Streetscape Awakens

My house hunt is starting. Per regional custom with posted hours, the open house closed almost 2 hours early, which I drove miles out of my way to see. But now there was time to spare.

Time to visit a recent landscape design – Engler Road streetscapes, taken 3/5/2017:

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Soils at this site are caliche with some gravels on top, which inhibits roots from developing and limits plant choices. Hopefully the medians depressed 12″ will percolate in some extra rain water, to help.

The 20 or so Cercis canadensis var. texensis specified are now taking to dusty New Mexico.

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The gloomy day didn’t help the tan tones including the shrubs in back, allowed to stay – I specified green-leafed Leucophyllum langmaniae instead of the gray L. zygophyllum that we ended up with.

Also doing well are the yuccas and grasses, somehow magically left un-shaped into balls last November when they went dormant. My maintenance plan was followed here but not everywhere in this development.

Got me!

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A few Yucca rostrata punctuate the repetitive mass of Bouteloua gracilis, like the effect one gets driving those restorative stretches of open road around Marfa or Carrizozo.

It just takes a few of these accents, which will soon accent the skyline.

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The yellow leaf margins on the yucca are a detail I often forget about. And the state grass of New Mexico, Blue Grama, is coming alive.

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Many green shoots are responding to the ground and air temperatures warming, even if a few weeks early. With all our mountains  protecting us, my guess is even if we get one of those freak March or April snowstorms and some more freezes (our last frost date averages April 1), few or none will be hard freezes below 28F, when the serious damage occurs.

Maybe.

Weekend Work Recovery

Can you believe I posted on my blog again, after 15 months away?

Much has happened since, which you’ll learn in time including my move and recent employment in a different field. Recovering from a tough week at the day job by checking my design practice’s projects, to help issue substantial completion…or not! 2/18/2016 photos, El Paso TX.

Stop #1: Hospitals at Providence, Sierra Campus

That’s quite the renovation by HKS, and I really enjoyed working with them. I’ll focus on the good this time, but maybe fill you in on a few items in need of correction, so our plans’ design intent is fulfilled.

My placement of the low garden walls helped provide spatial definition, and I only wish I would have designed them a little higher and to stop pedestrians in more places.

Availability caused some of my speficied plants to be changed…it was native Purple Threeawn and not Gulf Muhly. The yuccas were supposed to be larger, but Yucca elata rockets upward once it establishes, so I’ll stick with that. Overall, the Chihuahuan Desert was respected, even if interpreted a bit.

Stop #2: UTEP to Downtown, Hotel Indigo and San Jacinto Plaza area

I’m always up to seeing great designs, evesdropping on others’ designs like that last set, instead of criticizing mine. Though there was little to criticize this leg of the trip. Just inspiration galore.

On a past post, we had to enjoy drinks and excellent tacos on what turned into a sunny, spring-like afternoon. Malolam it was…some good design at the development housing them, among some major site planning screw-ups, which I posted on a while ago.

Stop #3: Hospitals at Providence, Transmountain Campus

This landscape was finished around Thanksgiving, so the various plants like Chaparral Sage, Deergrass, and Beaked Yucca are small. Much was done with a tight budget on a huge site, and I can only commend the architect HKS and the owner Tenet Health. Much came together.

Our drive home was bound to be good, even if I had to work the rest of the weekend!

Have you enjoyed a day much more because you saw something inspired?

Shrub Shaping 

A recent drive to my trailhead, and Texas Sage / Leucophyllum spp. in bloom.

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roundabout #1 – balls, mushrooms but still flowering

Of course, the public street’s roundabout planting areas are too small for a 6’+ shrub, or such a plant given the need for safety and visibility. (3′-8′ high is the zone many towns require to be clear at intersections)

And the shrubs are under 3′ – by force.

But the usual suspects do it anyway, over and over. Even the city, violating their own rules. Crazy! (at least I try to design appropiately and explain / educate)

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roundabout #2 – a different form, only the trees safe

Now, here’s a private planting of the same shrub on the same street, but left in its natural form, with space to mature.

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a 10′ wide parkway strip

Which form of shrub pruning benefits drivers and pedestrians more? Or the plants?

Desert Landscaping: Maintenance Fails and Fixes

If only I could be in charge of each of my projects’ maintenance, but then, who would design them? Just a few adjustments are needed in the below areas, looking at the big picture and then close-up.

Musical pairing, little to do with Las Vegas except it has a great beat and is about nightlife; I hear that city to the west has some of that – here

Photos from 6/24/2015 –

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Do you see what the Honey Mesquite in front needs?

1 thing: prune off the 1″ branch growing low and into the building wall. If only I still had loppers, and I had driven there instead of flown.

From my last posts on how I wish I had designed something differently, you can tell how important I view even our smallish desert trees – which old guard definitions from cooler or wetter places refer to as “shrubs”.

Rabbits. Yet, there reaches a point when the wire cages can be removed, after the plants established and are no longer salad.

While the creosote bushes are growing, some are growing less so than the others. Such a difference, a simple light prune of taller stems back to the main stems is all that’s required to create a more appealing look, while maintaining some individuality in size. Even some of the lower, more dense creosotes could be thinned 10% to blend in some.

Balance, instead of unkempt or given the treatment.

Creosote Bush / Larrea tridentata

Creosote Bush / Larrea tridentata

Just imagine a little attention to some of the creosotes. While you imagine the few plants that die to be replaced by the same or similar plants.

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see anything missing between both panels of windows?

A Joshua Tree once stood there.

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position the Joshua Tree replacing the one that died, just like this one

I really enjoy the solar parking lights the architect specified. They fit the modern, space-age look there, with the sere Mars-like scenes beyond. But something else lurks…

Overall, I’m happy with much of what I see. Anyone who works outside in their heat should be thanked, even if one has to be insane to be in that line of work there… Though I forgot to mention in the last post, plant changes are often made without me – we cannot rule that and the other pitfalls.

But don’t you wish someone would step back, and pay a bit more attention to important areas of a planting, as I do this one?

3 Years Later

What better way to revisit a maturing public garden in Austin during the depths of summer, than from my El Paso apartment…it’s mid-morning here, all windows and doors are still open, with the air dry and light.

Since I first visited three years ago, what worked or didn’t?

The Bevo Belo Center, deep behind enemy lines at the University of Texas, 8/1/2015 –

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this retaining structure seems to be holding up, plants OK

I’m unsure of that metal / fabric retaining method, or the reason for it. Perhaps plants that trail or spread by rhizomes are supposed to fill in and down the sides, further “knitting” the soil?

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Diospyros texana and groundcovers massed, filled in

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one of the shady refuges here, a bosque of Prosopis glandulosa

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trees are underplanted w/ Scutellaria suffrutescens (thx texasdeb)

For those inspired by ecoregional and appealing outdoor living, many more simply enjoy it.

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at least the lawn is outshined by everything else

Construction is evident from bright fencing and scaffolding behind where I took that photo.

The lawn might get used on milder days than their steamy 5+/- month summer, but even it’s set into appealing plant layering. It’s the hardscape and furnishings that probably get more use, set into plantings.

Lawns are carpet or flooring; hardscape and plantings are the architecture, furnishings and accessories. Lawns are plush, but plantings are lush.

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all well, nicely growing together framing the seat wall

Some of that area looks overplanted, but given demands put on many designers, it’s fine. The plants chosen and how they were designed throughout this entire project should look great for years, without pulling out half.

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Yucca pallida front, Anisacanthus quadrifidus var. wrightii back

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Hesperaloe parviflora ‘Brakelights’ lines the retaining wall

As hard as it is to admit for an OU Sooner grad, this UT project alone is nicer than anything I remember in my 1980’s college days, or my last visit to Norman 14 years ago.

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tucked-in spikiness of Hesperaloe funifera

That area needs regular pruning and cleaning out; it’s overgrown and looks neglected, yet at a major street intersection and visible during each red light.

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yeah, I left the trash for the picture…it’s part of the urban fabric

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plants thin out with no replacements, and not just on projects of the unwashed

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one of a few plaza spaces, and Ten Eyck’s usual “yucca in a seat wall hole”……..

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concrete pavers let the plantings shine

The design of the pavers is an attractive, unique variation of what I call a running bond pattern. Just heavy gauge steel to form the edges; clean.

Christy Ten Eyck and her office “done good”, as this landscape all worked out. Only some maintenance and construction were the issues I saw, in a small percentage of the site and little to do with this design.

In fact, I wouldn’t expect any better than this, or even as good as this, three years later – public or even private space. My guess is she goes out of her way, on maintenance monitoring and advisement with the owner – with fees to cover it. If not, some good people are taking care of this…no “treatment” to the shrubs alone tells me that.

Do you look at new landscapes, then revisit them after a couple years to see what worked or didn’t?

Surprise, Surprise! Extreme Shrub Shaping

I’ve seen these Texas Sage / Leucophyllum spp. for several years, and since I’ve lived blocks away for over 2 years, they’ve done this all three monsoon seasons.

Intense flowering in spite of all the things that normally cause problems. A happy exception in the tightest, most undersized-for-a-large-plant space one can imagine – things other informed horticulturists and I educate against, because we see countless examples as proof.

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blows my mind every summer

Exceptions aren’t rules.

Regardless of bodacious blooms, larger shrubs can only be kept smaller so long. Plus, if they’re going to prune something tight or shape it, at least it should be done right: learn first.

Hint: lifting up bottoms of shrubs usually fails.

Failure includes an entire plant’s lower parts dying, then premature death for the plant…and no more flowering! You can read more online, or just watch it happen somewhere near you.

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crazy!

This is a higher road for that Texas Ranger, though.

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ahhh…thoughtful placement (room), letting the shrubs do their thing

Thoughts?

By the way, a benchmark of dos and don’ts for desert southwest shrub pruning is found – here

Yuccas and Rock

After 23 years living in the desert southwest, if a person despises rough terrain and spiky plants, they may wish to move along.

After all, that’s what endures here –

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a yucca, rock for mulch, sideoats for grass

I’ve only grown to embrace, not resist, such challenges as something to inform a simpler, more appealing aesthetic for outdoor living. Regard.

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yuccas and rocks…add sotol, damianitas and a live oak clump

If you remember some of my past projects, a trick employed is to plant (2-3) – 15 gallon or 24″ box trees like Quercus fusiformis together in a wide hole, root balls touching. Those and many desert trees grow in clumps in the wild.

So, why not the same look in our built landscapes…without waiting years for that to develop from a single, tiny tree?

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even large rocks – limestone boulders

Do you have any stories of landscapes and gardens using common plants, even called weedy, but used well?