Weekend Work Recovery

Can you believe I posted on my blog again, after 15 months away?

Much has happened since, which you’ll learn in time including my move and recent employment in a different field. Recovering from a tough week at the day job by checking my design practice’s projects, to help issue substantial completion…or not! 2/18/2016 photos, El Paso TX.

Stop #1: Hospitals at Providence, Sierra Campus

That’s quite the renovation by HKS, and I really enjoyed working with them. I’ll focus on the good this time, but maybe fill you in on a few items in need of correction, so our plans’ design intent is fulfilled.

My placement of the low garden walls helped provide spatial definition, and I only wish I would have designed them a little higher and to stop pedestrians in more places.

Availability caused some of my speficied plants to be changed…it was native Purple Threeawn and not Gulf Muhly. The yuccas were supposed to be larger, but Yucca elata rockets upward once it establishes, so I’ll stick with that. Overall, the Chihuahuan Desert was respected, even if interpreted a bit.

Stop #2: UTEP to Downtown, Hotel Indigo and San Jacinto Plaza area

I’m always up to seeing great designs, evesdropping on others’ designs like that last set, instead of criticizing mine. Though there was little to criticize this leg of the trip. Just inspiration galore.

On a past post, we had to enjoy drinks and excellent tacos on what turned into a sunny, spring-like afternoon. Malolam it was…some good design at the development housing them, among some major site planning screw-ups, which I posted on a while ago.

Stop #3: Hospitals at Providence, Transmountain Campus

This landscape was finished around Thanksgiving, so the various plants like Chaparral Sage, Deergrass, and Beaked Yucca are small. Much was done with a tight budget on a huge site, and I can only commend the architect HKS and the owner Tenet Health. Much came together.

Our drive home was bound to be good, even if I had to work the rest of the weekend!

Have you enjoyed a day much more because you saw something inspired?

Marfabout: Gardens in 2015

A home tour followed the Marfa design symposium, so of course, I turned that and my trip into a garden tour. No photos were allowed inside, though there were many great ideas – I compensated outside.

Musical pairing from the Eagles – James Dean, of course! (unsure that album cover was designed by local Boyd Elder, but you can find out and why I picked that song…hint: Giant)

Some galleries of many things I enjoyed; hang on, it’s a big post –

Now, off to the actual design symposium and my other wanderings, when I should have been designing…..no way.

I paid dearly for this later…but it might pay off even more later.

I forgot to capture the presentation of the first speaker, both architects now based in Tucson (Dust).

But the next speaker was a fellow Carlsbad native, even the same high school, is now a Brooklyn-based architect. Kelly Armendariz went into his works, many are commercial renovations in the Big Apple, but not to be left out was his own Marfa home in progress.

Serious Desert SW representation!

I’m glad the hard work of Tucson’s Brad Lancaster defining what should underpin all our work, continues to become mainstream in urban and landscape design. He’s the same smiling and fired-up / yet laid back guy who I shared ciabatta bread and vino at my old ABQ house years ago, in my other life.

And some homes on the tour…

The panel of architects, interior designers and engineer involved in a promising hotel being built by the railroad tracks in Marfa…the Hotel Saint George. A hotel actually stood on the same site decades ago.

Carlos is someone I’ll collaborate with to a degree on an upcoming residence, while it turns out that Nunzio and Mary Alice are 2 of the 1200+ firm HKS whom I’m working with on health care projects in El Paso. A small world.

I’ll close out on parts of the symposium and my own tour related to being more bike and pedestrian-friendly…and upping the economic bar for any great place that’s proud of itself and its place. (pay attention El Paso and NM: no more wannabe, learn to be)

I hope to post photos of the gardens from two years ago, at the last symposium, but the “day” job calls.

See anything you like, or that could benefit from water harvesting and other best design practices?

I hope you enjoyed this mega-post, too!

A Place to Sit

I’m in Marfa again, this time for a design symposium. I splurged for little more than this town’s boutique “hotel”, but I have lodging with immense privacy and space, which I really miss.

Curiously, the front garden area is completely walled in with my favorite landscaping must-have, built-in: the seat wall.


restful and simple, but my design brain is revving up


finally, a durable hipster-panel fence / gate…steel

There isn’t one plant growing around these walls; I think it needs something discrete and to shade the hot NW evening sun. (29N latitude, 5000′ elevation sun) But planted so a group can still be comfortably accommodated inside.

Possibly add a few low-key containers?


morning has broken

Note there’s only one way into the graveled front area, via the steel gate. At 6′ tall and being a guy who wears jeans to dress up, no problem for me to hop over the seat walls.

While Marfa is informal, I would rather provide a space for the maximum types of guests. Had this been a Quercus project, I would have included 3 gaps to better access that space, each 3-4 feet wide – a pair at opposite ends of the portal (covered porch), where the lower walls meet it; the other gap stepping down, aligned with the front door.


a new day

After seeing Brad Lancaster speak at the end of the first day, before any planting occurs, we need to first build in passive water harvesting. I haven’t seen him in years, maybe since he was hanging out with a bunch of plant nerds at my old house. Loads of free resources on that – here. (both his books are a must, though)

With an adequate depth of mulch and planted, the soil acts more like a sponge, optimizing plant root system health – just like what happens in our arroyos. Low water-use, indiginous plants coordinated with water harvesting thrive and reproduce, because that now-moister soil in the plant root zone extends cooling and moisture into dry periods, that simply doesn’t happen without it.

Caveat – the uber-minimalist direction of gardens in Marfa, or other modern gardens, need to bend some, on being kept too neat. That perfectly clean ground plane is best left for the floors inside the house; some organic matter is necessary where plants grow. I hope my former home landscape of 15 years was proof of having such a balance.


great coffee…is there a better time of day?

With all the above in place, then we can sit back and enjoy the view and serenity just a little bit more.

This place is great to stay at, by the way. And the owner / host happens to host the Thursday night show on KRTS called Rockabilly. A fitting musical pairing from my high school days, which he and his sister play – here.

Desert Landscaping: Design Fails and Fixes

Some have the idea I or any designer think we’re above reproach. No – some of us are actually our biggest critics, and that’s not being a perfectionist – it’s simply wanting to improve each time.

At the end of a long desert road, southern Nevada, late June 2015 –


that Joshua Tree should have stayed a Desert Willow…shade!

I’m unsure why I didn’t revisit Mike the architect’s suggestion (namely a tree for the L-shaped seat wall), but if only I stepped back and visualized summer – especially in Las Vegas!


too sparse…and plants at the gas meter, let alone agaves??!?

Now imagine a sunken swale down that planting area splitting the sidewalks. Catclaws, screwbeans or desert willows filling in the canyon created by both buildings, the entire length. Maybe some grasses or shady plants under, maybe just gravel.

Also, when I designed this in 2009-10, I hadn’t yet seen Loree’s blog to become more indoctrinated like today, so there’s no excuse for such an act :-)


and…should be trees in basins, not Joshua trees

While many of the above plants no longer get permanent drip irrigation due to the LEED Gold rating, basins and some hand-watering in summer could keep some going. Though perhaps not desert willows…

Where can people sit? Is there room once the plants grow in, those the contractor wants to substitute over the plants and alternates that I specified?


should be something smaller than the Brittlebush / Encelia farinosa

A favorite quote is from Antoine de Saint-Exupery, “a designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”

As I continue on a few designs, that plus starting with the big idea like shade, might help force the rest of the design how it needs to go.

Edit Sans Sod

This is the mid-century modern renovation and plant edit I hinted at. A day later, my grill is ready for making my Labor Day dinner; the charcoal scent is divine.

Las Cruces, 9/6/2015 –

NM plant icons preserved, pinons and yuccas

I’m glad the sizeable Piñon / Pinus edulis were protected and retained; they’re the state tree. Hopefully, some other plantings are added at the root zones without damaging any shallow roots, that can help shelter those upland pines’ roots and add some moisture via their drip irrigation.

Piñons typically occur only above 5500′ elevation this far south – this house is 4100′, over 5F warmer.

jewels were kept in the tangle of overplanting, cactus hording, etc.

I think this property was one I saw on drive-bys with fellow spiky plant fan E. Hodoba, from Valencia County. We were both in Las Cruces for a Native Plant Society annual meeting, and I recall a number of homes in this part of town loaded with great cacti and other plants – some not hardy the next zone colder in central New Mexico. Including a number of saguaro cacti, some with arms…those may have been there since the last big freezes in late 1976, I’ve been told.

I’m unsure how saguaros made it without help most winters, given the usual couple lows most winters in the low teens.

The neighbors I was visiting assured me a number of cacti and agaves on their block, and in this landscape, froze in the 2/2011 uber-freeze, never to grow back, even given months. They got to -5F or so, with nearby areas -11F.

Cow’s Tongue / Opuntia linguiformis

Some plants like that are almost perfect in appearance, including a few creosote bushes. Other plants like some sotols and Spanish brooms look stressed.

I wonder what the exterior shell of the house will turn out like. I also wonder if a more intensive planting, in diversity and density, might be added once the house exterior is finished, along the walkway and especially near the front door. Possibly a subtle water feature, and some flowering, though that’s not essential. That’s the direction I might go, given my decades in the high desert.

Then again, I also like privacy from solicitors, and I would have a low garden wall up front with a locked gate…

Not sure about a few simple, bold containers by the front breezeway…

making the house numbers a design feature

Sorry for accidentally cropping out the Fishhook Barrel Cactus / Ferocactus wislizenii in the last photo; I also meant to take some close-ups of it, as it had a bloom.

I hope you were able to relax this weekend, even if you had to work some like me.

Back to my cold SanTan Hop Shock IPA:-)

Lawnless Las Cruces 

A fast diversion, enroute to an après design charette social.

well done!

Yucca torreyi, Y. faxoniana, Opuntia subarmata, Senna wislizenii, Leucophyllum spp. star there. Effectively out-shining the gravel and river rock, as they should.

With Piece of Eden showing an array of SoCal lawnlessness (her great term), I had to join in!

My ecoregion’s climate is more harsh, so many soft succulents that thrive on the coastal slopes in California may not have a prayer here, at least year-round…we compensate with grand natives Opuntia and Yucca, plus woody desert shrubs and trees. Lawnless in the desert is often older, with less hardscape and site features than theirs. For now…


A preview up the street. Like this Dasylirion wheeleri and Yucca elata combo, holdovers from the previous front yard –

primo specimens a great idea to protect, retain

How large is that sotol? About the maximum size I see in my region, which are the largest I’ve seen anywhere.

I’m 6′ tall…Señor Sotol is 8-9′

Too bad I’m not better at selfies!

a mid-century modern redux & landscape edit

Do you go by other gardens for inspiration, to just enjoy, or both?

Las Vegas Oasis

Would you guess this post is from a city’s metro area of 2.1 million people, with 44+ million visitors each year?

I would. And given which city, I also guessed right how it would be vacant at dawn, even with the coolest morning lows in the valley.

Clark County Wetlands Park, on the Las Vegas Wash, from 6/25/2015. Musical pairing from the Chairman of the Board – here


entry ramada reflects Frenchman Mountain

Saline irrigation water and low areas with saline soils can be tough on plants, so desert riparian species are all that’s used here – including halophytes.


Quailbush / Atriplex lentiformis, California wildfire smoke above


Fourwing Saltbush / Atriplex canescens

MesoWest showed some highs the day before at 116F in nearby Henderson and along this wash. 116 high – 73 low = a 43F temperature swing in one day. Sign me up…for the low!


boulders and drops in water elevation used to create sound


Tornillo / Prosopis pubescens there, like Bernalillo to the Big Bend


visitor’s center and overlook

Funding met savvy in ecoregion and design there.


controlled burns to rid overgrowth of exotics and aggressive natives

Exotics that replace native species disturbed or removed include salt cedar / Tamarisk spp. and fountain grass / Pennisetum sactaceum. Natives that take over when the balance of natural controls are removed include Western Honey Mesquite / Prosopis torreyana and Desert Willow / Chilopsis linearis.


too many concrete walks for my taste

An alternate to concrete would be stabilized aggregate, like decomposed granite (DG): that material provides just as much accessibility for developed trails and paths…plus, its crunching sound and visuals support a more wild effect.

Much better!


DG paths further back…miles of trails here


appealing bench arrangement, shade from Western Cottonwood / Populus fremontii

Finally, a good use of cottonwoods – a riparian area with much room for rapid growth, aggressive roots, weak wood and extreme thirst, as opposed to a garden or most any urban setting.


more seating for classes…native sandstone

Clark County Wetlands Park is not a natural area, but it’s close by.

Someone figured out the connections and patterns allowing human-made riparian zones to better emulate the beauty of the wilds – the few places we can find wild riparian areas in the southwest.

(update…turns out this was designed by a collaboration between my former employer and a civil engineer I’ve worked with…and even another firm before them who did the master plan, who some I worked with worked for…ha!)

Do you have any areas in your area to visit, developed for both sedentary people and those who get out on the trail?