Streetscape Awakens

My house hunt is starting. Per regional custom with posted hours, the open house closed almost 2 hours early, which I drove miles out of my way to see. But now there was time to spare.

Time to visit a recent landscape design – Engler Road streetscapes, taken 3/5/2017:

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Soils at this site are caliche with some gravels on top, which inhibits roots from developing and limits plant choices. Hopefully the medians depressed 12″ will percolate in some extra rain water, to help.

The 20 or so Cercis canadensis var. texensis specified are now taking to dusty New Mexico.

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The gloomy day didn’t help the tan tones including the shrubs in back, allowed to stay – I specified green-leafed Leucophyllum langmaniae instead of the gray L. zygophyllum that we ended up with.

Also doing well are the yuccas and grasses, somehow magically left un-shaped into balls last November when they went dormant. My maintenance plan was followed here but not everywhere in this development.

Got me!

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A few Yucca rostrata punctuate the repetitive mass of Bouteloua gracilis, like the effect one gets driving those restorative stretches of open road around Marfa or Carrizozo.

It just takes a few of these accents, which will soon accent the skyline.

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The yellow leaf margins on the yucca are a detail I often forget about. And the state grass of New Mexico, Blue Grama, is coming alive.

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Many green shoots are responding to the ground and air temperatures warming, even if a few weeks early. With all our mountains  protecting us, my guess is even if we get one of those freak March or April snowstorms and some more freezes (our last frost date averages April 1), few or none will be hard freezes below 28F, when the serious damage occurs.

Maybe.

Weekend Work Recovery

Can you believe I posted on my blog again, after 15 months away?

Much has happened since, which you’ll learn in time including my move and recent employment in a different field. Recovering from a tough week at the day job by checking my design practice’s projects, to help issue substantial completion…or not! 2/18/2016 photos, El Paso TX.

Stop #1: Hospitals at Providence, Sierra Campus

That’s quite the renovation by HKS, and I really enjoyed working with them. I’ll focus on the good this time, but maybe fill you in on a few items in need of correction, so our plans’ design intent is fulfilled.

My placement of the low garden walls helped provide spatial definition, and I only wish I would have designed them a little higher and to stop pedestrians in more places.

Availability caused some of my speficied plants to be changed…it was native Purple Threeawn and not Gulf Muhly. The yuccas were supposed to be larger, but Yucca elata rockets upward once it establishes, so I’ll stick with that. Overall, the Chihuahuan Desert was respected, even if interpreted a bit.

Stop #2: UTEP to Downtown, Hotel Indigo and San Jacinto Plaza area

I’m always up to seeing great designs, evesdropping on others’ designs like that last set, instead of criticizing mine. Though there was little to criticize this leg of the trip. Just inspiration galore.

On a past post, we had to enjoy drinks and excellent tacos on what turned into a sunny, spring-like afternoon. Malolam it was…some good design at the development housing them, among some major site planning screw-ups, which I posted on a while ago.

Stop #3: Hospitals at Providence, Transmountain Campus

This landscape was finished around Thanksgiving, so the various plants like Chaparral Sage, Deergrass, and Beaked Yucca are small. Much was done with a tight budget on a huge site, and I can only commend the architect HKS and the owner Tenet Health. Much came together.

Our drive home was bound to be good, even if I had to work the rest of the weekend!

Have you enjoyed a day much more because you saw something inspired?

Desert Landscaping: Design Fails and Fixes

Some have the idea I or any designer think we’re above reproach. No – some of us are actually our biggest critics, and that’s not being a perfectionist – it’s simply wanting to improve each time.

At the end of a long desert road, southern Nevada, late June 2015 –

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that Joshua Tree should have stayed a Desert Willow…shade!

I’m unsure why I didn’t revisit Mike the architect’s suggestion (namely a tree for the L-shaped seat wall), but if only I stepped back and visualized summer – especially in Las Vegas!

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too sparse…and plants at the gas meter, let alone agaves??!?

Now imagine a sunken swale down that planting area splitting the sidewalks. Catclaws, screwbeans or desert willows filling in the canyon created by both buildings, the entire length. Maybe some grasses or shady plants under, maybe just gravel.

Also, when I designed this in 2009-10, I hadn’t yet seen Loree’s blog to become more indoctrinated like today, so there’s no excuse for such an act :-)

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and…should be trees in basins, not Joshua trees

While many of the above plants no longer get permanent drip irrigation due to the LEED Gold rating, basins and some hand-watering in summer could keep some going. Though perhaps not desert willows…

Where can people sit? Is there room once the plants grow in, those the contractor wants to substitute over the plants and alternates that I specified?

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should be something smaller than the Brittlebush / Encelia farinosa

A favorite quote is from Antoine de Saint-Exupery, “a designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”

As I continue on a few designs, that plus starting with the big idea like shade, might help force the rest of the design how it needs to go.

Wild in the Wash

One thing I miss from my last two homes was creating attractive surroundings: appealing habitats for the fauna that think the desert is just fine.

A closer look at the Clark County Wetlands Park in 6/2015; even a music video pairing with scenes from Las Vegas – here

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great building approach through a desert riparian zone

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getting ready

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my first welcome greeting…a jackrabbit bunny, not even afraid

Before that, a covey of Gambel’s Quail darted out of the saltbushes and mesquites right across from my path, but my camera wasn’t ready. I still enjoyed their calls.

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desert peoples always drawn to water…certain plants like it, too

There’s little habitat where I now live, in the paved grit of an old, inner city neighborhood. In the minutes I once sipped a cup of French Roast in the waning, cool relief of dawn, it now takes weeks to witness the same amount of wildlife. Former neighbors with rock-hell yards never believing why.

There’s little habitat in 20+ miles of Las Vegas’ boom-to-bust-to-? built area, like many southwestern towns. That could be greatly cured all over their city, with a knack of making things happen fast.

Especially since Las Vegas, with 4″ annual rainfall, has so many residents and visitors.

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butterfly ID?…enjoying the cool of the morning day in the Atriplex thicket, like me

Even I think this is cute. Never have I seen jackrabbits dig and what even looks like play, or a dirt bath before it gets hot.

Back to a favorite resident of many desert residents.

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Gambel’s Quail / Callipepla gambelii

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and of course, Quailbush / Atriplex lentiformis

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Giant Sacaton / Sporobulus wrightii…the sun about to torment the city…enjoying the moment

Let me be by myself in the evening breeze
Listen to the murmur of the cottonwood trees
Send me off forever but I ask you please
Don’t fence me in

Just turn me loose, let me straddle on my saddle
Underneath the western skies
On my cayuse, let me wander over yonder
Till I see the mountains rise

I want to ride to the ridge where the West commences
Gaze at the moon till I lose my senses…..

You might be a westerner if you’ve done all that.

Get out there and get inspired this weekend, even if you don’t get to live in the wild west!

Las Vegas Oasis

Would you guess this post is from a city’s metro area of 2.1 million people, with 44+ million visitors each year?

I would. And given which city, I also guessed right how it would be vacant at dawn, even with the coolest morning lows in the valley.

Clark County Wetlands Park, on the Las Vegas Wash, from 6/25/2015. Musical pairing from the Chairman of the Board – here

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entry ramada reflects Frenchman Mountain

Saline irrigation water and low areas with saline soils can be tough on plants, so desert riparian species are all that’s used here – including halophytes.

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Quailbush / Atriplex lentiformis, California wildfire smoke above

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Fourwing Saltbush / Atriplex canescens

MesoWest showed some highs the day before at 116F in nearby Henderson and along this wash. 116 high – 73 low = a 43F temperature swing in one day. Sign me up…for the low!

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boulders and drops in water elevation used to create sound

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Tornillo / Prosopis pubescens there, like Bernalillo to the Big Bend

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visitor’s center and overlook

Funding met savvy in ecoregion and design there.

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controlled burns to rid overgrowth of exotics and aggressive natives

Exotics that replace native species disturbed or removed include salt cedar / Tamarisk spp. and fountain grass / Pennisetum sactaceum. Natives that take over when the balance of natural controls are removed include Western Honey Mesquite / Prosopis torreyana and Desert Willow / Chilopsis linearis.

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too many concrete walks for my taste

An alternate to concrete would be stabilized aggregate, like decomposed granite (DG): that material provides just as much accessibility for developed trails and paths…plus, its crunching sound and visuals support a more wild effect.

Much better!

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DG paths further back…miles of trails here

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appealing bench arrangement, shade from Western Cottonwood / Populus fremontii

Finally, a good use of cottonwoods – a riparian area with much room for rapid growth, aggressive roots, weak wood and extreme thirst, as opposed to a garden or most any urban setting.

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more seating for classes…native sandstone

Clark County Wetlands Park is not a natural area, but it’s close by.

Someone figured out the connections and patterns allowing human-made riparian zones to better emulate the beauty of the wilds – the few places we can find wild riparian areas in the southwest.

(update…turns out this was designed by a collaboration between my former employer and a civil engineer I’ve worked with…and even another firm before them who did the master plan, who some I worked with worked for…ha!)

Do you have any areas in your area to visit, developed for both sedentary people and those who get out on the trail?

Eastbound

A quick Austin roadtrip, and what did I see? Too much for one post, or even ten. Here’s a broadbrush of my first summer drive between the desert and the green world Austin rests in.

The miles grinded, as I pondered how landscapes could reflect such changes, though abstracting that into a smaller space is much design & intellect. I grouped my stops into how arid each is (& ecoregion), then average yearly rainfall and plant forms – even samples of how one ecoregion can look different when moisture or soils vary. Climate info sources – here and here.

Photos are from 7/29/2015; musical pairing from Jon Dee Graham is here

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Arid (Chihuahuan Desert)

Dropping 2000′ in elevation across 4+ hours in the above photos, the humidity started to go up. But average rainfall waited to increase at about the Pecos River, other what the mountains cause further west.

Even the landforms changed, and soils went from limestone to blow sand to granite, then back to clay and limestone.

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Semi-Arid (Southwest Plateaus and Plains Steppe)

Yet, a few still recite the mantra, “plants don’t know boundaries”.

Oh yes they do, and we know by them – how plants grow, plus climate data. Gradual changes, then abrupt changes and many plants, insects, etc change over. Then more subtle changes, then something more abrupt. Repeat. Celebrate.

Out of semi-arid and short grasses, into a greener and even more humid world.

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Sub-Humid (Texas Hill Country)

One might see “Half Pint” of Little House fame running through the Harper scene. How about Half Pint running around Ozona, or the sandy hills near Fabens? Not so much.

That trip’s diversions took less time than it would have taken to get pics of the throngs in skinny jeans, beards, glasses, etc. in just 5 blocks of Austin :-) But beyond the ecoregions, do not fret – there’s still more than plenty of what’s original – a live show awaited, just up South Congress.

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What are the differences you see in my drive? Would you divide it differently?

Roadtrip! Big Bend Scenes

Some people find it difficult to pick a topic for a new blog post; I find it hard to choose between so many!

There’s almost too much inspiration in nature, not to mention private and public gardens – good and even bad. Hence this roadtrip to the Big Bend. Photos from 5/2014 –

Above 4000′ elevation –

2000′ to 4000′ elevation –

The Big Bend is actually quite a drive from El Paso, 5 hours to the Wiley Coyote-ish, but touristy town of Terlingua. And in May, when my town has perfect, dry weather on the warm side, it’s scorching there even at higher elevations, for at least part of the day.

Know the car’s AC was cranked to and fro “the Park”, as locals call it.

Above 4000′ elevation –

2000′ to 4000′ elevation –

Below 2000′ elevation –

Once past the tourist areas, the areas east of El Paso and into the Big Bend are quite a different world, than even El Paso. Same state, in fact not even 1/3 of Texas!

Stay tuned for more of the plants we saw, plus the few towns on the way. Few photos on the return trip, as Elizabeth had to get back in time to pick up her son at El Chuco Paso “International” Airport.

Have you been to the Big Bend? Or another isolated place that could be on another planet?