Early Winter at the Roundabout

After a few years in the high desert, the savvy designer learns to design based on winter, so the landscape looks good all year.

They aren’t fooled by glossy catalogs based on cool, temperate garden models somehow juxtaposed with regional architecture. Those depend on warm season vibrancy and total cool season dormancy, interest often lying in seed heads that withstand snow. Those aren’t our reality or potential.

Our autumns and springs are long, but they seem fleeting.

The road to the Red Hawk Golf Course near my future neighborhood reflects early winter’s low lighting and gentle rest.

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Agave neomexicana, Yucca rostrata, Chrysactinia mexicana, and some volunteer Larrea tridentata are often in my bullet-proof mix.

Though the developer or maintenance crew may have thought less of the native Aristida purpurea than I. Others replaced mine with the mesic, habitual Muhlenbergia capillaris ‘Regal Mist’. Remember, we average 8-9 inches of rain per year. Aristida happily grows and reproduces here with that, while that Muhlenbergia grows natively where 40 inches or more rain falls per year in southern coastal areas; that’s regular drip irrigation, unless you prefer stunted.

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There were once native wildflowers at the median ends from my original design. This time of year, though, they would not be evident.

Looking south, the Quercus polymorpha are trying to be semi-evergreen but losing all green, while the reliable Nolina microcarpa are vibrantly evergreen.

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Before our couple days colder than average, these Chrysactinia mexicana look like they got in some late flowering. Lows in the high teens and highs in the high 40’s quickly returned to average, which is lows in the 20’s and highs in the upper 50’s.

With those Chrysactinia a less vibrant green after a number of hard freezes, it’s next spring for new growth and flowering.

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Sculpture and textural contrast, seasonal dormancy versus evergreen, low maintenance, and low water-use are all ideas here.

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12/10/17 weather: 59 / 25 / 0.00

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Focal Points

Focal point is a design principle I learned as a college sophomore, but lost in designs while fielding an array of requests and deadlines.

Landscaping is much about focal points.

Pick a great place to be or just sit, then plan what you’ll look at.

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I spaced the Dasylirion wheeleri into Picacho Mountain just so they would do what the three with flower stalks are doing – interrupting the sky. Focal points even work when driving.

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Nolina greenei, Sophora x ‘Sierra Silver’, and Larrea tridentata

That was another view of the same development entry, with more evergreens playing off the Dasylirion on the left. But mostly a non-focal point of clumped desert plants, except the ocotillos.

Passing the entry island and leaving Picacho Mountain, another focal point you miss while entering the same development. It faces you only while exiting.

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Yucca faxoniana and a mass of Nolina greenei

Inside the development, one has to look at an island in each cul-de-sac, with no irrigation and native plants.

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Fouquieria splendens, gray Leucophyllum zygophyllum ‘Cimarron’, and Ungnadia speciosa

Another cul-de-sac.

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another Fouquieria splendens for height, Leucophyllum zygophyllum ‘Cimarron’ for fill, and Ferocactus wislizenii for pop

Do ever step back from your overall design, only to add in focal points and then work off of those?

6/12/17 weather: 96 / 65 / 0

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.