Around ABQ: Progress

On a recent Albuquerque visit my client-turned-friend and aficionado of things-southwest, Bill Robertson, introduced me to new projects around downtown and Old Town. I didn’t design any of them!

Except through some indirect influence before relocating.

Photos are from October 30-31, 2019. Bill still has the Walt look going…

Walt R-SML


A freeway entrance: from nothing except trash and a few wild Soaptree / Yucca elata back in the day, to a purposed, aesthetic treatment and some Blue Sotol / Dasylirion wheeleri!

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A hotel: the architecture firm I worked at 15 years ago designed everything at Hotel Chaco, architecture to interior to outdoor spaces.

The assymetry here is effective, and everything I see is native: occurring naturally within 200 miles and 1,000 feet in elevation…badda bing, badda boom!

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For the record, Populus species, even those P. deltoides ssp. wislizeni once native near / to the site, are never appropriate to most properties even in the valley, let alone the uplands compromising 90%+ of their city limits.

That’s a perception that must be buried like their water table.

That’s due to cottonwoods (and willows) with their weak wood, heavy water use, need for a vast rooting area, and uber-aggressive roots.

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Spurred on by another landscape architect in central Texas seeing my Instagram post on that space, my thought is the outer perimeter of the firepit / sitting area needs a nicely-clipped evergreen plant like dwarf yaupons or boxwoods…easily kept at about 24-30 inches in height. Part semi-circular hedge, part individuals.

That would keep it inviting and visually legible in winter and summer dormancy.

Blue Grama, even though it’s the state grass, or cottonwoods, the state fall back tree, just don’t provide that interest or heavy work.

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The interior detailing like below, is also so very inviting

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“Lloyd, you’re the best bartender from Timbuktu to Portland Maine; Portland Oregon for that matter, Lloyd.” – Jack Torrance, The Shining


A courthouse: the Pete V. Domenici Federal Courthouse has a renovated exterior space. Now, it’s fitting to the plateaus of the northern Chihuahuan Desert, plus a good man I once met and one my late father briefed more than once as a USAF base comptroller.

A team of Los Angeles-based and Santa Fe-based design firms were responsible.

We can see that it’s a study in diagonal lines along grade changes, with loads of Agave parryi ssp. truncata. Plus, other xeric and mesic plants were used quite effectively. Maintenance, well …..

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The above with common Muhlenbergia capillaris ‘Regal Mist’, below as an understory of honeylocusts with a ground plane of tan gravel

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Bill for scale…

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Even some foothills-native Yucca baccata and possibly Bouteloua curtipendula

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Below the same agaves, but beautifully packed in as an understory to another common small tree in the high desert, Vitex agnus-castus

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Like powdery blue bowls or baskets, many agaves tilted at an angle

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Narrow bands of plants with the agaves: rosemary, grasses, and catmint (?)

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A group of Palmilla or Soaptree / Yucca elata with their skirts of dead leaves puddled on the gravel mulch like curtains in some homes are

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Black Dalea / Dalea frutescens finishing up its flowering early this year

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Yucca baccata, Dasylirion wheeleri, and Quercus fusiformis combine here. Though I never did notice the travertine hardscape until I walked that day.

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The irregular rows of vigorous live oaks, and clumps of sotols and Apache plumes, really set this off for winter interest; the former trees are not nearly as common as they should be in Albuquerque.

While they have other native evergreen oaks in their foothills, these Q. fusiformis evoke a similar mood. Which one notices them used well at driving speeds.

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Bill even took me to some older projects, which I never got around to visiting when I still lived there. One was in the north valley. Combined with a hearty breakfast, coffee, and the warmth of the sun, who could refuse, even on a near-record cold day?

I figured from hearing bits of the conversation, it was one of the owners herself, Penny Rembe. I was right, and down to earth and enjoyable to talk with.

A agritourism and locals magnet: Los Poblanos Ranch in Albuquerque’s North Valley really seems like a family’s own destination to be shared with others.

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Dasylirion wheeleri used yet again… I hope they are allowed to reach mature sizes which will overlap the neat edges by a couple feet.

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The ownership invites diners into the kitchen to view the menu come together, which is stunning in its own right. As was the hospitality of all working there, which wears off on the patrons – even on a busy weekday morning.

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Of course I started with a croissant; it and my meal were quite good!

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Common in Albuquerque, to a little higher in elevation and about 2,500 feet lower in the southwest, Lady Banks’ Rose / Rosa banksiae can get big as it supports itself. In an old book on southwestern landscapes I don’t have anymore, this property has more than one old plant of that rose species.

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The famous lavender field at Los Poblanos

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An effective and modern but desert-elements-durable fence

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Hopefully on an upcoming visit, I’ll visit some old projects to see how they are progressing. And see my old house’s landscape plus the nearby pirate medians. And get breakfast burritos at Golden Pride. And hike or mountain bike trail 365. And…

Of course, Walt Bill hit me up for his neighborhood’s replanting project, though I don’t remember what feedback I gave him, following one of my favorite questions when viewing an horticultural old-guard plant list, a too-cautious gov’t official request, and all that jive.

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My question: is this meant to be permanent or temporary until the elms die? Many always think they can have it both ways. No. Baby steps = baby results.


I’m just grateful my influence was a large but intangible part of my earnings all these years. Even if someone else would have come along and done that, eventually, as I see others starting to do. Finally.

And finally, I’ll start some smaller posts, after this long one.

One Reply to “Around ABQ: Progress”

  1. That is a fun plantings tour of your area. Enjoyed it very much!

    Thanks, it’s interesting to see positive changes while being away. I have a few more tours to post, including Tucson…”


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