A New DIY Adobe Landscape

The third home in several years for Bill is his historic, 1926 adobe, by late Ohio architect Anna Gotshall, as part of her development in an old apple orchard near downtown Albuquerque.

The other houses are also adobe construction. Let’s look at what we did, me as the design consultant!


Enroute, I braved a bitter north wind to capture an amazing vista of fall color. The distant Rio Grande bosque is in a golden line, central NM near Socorro:

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An hour later, I made it!

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Plenty of gold in the grasses’ seed heads, plus Forestiera neomexicana / Desert Olive.

It’s been almost 2 years after my consultation and sketches over wine and cheeses / bread. Guess what I caught seeing my images back home? The passive water harvesting basin in front is missing and a few nursery overrides happened…oh well.

Also missed was the very fertile soil on Bill’s property. No mining plants into the ground like much of the region’s uplands, or saying “all beach, no ocean.”

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The goal was naturalistic – eclectic. Durable and xeric are always givens with me, and have been since 1995, a main reason I started my design practice, so I don’t mention that except as a “by the way”.


In the back garden areas, more features were employed or added to existing features such as the L-shaped pergola. Bill is repainting the various wood trim and sections, and the colors look great to relate the new and the existing.

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I helped him place certain items like tables at visual focal points, which also facilitates circulation in his tight spaces. And Bill makes the best use of what’s existing and can be lived with, as opposed to changing everything.

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Per my sketch, he had hog panel fencing / trellis and a steel mesh gate fabricated and welded. This is much more durable for a desert dweller than the usual wood. And though Crossvine / Bignonia capreolata is not a brute like default vines wisteria or lady banks rose, there’s strength here.

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The usual plant friends are here. Nolina greenei / Beargrass and Opuntia ellisiana / Spineless Prickly Pear are in containers…

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Above, he’s not into the ornamental grass choice in the containers behind the last Nolina, far left. Nor am I, at least there – it’s too loose and airy for a space that needs more definition and evergreen structure.

My sketch noted something tight and evergreen but potted, such as Rhaphiolepis or Buxus. His friend at the nursery cautioned against that, but I think Bill is willing to try it.

Also, Ilex vomitoria ‘Nana’ / Dwarf Yaupon Holly would work well there. Shirley in the Alamo City suggests Ilex vomitoria ‘Micron’ / Micron Holly, which could also work…if Bill’s town’s nurseries allow it to be sold without approval from their wannabe Coloradoan plant gatekeepers offer it.


The unusual are also in his new landscape. Bill finds so many unusual plants, then grows them. Most of the time it works out, too, which is how I learn.

For instance, Stachys coccinea / Texas Betony, in the fertile soil and with drip irrigation, is taking over one small area. One. Plant. Several. Feet.

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The Texas Betony so far is out-competing the Teucrium chamaedrys / Trailing Germander, which reinforces the bed’s semicircle with tight evergreen foliage.


More Cistus spp. / Rockrose and Mescal Agave / Agave neomexicana 

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This Crossvine decided to flower for me one last time before a deep freeze that night. Next spring, it will get a special trip just to see it covering the foliage and trellis in blooms. It isn’t that common there.

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At a recent stop in Tucson, he couldn’t resist Salvia brandegeei / Santa Rosa Island Sage from offshore in southern California.

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So far, it’s fine through only last winter. Many are surprised at the plants that grow well in USDA zone 7 in the southwest, including from coastal Mediterranean climates, thanks to intense sunshine during the winter months, if winter irrigation is provided.

Nice foliage that smells divinely fresh and minty.

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I think Bill is deciding where to paint the fence or not.  Under the vigorous Vauquelinia californica / Arizona Rosewood, which becomes a dwarf tree in ABQ, he’s thinning out the rampant Mirabilis multiflora / Desert Four O’Clock and adding a 2 or 3 Yucca pallida / Pale Leaf Yucca, to create a leafy groundcover.

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But soon it grew darker, and after eating tapas and talking about his neighbors’ plans to renovate the planting in their neighborhood medians, it was time for bed.

Comfy and warm for the night!

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The next morning, refreshed from his casita’s bed and duvet, it was time to get a better look at the front landscape with a more favorable sun angle for photos.

More Forestiera neomexicana and Buxus microphylla var. japonica ‘Winter Gem’  were added, to compliment the same that were existing. Several Nolina greenei were added for evergreen spikes, to contrast the shrubby forms.

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Competition from the old Siberian Elm was too much for the Mirabilis there, so those were removed. I actually like the cleaner look.


It’s also time for a quick geography lesson, and those won’t stop until people better get New Mexico and the desert southwest region.

Starting with the weather that last morning:

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Exaggerating one place much cooler and the other much warmer isn’t going to help one make good plant selection.

Like the one how ABQ is more like Santa Fe or even Denver (#SRSLY) than it is like Las Cruces. As well as the accompaniment to that, how LC is more like lower elevation, Sonoran Desert in Tucson or Phoenix (#JAJA) than ABQ, a mere 3 hours and 1000 feet in elevation up the same valley.

That day and for a day either side of that in Phoenix, you ask? 20 degrees warmer than Las Cruces; Albuquerque stayed within a few degrees of Las Cruces.

Those morning lows are during a near-record cold period following an unusually early arctic cold front, where the effects modified first in ABQ. In fall or spring, Las Cruces is usually about 5F warmer than ABQ, based on 120 years of statistics.

Statistics aren’t deceiving; perceptions are.


Musical accompaniments: Santana “Oye Como Va”, The Rolling Stones “Just My Imagination” cover, Bad Company “Gone Gone Gone”, Gina Chavez “Todo Cambia”, Aymee Nuviola “Chan Chan”, and Ley Line “Oxum”.

Eclectic, like my last month has been.

On the Cactus Trail

While the Perseid meteor shower was a bust, I’ve seen it a few times before and from darker locations. And the pre-dawn weather was refreshingly cool at that wide spot in the road shoulder, at 2,500 foot elevation outside Carefree.


A lone Carnegia gigantea might be the quintessential cactus.


That stop was followed by a walk around nearby El Pedregal*, the once-busy shopping and activity hub adjacent to the Boulders Resort.

*the stony place, for the area’s huge granite boulders 

The Sonoran sun cast it’s first glow into the cool, still air.



Some maintenance and upkeep is evident; bold colors in the southwestern sun fade without help.


Some maintenance is lacking with most tenant businesses gone, like my once-favorite out-of-the-way cafe. I read that special events are held here, so maybe that triggers partial upkeep?


Meanwhile, the Phoenix dactylifera all had too many fronds removed. Oddly some date clusters were left, which will litter and stain the paving.


Some of the palm fronds should have been retained, for a more full and lush appearance, plus shading the crowns where tender new growth originates and maximizing photosynthesis to grow stronger roots.

I know – “pruning, blah blah blah, Dave.”

But it’s truth. My hope is that even a few property owners seeing this learn and help raise the bar on horticulture, to help maintain their investments.

See also:


Of course I didn’t liberate any of the dead agaves’ bulbils. I did wonder where cameras are placed to watch every move on their property.


There was interesting hardscape work, including blending canterra stone bands with simple, economical colored concrete.


The control joint pattern provides a lesson for your next design, in how concrete tends to crack when the joints depart too far from 90 degree angles. And that’s in a dry and near-freeze-free location; it gets worse when moisture with freezing are common.


This area held up well, though. The concrete and stone surfaces only need some cleaning.



Perforations here often have colorful paint, to add visual interest and set apart from a real danger: beige stucco overload!


The weathered wood latillas on the ramada entry to a possible tenant store is in contrast to the blue paint used in that garden wall’s perforations. Both are complimentary, as is the rustic metal brace connecting the viga to a post.


There’s no end to the visuals; it’s native Parkinsonia florida and near-native Dasylirion wheeleri, accenting even a bridge with perforations.


The skies might have a say in the desert’s elegance.


African sculpture blends in nicely with the desert context. 



Was it still a failed trip only leaving me a mostly-abandoned shopping center, without a cafe to enjoy coffee and croissant, and without enough sleep?

Of course not – it was just another stop on the Cactus Trail!


That vintage short film came on TCM after watching a movie, though I couldn’t find it online to watch again. Not on IMDb, the film’s narrator even noted some cholla cacti and (I think) hedgehog cacti. In his 1940’s era voice, of course.

The film’s promotional tone welcomed soon-to-arrive, post WWII visitor, who would probably stay in the latest motor courts or fine hotels. Those would have air conditioning to make travel or even living along the Cactus Trail more possible.

Yet, we know the Cactus Trail is longer than Riverside to Phoenix.

There are side trails to points south, even north and west but ending in summer-dry places where most cacti were planted. That, as the main trail extends its way up, down, and around the greater southwest, then into the Big Bend and deep into the epicenter of cacti, Mexico.

This particular section of the Cactus Trail didn’t even exist when that short film was made, so there’s also the time factor.


Though, I’m sure the grandparents of this Opuntia engelmannii and other plants were here then, as stars of the old westerns rode by, camera crews in place.


O. engelmannii is an icon in Arizona’s and New Mexico’s milder winter locales, where it thrives especially in foothill locations and among granite boulders!


See – we can each add our own drives and detours to make the Cactus Trail more complete and more our own.

Apple Store – Old Town Scottsdale

Walking into Scottsdale Fashion Square, a look to the side revealed their Apple Store, with a see-through view to the Camelback Road streetscape.

Of course, upon entering, I covertly snapped some pictures to help inspire or at least provide another look at minimalist planting design in the Sonoran Desert. Perhaps you can adapt something to your own space and ecoregion?

Or refine and enhance it, taking it higher! (i.e. my design bias here)



The approach is a long planter of faux cacti. A tie-in with what’s on the outside of the store, but faux is still faux.

How about sculpture feature placed in a minimal fashion, related to the living sculpture outside? That would be similar to the relationship of the interior benches to forms inside.



Outside it’s massings of fencepost cacti and aloes under date palms and ‘Desert Museum’ Palo Verde. With their low walls, this common plant treatment here provides a good start or even finish.


The building’s perforated shade canopy is the star here, with a very pleasing pattern cast onto the paving from the laser-beam sun.


Agave parryi var. truncata is used in a similar rhythm or spacing as the perforations.



Inside their roomy store’s lounge, downstairs from the main sales area up top, where one can plug in and hang out, or get assistance with their device.

No coffee or water. But a refreshing lack of being bothered by Apple staff, while taking a rest from the mall or the desert’s generous sun and warmth.



In the evening, stairs leading up and out from that lounge area come alive. Same similarly massed plantings as on the upper area facing Camelback…



The perforated canopy reveals further dimension with dusk.


The canopy reminds me of the Mac keyboards I once owned.



And those lit stairs and sitting terraces!


It seems there should be some complimentary containers and plantings, specified for the architecture and desert conditions.

Currently, the space needs to be “activated”, the buzzword-du-jour of some designers. Plants are needed, but I do not mean annuals or flower color.


A reader of my Instagram feed a few nights ago, seeing this pop up on his #marfa search, joked about a Marfa Apple store like the nearby Prada Marfa!

The stair lighting does remind me of Flavin’s interior lighting at Chinati.


No matter, it will have to be cooler, even compared to the temperatures at home, to enjoy such things in the evening. Let alone anytime soon in Scottsdale!

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Do aspects of minimalism and contemporary art and architecture leave you wanting? Do you think those can be finished better or made more human, too?


7/13/19 weather:
110F / 91F / T or 43c / 33c / T (yes, that’s the low!)