Curves and Arcs

Curves and arcs are effectively used to connect walkways and other spaces or forms having different angles. They also work equally well to enclose a core space and provide social interaction, by turning people inwardly, and towards each other.

That looks like how curves and arcs were used here at this Scottsdale xeriscape demonstration garden, part of Chaparral Park. Design (I think) by Christy Ten Eyck’s office, now based in Austin TX.

I first learned this principle in a soph design class we all took, lovingly retitled as “[Pain in the] Aspects of Design.” Or maybe it was another 1 credit hour class, “Introduction to Design”? 1985 is hazy to me, but you get the idea…

Photos from 4/23/19.

Chap Park-Google Aerial

The below photos are from the right side of the above Google aerial view. The main circle the arc forms relate to are underneath the tan fabric shading. The concrete water feature is the focal point and the center of the circle and most arcs, below.



The water feature is a circle, as is the adjacent paving area, only it’s partly segments of a circle at the edges.


The arcs of the seat walls vary in height, so people of different heights can enjoy one section or another, plus they add some relief on a mostly flat area.



From walking this xeriscape garden, I couldn’t tell if these arcs related to the center of the fountain, but my guess is no. They do harden the edges of the walkways and provide a place to sit.



These gabion walls don’t seem to retain any grade changes, but they reinforce the curved walkway and provide spatial definition to the planting beyond.


Of course, the trees have a simple groundplane of crushed gravel and decomposed granite, instead of being overplanted and less maintainable.

This works on a large scale as this with arid-region trees like those palo verdes, but it can be translated to small spaces, too.

A mistake made by many desert designers is to pack in plants under all trees, even if those trees are xeric natives and require no heavily-irrigated plantings to help them survive. That mode of thought believes with religious fervor that less is less, while in nature in the desert, trees often grow along arroyos just like the above photo, though spaced more unevenly.

It’s best to have one’s desert eyes on in the desert! That spending time to think about why and how to use powerful forms like arcs and curves.


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


Morning Anti-Rush Hour

In search of places to take morning walks before it gets too warm, or after dark, the Desert Botanical Garden is a good choice. Planning to go at least once weekly, I took advantage of my membership.

The light and shade were amazing, and as some of you know, that’s important to me.

DBG-Wall_AM Light_Desert Plants-SML


On my last visits, I missed this massing of lower Chihuahuan Desert native Candelilla / Euphorbia antisyphilitica (arid z 8a), with Bolivian native Caripari / Neoraimondia herzogiana Cardon / Pachycereus pringleii (arid z 9a). As usual in Phoenix these days, there’s Elephant Food / Portulacaria afra (dry z 9b) trailing over a wall.


Across the main walkway was this wall, which really uses graphics and embedded tiles well, providing grade retention and some sitting. Or at least a place to let your water bottle or camera bag to rest.

The agaves and Bunny Ears Cactus are “massed to great effect…”

DBG-Wall_Tile Desert Plants-SML

Speaking of massing, it’s Tamaulipan Shrubland native Queen victoria-reginae Agave victoria-reginae (z 8a). I must use that compact rosette plant like this, somewhere.



Onto their Herb Garden area, the colored walls pulled me in. More reason for plant massing of Mediterranean native Dusty Miller / Centaurea cineraria (annual or z9b) and Chihuahuan Desert native Spineless Prickly Pear / Opuntia ellisiana (z 8a) with some randomness of the Cereus cacti (z 9b).

DBG-Herb_Garden_Desert Plants-SML

Inside the walls, more massing of gray Dusty Miller, green Trailing Rosemary / Rosmarinus officianalis ‘Prostrata’ (dry z 7b), and the purple buttons of Globe Amaranth / Gomphrena globosa ‘Firework‘ (z 8).

DBG-Herb Garden_Entry Plant Massing-SML

That potted Aloe adds structure like the wall does; without them, this would be less powerful and settled into the space.

DBG-Herb Garden_Gomphrena-SML

Artichoke in bloom and dancing is almost as striking as spikiness…

DBG-Herb Garden_Artichokes-SML


Finally, leaving after our walk, it’s southern Africa native Desert Rose / Adenium obesum (z 10a). It’s really a great container plant for the low desert, such as here in the Valley of the Sun.


The Desert Botanical Garden reveals so many more paths and planting areas, which I hope to explore during my months of living nearby.

Unlike some public gardens, the effective design of plant communities rules here. Also appealing is how most areas incorporate a variety of hardscape ideas with plantings from the Sonoran Desert, plus other arid and dry areas of the world that can survive in Phoenix.

That’s a plus among many other pluses.


6/6/19 weather:
101F / 77F / 0.00 or 38c / 25c / .00

Welcome to a Business

I visited a former coworker at his office my first days of relocating to Scottsdale.


Swaback Partners work was somewhat familiar to me reading online and in print. This trip I learned about founder Vernon Swaback’s connection to Frank Lloyd Wright, as his youngest apprentice in 1957. Also for many years, “Desert Excellence” has been in my library, a booklet extoling the desert landscape for various development forms, coauthored by Swaback and Steve Martino.

Their office building was formerly a residence, but Swaback converted it into offices for their firm and another design office or two. It’s off a major arterial street, yet when one enters their parking, the traffic bustle melts into a relaxed design hustle.



I’m told that Ten Eyck’s office designed the landscape seen here, though it looks different than much of their other work I know of.

This entry exemplifies bold yet relaxing. Once the colors of the Sonoran Desert spring disappear into summer’s burning rest period, this will become subtle.


Each door into the inward-facing offices is a work of art, using mass and graciousness.


The scale here is personal yet massive.


Some architects go overboard on massive to where their work becomes a cold fortress, devoid of life. Probably a reflection of their personalities! Here, the concrete seat walls, for example, have a nice reveal and shadow to them, and they work with the generous use of cacti. Yes, CACTI!

Of course, this grew in; I wish I could see the entire landscape when it was newly planted. It probably started as 1 and 5 gallons, even with key area placement of larger cacti and a specimen tree or two.

This feels like it belongs in the desert; it’s of the desert, not merely in it.


The plantings are informal, a style typical of Arizona. Though this manner of informal isn’t that common here or neighbor New Mexico, where the designer knows how to mass and direct views towards focal points, while being naturalistic.

So much landscaping has no focal point or massing, made illegible. Like flower gardens without any structure, missing entirely the models of what those classic gardens did long ago via hedges, borrowed views, sculpture, and evergreen plants used purposely.

Not here.

Justicia spigera / Mexican Honeysuckle (thanks Misti) Hamelia patens / Mexican Firebush? I dunno, I’m a Chihuahuan not a Sonoran… It’s a hummingbird plant, and with several hummingbird species that reside in the low desert even in winter, that’s important.



Ponds are not normally my thing, but this is. What helps? It uses well-placed boulders, a serene nature (no fake waterfalls!), and appropriate riparian plants like Muhlenbergia rigens / Deergrass.


In fact, plantings here were not an afterthought…score!

I wish more design offices paid attention to the site and landscape in their own facilities, not to mention their projects. Instead of feeling like a corporate sweatshop in tilt-up building hell, Swaback has a restful oasis to design and restore one’s creative nature.