Around ABQ: Progress

On a recent Albuquerque visit my client-turned-friend and aficionado of things-southwest, Bill Robertson, introduced me to new projects around downtown and Old Town. I didn’t design any of them!

Except through some indirect influence before relocating.

Photos are from October 30-31, 2019. Bill still has the Walt look going…

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A freeway entrance: from nothing except trash and a few wild Soaptree / Yucca elata back in the day, to a purposed, aesthetic treatment and some Blue Sotol / Dasylirion wheeleri!

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A hotel: the architecture firm I worked at 15 years ago designed everything at Hotel Chaco, architecture to interior to outdoor spaces.

The assymetry here is effective, and everything I see is native: occurring naturally within 200 miles and 1,000 feet in elevation…badda bing, badda boom!

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For the record, Populus species, even those P. deltoides ssp. wislizeni once native near / to the site, are never appropriate to most properties even in the valley, let alone the uplands compromising 90%+ of their city limits.

That’s a perception that must be buried like their water table.

That’s due to cottonwoods (and willows) with their weak wood, heavy water use, need for a vast rooting area, and uber-aggressive roots.

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Spurred on by another landscape architect in central Texas seeing my Instagram post on that space, my thought is the outer perimeter of the firepit / sitting area needs a nicely-clipped evergreen plant like dwarf yaupons or boxwoods…easily kept at about 24-30 inches in height. Part semi-circular hedge, part individuals.

That would keep it inviting and visually legible in winter and summer dormancy.

Blue Grama, even though it’s the state grass, or cottonwoods, the state fall back tree, just don’t provide that interest or heavy work.

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The interior detailing like below, is also so very inviting

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“Lloyd, you’re the best bartender from Timbuktu to Portland Maine; Portland Oregon for that matter, Lloyd.” – Jack Torrance, The Shining


A courthouse: the Pete V. Domenici Federal Courthouse has a renovated exterior space. Now, it’s fitting to the plateaus of the northern Chihuahuan Desert, plus a good man I once met and one my late father briefed more than once as a USAF base comptroller.

A team of Los Angeles-based and Santa Fe-based design firms were responsible.

We can see that it’s a study in diagonal lines along grade changes, with loads of Agave parryi ssp. truncata. Plus, other xeric and mesic plants were used quite effectively. Maintenance, well …..

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The above with common Muhlenbergia capillaris ‘Regal Mist’, below as an understory of honeylocusts with a ground plane of tan gravel

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Bill for scale…

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Even some foothills-native Yucca baccata and possibly Bouteloua curtipendula

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Below the same agaves, but beautifully packed in as an understory to another common small tree in the high desert, Vitex agnus-castus

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Like powdery blue bowls or baskets, many agaves tilted at an angle

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Narrow bands of plants with the agaves: rosemary, grasses, and catmint (?)

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A group of Palmilla or Soaptree / Yucca elata with their skirts of dead leaves puddled on the gravel mulch like curtains in some homes are

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Black Dalea / Dalea frutescens finishing up its flowering early this year

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Yucca baccata, Dasylirion wheeleri, and Quercus fusiformis combine here. Though I never did notice the travertine hardscape until I walked that day.

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The irregular rows of vigorous live oaks, and clumps of sotols and Apache plumes, really set this off for winter interest; the former trees are not nearly as common as they should be in Albuquerque.

While they have other native evergreen oaks in their foothills, these Q. fusiformis evoke a similar mood. Which one notices them used well at driving speeds.

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Bill even took me to some older projects, which I never got around to visiting when I still lived there. One was in the north valley. Combined with a hearty breakfast, coffee, and the warmth of the sun, who could refuse, even on a near-record cold day?

I figured from hearing bits of the conversation, it was one of the owners herself, Penny Rembe. I was right, and down to earth and enjoyable to talk with.

A agritourism and locals magnet: Los Poblanos Ranch in Albuquerque’s North Valley really seems like a family’s own destination to be shared with others.

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Dasylirion wheeleri used yet again… I hope they are allowed to reach mature sizes which will overlap the neat edges by a couple feet.

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The ownership invites diners into the kitchen to view the menu come together, which is stunning in its own right. As was the hospitality of all working there, which wears off on the patrons – even on a busy weekday morning.

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Of course I started with a croissant; it and my meal were quite good!

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Common in Albuquerque, to a little higher in elevation and about 2,500 feet lower in the southwest, Lady Banks’ Rose / Rosa banksiae can get big as it supports itself. In an old book on southwestern landscapes I don’t have anymore, this property has more than one old plant of that rose species.

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The famous lavender field at Los Poblanos

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An effective and modern but desert-elements-durable fence

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Hopefully on an upcoming visit, I’ll visit some old projects to see how they are progressing. And see my old house’s landscape plus the nearby pirate medians. And get breakfast burritos at Golden Pride. And hike or mountain bike trail 365. And…

Of course, Walt Bill hit me up for his neighborhood’s replanting project, though I don’t remember what feedback I gave him, following one of my favorite questions when viewing an horticultural old-guard plant list, a too-cautious gov’t official request, and all that jive.

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My question: is this meant to be permanent or temporary until the elms die? Many always think they can have it both ways. No. Baby steps = baby results.


I’m just grateful my influence was a large but intangible part of my earnings all these years. Even if someone else would have come along and done that, eventually, as I see others starting to do. Finally.

And finally, I’ll start some smaller posts, after this long one.

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.

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.

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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…”

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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).

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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).

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

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

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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