Front Garden in Rim

After my drive-by hospital visit, I made another drive-by visit through the attractive Rim Area neighborhood near the University of Texas at El Paso (which I didn’t visit). It’s great to return to warmer times.

Photos are from 9/20/2020.

Of the several plant forms that make up well-designed gardens or natural areas of the desert, this front yard uses at least three.

Seasonally-deciduous plants (Prosopis glandulosa, Artemisia x ‘Powis Castle’), CAM plants (bluish Yucca rigida, green Yucca aloifolia), and groundcover that’s also a CAM plant (Maleophora lutea).

The Powis Castle Sage smells minty, from the oils on the feathery foliage. Though in dry weather one must rub the leaves, as the scent just doesn’t carry in the air. The other plants provide short flowering for moths and butterflies with their ever-present, bold forms.

The hummingbird magnet Hesperaloe parviflora grows in the distance by the lawn, which is secondary to the other plants as it should be.

The repeated clumps and groupings of Nasella tenuissima / Mexican Feathergrass unify that entire front area. That single Prosopis glandulosa / Texas Honey Mesquite with other groupings of yuccas, shrubs, and groundcovers add punctuation.

Somehow, in all my years visiting and even living nearby, I’ve never been down this street. Perhaps it was planted after I moved away in 2016?

Zooming in, Maleophora lutea / Rocky Point Iceplant (or Pink Iceplant) softens the spiky form of tough Yucca rigida / Sonoran Blue Yucca.

Yet another win for good design of an appealing place!

It’s also a win for gentle maintenance to retain and remove some of those Nasella clumps, which usually get out of hand.

Infill Condos in Tamalewood

Albuquerque isn’t wrongly associated with spicy Mexican food, high crime, and too much sun and desiccation. The Duke City, with the development of the film industry in their area, has even been called “Tamalewood.”

Since I was already running late to return home, why not visit another project or two, near my freeway on-ramp and 3 more hours to Las Cruces?

Photos 5/18/20:

I was part of the architect-led design team on two infill, multi-family residential projects as their landscape architect. (same architect as on the prior office post) On the above map, they are either side of Aliso Dr SE, just south or below Silver Ave SE. Both were developed in 2006 and 2008.

A friend told me the episodes of the Breaking Bad TV series my design was seen, but I forgot which. I never could get into that show!

But talk about “location, location”: near UNM, old Albuquerque in the valley, and their decent freeway system to the nearby mountains or other directions to endless wilds beyond.


Aliso I:

Quercus muhlenbergii / Chinquapin Oak and Dasylirion leiophyllum / Desert Candle are near-natives and growing well, although the oaks are in a tight area. The low, green lumps were originally thriving Teucrium chamaedrys / Trailing Germander, at each of the four corner planting areas of phase one.

But the landscape subcontractor hired by the general contractor or owner muscled their way by adding weed fabric, which also prevents such plants from trailing and rooting to control erosion on slopes, and forming the intent: a living, evergreen groundcover.

The maintenance contractor who I recommended also forgot the design intent, by pruning into lumps not allowed to fill out again.

Fortunately, I have photos of how that Trailing Germander once thrived, between the perils of the undeserving un-horticulturists.

This oak looks like it needs the drip emitters checked and repaired or a few added. Or inspected for maintenance damage to the bark. The time for such labor could easily come from the unnecessary time lumping each germander.

The west-east plantings are growing, all native. The original, permeable crushed gravel walkway was not cared for and was replaced with impervious concrete.

I never did catch the mid-spring flowering of my Wisteria sinensis / Wisteria choice. But that’s a steel trellis fitting for the vigor of wisteria…

Aliso was my name for this and the next project, used by the owner and architect while they were figuring out a name. The name was easy: not because alders (alisos) grow in ABQ, but rather, Aliso Drive SE bisects both condo projects.

Like a good name to brand anything, Aliso is easy to pronounce.


Aliso II:

This time another landscape contractor I recommended installed the second phase, and it came out better.

Though the maintenance contractor is the same one from phase one, who knew better and could have done only beneficial maintenance.

Such as ensuring that the irrigation is functioning optimally, including timing and additional emitters for tree growth, or thoughtful pruning of some plants like the cacti and trees. And suitable replacements in the rare but expected case of plant mortality.

As always, I tried.

And as always, good design often shows years later if one looks at more of the project, not cherry-picking what others did wrongly and not caused by the design.

Like this tragic row of “the customer is always right” so “shear them all”, instead of a stunning row of evergreen, foothills native dwarf trees, Cercocarpus breviflorus / Hairy Mountain Mahogany.

Here’s what a Hairy Mountain Mahogany looks like with slight but informed pruning.

That’s obviously not tall enough to block Sandia Mountains or city views. The second floor decks are too high even when seated, while the bottom floor decks have no view: they look to the sidewalks and two story townhomes across the street.

Which is why I used that dwarf tree, ideal for such constraints…

But overall, I’m pleased to see it. There’s no good reason for a garden designed well to not outlive me.


A live oak:

A sighting of this tree in the later 1990’s with central New Mexico’s oak advocate, then a chance conversation years later with a woman who grew up in this house, told much.

Presenting Quercus fusiformis / Escarpment Live Oak

It’s a long story for another post, but this tree was brought as a few acorns collected from a Dallas cemetery by that woman’s mother, from one of a few survivors of their worst freezes ever, in December 1983.

Even with the former Bermudagrass lawn replaced with rock, that live oak is thriving more than ever.


Albuquerque is gaining a critical mass who care for it, outnumbering the arcticism I met in 1992: xeric-escapists and zero-scapers. It’s satisfying to have added to the few exceptions I learned from way back.

With less montane-midwest-med, there’s more of a there, there.

Just drive around some more, past the zip-zags of mesic, non-native grasses, lollipop elms and ashes with dying tops, or lavenders.


My 3 hour drive into darkness, on the decompression of I-25 to my home in Las Cruces, the rapidly cooling breeze confirmed better times to come.

As I shut my car’s sunroof and windows.

Within days, a last breath of coolness before the next 4+ months.

The Old Neighborhood

Though I moved from Albuquerque in 2013, over 2 decades there including 15 years in the foothills left its mark.

After visiting a client’s and now-friend’s landscape, I high-tailed it up in elevation where I found more pleasant temperatures in the high 80’s and some familiar highlights. Photos are from 5/18/20.

Rt 66 / NM-333 medians:

Actually, this is the larger of two guerrilla-planted medians from 1998! It’s unirrigated and uses xeric natives including Prosopis glandulosa and Dasylirion wheeleri.

I quickly measured and designed both medians after moving across town to a new home. Since this was to be my most likely route, I needed a planting more adapted and interesting than their usual streetscape then and still today.

Like a bad cross of 1970’s Midwest and Napa Valley-minimal. More on this later, as this landscape and the range of reactions were telling.

It worked! Doing more with less wins again.

From the opposite side, a rhythm of Opuntia engelmannii or O. lindheimeri were added, as well as volunteer Ericameria nauseosa allowed to stay, their gray complimenting the green of the cacti.

My guess is a contractor friend from ages ago played a part in those additions, plus some light pruning. He helped me with pruning, weeding, and hauling out here one morning 10 years ago, and he lives 30 minutes east in the mountains, so that’s my guess.

If so, thanks, Tim!


My former home:

The Ephedra viridis took and outgrew any I’ve seen, even in their native habitat in the Four Corners and west. That in spite of no drip irrigation on the property, and the thin soil layer atop granite bedrock.

The mesquites are mesquiting. They look good and rugged including braving the periodic east canyon winds that I will never miss, as their roots rip into the bedrock. Most of the other plants are growing, including Penstemon eatonii, P. parryi, Aristida purpurea, and others also reseeding.

Some of the reseeding isn’t managed as it could be, so that’s not ideal. Though that’s mostly unimportant, as it’s still enhancing the area.

And those walls, with a few accent natives like Nolina greenei or Opuntia engelmannii

And no, this isn’t “trying to look like Phoenix”. It just isn’t Denver, Oudolf, Rudolph, or Midwest enough for some!


Even the tangle of the still-unbuilt lot and on my former home’s terraces is OK. Considering those terraces are 95 percent compacted grade and face west. Persisting or multiplying in spite of being parched are a duo of Fouquieria splendens, Fallugia paradoxa, Ericameria, Larrea tridentata, Opuntia, and who knows what else.

Ignore the few, stray Tamarix

The locals including rabbits, western diamondbacks, or velvet ants enjoy it the most.


But once past my home, then their town’s endless areas in entropy, my constant mountain bike rides and hikes got me many rewards in the forms of stiff workouts through amazing scenery. That preserved my health, too. Just a quick visit there…

My favorite trailhead:

Trail #365 and the south foothills look parched, but with the same stunning views as ever.

The natural areas near my new home west of Las Cruces appear to have had more cool season precipitation than my old home, before the moisture supply shut off.


Some nearby residential landscapes:

Two of the original three Nolina nelsonii are happily growing in with other native or adapted xeric plants on their front slope, rock and boulder-strewn. Even a small water harvesting cistern…


The huge Yucca faxoniana still stands, and the long hedge of Opuntia subarmata is slowly hiding the concrete retention trough. Unkempt in a negative manner, the regional plants and even the fading Spartium junceum help.

I often rested here riding uphill before the fun part, the trails.

Stay tuned, since this day trip isn’t even over.

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