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:


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.


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!


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.


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.


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.


Desert Landscaping: Maintenance Fails and Fixes

If only I could be in charge of each of my projects’ maintenance, but then, who would design them? Just a few adjustments are needed in the below areas, looking at the big picture and then close-up.

Musical pairing, little to do with Las Vegas except it has a great beat and is about nightlife; I hear that city to the west has some of that – here

Photos from 6/24/2015 –


Do you see what the Honey Mesquite in front needs?

1 thing: prune off the 1″ branch growing low and into the building wall. If only I still had loppers, and I had driven there instead of flown.

From my last posts on how I wish I had designed something differently, you can tell how important I view even our smallish desert trees – which old guard definitions from cooler or wetter places refer to as “shrubs”.

Rabbits. Yet, there reaches a point when the wire cages can be removed, after the plants established and are no longer salad.

While the creosote bushes are growing, some are growing less so than the others. Such a difference, a simple light prune of taller stems back to the main stems is all that’s required to create a more appealing look, while maintaining some individuality in size. Even some of the lower, more dense creosotes could be thinned 10% to blend in some.

Balance, instead of unkempt or given the treatment.

Creosote Bush / Larrea tridentata

Creosote Bush / Larrea tridentata

Just imagine a little attention to some of the creosotes. While you imagine the few plants that die to be replaced by the same or similar plants.


see anything missing between both panels of windows?

A Joshua Tree once stood there.


position the Joshua Tree replacing the one that died, just like this one

I really enjoy the solar parking lights the architect specified. They fit the modern, space-age look there, with the sere Mars-like scenes beyond. But something else lurks…

Overall, I’m happy with much of what I see. Anyone who works outside in their heat should be thanked, even if one has to be insane to be in that line of work there… Though I forgot to mention in the last post, plant changes are often made without me – we cannot rule that and the other pitfalls.

But don’t you wish someone would step back, and pay a bit more attention to important areas of a planting, as I do this one?

Desert Landscaping: Design Fails and Fixes

Some have the idea I or any designer think we’re above reproach. No – some of us are actually our biggest critics, and that’s not being a perfectionist – it’s simply wanting to improve each time.

At the end of a long desert road, southern Nevada, late June 2015 –


that Joshua Tree should have stayed a Desert Willow…shade!

I’m unsure why I didn’t revisit Mike the architect’s suggestion (namely a tree for the L-shaped seat wall), but if only I stepped back and visualized summer – especially in Las Vegas!


too sparse…and plants at the gas meter, let alone agaves??!?

Now imagine a sunken swale down that planting area splitting the sidewalks. Catclaws, screwbeans or desert willows filling in the canyon created by both buildings, the entire length. Maybe some grasses or shady plants under, maybe just gravel.

Also, when I designed this in 2009-10, I hadn’t yet seen Loree’s blog to become more indoctrinated like today, so there’s no excuse for such an act :-)


and…should be trees in basins, not Joshua trees

While many of the above plants no longer get permanent drip irrigation due to the LEED Gold rating, basins and some hand-watering in summer could keep some going. Though perhaps not desert willows…

Where can people sit? Is there room once the plants grow in, those the contractor wants to substitute over the plants and alternates that I specified?


should be something smaller than the Brittlebush / Encelia farinosa

A favorite quote is from Antoine de Saint-Exupery, “a designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”

As I continue on a few designs, that plus starting with the big idea like shade, might help force the rest of the design how it needs to go.

Hot Date in Vegas – Pt. 2

Back to Reclamation’s Date Street Campus, their first project I designed with TSK.

Building 1400, the Lower Colorado Regional Office or just “the Green Building”, the landscape was on a *tight* budget thanks to the design-build process. A success thanks to all: owner to design team to the desert.

What worked? From Boulder City NV, too hot on 6/24/2015 –


front, E of the building entrance (S facing)

The plants were chosen for tight spaces, the creosote bushes providing green and visibility out the windows via the open forms; the building can shine.

Varied rock sizes act as mulch, like desert pavement does in the wild.

Some promising information on this odd agave hybrid, whose parentage had me questioning its toughness to high desert locales – here.

Onto one of the two largest planting areas on that property, this one including a small water harvesting tank. I might share more on the sides, rear and water harvesting tank another time.


front corner, heading to the W side (W facing)

The larger spaces allow near-native Teddybear Cholla / Cylindropuntia biglovii, plus native Catclaw Acacia / Acacia greggii, White Bursage / Ambrosia dumosa, with creosotes and Joshuas. The wildflower seeding in the swale is dormant now, so I’ll have to check it out in the spring.

With half the rain El Paso gets, it’s very arid; the LEED Gold certification attained on this project severely limits irrigation. Looking at the mountains, one can see why I use “Martian” to describe their land.

Do you ever wonder what your plantings would look like, if you could only use drip irrigation to establish, then hand watering afterwards in drought?

Lawnless Las Cruces 

A fast diversion, enroute to an après design charette social.

well done!

Yucca torreyi, Y. faxoniana, Opuntia subarmata, Senna wislizenii, Leucophyllum spp. star there. Effectively out-shining the gravel and river rock, as they should.

With Piece of Eden showing an array of SoCal lawnlessness (her great term), I had to join in!

My ecoregion’s climate is more harsh, so many soft succulents that thrive on the coastal slopes in California may not have a prayer here, at least year-round…we compensate with grand natives Opuntia and Yucca, plus woody desert shrubs and trees. Lawnless in the desert is often older, with less hardscape and site features than theirs. For now…


A preview up the street. Like this Dasylirion wheeleri and Yucca elata combo, holdovers from the previous front yard –

primo specimens a great idea to protect, retain

How large is that sotol? About the maximum size I see in my region, which are the largest I’ve seen anywhere.

I’m 6′ tall…Señor Sotol is 8-9′

Too bad I’m not better at selfies!

a mid-century modern redux & landscape edit

Do you go by other gardens for inspiration, to just enjoy, or both?

When Trouble Strikes

Do you see some of the most common culprits to your garden’s success, even when it’s designed well? Crazy Cat after another recent morning grind up Palisades Canyon –


Robert (L) and Watson (R)

People and their pets often are trouble. What makes it tough are those people are who pay people like me! True dat…


Is the Yucca pallida dying from overwatering, or is it overwatering caused by Watson taking too aggressive a drink and biting the drip tubing? Or disease all on it’s own?? (it’s El Paso…probably not too much rain)


oh yeah

I think every bike shop should offer espresso; it helps complete that entire Italian – cycling schtick.

I did find the pooper scooper for the after shots, plus there are some before shots.

This kind of time away from work I’m behind on beats one of the major causes of that…technology fails.

And dinner’s ready!

3 Years Later

What better way to revisit a maturing public garden in Austin during the depths of summer, than from my El Paso apartment…it’s mid-morning here, all windows and doors are still open, with the air dry and light.

Since I first visited three years ago, what worked or didn’t?

The Bevo Belo Center, deep behind enemy lines at the University of Texas, 8/1/2015 –


this retaining structure seems to be holding up, plants OK

I’m unsure of that metal / fabric retaining method, or the reason for it. Perhaps plants that trail or spread by rhizomes are supposed to fill in and down the sides, further “knitting” the soil?


Diospyros texana and groundcovers massed, filled in


one of the shady refuges here, a bosque of Prosopis glandulosa


trees are underplanted w/ Scutellaria suffrutescens (thx texasdeb)

For those inspired by ecoregional and appealing outdoor living, many more simply enjoy it.


at least the lawn is outshined by everything else

Construction is evident from bright fencing and scaffolding behind where I took that photo.

The lawn might get used on milder days than their steamy 5+/- month summer, but even it’s set into appealing plant layering. It’s the hardscape and furnishings that probably get more use, set into plantings.

Lawns are carpet or flooring; hardscape and plantings are the architecture, furnishings and accessories. Lawns are plush, but plantings are lush.


all well, nicely growing together framing the seat wall

Some of that area looks overplanted, but given demands put on many designers, it’s fine. The plants chosen and how they were designed throughout this entire project should look great for years, without pulling out half.


Yucca pallida front, Anisacanthus quadrifidus var. wrightii back


Hesperaloe parviflora ‘Brakelights’ lines the retaining wall

As hard as it is to admit for an OU Sooner grad, this UT project alone is nicer than anything I remember in my 1980’s college days, or my last visit to Norman 14 years ago.


tucked-in spikiness of Hesperaloe funifera

That area needs regular pruning and cleaning out; it’s overgrown and looks neglected, yet at a major street intersection and visible during each red light.


yeah, I left the trash for the picture…it’s part of the urban fabric


plants thin out with no replacements, and not just on projects of the unwashed


one of a few plaza spaces, and Ten Eyck’s usual “yucca in a seat wall hole”……..


concrete pavers let the plantings shine

The design of the pavers is an attractive, unique variation of what I call a running bond pattern. Just heavy gauge steel to form the edges; clean.

Christy Ten Eyck and her office “done good”, as this landscape all worked out. Only some maintenance and construction were the issues I saw, in a small percentage of the site and little to do with this design.

In fact, I wouldn’t expect any better than this, or even as good as this, three years later – public or even private space. My guess is she goes out of her way, on maintenance monitoring and advisement with the owner – with fees to cover it. If not, some good people are taking care of this…no “treatment” to the shrubs alone tells me that.

Do you look at new landscapes, then revisit them after a couple years to see what worked or didn’t?