Inspirations

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.

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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.

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While the round stones-impressed-into-cement-in-a-handrail isn’t practical, 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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Contrasts

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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?

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

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

Take a Walk

90 minutes walking nearby, good landscape design was a bonus to the exercise and temperatures in the high 60’s F / 20 c.

All photos were captured with my iPhone. Cue this fine song by Calexico.

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A well-contrived stepped wall profile and its stucco color play nicely with a trio of our Dasylirion wheeleri / Blue Sotol.

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With more shrubs and only 2 far-separated accents of Yucca torreyi / Torrey Yucca and Dasylirion wheeleri, this is reminiscent of xeriscape designs a few hours north.

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Artemisia filifolia / Sand Sagebrush, Ericameria nauseosa / Chamisa (yep, “nauseosa” – sniff the blooms!), and Fallugia paradoxa / Apache Plume. It holds moderate interest all winter, but when the Artemisia is weighted down by monsoon moisture together with the Fallugia covered in white blooms and pink seedheads – wow!

All those plants occur in nearby arroyos, except the chitalpa tree in the couryard. Don’t get me started on that tree and those who still use it in futility.

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I’ll have to wait to capture area masses of Rosmarinus officianalis ‘Prostrata’ / Trailing Rosemary. There were many well-massed, flowering examples a couple weeks ago, but …

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Our first freeze on 11/12 was right near our average date, except the 18F / -8c low the following morning was rather early. So were the next 4 mornings below 28F / -2c. Hence, most of our area’s trailing rosemaries were in active growth and shocked.

Fortunately, an abrupt change to freezing rarely affects the whole of a design based on principles such as sense-of-place, form, or rhythm.

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The next neighborhood over, with much larger lots and grand views, and it’s a foreground of yet another near-native, from the 5,500-7,500 foot elevations of our stage set of the Organ Mountains. The evergreen Nolina greenei

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Nothing unusual is at this house, which is a common theme in parts of Las Cruces.

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It uses well-placed evergreen accent or succulent plants, to evoke our local sense-of-place all year. Yucca baccata / Banana Yucca, Fouquieria splendens / Ocotillo, with Torrey Yucca, a couple blue sotols, and a large Opuntia ellisiana / Cacanapa Prickly Pear. It’s economical, requiring little maintenance or irrigation. That house’s front yard nicely contrasts the almost peachy stucco color and the dusty-blue desert skies.

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Finally, this is somewhat like the above landscape, except there are trees.

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Prosopis pubescens / Tornillo or Screwbean Mesquite outside and a Prosopis glandulosa / Honey Mesquite inside. Plus, various agaves, sotol, and other spikiness were used in a naturalistic manner.

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11/25/18 weather:
59F / 44F / 0.00 or 15c / 6c / 0.0