen walls as needed. Walls define spaces by bringing architecture out, they hold up better than benches, and they contrast plantings well. They harden the edges.
  6. Rest of plants – native or adapted, when natives don’t work; for example, there are no native evergreen, low groundcovers in my region.
  7. Be a habitat for local wildlife, such as birds (and yes, hummingbirds), butterflies, and all the life forms that were here first. And provide a pleasant place to catch sun in the cool season and relax without burning up mornings and evenings in the warm season.

Like Albuquerque, it’s insane to sit outside between 9 am and 6 pm during the summer. So, there are no plans for a foray into the desert denial of thirsty lawns and leafy trees. If my garden spaces provide refuge and a sense of place that do justice to my natural place, then it will be a success.


I’m trying to limit using the same plants I had at my last house in Albuquerque, though some may be unavoidable since they are so valuable. But with this different soil (digable sandy loam) and being nearly 1 zone warmer, I’ll do my best.

Next, I’ll do more study perspective sketches. Then, the final plan when it’s all good.


I’m also looking back at some books that inform what I need in a garden. Here are some, though I’ll add a few more if you check back:

Hummingbird Plants of the Southwest – Marcy Scott
Water Harvesting for Drylands, Volumes 1 & 2 – Brad Lancaster

Thoughts in Old El Paso

Like the Steve Miller Band, I “headed down to-ooo-ooo Old El Paso.”

Before a meeting about a potential landscape renovation, I visited some other designs of mine within another 20 minutes of driving. Photos are from 10/20/18.

Memorial Hospital:


Bouteloua gracilis ‘Blonde Ambition’ was used with a fight, since this landscape contractor was difficult and even claimed they weren’t hardy in El Paso. He was already planning to make an inappropriate substitute of a gulf coast native! So, he didn’t care they weren’t placed with the semi-circle per the plan.

Since small grasses mature in a couple seasons, they should grow irregularly to soften the row faux pas. They are already working, especially in their wind.



I didn’t authorize Nasella to be substituted here, but many feel compelled to use it. Then, they complain it reseeds everywhere.

The Berlandiera lyrata should look good and smell very chocolaty, as it fills in and reseeds gently into the rock mulch. That was on the plan, as was the Nolina greenei.


I do like the Seattle diva’s artist’s colorful sculptures, at $***K on the hospital’s dime.

Though the approach to that work was anything but acceptable to myself and others. I had to adjust the landscape around them, then delete important sitting walls (paying for $***K art means sacrifices), and deleting some trees that were only a perceived problem and not a real issue for the entire design including the art pieces.

News flash: know your species, what trees become in Seattle vs. El Paso, trust an arid region designer over unfounded reactions, and mind your manners since you’re 3 years late to the party.

I was also urged to shift the grasses to be magically planted on the sculptures’ concrete footing without soil. I held my ground that “no way will that work with roots, drip irrigation, and the integrity of the artworks’ fastening method at the footing”. Moisture – steel – gravity – wind…that won’t turn out well. I later heard the artiste was disappointed the grasses were away from the sculptures.

Imagine if the artiste were a reasonable, flexible “team player”?

The overall landscape still came out, thanks to my diligence and that of the general contractor. It’s even being maintained sensibly, as opposed to “getting the treatment”  unnece$$arily; hopefully that remains the case for decades.

Patting self on back, as maintenance is also on the plans. Better yet, someone might be reading and following it!



Sierra Medical Center:


I was too early to see the Muhlenbergia capillaris ‘Regal Mist’ get pink flowers, but on-time to see the golden massings of Chrysactinia mexicana work with other plant massings and low garden walls.

I was also on-time to catch the beginning of weeks of fall color on Pistacia chinensis.


Do you see why seat or garden walls are important, even if visual? Delete divas, not substance.


The natives against the dark glass at the facade are looking good as intended…golden Ericameria laricifolia and blue green spikes of Dasylirion wheeleri, plus Yucca elata lifting through the non-native, unapproved contractor substitution of Muhlenbergia capillaris ‘Regal Mist’.

Again, kudos to myself again, for making lemonade out of lemons, collaboration, and flexibility using a solid design, under you-have-no-idea-of-my-painful-circumstances in 2014-15.

And let’s not forget someone might be following the maintenance sheet. Only some replacement of dead Leucophyllum and adjustments of irrigation downward are in order so far.


I’ll return to these landscapes for their winter looks, after I post on other assorted design doings further north along the Franklin Mountains.