Sierra: Walls and Weeds, Spikes and Grasses

A quick fall visit to one of the hospital renovation projects I provided landscape architect services on, from a few years ago.

And what did I see?

I’m unsure why the grasses (gulf grasses – Muhlenbergia capillaris / ‘Regal Mist’ Grass) didn’t put on their pink flower show. They are staying smaller than I feared they might grow, though they somehow weren’t sheared either and they have drip irrigation, so they should be pink.

The hotter summer wouldn’t faze the Regal Mist Grass, given this muhley also thrives in low desert landscapes such as Tucson and Phoenix, plus this drip irrigation system looked to be functioning.

Got me…

The spiky forms of natives Dasylirion wheeleri and Yucca elata just truck along, elegant and shimmering in their eternally breezy or windy town. Their short-lived flowers earlier in the summer attract bees and small moths.

Can you see why I designed in the low garden walls here?

They stagger out from the boxy, actual structure, still parallel. I originally envisioned them a foot taller, but was glad they were adjusted down in height during field layout. The creamy color really helps the greens of the different plantings.

The native shrub behind the low wall closest to the building is Ericameria laricifolia / Turpentine Bush. Each was needlessly sheared, though it probably flowered the next month, in October. There’s a gold tinge to them when looking closely, and the waxy, needle-like foliage does smell like a clean take on turpentine.

When in bloom, it attracts various butterflies, and some bees, of course.

Hopefully this fall, I can visit when the different plants are in bloom, as well as in the morning, to better capture the different lighting at that time and the elevated, exposed terrain at the southern edge of the Franklin Mountains.

And hopefully, late summer 2021 brings us a solid monsoon season!

Streetscape: Monsoon to Fall to Frigid

It’s always good to see my old designs, even though I drive by them often, living so close. Photos are from 9/2020 to 1/2021.

Late September – early October, after 2 or 3 brief, weak shots at a monsoon season:

The person I worked with on this streetscape design insisted on Yucca faxoniana, not me. I wanted the more-local Y. torreyi or Y. elata. It was one of a few plant battles not worth my time. I like these, anyway. As usual, even with several years growing, some of these large specimens either have the agave weevil or are reaching their life expectancy.

At least 4 or 5 on this project are dying, producing no top spears in the heads, as seen in the distant yucca in the previous photo.

I can’t imagine what they’ll be replaced with – or not.


For 2 decades, I’ve latched onto the term “nonsoon season”, for the summers where our more typical monsoon pattern fails. 2020 was one of the five fails of the last six summers. Little cooling, few storms, but insurance was designed in via drip irrigation.

This volunteer or added Chilopsis linearis didn’t mind, nor did the original Dasylirion wheeleri or yuccas.

In the medians and the intersection, Leucophyllum zygophyllum ‘Cimarron’ put on a flower show, as the morning sun rises and starts to blast down.

I’ll post more on how 2020’s warm season impacted gardens and wilds.

The final flowering of those blue rangers ended soon after it started, then the leaves on Fouquieria splendens turned. Ocotillos work well with bold and blue Agave neomexicana and dry-dormant Aristida purpurea, companions here and often in the wild.

Even returning from a late hike showed off the effects of the low-voltage FX lighting fixtures, though replacement bulbs should be toned back down in brightness.


Late October – early November, not bad after our first freezes October 26-27, (some records set…36 consecutive hours below 32F / 0c, a low of 24F / -4c, and about 2 inches / 5 cm of snow):


Early November, and by design there’s still strong presence:

Most of the dwarf trees, Rhus lanceolata, provide something overhead, though shade was sacrificed to comply with community covenants of no trees over 14 feet. Never mind the added desert willows and screwbean mesquites top out at least 20 feet.

In a desert area, that’s too restrictive of a height; protecting views should be balanced with mitigating pavement.


Mid-December – January, me wishing there was a way to capture each scene from exactly the same spot, but the lighting is so different within a few months:


Another area I rarely drive by also seems to be one paid less attention to by the maintenance contractor. Yet, I can find interest in part of this key entry, at the western side of the estates.

Those have become the largest Agave neomexicana I’ve ever seen. Plus that Larrea tridentata is as large as many oneseed junipers.


I’ll finish back at the other key entry, on the east side of this development I often post on. Most everyone passes by here, residents and even other hikers who access the monument but don’t live in this development, including me.

Those narrow and hidden parts of the main, west entry into the development are best seen from the north.

A good rhythm, though I’ll need to find some photos of the last scene, when the native fluffgrasses and purple threeawns were allowed to grow under the Nolina greenei mass. It was only 5 years ago, or so.

I’ll probably never get around to finding the archived plans, to see the original herbaceous plants now mostly gone.


The people over at Garden Bloggers Fling recently featured me – here. Their great post is motivating me to post more on my blog.

Not to mention, I still have some more to post from the two flings I attended: the last day at the 2013 Fling in San Francisco and my drive home from the 2018 Fling in Austin. I still haven’t documented those memorable trips.


After the Love is Gone: A Decade After Installation (part 2)

…Continued from the previous post, photos from 11/2/2019

Medical Office Building (by QUERCUS)

This office building and landscape were completed in 2009.

I remember the August day the design team completed our final inspection / punch list, as we stood under the portico. It had rained the day before, and the other team members (from San Antonio) remarked at how pleasant El Paso’s weather was in August compared to there.

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A lone Salvia greggii remains, in once-thriving groupings of that same plant among the boulders and other flowering plants.

Thank goodness for ProsopisHesperaloe, and Muhlenbergia!

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Spread out, Texas Honey Mesquite / Prosopis glandulosa! Too bad the small grass clumps were more in quantity and should be matured at 6 feet tall and wide by now…arroyo native, Sporobulus wrightii.

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The flow of Deergrass is something I was inspired by, seeing it done with another plant (Red Hesperaloe), in another climate (sub-humid prairie at Dallas Love Field), and on a business / design trip for the first phase of the main hospital.

It’s a disservice to use grasses or accent plants as a mere clump of 3 around a boulder! They need massing, with only a few plant or tree accents in small clumps.

This works for parking lot speeds and even walking to the front door.

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In back of the MOB, things fell apart more than in front.

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Unequal plant substitutions, new sidewalks, or just blight

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Poor Manfreda spp.: first rabbits, later no care and few remain

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The modest income from design fees is long gone after a shorter period on life’s necessities.

Yet, the care for my work, the long nights, or the appreciative client, colleague, or project user continue to pay off. In spite of the others who don’t involve me, let alone compensate me for that time.

I return to visit old designs when I can, to document. Even others’ work…


UTEP Centennial Plaza (by the office of Ten Eyck Landscape Architects)

I watched this project get built when I moved to El Paso in 2013, living a 10 minute walk away, and it was completed shortly after I moved to Las Cruces in 2016.

First, parking by this old and rugged native, Desert Willow / Chilopsis linearis.

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This holds together thanks to the generous use of mostly Chihuahuan Desert-region / environs plant species, with some adaptive mesic species. Not to mention, a strong maintenance commitment from the designer and owner. As part of their contracted services, the landscape architect’s office provided the owner’s crew hands-on maintenance instruction.

I.E. demonstrated how to do various tasks for various plant types, and not just once.

From what I see, this has worked and will continue to work, benefiting the owner and the array of those who enjoy the garden spaces at UTEP.

Never has there been the budget in my scope of work or support of the prime consultant to do that. Except out of the kindness of my heart or at most, I’m paid to add a maintenance sheet on the plan set for a few projects.

I can count my times when a wedding or quinceañera shoot isn’t happening at UTEP.

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Just seek out the good, and enjoy it like this guy!

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I can’t wait to ride one of these scooters or rent a bike, on some future trip to the “big city” of El Chuco!

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