“When a landscape uses too many cactus and related plants, the effect is often lost and is usually harsh and uninviting.” – paraphrase, author / activist / plant gatekeeper


Or this:


I’m glad those with regional inspiration and design skill didn’t abide by such a mindset. Their desert eyes are on. Probably with SPF 50 on their exposed skin.

That scene at the Desert Botanical Garden is Sonoran, except the Yucca rostrata on the far right.


If you’re in the southwest desert, but a cooler zone, you can create much of that magic and drama. I already know what I would substitute to get that effect and the next bit of drama in Las Cruces or El Paso, Albuquerque, and even a bit outside that region, up in Santa Fe.

Such effects can be pulled off easily and adapted on the coasts, and even without most of the succulent forms in the central great plains or more northerly intermountain areas.


Just 1 aisle over, this came into view. I’ve not been here in late light to notice before, but after framing out the valley girls v. 2019, it’s serious green plant drama.

This amount of Opuntia still works, because of the linear and rectilinear forms.



In this garden, there’s scale. Many public botanical gardens have money and scale, anyway.

But it’s who does what with all that.

There’s intellect in design, which combines function and form, then layers in local biology, whimsy, order, repetition, scale, and all those other classic design principles. It’s really quite the arsenal to choose from.

“Be bold and great things will happen to you.” – yes!


4/30/19 weather:
84F / 59F / 0.04 or 29c / 15c / .10

Power of Repetition

Some people are encouraged to be redundant, and have nothing to say. Others are not wanted to be redundant, because what they say might cause thinking.

Redundant or repetition?

Design is not always so personal and never mean, though design that comes from the personality is inviting.

Nearing high noon at the Desert Botanical Garden, this comes into view once you pay for admission.


The 90 degree intersection of the low seat  / garden wall through the line of Ferocactus wislizeni is effective!

In my case, I bought a membership, as I’ll be frequenting it often with my various company I have all summer. I might even go back a couple more times this week. Members also get in at 6 am Wednesdays and Sundays, which Sonoran Desert dwellers know as that hour when it’s tolerable outside in summer.


A grove of flexible, white-trunked Mariosousa willardiana really provides a cooling visual.


Scott in Tucson tells me his took 16F with no damage, so the books need some revising. But Juan Blanco in El Paso said 5F (plus 66 consecutive hours below 32F) froze all specimens of the same species in their garden. So, let that inform you as to hardiness, though Tucson to El Paso is more different than some perceive.

There’s much to the 32F mark and how it happens or the duration, so yet another big coffin nail to those who dislike lists, patterns, and statistics…

This exfoliating bark…



These 1991 City Boundary Project markers point to the summer solstice’s sunrise direction. I hope to visit then. Fewer stone columns would not be as effective as what the Martino / Pinto team did here.



And my favorite place on my hour-plus walk Thursday afternoon, following some other visits and $11 yet mediocre ice cream. It’s Scottsdale, after all, so you can pay much for perfection or much for the opposite.

This is an interior design firm’s front, which appears to not connect to their parking lot…the entrance looked as though it was on the side.


Masses of small agaves with the gray concrete planter curb works so well. I had a residential client who moved before I got to see a smaller scale of that I envisioned fill in.

If I had a design office again, I would do so much differently, including use the sourcing model of many interior designers and architects like the diva, which helps pay more and gets you something like this.

“If” may need to become “when”!

Their wood planters framing the front are me…their upward taper, and the pair of aloes contained within.


The designer here really created some interest, in the intense light of the low desert, more spreading and scattered than the laser-beam focus of the high desert. This light bleaches the terra cotta, concrete, and wood out visually and in a few years, literally.

And this works.

Far better than temporary plantings, where much needs to be removed and redone to satisfy those without enough patience.

“Never give up”, someone once said.


4/27/19 weather:
95F / 70F / 0.00 or 35c / 21c / 0.0
(we hit 101F Friday, so now we’re getting closer to summer…but that’s still late spring in the low desert)

Spare Meets Oasis

People from greener parts of the world often comment on my rare post showing a more intensive planting.

Limited water, lean soils, and low humidity plants rarely support a lush mix of layers and high density. That requires more expense, irrigation, and maintenance plus richer soils, which we know are unlikely on my projects and many others’.


Hesperaloe funifera above on a toasty west wall; Dasylirion wheeleri below on a slope to direct unwanted foot traffic. All massed with the space and spaced for maturity.


Wild plants usually space themselves apart to limit competition.

In the garden, that gives room to see the plants and especially the space. Even where drip irrigation is needed to establish or even sustain, it’s often a good strategy to apply that more sparse model.

Not to say we don’t get drawn into the oasis via shading and sparseness, pointing the way to the bosque of desert trees.


That simple allee of Parkinsonia spp. with an unplanted ground plane works. Every inch of ground doesn’t need to be filled with plants that die, especially in the rigors of a public space. The oasis is overhead shading everyone and in the background.

It’s true!

Mostly local and desert southwest-native species were used.


This simple groundplane is punctuated with not riparian plants by the low, circular drainage feature, but rather, by a trio of agaves, arroyo plants, and a single tree.


The openness with (very) ephemeral drainage actually functions per reality, as many agaves are more upland and foothill species than desert floor. They appreciate some flash washing of their root zones.

I appreciate this Ten Eyck office’s take on a xeriscape demonstration garden for the low desert.


I’ve moved to Scottsdale, Arizona for several months, so not only do design sensibilities increase with the temperature in this case, but so will some different gripes and praises. All important!


4/25/19 weather:
98F / 65F / 0.00 or 37c / 18c / 0.0