The Neighborhood Last Week

I finally took out my DSLR to comb my neighborhood route I drive, to do things a landscape architecture snob enjoys.

Things don’t look shabby for June.

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Anisacanthus quadrifidus var. wrightii (selection unknown). No wonder it gets used here. This species is native to Brewster County TX, making it native to the Chihuahuan Desert, even if it’s natural range is centered in the dry parts of Coahuila to Nuevo Leon.

It has less of an unkempt habit than that of the also native, sometimes-praised A. thurberi.

Some forget that just like some ugly plants can become stars only where there’s good design and context, pretty plants with good habits are already stars.

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Of course there are some Ocotillo, Fishhook Barrel Cactus, Cane Cholla, and grasses (probably ‘Regal Mist’ Gulf Muhly). Overall this roundabout island is attractive – and drip irrigated, with care paid for by property owners.

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The entry to one of the gated, smaller residential areas within the neighborhood works with Soaptree or Palmilla and the Sweet Acacia, even though the Texas Sage are a bit under “the treatment.”

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I showed the evil overused Russian Sage to screen the ugh rock slope. This simple use of gnarled Honey Mesquite with some barrels, yuccas, and beargrasses works. Flowers are fleeting anyway, especially when maintenance crews have Roundup.

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Though Russian Sage actually looks happy. Its flowers and lifespan are anything but fleeting.

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Down the street, here are just a couple front yard designs. Though I’m a sucker for many of the different interpretations of our state bird.

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The gate and the common Blue Sotol counter the Heavenly Bamboo. Though the latter is doing better than I might expect in an obscenely hot, west exposure.

We can all rest easy that roadrunners aren’t that large.

Desert Museum Palo Verde and a duo of Purple Smoke Tree anchor the landscape mostly of lantanas, Damianita, and (I think) Mexican Feathergrass.

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And even something I designed, just not front yards. Still the stuff of curb appeal, which most everyone values.

Like our distant views and clarity of light that go on and on.

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More Faxon Yucca, Beargrass, Sotol, and Mescal Agave. And more Anisacanthus quadrifidus var. wrightii ‘Mexican Fire’!

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I wish more of our front yards and developments made greater use of garden walls. And designs other than southwestern with massive profiles and tan stucco.

That one’s my fault, though if you look at their CC&Rs…

No wonder I once had half of my courtyard ripped out and replaced with an angular CMU wall and purple paint…and no stucco.

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I’m thankful to now live in a neighborhood where more than a few properties for blocks have even a few appropriate plants besides yuccas, let alone where a number of thoughtfully-designed landscapes are visible from the street.

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From the previous image, it partly goes downhill in the maintenance department. Most every Sophora x ‘Sierra Silver’ and some Nolina greenei got “the treatment.”

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Fortunately it’s not all bad news, but that’s a future post!

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6/24/18 weather:
100F / 73F / .00″ or 37c / 18c / 0 mm

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Epilogue (for weather nerds, only):

The day I took the photos in this post the high was only 80F or 27c, rather unusual and abnormally cool for our hottest month of the year. That period typically runs from about mid-June to mid-July.

Which is why though today’s average is 96/62F or 36/17c, I decided to not show today in red as “notably above normal” though it’s 7.5F or 1c warmer than average.

In fact, I’m going to change “average” to “normal”, which can be 2 different things. Average = mean, normal = median.

In my time living from Albuquerque to El Paso, this time of year tends to be warmer than averages indicate, though a minority of Junes are cooler, generating the average often referred to but rarely seen.

It’s a statistical thing and nothing to be alarmed over.

Precipitation averages vs. normals tend to work the same way, especially March to June. As you can tell, one .50″ rain in that period makes desert deniers and newcomers alike believe with religious fervor that it should rain every spring, especially June.

As if In Las Cruces, we should use the astronomical calendar to tell us our climate seasons for gardens, instead of the meteorological calendar. Summer starts here most years about mid-May, not June 21, if one uses consistent 90F or 32C + highs as the marker, which many do.

So, there’s some climate nerdiness for you.

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Evening Light: A Drive-by

Someone is reading my casual or pointed rants via Instagram. Or so I think.

Back from a hike at the neighborhood volcano (extinct), it appears the landscape lighting is being moved to correspond with the plants. Possibly like the original design.

Fingers crossed that’s not just a coincidence.

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Most every time I flew home from Las Vegas, I exited 215 to McCarran past a series of widely-spaced Dasylirion wheeleri. That and the sotol spacing on medians near my then-Albuquerque house may have inspired me. (the latter I pirated several years earlier – yes, it’s true)

But lit up, they add ambiance to the dry breeze wafting in at dusk.

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I need to find old photos of these Fouquieria splendens soon after installation. They’ve really grown in from the smaller, seed-grown plants – not wild-collected.

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What I do as a landscape architect is much about evoking moods using light and shadow.

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5/31/18 weather:
99F / 64F / .00″ or 37c / 18c / .00 mm

 

 

Saturday: Other Gardens

Fitting in even a few diversions on this Austin trip was challenging. So, I chose to skip the Saturday Blogger’s Fling tour and missed 1/3 of it, in hopes others captured it.

Austin’s balmy May weather returned, and I was off to go my own way.

First, East Austin where I was staying, as I rounded up some good coffee before breakfast and my main gardens for that day.

Make sure to click each photo, to sharpen and enlarge it.

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My first trip to Austin was in 2004, and I was enthralled with Big Red Sun’s original nursery while starting to plan my own. I wrote a business plan for it and also the horticulture business to fuel it.

But no dice, as things happened.

Years ago, I walked in when they had a small plant sales area outside and designers inside. I had a good conversation with a colleague.

Always agaves on everything in the ATX…

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A coincidence this resembles Big Red Sun? I think not.

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Those modest houses are getting thought and care, down to hardscape and house color. That’s often ignored or the need mocked in the desert southwest. (scratching my head)

A horticultural culture and people turned onto their place, or not so much?

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Off to ponder such things, fully equipped, as I plot how I’d get back to evening Fling activities. Shoulda’ gotten just one.

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Umlauf Sculpture Garden and Museum was a peaceful diversion on a trip years ago, somewhere between mountain biking up the trail along Barton Creek, croissants, swimming in Barton Springs Pool, and a friend taking me to a great art museum downtown.

While my test rides and the above didn’t move me to Austin, Umlauf seemed it would be good again.

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Now, the drive out of Austin’s Cinco de Mayo traffic, into serenity, and a large-scale series of garden spaces at a private home. West towards Fitzhugh Road and the edges of exurban Dripping Springs.

Charles of CIEL met me 40 minutes of driving later. 2/3 of that setting the stage of what was to come.

After a series of driveway gates along a pleasant, unassuming drive on gravel far into the property, we parked.

Oddly after just visiting Umlauf, there’s much sculpture in areas of the owners’ property. All handmade: some flora, others fauna yet frozen in time.

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“Treat everyone the same.”

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CL likes how this piece, carefully set into the limestone slab, is on a slight downward tilt. I can see that now.

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After the owners’ daughter met us, CL walked us into the courtyard, designed so the owners would have one place where the space and planting character would remain static all year.

That’s an excellent idea in Austin’s bipolar climate or most anywhere not tropical, even in the mellower deserts of southern and central New Mexico.

One of the CIEL crew was carefully maintaining the waves of different plant forms and textures. The different viewing angles were great!

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“Think long, think wrong.”

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Brahea armata, a native Echeveria spp., Ilex vomitoria ‘Nana’, Yucca linearifolia (?), and Maleophora crocea, all used to great advantage.

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There are various ways to frame views and to capture light; oculus, doorway, and window. Here using stone. These activate what would otherwise be a dark, lifeless space.

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I can’t tell where the owners, the garden spaces, and the architecture begin or end.

Outside the courtyard there’s much more, in the live oak savannah of an ecoregion called “Southern Prairie Parkland”. More accurately, this is the upland part of it often called the Texas Hill Country; to me the more humid part of the sprawling Edwards Plateau.

Quercus fusiformis and a slope of Nolina texana

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I always enjoy the occasional column or obelisk with other elements.

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CIEL and the owners clearly see the importance of  their ecoregion and their discrete spot on Barton Creek’s rim.

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“A place to sit, and something great to look at.” – many before me.

That something here is the small valley along Barton Creek, which feeds the places I mentioned earlier in this post.

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Heading back to the pool, and then my car to the city…

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Charles’ use of raised, tilted rock planting highlights is new to me, and much different and more skillful than something smaller-scale using brick or mortared rock in El Paso. More to ponder.

Repetition…

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Looking back up to the house, slabs anchor the cut stone wall and become steps. Serenoa repens from the coastal southeast thrives under the live oak, intermingled with other understory plants.

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Now, it’s different types of cut stone – Leuders limestone – with ledge stone and trailing jasmine. The angles are so well-carried out.

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A garden wall splits adjacent spaces, and more contrast of well-shaped shrubs and wilder plant forms all around.

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Thanks to owners Bill and Mary for sharing their amazing property with me that day, not to mention the occasional water breaks. And to CL for showing me his ongoing work.

He answered my parting question that he doesn’t get burned out.

I even made it back to my place to clean up, then join my old and new garden nerd friends in downtown Austin, on-time for the night’s events.

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Ponder this quote for this post. I use it for some business email signatures, from a famous aviator, author, and student of architecture and engineering:

”A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”
Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Do we reach perfection, ever? No. But do we reach for it, anyway?