Back to My Garden

Soon after fall crashed in, yielding to a mild winter, I’ve been busy with a parade of unanticipated and challenging events. Gone for now are my incessant pursuits of the last 15+ years.

I’ve finally started back on my own garden spaces, started this past summer. NORTH is on the lower left of each sketch.


OPTION A: I added screen walls to the right side. (southwest) The trick will be to see the unbuidable desert hillside behind me through my dining room picture window, and yet have a fireplace and possibly some dwarf trees.



OPTION B: I added screen walls and a vine trellis to preserve views to the hillside lot, but direct them to the fireplace to the northeast.



OPTION C: More screen walls and a vine trellis, but seat walls and a water features in this axial arrangement using low desert trees to soften any future house to the northeast. I started adding in a cistern, somehow forgotten on the summer’s A & B plans…



OPTION D: Sort-of axial, this relies on screen walls and seat walls, but a harder screen wall on the east, serving as a backdrop for something sculptural. Now, a cistern is used to screen the wide northeast side, allowing a grilling area.


Looking back at the initial plan sketches, I see some great ideas I forgot about. The perspective views revealed good ideas and oversights that need rethinking. So, I’ve embellished the old plan sketches and added a couple more.

I may still add a serpentine or curvilinear theme, though that may clash with my angular house.

Some common themes above are:

  1. Front outside the courtyard – only use plants native in my neighborhood. Which means a mix of yuccas, low bunch grasses and wildflowers, and a refined, more studied arrangement of all things sandy soil. Low, native trees to shade the front courtyard from the brutal afternoon sun, which faces NW.
  2. Grilling area on the northeast side, accessible across the kitchen across the house via a tile floor and the office patio. I grill over half of my dinners.
  3. Orient away from my neighbor as much as possible. I roughed in the plants he might add right against my property line, probably all inappropriate.
  4. Keep views to the unbuildable hillside lot behind me, which serves as stormwater ponding at either end. The dining room on the far upper right of the house must have a view there; it’s stunning all day.
  5. Outdoor fireplace and seat walls, including screen walls as needed. Walls define spaces by bringing architecture out, they hold up better than benches, and they contrast plantings well. They harden the edges.
  6. Rest of plants – native or adapted, when natives don’t work; for example, there are no native evergreen, low groundcovers in my region.
  7. Be a habitat for local wildlife, such as birds (and yes, hummingbirds), butterflies, and all the life forms that were here first. And provide a pleasant place to catch sun in the cool season and relax without burning up mornings and evenings in the warm season.

Like Albuquerque, it’s insane to sit outside between 9 am and 6 pm during the summer. So, there are no plans for a foray into the desert denial of thirsty lawns and leafy trees. If my garden spaces provide refuge and a sense of place that do justice to my natural place, then it will be a success.


I’m trying to limit using the same plants I had at my last house in Albuquerque, though some may be unavoidable since they are so valuable. But with this different soil (digable sandy loam) and being nearly 1 zone warmer, I’ll do my best.

Next, I’ll do more study perspective sketches. Then, the final plan when it’s all good.


I’m also looking back at some books that inform what I need in a garden. Here are some, though I’ll add a few more if you check back:

Hummingbird Plants of the Southwest – Marcy Scott
Water Harvesting for Drylands, Volumes 1 & 2 – Brad Lancaster

Thursday: Pre-Garden Bloggers Fling ’18

On Wednesday I did the 10 hour drive from Las Cruces to Austin, plus my usual scenic diversions. For months, I knew the importance of arriving a day early for the Garden Blogger’s Fling.


12 miles west of Harper, the sky and this oak savannah and woodland vegetation it nourishes tell much, and it ain’t “semi-arid.” Yet my skin took a couple days for it to soak in!


The plan to kick off my first ATX trip in 3 years: great BBQ for dinner, then a favorite Wednesday night pastime of live music at the Continental Club. The first show starting at 10 pm and the last at midnight.

By 10 I was relaxing back at my home for the next several days; make that Shannon’s home. I caught up on design emails and looking at trip pics. As I got ready for bed, it hit me I was supposed to be taking in one of Austin’s institutions, Jon Dee Graham. And a Shiner Bock or two surrounded by college kids making memories or people my age reliving theirs’. Then the wicked songwriting wit of James McMurtry, and the band’s tireless playing.



Since I would miss all but the last song or two of the first show if I dressed up again and zipped back to South Congress, it wouldn’t be right. One must see both shows, the first opening with his iconic “Tamale House Number 1.”

Sleep was just too tempting. Next time, Austin, “I promise.”


After breakfast tacos at Valentina’s per multiple recommendations, I was off to see a garden with its landscape architect and owner of Ciel, C. L. Williams. “You will arrive at your destination in 37 minutes,” said my phone’s navigator in his English accent.

More driving to Ciel’s Villa del Lago, a hillside home with an outdoor pavilion and grounds that double as an event space.


As a designer, people assume I’m only into one style (naturalistic), while I appreciate good design of many styles.

This is a purposeful garden that requires a bond between an in-the-field LA and their crew of implementers. To simplify, it’s detail in rock work, classical training, integrated maintenance, and a keen eye.



This surprise to me was the small pond encircled by pollarded Platanus mexicana, so leafy, with a few views into it very much purposed. Much purposing and pollarding here!



And the spacious pavilion, towards it and away from it.


This view is only so by Ciel’s planting of Quercus fusiformis x virginiana to hide the boat docks on the lake, below. Shaped, of course.



Screening using Podocarpus gracilor from below…


…and what’s being screened, which would otherwise be visible from the important space below.



Classical design details I learned as a new LA student at OU, a whole 19 years old.

A fellow UGA alum to C.L., I’m picturing Tara Dillard walking with us and echoing all we’re discussing.

And careful spatial definition with the architecture and even mimicking the rounded Juniperus ashei on the hills.



3 varieties of white-flowering roses here, from miniature to large.



More whimsical rock work, sandwiched between natural bedrock strata and stacked rock work. All native limestone to my eyes. Even better with each gaze at my photos.



Back to the entry motor court, with Ciel’s drain grate-cooling fountain combo. Paved in tumbled concrete pavers. Usual used well = excellence.



More manicured shrubs that reflect nearby, juniper-clothed hillsides. This time, Eleagnus pungens, which thrives in my area with drip irrigation. And tough native Ilex vomitoria, and so on.



Then a late lunch of more brisket than even an 18 year old male should consume, plus a good Real Axis IPA, and back to freshen up for the Garden Bloggers Fling kick-off event.



Following a long walk through bustling Austin as too much brisket and humidity weighed me down, our huge group made it to the buffet and meet/greet at Austin’s new central library.

I ate like a rabbit, mostly the salad. Then hearing, “hey Dave, what’s that plant over there?” Which I usually like, even that night.

It was enjoyable getting to know some new people, as well as re-connecting with others from the past or who we only knew online until now. As I like to say, “I needed that!”


Sometimes I was stumped, such as the rooftop Dasylirion with larger leaves and less prominent leaf margin spines than I know. Texting a colleague revealed it was D. wheeleri, though she didn’t design that space.

Which gave us an excuse to meet the following evening.


Some views of booming Austin. Just remember, boom – bust – boom….. Nowhere is immune, even if it takes a while. Even with such a vibrant economy as much of Texas has.

My guess is Austin is as vibrant of a place to a visitor as it is to those who long-ago made it there. Their growing skyline is far more filled in now than my last visit in the summer of 2015.

Don’t forget the heavy sky that so-often sustains what one blogger said, “1 foot in the south or southeast and 1 foot in the southwest.”



Returning home for the night, these signs taunted my paying $24 flat rate to park at nearby garages. The $10 flat rate with a card was not to be with my time window.



Stay tuned for the next day, the first of three day-long Fling garden tours. Oh yeah!

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.