Sierra: Walls and Weeds, Spikes and Grasses

A quick fall visit to one of the hospital renovation projects I provided landscape architect services on, from a few years ago.

And what did I see?

I’m unsure why the grasses (gulf grasses – Muhlenbergia capillaris / ‘Regal Mist’ Grass) didn’t put on their pink flower show. They are staying smaller than I feared they might grow, though they somehow weren’t sheared either and they have drip irrigation, so they should be pink.

The hotter summer wouldn’t faze the Regal Mist Grass, given this muhley also thrives in low desert landscapes such as Tucson and Phoenix, plus this drip irrigation system looked to be functioning.

Got me…

The spiky forms of natives Dasylirion wheeleri and Yucca elata just truck along, elegant and shimmering in their eternally breezy or windy town. Their short-lived flowers earlier in the summer attract bees and small moths.

Can you see why I designed in the low garden walls here?

They stagger out from the boxy, actual structure, still parallel. I originally envisioned them a foot taller, but was glad they were adjusted down in height during field layout. The creamy color really helps the greens of the different plantings.

The native shrub behind the low wall closest to the building is Ericameria laricifolia / Turpentine Bush. Each was needlessly sheared, though it probably flowered the next month, in October. There’s a gold tinge to them when looking closely, and the waxy, needle-like foliage does smell like a clean take on turpentine.

When in bloom, it attracts various butterflies, and some bees, of course.

Hopefully this fall, I can visit when the different plants are in bloom, as well as in the morning, to better capture the different lighting at that time and the elevated, exposed terrain at the southern edge of the Franklin Mountains.

And hopefully, late summer 2021 brings us a solid monsoon season!

Streetscape: Monsoon to Fall to Frigid

It’s always good to see my old designs, even though I drive by them often, living so close. Photos are from 9/2020 to 1/2021.

Late September – early October, after 2 or 3 brief, weak shots at a monsoon season:

The person I worked with on this streetscape design insisted on Yucca faxoniana, not me. I wanted the more-local Y. torreyi or Y. elata. It was one of a few plant battles not worth my time. I like these, anyway. As usual, even with several years growing, some of these large specimens either have the agave weevil or are reaching their life expectancy.

At least 4 or 5 on this project are dying, producing no top spears in the heads, as seen in the distant yucca in the previous photo.

I can’t imagine what they’ll be replaced with – or not.


For 2 decades, I’ve latched onto the term “nonsoon season”, for the summers where our more typical monsoon pattern fails. 2020 was one of the five fails of the last six summers. Little cooling, few storms, but insurance was designed in via drip irrigation.

This volunteer or added Chilopsis linearis didn’t mind, nor did the original Dasylirion wheeleri or yuccas.

In the medians and the intersection, Leucophyllum zygophyllum ‘Cimarron’ put on a flower show, as the morning sun rises and starts to blast down.

I’ll post more on how 2020’s warm season impacted gardens and wilds.

The final flowering of those blue rangers ended soon after it started, then the leaves on Fouquieria splendens turned. Ocotillos work well with bold and blue Agave neomexicana and dry-dormant Aristida purpurea, companions here and often in the wild.

Even returning from a late hike showed off the effects of the low-voltage FX lighting fixtures, though replacement bulbs should be toned back down in brightness.


Late October – early November, not bad after our first freezes October 26-27, (some records set…36 consecutive hours below 32F / 0c, a low of 24F / -4c, and about 2 inches / 5 cm of snow):


Early November, and by design there’s still strong presence:

Most of the dwarf trees, Rhus lanceolata, provide something overhead, though shade was sacrificed to comply with community covenants of no trees over 14 feet. Never mind the added desert willows and screwbean mesquites top out at least 20 feet.

In a desert area, that’s too restrictive of a height; protecting views should be balanced with mitigating pavement.


Mid-December – January, me wishing there was a way to capture each scene from exactly the same spot, but the lighting is so different within a few months:


Another area I rarely drive by also seems to be one paid less attention to by the maintenance contractor. Yet, I can find interest in part of this key entry, at the western side of the estates.

Those have become the largest Agave neomexicana I’ve ever seen. Plus that Larrea tridentata is as large as many oneseed junipers.


I’ll finish back at the other key entry, on the east side of this development I often post on. Most everyone passes by here, residents and even other hikers who access the monument but don’t live in this development, including me.

Those narrow and hidden parts of the main, west entry into the development are best seen from the north.

A good rhythm, though I’ll need to find some photos of the last scene, when the native fluffgrasses and purple threeawns were allowed to grow under the Nolina greenei mass. It was only 5 years ago, or so.

I’ll probably never get around to finding the archived plans, to see the original herbaceous plants now mostly gone.


The people over at Garden Bloggers Fling recently featured me – here. Their great post is motivating me to post more on my blog.

Not to mention, I still have some more to post from the two flings I attended: the last day at the 2013 Fling in San Francisco and my drive home from the 2018 Fling in Austin. I still haven’t documented those memorable trips.


Office Space (former)

Another stop, where in this building from 2007 to 2010, I rented a small, minimally air-conditioned and heated office from then-EDI, an architect I did some work with.

Photos 5/18/20:

Cloud or sun, native plants here shine.

Yucca elata / Soaptree quickly grew trunks from starting as 10 gallons, Alkali Sacaton / Sporobolus airoides, Mescal / Agave neomexicana from 1 gallons, and even arcticist-vilified Honey Mesquite / Prosopis glandulosa grew from small, 24 inch boxes.

My work helped earn this a LEED-NC Gold certification.

Geography and luck play large roles in how garden spaces are valued. That from my past, bittersweet decades in landscape architecture…

It’s too bad their mesquites didn’t receive basic, arboricultural pruning after I moved on.

Their original intent to grow up and spread, to shade parking spaces better, could be mostly recovered, only requiring a larger saw. I was told, “but trees don’t get pruned in nature”. (oh yes they do) As always, I tried.

Over a decade ago, I finally appreciated Alkali Sacaton. The delicate seedheads dance in evening light in the Rio Grande bosque and on the desert grassland by Carrizozo.

On to the west side for other office entrances…

The Star Jasmine / Trachelospermum jasminoides was happier than I envisioned in the site’s hot but too-dry microclimate. Including its intoxicating fragrance

I wish I could see the Alkali Sacaton fully grown out after the spring cut-back, to their usual 2 feet .

Finally, onto the northwest side of the landscape, sun or under some clouds…

The architect’s gabion walls using urbanite (broken, reused concrete) worked great.

This microclimate also proved to extend bloom seasons for two much different wildflower species: Desert Marigold / Baileya multiradiata between the agaves (added by me later but inadvertently removed by one of the architects) and Firecracker Penstemon / Penstemon eatonii (brilliant red trumpets for the hummingbirds early spring and again in late fall).

Security fencing that’s locked outside working hours is a necessity nowadays, with their town’s climbing crime rate.

Also challenging but working over a decade later, is the use of shade to inferno-tolerant plants on the north walls in the tight parking area planting areas, including the Arizona form of evergreen Beargrass / Nolina microcarpa and summer-blooming Sunset Hyssop / Agastache rupestris.

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