A New DIY Adobe Landscape

The third home in several years for Bill is his historic, 1926 adobe, by late Ohio architect Anna Gotshall, as part of her development in an old apple orchard near downtown Albuquerque.

The other houses are also adobe construction. Let’s look at what we did, me as the design consultant!


Enroute, I braved a bitter north wind to capture an amazing vista of fall color. The distant Rio Grande bosque is in a golden line, central NM near Socorro:

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An hour later, I made it!

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Plenty of gold in the grasses’ seed heads, plus Forestiera neomexicana / Desert Olive.

It’s been almost 2 years after my consultation and sketches over wine and cheeses / bread. Guess what I caught seeing my images back home? The passive water harvesting basin in front is missing and a few nursery overrides happened…oh well.

Also missed was the very fertile soil on Bill’s property. No mining plants into the ground like much of the region’s uplands, or saying “all beach, no ocean.”

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The goal was naturalistic – eclectic. Durable and xeric are always givens with me, and have been since 1995, a main reason I started my design practice, so I don’t mention that except as a “by the way”.


In the back garden areas, more features were employed or added to existing features such as the L-shaped pergola. Bill is repainting the various wood trim and sections, and the colors look great to relate the new and the existing.

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I helped him place certain items like tables at visual focal points, which also facilitates circulation in his tight spaces. And Bill makes the best use of what’s existing and can be lived with, as opposed to changing everything.

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Per my sketch, he had hog panel fencing / trellis and a steel mesh gate fabricated and welded. This is much more durable for a desert dweller than the usual wood. And though Crossvine / Bignonia capreolata is not a brute like default vines wisteria or lady banks rose, there’s strength here.

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The usual plant friends are here. Nolina greenei / Beargrass and Opuntia ellisiana / Spineless Prickly Pear are in containers…

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Above, he’s not into the ornamental grass choice in the containers behind the last Nolina, far left. Nor am I, at least there – it’s too loose and airy for a space that needs more definition and evergreen structure.

My sketch noted something tight and evergreen but potted, such as Rhaphiolepis or Buxus. His friend at the nursery cautioned against that, but I think Bill is willing to try it.

Also, Ilex vomitoria ‘Nana’ / Dwarf Yaupon Holly would work well there. Shirley in the Alamo City suggests Ilex vomitoria ‘Micron’ / Micron Holly, which could also work…if Bill’s town’s nurseries allow it to be sold without approval from their wannabe Coloradoan plant gatekeepers offer it.


The unusual are also in his new landscape. Bill finds so many unusual plants, then grows them. Most of the time it works out, too, which is how I learn.

For instance, Stachys coccinea / Texas Betony, in the fertile soil and with drip irrigation, is taking over one small area. One. Plant. Several. Feet.

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The Texas Betony so far is out-competing the Teucrium chamaedrys / Trailing Germander, which reinforces the bed’s semicircle with tight evergreen foliage.


More Cistus spp. / Rockrose and Mescal Agave / Agave neomexicana 

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This Crossvine decided to flower for me one last time before a deep freeze that night. Next spring, it will get a special trip just to see it covering the foliage and trellis in blooms. It isn’t that common there.

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At a recent stop in Tucson, he couldn’t resist Salvia brandegeei / Santa Rosa Island Sage from offshore in southern California.

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So far, it’s fine through only last winter. Many are surprised at the plants that grow well in USDA zone 7 in the southwest, including from coastal Mediterranean climates, thanks to intense sunshine during the winter months, if winter irrigation is provided.

Nice foliage that smells divinely fresh and minty.

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I think Bill is deciding where to paint the fence or not.  Under the vigorous Vauquelinia californica / Arizona Rosewood, which becomes a dwarf tree in ABQ, he’s thinning out the rampant Mirabilis multiflora / Desert Four O’Clock and adding a 2 or 3 Yucca pallida / Pale Leaf Yucca, to create a leafy groundcover.

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But soon it grew darker, and after eating tapas and talking about his neighbors’ plans to renovate the planting in their neighborhood medians, it was time for bed.

Comfy and warm for the night!

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The next morning, refreshed from his casita’s bed and duvet, it was time to get a better look at the front landscape with a more favorable sun angle for photos.

More Forestiera neomexicana and Buxus microphylla var. japonica ‘Winter Gem’  were added, to compliment the same that were existing. Several Nolina greenei were added for evergreen spikes, to contrast the shrubby forms.

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Competition from the old Siberian Elm was too much for the Mirabilis there, so those were removed. I actually like the cleaner look.


It’s also time for a quick geography lesson, and those won’t stop until people better get New Mexico and the desert southwest region.

Starting with the weather that last morning:

Geog Clim1 Geog Clim2

Exaggerating one place much cooler and the other much warmer isn’t going to help one make good plant selection.

Like the one how ABQ is more like Santa Fe or even Denver (#SRSLY) than it is like Las Cruces. As well as the accompaniment to that, how LC is more like lower elevation, Sonoran Desert in Tucson or Phoenix (#JAJA) than ABQ, a mere 3 hours and 1000 feet in elevation up the same valley.

That day and for a day either side of that in Phoenix, you ask? 20 degrees warmer than Las Cruces; Albuquerque stayed within a few degrees of Las Cruces.

Those morning lows are during a near-record cold period following an unusually early arctic cold front, where the effects modified first in ABQ. In fall or spring, Las Cruces is usually about 5F warmer than ABQ, based on 120 years of statistics.

Statistics aren’t deceiving; perceptions are.


Musical accompaniments: Santana “Oye Como Va”, The Rolling Stones “Just My Imagination” cover, Bad Company “Gone Gone Gone”, Gina Chavez “Todo Cambia”, Aymee Nuviola “Chan Chan”, and Ley Line “Oxum”.

Eclectic, like my last month has been.

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.


A lone Carnegia gigantea might be the quintessential cactus.


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.



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


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?


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


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:


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.


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


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.


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



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


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.


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


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


African sculpture blends in nicely with the desert context. 



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!


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.


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.


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!


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.


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


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:


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.


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


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…


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.



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.


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



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.


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


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”.



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



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


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.


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



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


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.