Low Desert Light

In the low desert, there’s more atmosphere to hold in moisture and absorb heat than in the high desert, such as my home at 4,100 feet elevation. And in adjacent areas, most know that increasing elevation generally lowers the temperature.

There are other effects on the garden from elevation, too.

Bright, sunny days have more glare with more atmosphere to scatter light and dust. That’s in contrast to days with dense cloud cover and lower or heavier cloud bases than in the high desert, with less light available to scatter. It would be interesting to study and document this more scientifically.

Here it is in a public garden by Ten Eyck Landscape Architects in Scottsdale, the elevation about 1,300 feet.

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The yellow blooms on the Parkinsonia trees do a good job of brightening an otherwise gloomy afternoon, including the gray Leucophyllum shrubs and dark gabion walls.

But there’s no mistaking the day’s moody light in that space.

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At this park, a talented design team used gray and brown but with skill; they also understand the art of plant massing and pops of color. This showcases water harvesting, uses desert succulents as more than curiosities, and uses boulders well.

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The fleshy, bodacious, and blue foliage of Agave spp. really pops with the golden blossoms already fallen or still on the branches, to enliven the grays and cloudy light.

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Do you have your own list of plants that take advantage of low or special lighting? If not, I recommend creating such a list, or finding a good one showcasing native species.

For 15 years, I enjoyed the moon garden I designed at least monthly, created in my former courtyard.

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Curves and Arcs

Curves and arcs are effectively used to connect walkways and other spaces or forms having different angles. They also work equally well to enclose a core space and provide social interaction, by turning people inwardly, and towards each other.

That looks like how curves and arcs were used here at this Scottsdale xeriscape demonstration garden, part of Chaparral Park. Design (I think) by Christy Ten Eyck’s office, now based in Austin TX.

I first learned this principle in a soph design class we all took, lovingly retitled as “[Pain in the] Aspects of Design.” Or maybe it was another 1 credit hour class, “Introduction to Design”? 1985 is hazy to me, but you get the idea…

Photos from 4/23/19.

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The below photos are from the right side of the above Google aerial view. The main circle the arc forms relate to are underneath the tan fabric shading. The concrete water feature is the focal point and the center of the circle and most arcs, below.

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The water feature is a circle, as is the adjacent paving area, only it’s partly segments of a circle at the edges.

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The arcs of the seat walls vary in height, so people of different heights can enjoy one section or another, plus they add some relief on a mostly flat area.

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From walking this xeriscape garden, I couldn’t tell if these arcs related to the center of the fountain, but my guess is no. They do harden the edges of the walkways and provide a place to sit.

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These gabion walls don’t seem to retain any grade changes, but they reinforce the curved walkway and provide spatial definition to the planting beyond.

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Of course, the trees have a simple groundplane of crushed gravel and decomposed granite, instead of being overplanted and less maintainable.

This works on a large scale as this with arid-region trees like those palo verdes, but it can be translated to small spaces, too.

A mistake made by many desert designers is to pack in plants under all trees, even if those trees are xeric natives and require no heavily-irrigated plantings to help them survive. That mode of thought believes with religious fervor that less is less, while in nature in the desert, trees often grow along arroyos just like the above photo, though spaced more unevenly.

It’s best to have one’s desert eyes on in the desert! That spending time to think about why and how to use powerful forms like arcs and curves.

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“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

Morning Anti-Rush Hour

In search of places to take morning walks before it gets too warm, or after dark, the Desert Botanical Garden is a good choice. Planning to go at least once weekly, I took advantage of my membership.

The light and shade were amazing, and as some of you know, that’s important to me.

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On my last visits, I missed this massing of lower Chihuahuan Desert native Candelilla / Euphorbia antisyphilitica (arid z 8a), with Bolivian native Caripari / Neoraimondia herzogiana Cardon / Pachycereus pringleii (arid z 9a). As usual in Phoenix these days, there’s Elephant Food / Portulacaria afra (dry z 9b) trailing over a wall.

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Across the main walkway was this wall, which really uses graphics and embedded tiles well, providing grade retention and some sitting. Or at least a place to let your water bottle or camera bag to rest.

The agaves and Bunny Ears Cactus are “massed to great effect…”

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Speaking of massing, it’s Tamaulipan Shrubland native Queen victoria-reginae Agave victoria-reginae (z 8a). I must use that compact rosette plant like this, somewhere.

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Onto their Herb Garden area, the colored walls pulled me in. More reason for plant massing of Mediterranean native Dusty Miller / Centaurea cineraria (annual or z9b) and Chihuahuan Desert native Spineless Prickly Pear / Opuntia ellisiana (z 8a) with some randomness of the Cereus cacti (z 9b).

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Inside the walls, more massing of gray Dusty Miller, green Trailing Rosemary / Rosmarinus officianalis ‘Prostrata’ (dry z 7b), and the purple buttons of Globe Amaranth / Gomphrena globosa ‘Firework‘ (z 8).

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That potted Aloe adds structure like the wall does; without them, this would be less powerful and settled into the space.

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Artichoke in bloom and dancing is almost as striking as spikiness…

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Finally, leaving after our walk, it’s southern Africa native Desert Rose / Adenium obesum (z 10a). It’s really a great container plant for the low desert, such as here in the Valley of the Sun.

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The Desert Botanical Garden reveals so many more paths and planting areas, which I hope to explore during my months of living nearby.

Unlike some public gardens, the effective design of plant communities rules here. Also appealing is how most areas incorporate a variety of hardscape ideas with plantings from the Sonoran Desert, plus other arid and dry areas of the world that can survive in Phoenix.

That’s a plus among many other pluses.

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6/6/19 weather:
101F / 77F / 0.00 or 38c / 25c / .00