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?

Shrub Shaping 

A recent drive to my trailhead, and Texas Sage / Leucophyllum spp. in bloom.


roundabout #1 – balls, mushrooms but still flowering

Of course, the public street’s roundabout planting areas are too small for a 6’+ shrub, or such a plant given the need for safety and visibility. (3′-8′ high is the zone many towns require to be clear at intersections)

And the shrubs are under 3′ – by force.

But the usual suspects do it anyway, over and over. Even the city, violating their own rules. Crazy! (at least I try to design appropiately and explain / educate)


roundabout #2 – a different form, only the trees safe

Now, here’s a private planting of the same shrub on the same street, but left in its natural form, with space to mature.


a 10′ wide parkway strip

Which form of shrub pruning benefits drivers and pedestrians more? Or the plants?

Little Project, Large Challenge

Many projects become difficult just below the surface.

1423 Missouri is along a busy freeway. A tight infill site, its building renovation and addition will be leased to a few businesses.


Sideoats Grama and Yaupon Holly mingle

Now, the uncropped view.


the owner plans to add an advertising bench to this

Once into the design and committed to finish, I was told the owner is also in the billboard and bench ad business. Ugh.

Taking photos to miss the immense amount of visual clutter is nearly impossible, though in the previous photo, I chose an angle that somehow blocked half of what’s really visible. Do advertising people not get that any one sign or billboard is more difficult to read, the more there are?

More another time about the afterthought execution of the landscape installation, or the results of our city codes. Maybe…

But it still came out OK, with blood letting!


‘Brakelights’ Red Yucca going strong


Damianita atop both wall edges will bloom once it cools off


Policeman’s Dalea filling in fast in the top terrace

[Policeman’s Dalea is my favorite name for Dalea capitata ‘Sierra Gold’, and a colorful story]

The railroad cars on tracks behind the freeway are a welcome backdrop.

There were many more obstacles, but you probably get the idea that I don’t get to design much in my practice! Most of my time is lost on unnecessary but unavoidable tasks.

Do you know what goes into landscape design, no matter scale or simplicity?

When Trouble Strikes

Do you see some of the most common culprits to your garden’s success, even when it’s designed well? Crazy Cat after another recent morning grind up Palisades Canyon –


Robert (L) and Watson (R)

People and their pets often are trouble. What makes it tough are those people are who pay people like me! True dat…


Is the Yucca pallida dying from overwatering, or is it overwatering caused by Watson taking too aggressive a drink and biting the drip tubing? Or disease all on it’s own?? (it’s El Paso…probably not too much rain)


oh yeah

I think every bike shop should offer espresso; it helps complete that entire Italian – cycling schtick.

I did find the pooper scooper for the after shots, plus there are some before shots.

This kind of time away from work I’m behind on beats one of the major causes of that…technology fails.

And dinner’s ready!


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


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.


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.


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.


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

Surprise, Surprise! Extreme Shrub Shaping

I’ve seen these Texas Sage / Leucophyllum spp. for several years, and since I’ve lived blocks away for over 2 years, they’ve done this all three monsoon seasons.

Intense flowering in spite of all the things that normally cause problems. A happy exception in the tightest, most undersized-for-a-large-plant space one can imagine – things other informed horticulturists and I educate against, because we see countless examples as proof.


blows my mind every summer

Exceptions aren’t rules.

Regardless of bodacious blooms, larger shrubs can only be kept smaller so long. Plus, if they’re going to prune something tight or shape it, at least it should be done right: learn first.

Hint: lifting up bottoms of shrubs usually fails.

Failure includes an entire plant’s lower parts dying, then premature death for the plant…and no more flowering! You can read more online, or just watch it happen somewhere near you.



This is a higher road for that Texas Ranger, though.


ahhh…thoughtful placement (room), letting the shrubs do their thing


By the way, a benchmark of dos and don’ts for desert southwest shrub pruning is found – here

Yuccas and Rock

After 23 years living in the desert southwest, if a person despises rough terrain and spiky plants, they may wish to move along.

After all, that’s what endures here –


a yucca, rock for mulch, sideoats for grass

I’ve only grown to embrace, not resist, such challenges as something to inform a simpler, more appealing aesthetic for outdoor living. Regard.


yuccas and rocks…add sotol, damianitas and a live oak clump

If you remember some of my past projects, a trick employed is to plant (2-3) – 15 gallon or 24″ box trees like Quercus fusiformis together in a wide hole, root balls touching. Those and many desert trees grow in clumps in the wild.

So, why not the same look in our built landscapes…without waiting years for that to develop from a single, tiny tree?


even large rocks – limestone boulders

Do you have any stories of landscapes and gardens using common plants, even called weedy, but used well?