Now to My Landscape

I’m starting the design of the garden spaces at my new home. Study sketches are loose and rough, since they get marked up! That’s already revealing some things that won’t work.

My design statement:
serene, inviting, and sometimes dramatic outdoor spaces, with the soul of the desert

Don’t laugh; that’s to help me carry through with the idea!


Here’s Option ‘A’ (front / northwest at the top):


Once I’ve explored a few options, I might import the best design direction into SketchUp, to “walk around” the property and further refine a final design in CAD.


The front, in and out:



A tiny courtyard off my home office:



In back:





But here’s one catch.


When I’m out on the covered patio, I see that. So…


…I’ll work hard on the spot between my patio and their property. My first hunch is to build a wire mesh or hog panel trellis immediately between the cover’s columns, then plant a dense, evergreen vine.

The male half of the neighboring household and I get along well, and my not-so-subtle screening solution has already been discussed. We both know the issue.


The other catch: views to the unbuildable hill lot with desert growth should be preserved, since once the area is built out, I won’t have mountains or other vistas. That hill out back is the power to embrace here, and the dining room view is desert serenity.



Plant selection is to come, once functions and forms are explored and established.



Growing Pains

Until the weather cools and moistens back to normal for our monsoon season, this will probably be my last post on the hospital projects in El Paso. So much is summer-dormant, plus young plantings via a tight budget need more time to reveal their true look.

Besides, I have items for my own property to start posting on, even if they are only conceptual and not in the ground!

Sierra Campus:


The view from higher on the site reveals the spatial and plant relationships. Closer-in shows gaps in the plants, below the missing Agave neomexicana. Or whatever I specified!



Providence Memorial Campus:


Here, it’s waiting for Koryn’s art installation to go in.

In this case, since the landscape contractor ignored the plan’s curved arrangements of Bouteloua gracilis ‘Blonde Ambition’ and even some of the massings of other plants (namely the Maleophora crocea iceplant), her art will help soften the planting faux pas!

Usually it’s the other way around.



Transmountain Campus:


Aside from some missing Chrysactinia mexicana and the young age of the plants, the overall effect works, with the walls, while entering the site. That is, with the legibility of the Prosopis glandulosa trees up top and the Baccharis x Starns below.

The continued intrusion of all the behavioral signage detracts from the wayfinding consultant’s excellent signage, and it detracts from the view or plantings.


Really? Very disturbing and the wrong way to go about things. “We’ve got a problem, Houston El Paso.”

This should look good in the fall or especially next spring, when everything recovers from our summer of June heat with July humidity.


I’ll move onto the first problem I saw. In some other areas it was made so bad, I didn’t have the heart to post it.


We chose to use the available reclaimed water to irrigate the landscape, instead of potable water. Partly from cost and partly from ecological reasoning. That greatly limited the plant palette, due to the elevated salts in reclaimed water.

Notice anything with the grasses, above and below?

Muhlenbergia emersleyi grasses were not tested in the extensive research materials I had from the El Paso Water Utility. That genera and many others now common weren’t even available in the trade or sold when those studies were made! My guess is with most other plants OK and the grasses not, that’s the issue.

Time will tell if that’s the reason. I hope I’m wrong, because this won’t work.


Related Muhlenbergia rigens below is not much better, while other plants look OK.


I’ll close with the parting shot, exiting the property. The simple lines of Agave parryi var. truncata playing off the Leucophyllum langmaniae and Yucca rostrata gives me hope.


About that hope?

That the reclaimed irrigation water isn’t a problem and the grasses will decide to thrive, that the maintenance people and owner will do less counterproductive and unnecessary (and do right), and that these projects will enhance the entire community they touch.


8/7/18 weather:
99F / 70F / .00″ or 37c / 21c / 0 mm


I originally designed the front of a hospital renovation for my usual hardscape interest, then dense, lower groundcover planting throughout. Those were to fill in between the other plants.

Of course, the native Aristida grasses specified were changed by the contractor to something not native.


The tan to pale green Muhlenbergia capillaris became the grasses, still massed in different locations to unify the scene driving up to park. They flower in the fall season, unlike the threeawns.

This location in central El Paso is bordering on USDA zone 8b-9a, so I felt confident that Parkinsonia x ‘Desert Museum’ will grow well.



Zephyranthes or another substitute near the building were replaced with a pink Ruellia britoniana, which are growing well.



Early in the design, I simplified some preliminary architect ideas in front into parallel walls made of similar materials used on the building. During final drawings, the architect decreased those from 3 feet to about 18 inches in height.


I think it works well, though another 8-12 inches of height might be more effective.

In between outer plantings and the building, staggered either side of the walls I included tree-form Yucca rostrata (changed to Y. elata) and Dasylirion wheeleri. The former yucca change will actually be locally native, which will work out…watch for those to trunk up in height over the grasses in a few years.



Another low wall was added in the island for visual definition and to force pedestrians to walk on sidewalks instead of through the island. Not that people do that, or anything…..



The design was altered from mostly plants native to the Paso del Norte region and Chihuahuan Desert ecoregion.

But it’s still mostly a southwestern and Texan palette maintaining the original massing, which is fine!

1410L201_2014-10-25 Q-SML

I can’t wait to see this in the autumn, when the pink mist of the Muhlenbergia capillaris sweeps through the walls and spaces.


7/28/18 weather:
92F / 68F / .00″ or 33c / 20c / 0 mm