Desert Dweller + Shaper of the Land

me on a 5/2012 garden tour in Austin TX

First, where am I located?

In a quiet residential area west of Las Cruces, New Mexico, USA, an arid and warm-temperate climate. My area is some unnamed subdivision of the huge Chihuahuan Desert ecoregion – I’ll call it the Mesilla Valley or Paso del Norte region for now.

My home is about 4,100 feet elevation and 32 N latitude. That causes intense sunlight and with sharply draining, deep sandy and gravelly loam soils. Our decent diversity of native and adapted plants one can’t easily find, adds to the fun challenge and rewards of appropriate horticulture and great outdoor living. We experience 4 seasons: most years have long and hot summers with pleasant nights, short and mild winters with chilly nights, warming and windy springs, and cooling and perfect falls.

Springs and falls can seem to go on for a long time, occasionally cut short or broken up by a crazy flash of heat (spring mostly) or cold (fall mostly). Summer isn’t insanely hot like Tucson or lower, sultry like east of the Big Bend and Caprock of Texas, and just when we get a few too many 100F+ afternoons, the monsoon season arrives to quickly moderate the heat with afternoon clouds and scattered thundershowers many days. We only see a few inches of snow 2/3 of winters, and are among the sunniest places in North America, especially October through June, though July through September are also quite sunny.

My locale is USDA Zone 8b, AHS Heat Zone 9, and our growing season averages about 240 days. The latest 1991-2020 climate normals updated each decade have warmed us 5F over the pervious 1981-2010 period, and the growing season increased 10 days.
(the 1980’s were some of the coolest decades – not included in this period, and the 1990’s and 2010’s were some of the warmest decades – included in this period)

I’m a former landscape architect, but I value plantsmanship and the intimate connection between climate, place, process, and patterns.

My road to landscape architecture started because my family moved where our father was stationed in the military, and I became interested in what made each place different. That grew into how the weather worked and astronomy, eventually starting college to become a meteorologist, but graduating to become a landscape architect.

Finding repressed built environments where I was able to gain employment, I still made the most of the training I received to begin my own practice in 1995.

18 years of that work was in Albuquerque plus outside town to engage with more like-minded clientele than ABQ could offer. Upon changes in my personal life and selling my house of 15 years, it was a downsize move south on the freeway to El Paso for a few years, to continue my practice. After the convergence of different challenges, I accepted a position as a planner, making my design practice a sideline. Now, that chapter is over too, mostly thankfully. A new start to the rest of my life?

Spending time undoing mistakes of the past in my region, I take time out in a number of great settings to mountain bike, hike, eat well, go on some day trips, and re-charge. Doing that alone or sharing it with others, helps me put in the long hours.


Philosophy on Plants, Including Native Plants

+ low water-use native plants first
+ adapted, non-native plants if natives unavailable or won’t work

That should make it clear that I’m not natives-only in landscapes and gardens. But I would be more of a plant purist if I could. I’m limited by design options and especially one of the most outdated business mindsets on earth – many of our nurseries. This excerpt includes the best definition of a “native plant” I’ve seen –


That’s from Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond – Volume 1, by Tucson’s Brad Lancaster. It’s far more useful than others dismissing conservation. Garden design strives to organize outdoor living spaces, so function and form dialogue nicely. Including where water needs to move from and to, and the plants that grow in either.

Since my ecoregion has less diversity than Brad’s, my definition is broader…low water-use native plant palette of indigenous vegetation found within about:

+ 1,000 feet in elevation
+ a 200 mile radius
+ the same or adjacent ecoregions

Plants are materials but not just any material; plants convey a connection to place more than probably any landscape element or material, so find the best ones for the site and use well.
If there are no native plants in a design, I would say the responsible party missed the mark on more than one account. Steve Martino once said –
“Observing the benefits of using native plants, I decided that all landscapes that weren’t using native plants were displacing habitat and were destructive and probably nature-hating.”

2 Replies to “about”

  1. Why is it so few garden makers do not have the essential knowledge of the key ingredients of garden creation? For those a little backward the main ingredients (in my book) are plants…GOSH! If the majority of garden makers applied the same level of expertise/plant knowledge in their kitchen they would well starve to death or some other dreadful fate…sheer boredom I should think!

    If anyone asks me about “What can I grow in my area’ I merely tell em to look around their neighbourhood and check out what actually grows well and in particular in neglected landscapes and to hone in on such plants and use em as a backbone for a new garden.

    A step further is to try ones best to identify em and if they be exotic find some decent flora’s (Not the latest manual from the UK RHS) for that plants region (Say Agapanthus and the Cape of South Africa) and to target this plants growing companions…they are sure to be just as suitable for your blot on the landscape!

    There is a plant equation for everywhere humans can live (well…) find it and the rest is a complete dawdle …

    If I make this recipe any simpler I will be giving it away…………….

    Amen. People would starve. They are starved in gardens, or more would have better ones.

    Natives (mostly lower water-use)…then adapteds (from similar places and that do well with little care / water). On my old blog, I mentioned that seeing all the neglected landscapes around Abq is what taught me the best plants to use…I had to reject most of what my “peers” were using, then quit my job, and start my own business. But I did and everything worked, though with struggles. Imagine that!

    Plants that thrive in the wild or in neglected landscapes in El Paso or Abq? From our elevation range (i.e. my rough parameters) and with little water: Chilopsis, Prosopis, Yucca, Atriplex, Dasylirion, Opuntia, Echinocereus, Bouteloua, Berlandiera, Penstemon, Sphearalcea, etc. With some water: dryland Quercus, Pistacia, Punica, Rhaphiolepis, Buxus, etc. I rarely design a garden here without some of those as a backbone or mass.

    I decline working w/ “clients” who don’t like and won’t use what does well. If I regretted, it would be thinking I could work with those who won’t like what does well, or who find exceptions to justify their desert denial…that’s been >80% I worked for 18 years. Alot of time I will never get back. But no more!

    I wish Vitex agnus-castus and Caesalpinia gillesii were not so weedy here, so I am rethinking how or where they should be used.

    Glad you read this, and hopefully it ties into your formula you *did* give away!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. David I cannot add to this! Might I suggest a book by founding member of the Mediterranean garden society ‘Gardens of the Sun’ Trevor Nottle from Adelaide South Australia..Sadly out of print but can be had from that internet selling monster…..Trevor is also one hell of a nice bloke but when i discovered his book I wanted to murder him..he wrote my book!! He is still alive!

      Glad it is thorough enough! I like hardy palms, and where they aren’t out of context, behemoth trees like Pinus eldarica-pinea-halepensis, Cedrus deodora, etc. too.

      Funny, but Trevor may have saved you the trouble? I’ve heard of that book, so when I get all my books unpacked and organized, I’ll see if there’s room! By the way, there are few spreading native groundcovers to the SW US…it’s off to the hardier Med. plants for me…trailing varieties of Teucrium, Rosmarinus, etc.


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