Phoenix Off-Tour

I was taking a client to a good place for breakfast before the first home on a garden tour, but the entire center I often frequented while in Phoenix was closed shut.

The landscape was still in decent condition, though the wildflowers once growing there are gone from poor maintenance.

Entering, before we learned the bad news.


On axis: a native Prosopis torreyana underplanted with Agave parryi var. truncata and Echinocactus grusonii.

Leaving, also on axis: Carnegia gigantea with a solo Agave americana.


I knew I lived in the wrong place when those who knew little about what I had learned years earlier as a 19 year old college sophomore argued with me. Design principles like axis or repetition seem so logical.


At either end of Scottsdale Road is this sign making a bold claim. I’m for anywhere making bold claims that have backing, and this does.





An Adobe Cottage

Not ye olde cottage garden, but the Chihuahuan Desert version.

In this case, fitting for late-June heat, high-noon sun, and with Johnny Cash speaking his iconic “Mean As Hell.” Glad I spotted this gem.



Had the mesquite on the right been planted about 7 or 8 feet directly in front of the window, that awning could be removed in a few years.


While not my design style, the owner is truly a spiky plant aficionado. Or more likely, obsessed with anything having spines. I don’t think I saw one plant without spines in this front landscape. Not one!

An Ocotillo, chollas, a rainbow, etc, etc, etc.


The low light is bringing out the blue on Opuntia subarmata, a more lush contrast to all the chollas. My guess is that prickly pear is a cutting from the Old Town church’s once-fine and large specimen.



Xeric, tough native trees more in scale will hopefully line the sidewalks in the future, replacing the depressing Siberian elm canopy, which is dying through miles of their town’s streets.

Did I mention Ulmus pumila is invasive, short-lived, insect bait, and weak-wooded, but it makes decent mulch for native plants?

There, we needed that. It’s time to do history better horticultural justice!




A Yucca rigida growing out of the base of a Prosopis torreyana? Or is it the mesquite that volunteered out of the root zone of the yucca? All sharp.

The single Echinocereus dasyacanthus catches the late sun.


You might remember the number of those Texas Rainbow Cactus I had at my former Albuquerque home. That locale was probably not as cold at night as downtown is on a regular basis, but it was far more exposed to bitter east winds at times.

Come to think of it, many of the mountain slopes in El Paso and Las Cruces where rainbows grow naturally, are very exposed.


I must find out the ID on the mystery Cholla out front, with the narrow joints and profuse, golden spines. The Cylindropuntia kleiniae nearby I know and like, but the spikier relative is as good as the silver C. echinocarpa in visual impact.

Well, probably physical impact, too.



There’s also an interesting history of this cul-de-sac and it’s adobe houses, envisioned and designed by Ohio-expatriate architect Anna Gotshall in 1925: here & here & here.


12/28/17 weather: 68 / 26/ .00″

Hiking for Cacti and More

My hiking spot for now, to get in a good workout, is Tortugas Mountain aka A Mountain. It’s not close, but nothing is to where I live. My ascent begins on one of the steep, narrow trails that wind up the west side.

While catching my breath, I get to look at an array of desert plants and views.

About half-way up to the 4,950 foot elevation summit, the classic scene of the Organ Mountains dominates the eastern horizon.



At the top, a small makeshift shrine from a few days earlier.



The road is the easier way for hiking, especially downhill to save one’s knees, but this guy is on his mountain bike which isn’t remotely easy, except it’s wide.


He passed me going down, after he made it to the top. Almost 1,000 feet of climb in 1 mile on a bike is a serious effort.


Limestone ledges and different desert plants create an inspiring scene for a desert designer to recreate – when the client allows the time, accepts expertise, and has the budget.

Fouquieria splendens with numerous but young Echinocereus stramineus
Agave neomexicana in the grasses


Opuntia engelmannii, but a more compact form with smaller pads.


opening flowers are as interesting to me as fully-opened

It is usually recognized from the O. lindheimeri some nurseries pawn off as O. engelmannii, since it usually has yellow blooms and the latter has orange to red blooms. The different cultural requirements come into play later…


Opuntia macrocentra is starting to flower, too.



It usually has pale yellow blooms, which contrast the deep green to purple-ish pads, though maybe they will change once more open. These look almost sugary.

What impresses me the most about Tortugas Mountain is the sheer diversity of cacti, but there is so much more if you look. Only no oaks…still 1,000′ too low.

4/22/17 weather: 78 / 53 / .0