On the Cactus Trail

While the Perseid meteor shower was a bust, I’ve seen it a few times before and from darker locations. And the pre-dawn weather was refreshingly cool at that wide spot in the road shoulder, at 2,500 foot elevation outside Carefree.

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A lone Carnegia gigantea might be the quintessential cactus.

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That stop was followed by a walk around nearby El Pedregal*, the once-busy shopping and activity hub adjacent to the Boulders Resort.

*the stony place, for the area’s huge granite boulders 

The Sonoran sun cast it’s first glow into the cool, still air.

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Some maintenance and upkeep is evident; bold colors in the southwestern sun fade without help.

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Some maintenance is lacking with most tenant businesses gone, like my once-favorite out-of-the-way cafe. I read that special events are held here, so maybe that triggers partial upkeep?

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Meanwhile, the Phoenix dactylifera all had too many fronds removed. Oddly some date clusters were left, which will litter and stain the paving.

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Some of the palm fronds should have been retained, for a more full and lush appearance, plus shading the crowns where tender new growth originates and maximizing photosynthesis to grow stronger roots.

I know – “pruning, blah blah blah, Dave.”

But it’s truth. My hope is that even a few property owners seeing this learn and help raise the bar on horticulture, to help maintain their investments.

See also:
http://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/care/pruning/pruning-palms.html
https://www.unce.unr.edu/publications/files/ho/2004/sp0416.pdf

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Of course I didn’t liberate any of the dead agaves’ bulbils. I did wonder where cameras are placed to watch every move on their property.

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There was interesting hardscape work, including blending canterra stone bands with simple, economical colored concrete.

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The control joint pattern provides a lesson for your next design, in how concrete tends to crack when the joints depart too far from 90 degree angles. And that’s in a dry and near-freeze-free location; it gets worse when moisture with freezing are common.

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This area held up well, though. The concrete and stone surfaces only need some cleaning.

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Perforations here often have colorful paint, to add visual interest and set apart from a real danger: beige stucco overload!

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The weathered wood latillas on the ramada entry to a possible tenant store is in contrast to the blue paint used in that garden wall’s perforations. Both are complimentary, as is the rustic metal brace connecting the viga to a post.

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There’s no end to the visuals; it’s native Parkinsonia florida and near-native Dasylirion wheeleri, accenting even a bridge with perforations.

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The skies might have a say in the desert’s elegance.

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African sculpture blends in nicely with the desert context. 

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Was it still a failed trip only leaving me a mostly-abandoned shopping center, without a cafe to enjoy coffee and croissant, and without enough sleep?

Of course not – it was just another stop on the Cactus Trail!

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That vintage short film came on TCM after watching a movie, though I couldn’t find it online to watch again. Not on IMDb, the film’s narrator even noted some cholla cacti and (I think) hedgehog cacti. In his 1940’s era voice, of course.

The film’s promotional tone welcomed soon-to-arrive, post WWII visitor, who would probably stay in the latest motor courts or fine hotels. Those would have air conditioning to make travel or even living along the Cactus Trail more possible.

Yet, we know the Cactus Trail is longer than Riverside to Phoenix.

There are side trails to points south, even north and west but ending in summer-dry places where most cacti were planted. That, as the main trail extends its way up, down, and around the greater southwest, then into the Big Bend and deep into the epicenter of cacti, Mexico.

This particular section of the Cactus Trail didn’t even exist when that short film was made, so there’s also the time factor.

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Though, I’m sure the grandparents of this Opuntia engelmannii and other plants were here then, as stars of the old westerns rode by, camera crews in place.

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O. engelmannii is an icon in Arizona’s and New Mexico’s milder winter locales, where it thrives especially in foothill locations and among granite boulders!

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See – we can each add our own drives and detours to make the Cactus Trail more complete and more our own.

Scottsdale Quarter Walkabout

Pre-great recession Kierland Commons (KC) now has a neighbor with a similar range of tenants: Scottsdale Quarter (SQ). And outdoor living considerations edging out similar, regional developments in Tucson, Albuquerque, and El Paso… 

What makes this better? It’s clearly attention to the outdoor spaces including the quality of landscape design and maintenance.

Enroute is a simple entry wall using concrete block screening KC’s south parking lot is lower maintenance and long-term cost than a stuccoed wall; it’s at least as attractive.

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The grouping of desert trees, Palo Brea / Parkinsonia praecox, completes the scene with other xeric plants. No comments on their shaping…

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The amenities of SQ and KC are complimentary, as is the thoughtful connection between both, across the 6 lanes of often-busy Scottsdale Road. It uses pedestrian-activated signals at either side of the crossing and in the median, for a safe, two-part crossing either direction:

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Those aloes are a bit dry, but what wouldn’t be this summer? Droughty Dave has clearly transformed the monsoon season into the nonsoon season, expanding his effect from New Mexico into Arizona.

It would be easy to repair the drip system or increase the watering time. Deep and infrequent, not shallow and more often.

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The Valley of the Sun is into outdoor living and the use of planters to define small outdoor dining areas of various tenants.

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Nothing special is here even in the plant mix, but since I’ve spent enough money post-Albuquerque move on this retailer’s mail order…

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Container and planter variations galore, often with spiky and other interesting plants, adorn many walkways and patios.

Since many patios have misters, this only enhances human comfort and plant survival.

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Entering or exiting SQ, one does so under alles of stately Date Palm / Phoenix dactylifera, from the analogous climates / climate twins of the middle eastern deserts, such as Baghdad or some oasis in Algeria.

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Mixing in some adapted signatures of the southwestern uplands or Coahuila.

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The SQ splash pad area and plaza has some perimeter plantings, mixing spiky agaves and flowering lantanas under more date palms. And often a seat wall, that hardens the edges better than a bench. This time, it’s sandstone slabs.

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This splash pad area is so well-done as an oasis, I’m still beside myself.

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The planting pockets along the interior streetscapes are actually meaningful, not token and too small to be of any value, as in some other western “lifestyle centers”.

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Some retailers who sell outdoor furnishings create complimentary displays that help sell what they have. Their devotion of valuable space to do that shows.

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Along the Scottsdale Road frontage, an attempt was made to incorporate native plant signatures of the ecoregion, ocotillos and teddy bear chollas.

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The planting design could have been better laid out, but this also could have been a tough sell to the developer, when dealing with the more delicate winter visitors from a few compass directions I know of, or even lawn-worshipping locals.

This is far more visually effective than what the latter often default to, even at a square foot cost 3-4 times that of the above planting: artificial turf.

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The use of fencepost cacti here works nicely along SQ’s Butherus Drive frontage.

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Walking home along Scottsdale Road, SQ now across the street, there’s something that’s become common here: trees in large rooftop planters.

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Designers on many Phoenix projects often know their climate, then figure out which plants will grow in limited soil volumes for plant roots. This is much less common than what many believe! Roofs already require structural support, without the weight of plants, soil, and water.

They are pulling it off well, it seems. Those were Olive / Olea europaea on Restoration Hardware’s 3rd floor outdoor furnishings section.

An adjacent restaurant also has a rooftop area with more planters, expanding outdoor living onto roof spaces. I’ll try posting on some other examples of walls or roofs with tough plants on them.

Many lessons are here for those who wish to learn, at least those not saddled by self-imposed dislike of people with different means or perceived beliefs than them. Phoenix seems to really be hated by more than one I know who prejudges it on the above. Too bad that hasn’t kept down their population…

And at least lessons to be gained on such projects aren’t mostly what not to do.

Kierland Commons Walkabout

Kierland Commons is a pleasant, mixed-use development in North Scottsdale, a few blocks walk from my peaceful summer condo residence. Its pleasant feel is based in large part on great landscape and hardscape elements for such a space in the desert.

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Phoenix dactylifera at a key intersection, classic.

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Plus, we’re in the Phoenix metro.  Like coincidences and analogous climates? Then, compare the climates of Scottsdale, US and Baghdad, Iraq. The latter only lacks a late summer monsoon.

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Sensible shade, native and adapted species, and mostly southwestern or at least arid-region forms. No silly gesturing to dissimilar places.

I have no idea if the varied shade structures were part of the original design or added later, but my guess is the latter given some planters look to be suffering from shade.

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There’s less climate / desert denial and more horticultural / design savvy seen here or in the Valley of the Sun than that place 6 hours NE. (into tucking temperature-hardy but thirsty plants into the most horridly hot spots under overhangs or against walls, then blaming their failure on “cold”)

Hence my guess; designers here tend to get plantsmanship and design principles.

Many people walking in the cool of the morning like me still choose the shady side, under a combination of built and grown shade.

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Great shirts, by the way…little at Kierland for the guys.

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See how this works…built and grown shading? Always a challenge in limited rooting areas and dense development patterns, but this met the challenge.

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I remember when Kierland was first being developed on a (long) past Mountain States’ landscape architect conference. Streets disecting Sonoran Desert with spare creosote bushes and palo verdes, or bladed land. There were even a few stands of Ericameria nauseosa on a nearby (former) arroyo, unusual at this low, 1400 foot elevation.

Now, it’s all built up and a great place to walk, only 2 blocks from my condo for the summer.

 

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Their large container plantings are a mixed bag, but the thought was there. This is a good specimen of Texas Mountain Laurel / Dermatophyllum secundiflorum, which loves alkaline soils and limestone rock. It does well in the Valley.

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Yet the bougainvilleas are sheared into submission and look like they will never grow overhead. Are there concerns of possible damage from their aggressive growth and weight on the shade canopies? If not, what a waste.

If the shade structures are able to support such woody vines, their walkways would be greatly complimented by carefully-pruned bougainvillea branches covered in brilliant flowers.

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This is not a problem as much as a proactive lesson to those not used to the desert’s high alkalinity in the water…calcium deposits from irrigated containers requires maintenance to avoid staining hardscape.

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Good use of paving patterns here, again, from stencils or some sort of repeated formwork.

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I ate here finally, though the menu is a bit too SoCal for my tastes. But my carne asada tacos were well-prepared – healthy and tasty.

What drew me in? The care to provide an attractive landscape of part hardscape and part plantings, and here…SHADE from a ramada!

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Some don’t like their random planting of too many spikes; I’m on the fence, but I tend to side with them. My 2 Bay Area sisters did like it, so perhaps regional differences or just my design snobbery!

I think everyone likes this fresh manner of tilework on the garden wall.

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To me, this is refreshing with cool, coastal colors that contrast where I’m from in New Mexico (or Arizona), the dry land with most-every wall in beige or tan stucco.

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Still good if I could adjust a few plants, though the Sticks on Fire / Euphorbia tirucalli seem too close.

And we know what happens, when the usual landscape maintenance crews in the Desert Southwest see overplanted landscapes, as they start to grow in…

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7/8/19 weather:
105F / 76F / 0.00 or 41c / 24c / .00