Spare Meets Oasis

People from greener parts of the world often comment on my rare post showing a more intensive planting.

Limited water, lean soils, and low humidity plants rarely support a lush mix of layers and high density. That requires more expense, irrigation, and maintenance plus richer soils, which we know are unlikely on my projects and many others’.


Hesperaloe funifera above on a toasty west wall; Dasylirion wheeleri below on a slope to direct unwanted foot traffic. All massed with the space and spaced for maturity.


Wild plants usually space themselves apart to limit competition.

In the garden, that gives room to see the plants and especially the space. Even where drip irrigation is needed to establish or even sustain, it’s often a good strategy to apply that more sparse model.

Not to say we don’t get drawn into the oasis via shading and sparseness, pointing the way to the bosque of desert trees.


That simple allee of Parkinsonia spp. with an unplanted ground plane works. Every inch of ground doesn’t need to be filled with plants that die, especially in the rigors of a public space. The oasis is overhead shading everyone and in the background.

It’s true!

Mostly local and desert southwest-native species were used.


This simple groundplane is punctuated with not riparian plants by the low, circular drainage feature, but rather, by a trio of agaves, arroyo plants, and a single tree.


The openness with (very) ephemeral drainage actually functions per reality, as many agaves are more upland and foothill species than desert floor. They appreciate some flash washing of their root zones.

I appreciate this Ten Eyck office’s take on a xeriscape demonstration garden for the low desert.


I’ve moved to Scottsdale, Arizona for several months, so not only do design sensibilities increase with the temperature in this case, but so will some different gripes and praises. All important!


4/25/19 weather:
98F / 65F / 0.00 or 37c / 18c / 0.0


Thoughts in Old El Paso

Like the Steve Miller Band, I “headed down to-ooo-ooo Old El Paso.”

Before a meeting about a potential landscape renovation, I visited some other designs of mine within another 20 minutes of driving. Photos are from 10/20/18.

Memorial Hospital:


Bouteloua gracilis ‘Blonde Ambition’ was used with a fight, since this landscape contractor was difficult and even claimed they weren’t hardy in El Paso. He was already planning to make an inappropriate substitute of a gulf coast native! So, he didn’t care they weren’t placed with the semi-circle per the plan.

Since small grasses mature in a couple seasons, they should grow irregularly to soften the row faux pas. They are already working, especially in their wind.



I didn’t authorize Nasella to be substituted here, but many feel compelled to use it. Then, they complain it reseeds everywhere.

The Berlandiera lyrata should look good and smell very chocolaty, as it fills in and reseeds gently into the rock mulch. That was on the plan, as was the Nolina greenei.


I do like the Seattle diva’s artist’s colorful sculptures, at $***K on the hospital’s dime.

Though the approach to that work was anything but acceptable to myself and others. I had to adjust the landscape around them, then delete important sitting walls (paying for $***K art means sacrifices), and deleting some trees that were only a perceived problem and not a real issue for the entire design including the art pieces.

News flash: know your species, what trees become in Seattle vs. El Paso, trust an arid region designer over unfounded reactions, and mind your manners since you’re 3 years late to the party.

I was also urged to shift the grasses to be magically planted on the sculptures’ concrete footing without soil. I held my ground that “no way will that work with roots, drip irrigation, and the integrity of the artworks’ fastening method at the footing”. Moisture – steel – gravity – wind…that won’t turn out well. I later heard the artiste was disappointed the grasses were away from the sculptures.

Imagine if the artiste were a reasonable, flexible “team player”?

The overall landscape still came out, thanks to my diligence and that of the general contractor. It’s even being maintained sensibly, as opposed to “getting the treatment”  unnece$$arily; hopefully that remains the case for decades.

Patting self on back, as maintenance is also on the plans. Better yet, someone might be reading and following it!



Sierra Medical Center:


I was too early to see the Muhlenbergia capillaris ‘Regal Mist’ get pink flowers, but on-time to see the golden massings of Chrysactinia mexicana work with other plant massings and low garden walls.

I was also on-time to catch the beginning of weeks of fall color on Pistacia chinensis.


Do you see why seat or garden walls are important, even if visual? Delete divas, not substance.


The natives against the dark glass at the facade are looking good as intended…golden Ericameria laricifolia and blue green spikes of Dasylirion wheeleri, plus Yucca elata lifting through the non-native, unapproved contractor substitution of Muhlenbergia capillaris ‘Regal Mist’.

Again, kudos to myself again, for making lemonade out of lemons, collaboration, and flexibility using a solid design, under you-have-no-idea-of-my-painful-circumstances in 2014-15.

And let’s not forget someone might be following the maintenance sheet. Only some replacement of dead Leucophyllum and adjustments of irrigation downward are in order so far.


I’ll return to these landscapes for their winter looks, after I post on other assorted design doings further north along the Franklin Mountains.

Take a Walk

90 minutes walking nearby, good landscape design was a bonus to the exercise and temperatures in the high 60’s F / 20 c.

All photos were captured with my iPhone. Cue this fine song by Calexico.


A well-contrived stepped wall profile and its stucco color play nicely with a trio of our Dasylirion wheeleri / Blue Sotol.



With more shrubs and only 2 far-separated accents of Yucca torreyi / Torrey Yucca and Dasylirion wheeleri, this is reminiscent of xeriscape designs a few hours north.


Artemisia filifolia / Sand Sagebrush, Ericameria nauseosa / Chamisa (yep, “nauseosa” – sniff the blooms!), and Fallugia paradoxa / Apache Plume. It holds moderate interest all winter, but when the Artemisia is weighted down by monsoon moisture together with the Fallugia covered in white blooms and pink seedheads – wow!

All those plants occur in nearby arroyos, except the chitalpa tree in the couryard. Don’t get me started on that tree and those who still use it in futility.


I’ll have to wait to capture area masses of Rosmarinus officianalis ‘Prostrata’ / Trailing Rosemary. There were many well-massed, flowering examples a couple weeks ago, but …


Our first freeze on 11/12 was right near our average date, except the 18F / -8c low the following morning was rather early. So were the next 4 mornings below 28F / -2c. Hence, most of our area’s trailing rosemaries were in active growth and shocked.

Fortunately, an abrupt change to freezing rarely affects the whole of a design based on principles such as sense-of-place, form, or rhythm.


The next neighborhood over, with much larger lots and grand views, and it’s a foreground of yet another near-native, from the 5,500-7,500 foot elevations of our stage set of the Organ Mountains. The evergreen Nolina greenei



Nothing unusual is at this house, which is a common theme in parts of Las Cruces.


It uses well-placed evergreen accent or succulent plants, to evoke our local sense-of-place all year. Yucca baccata / Banana Yucca, Fouquieria splendens / Ocotillo, with Torrey Yucca, a couple blue sotols, and a large Opuntia ellisiana / Cacanapa Prickly Pear. It’s economical, requiring little maintenance or irrigation. That house’s front yard nicely contrasts the almost peachy stucco color and the dusty-blue desert skies.


Finally, this is somewhat like the above landscape, except there are trees.


Prosopis pubescens / Tornillo or Screwbean Mesquite outside and a Prosopis glandulosa / Honey Mesquite inside. Plus, various agaves, sotol, and other spikiness were used in a naturalistic manner.


11/25/18 weather:
59F / 44F / 0.00 or 15c / 6c / 0.0