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

Back to 2013: The Getty by Details

My only visit to the Getty Center was on an afternoon in April 2013.

4 hours away on business for a Las Vegas project, between selling my Albuquerque house and my next move, Los Angeles (LA) was a great weekend escape from familiarity and desert dust.

Starting in Calabasas and visiting a friend from the distant past, I can appreciate upscale and Mediterranean climate bliss.


The place’s built landscapes and preserved open spaces almost look perfect: proof of talent, embrace of place, and a gentle but thoughtful touch.

Surfboards! Malibu is a short, winding drive down the canyon.



Looking back at my photos of that trip, the visit after lunch in Malibu to the Getty Center was the highlight.

I’m planning a near-term weekend trip back to see other parts of the Getty missed. Also, there are now other aspects about my photos of the Getty which I did visit, but I didn’t grab onto back in 2013.


White: many of you know I go to Marfa every few months, 4 hours from where I now live. Some of you can tell what I like there.


The Getty has some striking similarities of how it’s sited, treated, and feels in huge LA, compared to other architecture and site-specific art in remote, tiny Marfa. Even with major differences in scale and well-contrived formality. Robert Irwin’s hand is in the design of parts of the Getty and even Marfa.

There is good-contrived, but there is terrible-contrived; both require only a bit of thinking to tell apart!

I can almost smell the cool, moist marine layer seen as haze in my photos. Not to mention the white Wisteria sinensis.


Yes, plenty of white!


Minimalism: clean lines without clutter are a part of so many contemporary art venues or design. Some of it looks trendy or too contrived, similar to a copy. But some of it looks deeper and from the mind and heart, similar to purposed.


The Getty is purposed.


Plantsmanship: the Getty has everyone’s favorite grand feature of what large cacti / succulents can be on southern California’s coastal slopes, Sunset Zone 23. It was great to see that overlook in person, after reading others’ blog posts on it.


But there’s much more there. Though it doesn’t hurt to start at the cactus overlook, then work your way back to everything else. The gardens start the moment you walk from your parked car to wait for the tram ride to the main part of the Getty.


Plantsmanship and horticultural skill rule, including layering, texture, contrast, and even some formal pleaching. The plants make the hardscape and vice-versa.


The angled stone paver band at the trees compared to the same stone pavers at the building perimeter really works, as does the Parthenocissus tricuspidata on the wall.


Low stone sitting might also work for shorter people, or at least those without hiking and skiing-damaged knees, unlike me.



Such Mediterranean plant imagery, with muted greens and fuzzy grays, all mounded and brought closer to eye level via containers.


Next time, I’ll look at the garden areas other than the cactus overlook and along the main walkway, plus spend more time enjoying the art exhibits inside.

With the nearing of the Getty’s daily closing, I could only look down into this area and hope to return. This is their “Central Garden”.


In almost no traffic back to Calabasas, it was a light dinner at Le Pain Quotidien. Including a decent croissant.


The next day after a quick return to you-know-where for breakfast, it was back to the desert dust as the unknown unfurled. An unknown that I now know, seen from 5 years in the future.


Driving over the mountain, it was soon a straight highway as strong winds buffeted me for 4 hours to Victorville and Las Vegas. I made the occasional stop to see some primo Yucca brevifolia.


At the pass before dropping into southern Nevada, I remember the wind grew even colder. With biting sleet and snow flurries instead of dust, their joshua trees were just then blooming. Yucca schidigera and Coleogyne ramosissima joined in.

That area, Mountain Pass, is 4,730 feet elevation. It was still early April in the highest part of the high Mojave Desert.


I mostly survived the coming unknown, and it’s now 2018!