Forms and Feel

Plants are crucial to gardens and landscapes distinctive of their place, not just anywhere. Tight budgets and extremes in winter and summer inform my bias towards species providing impact year-round.

That impact isn’t fleeting flowering, though I try to incorporate that too.

Photos from June 2015 in Boulder City, Nevada. You mean you don’t visit landscapes you designed when it’s 110F?

by the main doors, where visitors park

This softens the view out into the blazing Mojave Desert light, even though each Larrea tridentata isn’t growing the same, identical way.

I can’t wait to see the Yucca brevifolia ssp. jaegeriana grow more.

Here, budget limited the plant quantities needed to create flowering masses I like, as did the jackrabbit population and the nature of federal facility maintenance.

Summer is their 2nd dormant season, so little would flower in June, anyway.

I wasn’t given notice to place those agaves more per plans, but the clearances to the various panels and lights should still work out

Ocahui / Agave ocahui are the agaves, spaced about 25-30% too far apart, but who’s counting except me?

My plans specified native Agave utahensis, but this is close enough given availability. Plus the Mojave is parallel to Ocahui’s home in the Chihuahuan Desert, only the reversed wet seasons and some extra dryness.

And notice, no grasses. In Mojave Desert shrub communities, grasses are uncommon ephemeral plants in washes, if at all, below 4,000′.

a good marriage of industrial metal, edgy agaves, and rock mulch color

Unlike my days of travel between here and Albuquerque, driving isn’t as much of an option from Las Cruces. That makes it hard for what I wanted to also do, even if for my own pictures…bring loppers and hand pruners for a few plants in need.

Thanks for accompanying me to one last, lingering wrap-up post from an old trip to Reclamation’s Green Building in southern Nevada.

Patio: Finally

It’s been 2 years since I last gardened anything of my own. Remember the containers I bought last winter, and the recent plant sale at UTEP?

Photos from 5/14 and 5/16/2014 –

A section of my patio gets direct sun in the late afternoon and evening – late April through August. All of it gets indirect light. It’s covered, and from my thermometer readings, it rarely exceeds 100F or goes below 25F…the cover tempering it to a sort-of zone 9a – assuming this holds decades longer than I’m staying.

Still, less of a challenge than _____.

Some plants I know from experience, but some theoretically, since I haven’t been blessed to be in arid, 3800′ elevation parts of this zone before. The grower was of little help, from the same zone 7 and an hour from my former home, but one of our local kaktus experts advised well (Peter Beste).

container #1
container #1 fills in with agaves

(1) Squid or Spider Agave / Agave bracteosa (from David R. in DFW)
(1) Artichoke Agave / Agave parryi var. truncata (plus 3 pups from my aunt)
(1) Yellow Bells / Tecoma stans var. angustata (maybe not, I hurt the roots)


container #2 (L), container #3 (R)
container #2 (L), container #3 (R)

container #2 gets a bit more sun, so it’s filled in with cactus:

Astrophytum myriostigma (no common name)
Astrophytum nudum (ncn)
(4) Copiapoa esmeraldana (ncn)
(2) Echinopsis grandiflorus (ncn)


container #3 fills in with softer plants:

(1) Twistleaf Yucca / Yucca rupicola
(3 2) White Rain Lily / Zephyranthes candida
(5…2 if a few don’t recover) Yellow Rain Lily / Zephyranthes citrina

All (3) large containers are anchored by the coarse, west-of-the-divide native, Beargrass / Nolina microcarpa. I normally don’t make adjacent containers too different, but here it’s me trying out some new plants, so more variety than a more unified design for clients. The beargrasses can adapt to the water needs of that range of variety.

Lowes had some large, healthy camellias that would have made an impact, but not be of similar cultural needs as 2/3 pots, so I went with the decent impact of the beargrasses. No other native plants available had enough size to provide this much impact as that Nolina, and for this light…not one.

I might topdress each large container with a layer of crushed rock, but perhaps not this type and probably smaller. Both pots brought from my old house, each with a different agave, were topdressed with “locally-sourced decomposed granite”, i.e. 10 feet away; a good look that keeps soil in place during our periodic high winds.

You’ll soon see what grows or doesn’t! Given limited lateral rooting space, my miserly watering, and light, it may very well stay uncrowded. Even if all that’s left is the beargrass (native in the sunny open foothills or shaded by junipers and oaks), the yucca, and a few rain lilies or agaves, I’ll call it a success. Success out here isn’t how close it resembles a Mann / Monet-esque Victorianascape :-)

Of course, after I cleaned my place, I settled in for a drink, then a grilled-up dinner, admiring a very modest garden. Gardens aren’t just to sell a property or meet code to get the permit, though the latter pays my bills.

A divine 80F and 20’s dewpoint, the breeze perfect, and I must have been out there over 2 hours relaxing. A good reason to have a garden.

Pruning Into Spring

For a needed break each month, I became a volunteer at the UTEP Chihuahuan Desert Gardens – blocks from home. Plus, it gave me a discount on attending a public gardens conference in a few weeks :-)

Photos from yesterday’s 40F and biting east winds, 2/27/2014 –

Mexican Plum / Prunus mexicana announces *early* spring

It includes 600+ plant species native to our Chihuahuan Desert and adjacent ecoregions, so there’s much variety to do here, short of starting over! After a 15 minute walking survey, the dwarf trees were my target.

Not even my plan, until I looked closely.

Chisos Rosewood / Vauquelinia corymbosa ssp. angustifolia – before pruning
Chisos Rosewood – after pruning

Subtle, eh? I was only 3/4 finished, but my work filled that trash can.

Pruning is about health, then aesthetics. About 1 year after planting (or establishment), with basic care, pruning a smaller tree is simple:
1) remove dead stems and branches
2) remove crossing live stems and branches
Only additional, minor pruning for form may be needed now – most of that was addressed in the first 2 steps. Limit pruning to under 30% of live growth each year, and what’s appropriate for the plant and climate.

That’s it, until the plant becomes larger than one’s skills and equipment – time for an arborist, qualifed in deed and mindset – not just by testing.

Silverleaf Mountain Mahogany / Cercocarpus montanus var. argenteus (?) – before some handiwork (or el jefe & co. misguidedly cringe)
Silverleaf Mountain Mahogany – after

Notice the Mountain Mahogany now, with the grasses and wall? Health and form. Lateral growth to grow into the walkway? Gone – function.


Are you daunted by pruning a dwarf tree or other plant? Don’t be.

Many hear someone appreciative of the natural world, yet unknowing of a need for healthy plants, in a time frame in line with typical property ownership – gardens aren’t for geologic time.

Health and beauty, wildness and order, function and form – all together, now.