Some Details Are Easy

Or at least with a little skill, they are!

Someone once summarized my design philosophy as “inspired by nature (desert)”. Here behind an unfulfilled project in the Mojave Desert outside Las Vegas: rock cover of various sizes, thin plant cover.


Desert pavement is the term for the ground surface in many shrub desert communities, and it is a great model for the aesthetic and function of gravel mulch in the arid-region garden.

After all, desert pavement in the wild serves as mulch.

The owner had their contractor do this on one of my designs. They tried, but the larger rocks need to have been impressed, or filled in between using the overall, smaller gravel mulch, to avoid looking contrived. Almost!



I specified this at a school design nearby, and it worked: 50 percent 3/8″ gravel mulch and 50 percent 3/4″ gravel mulch.


The architect didn’t get it, didn’t try, and he’s from El Paso. One cannot miss seeing this very same effect on the groundplane, on any hike or travel into our area’s creosote bush scrub. And an architect, who has more design savvy.

If some 2-4″ rock had been added to the mulch mix, his approval might have been even less. I tried, but easy isn’t so easy. People are the main limit, not reality.

Tree stakes…do you really think they need to remain after the first year, let alone 9 years later, with 4-6″ caliper trunks and obviously quite establish and sturdy?


Nor do I!

Disagreeing and not removing the stakes will not prove anyone right; it will girdle and damage the tree, possibly killing it.

6/15/17 weather: 102 / 61 / 0.00

Low Down

Water runs downhill, so look to the right side of this photo. The planted and naturalized areas offer proof.


Another person just told me how “it’s not a good idea to plant in ponding areas and drainage swales.” Like this:


I bet my person would find that acceptable, if only the weeds were herbicided. It’s even a historic plaza on El Camino Real.

As a designer who values enduring aspects of history or nature, that basin would be much better with native arroyo trees filling in and softening all the gravel plaza area behind it. Human and wildlife habitat.

These basins in my decade-old design were perfect for the latter, on the right side of the first photo and now below.

Prosopis pubescens L, Celtis reticulata R / distant, some grasses and Atriplex canescens

I’m not sure all the grasses specified and installed in the pond bottoms made it, but some did. Most of the unirrigated native trees made it.

Xeric trees were specified, typical of settings getting deluged then staying dry, yet the deluge elevates soil moisture enough for long-term tree growth…similar to what’s observed in many of our arroyos.


Trees were planted from smaller sizes than is regional convention. No irrigation was used in the basin, except DriWater or water truck applications the first year. That same idea was used in other basins in the same development, with similar success.

Soil: sandy loam or gravelly sand, which allows water and roots to develop deeply.

6/14/17 weather: 100 / 60 / 0.00

Focal Points

Focal point is a design principle I learned as a college sophomore, but lost in designs while fielding an array of requests and deadlines.

Landscaping is much about focal points.

Pick a great place to be or just sit, then plan what you’ll look at.


I spaced the Dasylirion wheeleri into Picacho Mountain just so they would do what the three with flower stalks are doing – interrupting the sky. Focal points even work when driving.

Nolina greenei, Sophora x ‘Sierra Silver’, and Larrea tridentata

That was another view of the same development entry, with more evergreens playing off the Dasylirion on the left. But mostly a non-focal point of clumped desert plants, except the ocotillos.

Passing the entry island and leaving Picacho Mountain, another focal point you miss while entering the same development. It faces you only while exiting.

Yucca faxoniana and a mass of Nolina greenei

Inside the development, one has to look at an island in each cul-de-sac, with no irrigation and native plants.

Fouquieria splendens, gray Leucophyllum zygophyllum ‘Cimarron’, and Ungnadia speciosa

Another cul-de-sac.

another Fouquieria splendens for height, Leucophyllum zygophyllum ‘Cimarron’ for fill, and Ferocactus wislizenii for pop

Do ever step back from your overall design, only to add in focal points and then work off of those?

6/12/17 weather: 96 / 65 / 0