Many people become designers by having something capture their emotions while functioning well, then they adapt it.

When done with consideration to one’s unique space, users, and the originator, that isn’t plagarism. Everything is inspired by something else. Very often we see other built designs, but ultimately that comes from something else in the natural world.

At the Desert Botanical Garden last week, I did that very thing.


Durable Barriers: steel posts and angle irons allowed to oxidize, as well as wire mesh and welding, combine a simple effect and rustic ambiance; I like both.


While the round stones-impressed-into-cement-in-a-handrail isn’t practical financially, using rebar verticals to allow plants to grow behind or through is desirable. Many of you know my appreciation of soft and sharp in nature or gardens.



Opaque Panels: sometimes these are taller than me, and other times like this they are short. No matter, what a great backdrop to create a focal point.



Generous Desert Forms: one may get “that looks like Phoenix…” (in a childish whine) from those who reject anything not Denver X Monet X tundra. I have. But part of regionalism is abstracting wild forms into a small vignette.

Round cactus pads dancing between vertical, stoic yucca trunks and some other spots of spikiness is the condensed version of countless land areas in my region. So, why not amp up our spiky sparsness?


I now live where regionalism is more acceptable. Those yuccas and cacti are all Chihuahuan and not remotely Phoenix (Sonoran), so they borrowed from us! While they work handsomely there, they work even better in Las Cruces.


Informal Hedging: softening or blocking the background, to enclose and privatize a space all year must be done without losing existing scenes and borrowed views. Such a balance will be a challenge in more than one area of my compact property.


While I had several Rhus ovata / Sugarbush at my first Albuquerque house, they were not used at my last house, so they get a leg up! This plant’s crisp, evergreen foliage and colors always got accolades.



Unusual Fillers: another specific plant packed in more than I would have thought grabbed my attention. Euphorbia antisyphillitica / Candelilla is native to lower elevations in the Chihuahuan Desert. Rarely used in southern New Mexico’s valley, it sustained only a little freeze damage at -5F to +5F in 2011, so this could fill in some tight planting areas I have. Maybe.



Water: on an incredibly balmy April day in 2012, this water feature told a story better than on my chilly, rain-washed “winter” day as I wore a bulky jacket. The form and warmer weather lighting nails down habitat related to the architecture and ecology. The bird might agree, too.


Many unbelievable situations conspired to get me out of probably never doing landscape design for others again, but that changes when it’s for me! I can see clean lines that reflect my modest home’s form, including a water feature with sculptural, spreading desert plants that thrive where I am.

So, ignore saguaros, palo verdes, or other tender, low desert fare. That tends to come with the territory in Phoenix.

Yes, there will be Gambel’s Quail, Curvebill Thrasher, Roadrunner, and several species of hummingbirds in my garden, especially if I can splurge on such a water feature.



Crunchy and Permeable: with only 10 percent of the space here, I’ll have less of this same thing, probably with larger 3/4 inch crushed rock so it’s less messy when walking inside onto carpet in the office to change the song, or the bedrooms.


Imagine the warm, crunchy sound walking on it, with the ability of the surface to absorb storm water to benefit tree roots. I’ll have less impervious paving than I did at the last house.


Light It Up: in summer, darkness means it’s bearable to be outside. Even if I momentarily spot the glowing eyes of a mountain lion or the careful pace of a coyote watching me on the grill. And at any time of the year, it’s nice to extend indoor living out, even if one bundles up to do so during our drive-by winter.




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.


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.



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.



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.


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.



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



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.



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?


You bet, since chollas are a symbol of my region, yet highly underused or used poorly. I specified them occasionally including using a few different species of cholla 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!”


What seals the deal on the Desert Botanical Garden, other than various designers’ 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.

Mid-Century Roadtrip

Modern Phoenix announced their Mid-Century Modern (MCM) home tour tickets were going on sale, so I was ready.

I’ve wanted to attend for years. The day they went on sale at 8 am, I waited until 9. I got onto the 2nd tour, departing an hour later than the already-sold out 1st tour. All tickets sold out before 11 am.

You might see why I recommend going in 2019; outsides to insides were thought-out.

All houses on tour were built or designed in 1959, except where noted.


#1 The Buena Terror


Arizona designs often feature garden walls or low walls, combined with sculptural accent plants. This house’s 1/3 pivot front door and salvaged sofa make a hit.


Windows and long wall frames help add light to an interior room, plus texture on the wall. I can’t help but think of Donald Judd’s wall-mounted art in Marfa.



#2 The Beck Residence


This method to lay concrete block looks great, but I only see it used in Arizona.


Even a hip infant nursery with its own patio. Their outdoor furnishings are key to adding interest and life.


Vintage stereo equipment…


She was in the right place for this shot.



I’ve interspersed some houses with some of Phoenix’ signs that state weather warnings, if you dare visit in the summer! This type of thing is all over their open spaces.

A Phoenix summer is as intense as a Minnesota winter.



#3 Bellamak Residence


My photos don’t do justice to this very edgy, yet serene and comfortable house.  Plus interior shots were not allowed; just know those were stunning yet welcoming, using very polished surfaces and forms. And zero clutter.

As if in Phoenix, one would even care about being indoors from November to April…

Colorful cruiser-style bikes galore


Sunny Camelback from a shady entry


I could hang out for hours at their fireplace or by their pool.



#4 Mucha Casa


I’ve always admired the use of low walls in Arizona landscapes, as opposed to courtyards that open to gravelscapes or wide-open spaces with no bones. They provide scale but don’t block beauty.



#5 Gordon Rogers Home and Studio


More bikes and more great garden spaces. This is a home tour?


I enjoyed his studio being open, to see all the sketches and plans in progress.


I finally had to let go of a client whose front space was so stunning over this. Let strong plantings be the border; using an edge is usually more clutter than good.



This must be the winter sign. 85-95F in their summer is about 2-8 am.




I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Rolls Royce convertible at the trailheads I frequent, but I’ve never mountain biked or hiked near Paradise Valley. That day was paradise.




#6 The Evertson House


This vignette again shows how inexpensive simplicity rules: the wall with corner insets, aggregate paving bands in the concrete, and the sloping roof line. The blue car and view don’t hurt!

This is a Ralph Haver design.


Positive affirmations for wall art is a matter of expression, but everything else most would agree on. #justsayin In and out.



#7 Kucharo’s Xanadu


Yet another classic car, strategically placed. But this inexpensive common CMU block wall, designed uncommonly…

This was the only house not built in 1959 on this tour…it was built in 1962.


And another excellent CMU wall, and another, and …


Buying a new house has me admiring bathrooms that work, by simply adding the right touch.


It turns out, this modern home tour, where we could photograph almost everything, had so much quality garden design. That’s compared to a number of gardens I saw on an actual garden tour a couple weeks later, where we could not take photographs anywhere.

I have no plans to return to that garden tour, though I will probably post one of their past garden tours from 6 years ago, with excellent design and where photos were allowed.

I will plan to return to a future MCM home tour, however!