Contrasts

While in Phoenix for other matters, I first took time out to visit their world-class Desert Botanical Garden. I was in search for design inspiration and some relaxation.

Contrast is something I appreciate, being a flowers-optional designer in a 2 dormant seasons climate. Somewhat like the low desert in Phoenix, except as you’ll see they have no true winter unlike Las Cruces’ 2 month “hit and run” winter.

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The tans and browns of walls and permeable decomposed granite walkway, sure. But without the bold forms and dominant use of blue-green accent plants, this would look weaker. The yellow line of (overused) Echinocactus grusonii doesn’t hurt, here.

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Same as earlier shot, except angular agaves with a semi-circular seat wall make this pop. So does something I learned at my first job in ‘8*: provide a reveal on a wall to create more shadow and dimension.

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I enjoyed this on my cool, cloudy Monday as much as on a warm April day my first visit here in 2012. Yellow with tans and blue-greens, bold with the wall edge and crunchy walking.

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The water feature in the middle was more captivating when warmer. Since I want a blue wall or two, a yellow wall might also be needed nearby. This is not a massed planting, but a highly naturalistic one, typical of many xeriscape designs in the Sonoran Desert.

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Same direction and module, yet different materials…concrete and steel.

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This is the closest thing I saw at DBG that fits in with the whole Marfa minimalism schtick. Oddly, this gridded massing contrasts 2 Chihuahuan Desert species…undervalued Agave lechuguilla and alienesque Euphorbia antisyphilitica.

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This is a great, sculptural arc of dark with bright, and wet with dry. The dark beach pebbles are a good texture.

While out of my price range for now, something about it could be abstracted with my area’s own hardy desert plants behind it to work. Cholla anyone?

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You bet, since chollas are a symbol of my region, yet highly underused or used poorly. I specified them occasionally including using a few different species of cholla at my old house. A colleague even admired my former trio of the silver-form Cylindropuntia echinocarpa in pots, saying, “of course you would use chollas!”

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What seals the deal on the Desert Botanical Garden, other than various designers’ inputs, is the sense-of-place created.

There’s no denying their garden is in the Desert Southwest, right down to the specific location. There’s no compromise by using contradictory imagery, either.

4 Replies to “Contrasts”

  1. Gorgeous pictures, and I loved reading your commentary on why these work so well. I remember being captivated by that same yellow wall and arced fountain, but not being able to explain why…

    Thanks, and I just might post on the yellow wall with fountain on a future post! It really all works so well together there, even done over many years.

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  2. I live in Phoenix suburbs and I visit the DBG all the time! I love your critique of the work done there in the last few years! Very interesting!

    I bet you do, and if I lived nearby I’d have a membership there. Someone else there told me there has been much new work there since my last / first visit in ’12, in fact every year there’s new work. Glad you enjoyed, and more posts are coming up on this.

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  3. I loved this when I saw it a few years ago; you’ve helped me understand why, thank you.

    Great! And if you ever travel to the southwestern US, these gardens alone are worth a few days in Phoenix.

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  4. Wow, well done! Great photos and commentary helped me see things I would have missed. The wet fountain and dry bench are stunning. I love the subtle colors and restrained use of color. Very inspiring!

    I have more to share from there, thanks! I should post on my favorite water features there, though I’ll need to find a 2012 photo for one. That low wall is so simple but effective. I think the only time it’s not restrained is when their progression of blooms begins in the next few weeks, with Ironwood signaling the end of spring and start of summer.

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