Contrasts

While in Phoenix for other matters, I first took time out to visit their world-class Desert Botanical Garden. I was in search for design inspiration and some relaxation.

Contrast is something I appreciate, being a flowers-optional designer in a 2 dormant seasons climate. Somewhat like the low desert in Phoenix, except as you’ll see they have no true winter unlike Las Cruces’ 2 month “hit and run” winter.

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The tans and browns of walls and permeable decomposed granite walkway, sure. But without the bold forms and dominant use of blue-green accent plants, this would look weaker. The yellow line of (overused) Echinocactus grusonii doesn’t hurt, here.

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Same as earlier shot, except angular agaves with a semi-circular seat wall make this pop. So does something I learned at my first job in ‘8*: provide a reveal on a wall to create more shadow and dimension.

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I enjoyed this on my cool, cloudy Monday as much as on a warm April day my first visit here in 2012. Yellow with tans and blue-greens, bold with the wall edge and crunchy walking.

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The water feature in the middle was more captivating when warmer. Since I want a blue wall or two, a yellow wall might also be needed nearby. This is not a massed planting, but a highly naturalistic one, typical of many xeriscape designs in the Sonoran Desert.

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Same direction and module, yet different materials…concrete and steel.

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This is the closest thing I saw at DBG that fits in with the whole Marfa minimalism schtick. Oddly, this gridded massing contrasts 2 Chihuahuan Desert species…undervalued Agave lechuguilla and alienesque Euphorbia antisyphilitica.

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This is a great, sculptural arc of dark with bright, and wet with dry. The dark beach pebbles are a good texture.

While out of my price range for now, something about it could be abstracted with my area’s own hardy desert plants behind it to work. Cholla anyone?

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You bet, since chollas are a symbol of my region, yet highly underused or used poorly. I specified them occasionally including at my old house. A colleague even admired my former trio of the silver-form Cylindropuntia echinocarpa in pots, saying, “of course you would use chollas!”

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What seals the deal on the Desert Botanical Garden, other than various designers’ design inputs, is the sense-of-place created.

There’s no denying their garden is in the Desert Southwest, right down to the specific location. There’s no compromise by using contradictory imagery, either.

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Front Fun Before Driving Home

When I lived in El Paso a few years, I was surprised how many landscapes were different than in Las Cruces – 45 minutes away and only 200 feet elevation difference.

Driving down often from Albuquerque for business, and for years, all three places seemed more similar.

The differences became obvious only by living in each. Before leaving El Paso, I saw a few landscapes with no prying eyes around.

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That front yard near my “fortress” project caught my eye. I get the need for unity and raising up interest to eye level, and I think El Paso does that well. But a pair of golden barrels potted all over the front isn’t registering.

I used to like Echinocactus grusonii, until I saw that was the Phoenix-default cactus on two trips this past spring. Stop it already, El Paso.

But not to worry, Paso del Norte region climatology will stop it.

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The last photo is for someone in Orange County CA, who has expressed their “love” for Washingtonia robusta. That’s what happens to the majority at 4500 feet elevation here, about every 20 years. She could only be so lucky!

While I’ve seen worse use of W. robusta, it’s a canyon tree and fails without the right context or climate. El Paso climate 3 – Baja California flora 0.

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Now, let’s pick on or pick out good from one of my nearby designs. Done under an extreme and counterproductive, architect-driven rush. Like a .357 magnum to my head in one hand, but with some bundles of money in the other hand, for me if I can take it.

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See why I go to Dasylirion wheeleri as my default accent plant? All the softening Melampodium leucanthum and Viguiera steneloba are gone – facilities or contractor-driven Roundup or pulling.

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The chainlink fencing, decided upon before I was hired to locate it properly, kept this revegetation area from becoming a moonscape.

See, it’s all good!

Seeding plus salvaged Fouquiera splendens, Yucca torreyi, and Agave lechuguilla are doing their thing and protected from “the treatment”.

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So are Fallugia paradoxa, Dasyochloa pulchellum, and other natives.

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And of course, Chilopsis linearis volunteers along sidewalks, through evil chainlink fencing, and about anywhere stormwater soaks in. And those blooms!

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Ending my drive-by landscape critique on the way home, the usual native plant suspects do what I envisioned, though the desert willows are stunted for some reason. Of course, the flowering, herbaceous plants are long-gone…..

But the blue-green of the sotols, with that curve of red wall tiles, is just what I ordered.

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Yowza!

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Contrasty

It’s no secret how monochromatic themes take skill to pull off well. But contrast is easier, and we have all the light and shadow in the world to play with in the Great American Southwest.

Some thoughts…last winter to this fall, along 300+ miles of I-10 –

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do you see what I see? (Saguaro National Park W of Tucson)
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spring warms late winter in the low desert…Penstemon parryi in the shadows of an eroded arroyo…

Discrete splashes of flower color within bold forms, often beat “crazy color quilt” rehash in the garden, too.

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this subtlety was almost missed in the dormant tangle of Jatropha…
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a lone Mexican Gold Poppy / Eschscholzia mexicana

Even an uber-mild winter in Arizona and California plus drought, brings about a few tougher flowering plants to pop, regardless.

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red, green, another touch of bloom from Hesperaloe parviflora…

In February, already in bloom…but over the hills and 1500′ lower than me in the warmer Sonoran Desert. I usually comfort myself with how hot their summers are compared to ours…#payback:-)

sunlit Bouteloua gracilis ‘Hachita’ at my ’07 design at Sierra Providence East, dark walls…summer fades reluctantly…

Grasses dance for pollinators and people alike. One can step on these grama grasses, and they bounce back, which is why they are placed near parking spaces where people get in and out of cars.

Not sure where my contrasting, blue-green sotols are within the grama grasses, maybe my angle…but they are there…for contrast.

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crisp fall days change the skies, light and foliage…Pistacia chinensis…
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and dry desert plantings vs. a discrete carpet of lawn, at the latest spot to get part of my design…

If you haven’t noticed, I certainly like blooms but appreciate how we can get impact and even color in our outdoor living spaces without one petal.

Any ways you embrace contrast in your life or garden?