Streetscape Walk While Away

For 2 weeks this past spring, I had to be in Scottsdale.

On the 5-1/2 hour drive up, this large group of Yucca elata east of Deming always looks like it’s dancing, as the narrow leaves shimmer and vibrate in the wind.

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Once I arrived in the Valley of the Sun, my time there allowed me many hours outside, since much of the city was closed due to Covid-19.

I remembered to visit sections of well-planned streetscape, which I drove by on previous visits and my stay last summer. Photos from April 14, 2020:

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Garden walls must be a standard or development requirement in many Arizona municipalities. With gentle berms and spreading desert plants, they provide a park-like feel to drivers’ by and property users.

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Good monumentation and signage is common in such retail properties in Arizona, which negates the more typical onslaught of ugly billboards and tall pole signs. Though these trees are a bit too-pruned up to see inside, a rightful complaint some of us designers have.

Muhlenbergia rigens under Parkinsonia praecox, from the parking lot and from the street side of the garden wall

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Walking up Thompson Peak Parkway, this is the start of an attractive privacy wall / public art feature. Salvaged, multi-trunk Olneya tesota provide a less thirsty, better grounding to place than habitual Aussie or northern, humid climate lollipop trees.

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At least I didn’t see any Yellow or Peruvian Oleander trees, unlike the condo I rented.

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Except for their shrub shaping, the rammed earth walls and regionally native Cordia parviflora and other species screen adjacent homes and visually “pop” with their typical blue skies.

The tricky inlay of ceramic details is also effective.

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Now, I’m walking back the same route to my parked car.

Prior to the 2000-2010 time frame, this is typical Scottsdale street landscaping, especially in front of apartments.

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I didn’t post the crowded, chopped up, and token desert plants used. That’s all so uninteresting to me, especially when unusable lawns drive all other plantings, including even more habitual, thirsty Australian trees.


Now, to something more interesting, newer, and grounded to place.

Just a half-mile drive past the blue Central Arizona Project bridge and fencing I gave a glimpse of on a previous photo…still on Thompson Peak Pkwy, only north of my initial photos.

I started this next stretch of my walk by parking at the Scottsdale Arabian Library.

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It’s not a New Mexico library in budget or design, and those are not typical building setbacks in New Mexico or many other places, either.

This does shout we’re in the Sonoran Desert: first is Arizona’s state flower, Carnegia gigantea, and then their state tree Parkinsonia florida and an expanse of revegetation plants like Encelia farinosa.

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Imagine that as a sea of gravel, or, cough, a sea of unused but irrigated lawn and Aussie trees.

Even this median over-planted with Yucca baccata has some appeal and sense-of-place. Though that plus its function in preventing jaywalking, it’s a bit much!

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My walk has now taken me to cross the collector street, the wide sidewalk taking me in front of a large, residential development. I’m still walking along Thompson Peak Pkwy.

It’s a typically well-designed monument and planting, using mostly native plants.

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The median here has a better amount of breathing room between bold plant forms, softened by more of their bread-and-butter native Encelia farinosa. It’s not particularly interesting, except that it isn’t  sterile gravel without plants, knitting together miles of land in the low desert, which allows cacti and trees to shine.

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The benefits of generous setbacks…

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By now, one should notice that the ground plane, instead of being covered with uniformly sized gravel, it is covered with a blend of varied rock sizes and with the same tone as local desert terrain has.

This mulch method works, but when I’ve used it on projects of my design, I’ve gotten mixed reviews.

Sophistication from owners and contractors is a process that moves at a glacial speed, unfortunately. The same architects or property owners seeing it in Arizona will likely accept it, only to revert once home.

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A Curve-bill Thrasher or something else perched on this Parkinsonia florida?

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The golden light shows off simple, understated desert landscaping, as I close in on my car and whip up something in my kitchen for dinner.

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Even the parking lot has ample shading and a local, natural sense-of-place, where native Sonoran Desert plants soften the once-common carscape. My car is hiding there.

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While the above is located in a wealthier place where the landscape cannot be winged as an afterthought, do you think design informed by one’s natural place is worth it?

I do.

I also know of many expensive, thirstier, but less appealing designs used in places with less wealth, but more excuses.

The Drive: Exit into Tucson

I’ve admired many landscape designs along the freeways and arterial streets in Arizona’s two largest cities for decades.

A critical mass in their horticultural community gets sense, place, and designing for traffic speeds. Photos from 12/22/19:

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This is the first time I exited onto West St. Mary’s Road. Always informative and fun, colleague and friend Scott Calhoun suggested meeting at a parked food truck for lunch.

Since I arrived early and Scott was riding from afar, I had extra time. Burger King was good for a free parking space, so I walked the rest of the way.

ADOT designed some attractive concrete accents at the bridges.

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There’s no shortage of cyclists in Tucson. One cyclist on a mountain bike…

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Desert Willow / Chilopsis linearis above a mass of Beargrass / Nolina microcarpa makes a pleasing vignette while waiting for the light to change. Both are seriously bulletproof species in a wide part of the southwest.

And the other cyclist on a road bike…

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I’ll work back to how I exited I-10. Room for plants to mature.

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Regarding a request to see more Las Cruces pics on my blog, which I’ve shown many, I replied, “I have more to post on Arizona because there is more good arid-region design and plantsmanship in a few blocks of Tucson or Phoenix than in a mile of Las Cruces and El Paso or 2-3 miles of Albuquerque.”

These huge, almost trailing gray shrubs are…Texas Ranger / Leucophyllum spp. During the monsoon season, I’m sure many locals or visitors are very impressed.

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They are spaced well for rhythm, as are their masses for structure. No need to design 3 times as many plants for immediate effect, only to later remove half or more. Or shear into muffins, cylinders, boxes, …

Occasional accents were tucked in, but one must be stopped to appreciate them. Or rolling the dice by walking along the right shoulder, protected only by a curb.

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A minor detail, but some different massing of plants away from the yuccas, then placement of the occasional yucca further from those masses, especially from the drivers’ direction, would have shown off the planting better.

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A few Texas Olive / Cordia boissierii were used, but those were off to the right side and not too visible.

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It’s time to walk back, to join my cyclist / plant nerd friend for some lonche.

This ocotillo had a hard night, yet it’s still trying to hang on by blooming.

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Now, I’m stumped…

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The color combos work, but I’m stumped at the tallish Dasylirion mass in front of the interesting design motif at the corner.

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The plants appear to protect the artistry from taggers, yet they block a large portion of it from view.

I’m standing taking this, so that’s not far off the height of a typical pickup truck or SUV driver. Though perhaps the art is more visible from a Bubba Truck height?

No matter it’s still very appealing.

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An inlet shows where passive water harvesting was employed, to allow storm water from the street to soak into the median plantings.

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Both of us showed up for lunch for one of the best tortas I’ve had. And we’re wearing short sleeves in late December!

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Early Spring: Desert Botanical Garden

With a wet, cool spring in much of the desert southwest, plants were thriving though a little late for spring blooms. Even in the low desert of Phoenix.

Monday afternoon was free, so I took one of my brothers, his lady friend, and her son to the Desert Botanical Garden for a few hours.

They really enjoyed it. Pics from 3/16/20:

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Chainfruit Cholla / Cylindropuntia fulgida joins other Sonoran Desert indicator plants such as Saguaro / Carnegia gigantea 


The spare feel of this, where plants aren’t crowded together, seems to reflect the essence of the desert southwest. The splash of color from Chuparosa / Justicia californica against Organ Pipe / Stenocereus thurberi also softens the foreground without crowding.

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Birds like white wing doves always seem to nest in a saguaro

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Though the closures and fear of Covid-19 were about to hit, people were already canceling reservations in the Valley’s high season. This garden was not as busy as typical in early spring. Now it’s been closed for over 2 weeks.


I’m enjoying seeing the yellow wall and other plants mellowing with age.

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Superstition Mallow / Abutilon palmeri is a large, open shrub with large, papery blooms.

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After spending so much time in the Valley over the last year and before that, I can spy Piestewa Peak far left where I’ve hiked. Plus portions of Camelback Mountain where I’d like to hike soon.

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And back to the beginning, as we head out. Blueish agaves, yellow Desert Marigold / Baileya multiradiata left, and Desert Bluebells / Phacelia campanularia on the far left.

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