Casa de Bill: Summer Begins

Last time I visited, it was a near-record, early cold plunge only 6 weeks into fall. This time, it was already the second heat wave of 2020.

I raced the end of spring flowering, which peaked 2 weeks earlier than me. 3 weeks before that peak there was an unusually but increasingly common late freeze; in parts of ABQ, even light snow fell. It was also a moth infestation year. Photos from 5/18/20:

My early approach before 9 am saw exceptionally clear air, to enjoy the last remaining, natural creosote bush scrub community adjacent to Albuquerque. The ground surface covered in classic desert pavement, the plants in bloom…

The effects of agriculture, then urbanization, wiped out the areas where that scrub community or other wild stands of Larrea tridentata were reported by some I know up until about 1980. That and climatology signify that the middle Rio Grande Valley is in a northern section of the Chihuahuan Desert Ecoregion, though an ecotone (transition) to the Colorado Plateau to the northwest.

On to the home of one man and about 4,698 miller moths, if we’re counting.

In front:

Nolina greenei, two additional dwarf trees in the form of Forestiera neomexicana, and Buxus microphylla were added to unify the space in front of this example of appealing home architecture. 2/3 minimum evergreen – check!

I look forward to this maturing over the next few years.

There’s potential for this personal-sized flagstone patio in an ashlar pattern.

And in the afternoon…

I pruned his existing Desert Olive tree and two smaller ones, which should be due for a slight prune this winter. Subtle, 1-2 times each year is all that’s needed.


In back:

No Bill but an open umbrella vs. Bill but a closed umbrella. Both ways there’s interest including the home’s woodwork colors and bold, festive plant spikiness.

Reason #73 for using a majority of xeric, native and near-native plants…

Barely caught the end of flowering for his Spartium junceum in this hot microclimate. The potted Echinocereus triglochidiatus and Nolina greenei would be great to sit by with a coffee on cooler mornings.

His Salvia farinacea and Stachys coccinea are a Texas duo bent on world domination, near-native but more mesic since this is a denser planting.

I can’t find one thing wrong with Vauquelinia californica (or the other two Vauquelinia species I know). Evergreen, xeric, and works in different-sized areas, just like the understory of Yucca pallida.

Speaking of world domination, Mirabilis multiflora is growing well. Sometimes it works in a small area but others it requires a larger space without irrigation to work.

It’s too hot to be out, so it’s time to head up to the hills.


These decorative wood bars at the side door evoke an old southwest feel.

And that’s that, unless I can carve out time to visit this fall!

Tucson Walk

On a drive back home from my doctor in Phoenix, I took a few hours to explore an old neighborhood south of downtown Tucson.

Within the next several weeks, I returned. Why?

Barrio Viejo is a delight to visit, with authenticity in its treatment to Tucson’s architecture and even ecology.

My 11/26/19 visit:

Sunset near Willcox AZ, after leaving late for the drive to Scottsdale

After my midday appointment, I stayed overnight in Tucson for the time to explore the neighborhood I’ve wanted to for years.

After breakfast at the hotel, I parked here. One peek inside the courtyard of a design firm was spare but appealing, incorporating xeric plants that are adapted or regionally native.


This motor court serves both vehicles and pedestrian movement to this house, but it has a great focal point of one of my favorites, Blue Sotol / Dasylirion wheeleri.

Other houses or buildings display a variation on restrained, tasteful design, which ties into their spaces. Many of their compact landscapes are naturalistic, a few are very massed, but most use proven design principles and respect their arid region ecology.

Colored walls and woodwork are common in this neighborhood, and they are used well. Bold colors have probably been employed as a design tool in Tucson and parts of southern Arizona longer than most anywhere in the US.

Native plants grace the tight front gardens, including Prosopis velutina, Larrea tridentata, spiky Yucca rigida, and various Opuntia.

Other adapted Mexican and South American agaves and cacti are sprinkled into many properties. Various aggregate sizes including decomposed granite form mulch and pervious walking or parking areas.

Plantings casually but deliberately frame the entry to the home.

Here, the very loose planting frames the front door.

The metal roof at the entry combines with the well-composed but naturalistic plantings.


Mexican Colonial architecture? My clue on that is the stone framing all openings, reinforced with containerized plants.

Of course, this purple house is my favorite, architecture and plantings.

Edging or groundcover masses using evergreen aloes and rosemary works.


Some architecture is out of place, including the deeper front yard and random planting style more in fitting to certain other suburban areas in the southwest.

That’s in contrast to a modern take on the historic barrio forms and use of earthen walls, contributing to the neighborhood context. This looks like rammed earth.

Getting real, would I want to live in Barrio Viejo if I were to relocate? Could I even afford to live there, since their real estate prices are insanely high?

Renovation isn’t cheap, but still.

Compare an area’s median income to the median real estate sales price. Not stating cliches such as, “well, people are buying it, so it must be affordable.” Or not repeating new urbanist planner-speak about how “tight, walkable neighborhoods command higher prices”, right after such folks claim “it’s less expensive to develop that way.”

Greed and disconnects

I’m always wondering how the boutique-type owners and designers can be kept at bay from entirely changing who lives in such an area. Can they move to another planet?

The gentrification in Barrio Viejo is severe based on real estate prices 18 years after this linked article’s date.


Onto an adjacent neighborhood…

This is clearly not the office building where my former employer’s “management” team is busy patrolling the earth!

2 hours later is this rest area, as the sun began to set on the high desert grassland near the New Mexico line. Two more hours until my warm, peaceful home.


My 12/30/19 to 1/1/20 visit:

Before another doctor appointment, I returned to a favorite place, the Desert Botanical Garden. Crystal clear light enabled views towards Camelback and Four Peaks and made the experience seeing the gardens a pleasure.


Soon I was back to Tucson to celebrate the New Year with Gayle.

Though she’s from Tucson, she hadn’t spent time in the original barrio areas, so I learned them better by reading up on them online, then showing her what I had begun to learn.

An attractive office building converted from a house, the date palm, solo cactus, and grass mass providing legibility and somewhat of a sense-of-place, though not very native.

Ironwork and gates, often unique…

I’m enjoying their pipe roof drains, which are a break from the squared canales common in my state.

This looks like Arizona Territorial architecture, made with exposed adobe.

That’s as good as Tucson streets get, probably paved as recently as 1980…

Another of my favorite buildings, with such contrasting colors and desert plants

Gayle enjoys the chill of a “winter” day, Sentinel Peak in the background.

If only that former tiendita was revived in its original spirit, instead of becoming a yoga studio or artisanal toast and porridge cafe.

We can hope, since planning or design includes imagination!


What I saw was often a repeat of my November visit, except the lighting and cool temperatures were different. I cannot imagine why the owner is now selling, after putting so much into this house.

The postal worker I talked with here in November told me about what a kind woman the owner is, from his delivery of her mail. I’ll leave it at her first name…Diane!

Me – “Too bad saguaros grow…kinda close spacing.”

Most everyone – “C’mon, Dave!”


Later in the day, we headed out to Sky Bar. A New Year’s Eve show from an excellent group I’ve heard thanks to online streaming, The Bennu.

But first, the landscape lighting…

The New Year’s Day trip finished with breakfast on the patio of the very busy Lodge on the Desert. Wyoming just won their college bowl game, so many fans stayed there.

The buffet spread was amazing, and possibly a thing of the past.

Then, one more 4 hour drive to be back in my home, where space heaters don’t make a mid-winter breakfast comfortable, alfresco and in the shade.

Streetscape in Spring

Between my hikes and home, I was finally able to spend some time admiring spring growth of one old streetscape design.

It lies within the Doña Ana County street right-of-way, leading to a private development.


Evening, 5/6/20:

Some views of where ornamental planting meet revegetation seeding and planting on the parkway.

All of this scene except some of the medians include 100 percent native species*, which combine better than I ever imagined. That’s partly due to some very-appreciated maintenance thinking and deeds.

Plants except the seeding and median yuccas were installed from seed-grown plants as specified, which have matured mightily.

Those desert sunsets, a clean and dry finish to the day


Morning, 5/7/20:

The first view, evergreen and bold, with an openness to distant landmarks

There’s something about cool, dry mornings and low, softer light.

I think it relates to a colleague’s telling me how our thoughts and planning peak in the morning hours. Here it’s a fresh view of the expansive terrain and landmarks.

Even a few remaining Penstemon superbus are left, being colonized by Aristida purpurea. I wonder what grew in the now-open area

The Dasylirion wheeleri march on, and then the Ericameria laricifolia march along.

The blank ground under the Dermatophyllum secundiflorum ‘Silver Sierra’ mirrors the payment for my design and drafting of the pilaster-gate combo.

Rhus lanceolata adds a needed tree element.

Its mature height doesn’t violate those ever-crucial viewshed requirements throughout the greater community, including this development or my own block one half-mile away.

Hope is always important, and not only hoping what’s good about the maintenance keeps going.

Rather, I hope that the next wet period occurs during warm not cold temperatures, and the contractor doesn’t shape the Leucophyllum for at least a few weeks after. May it all coincide, so those poor shrubs enduring months of heat will blossom forth.