Friday, December 30, 2011

A Foothills Blanket

It snowed 3/4" in my area the Thursday before Christmas, which kept the ground from warming. That on top of 4" of very wet snow and serious rain the Monday before, and more rain and snow in previous weeks.

With 4" of new snow further west and south, plus over a foot around Roswell and Carlsbad, skies are crystal clear region-wide.

The air smells invigorating, cold. Odd to see this much snow, the whitest Christmas I've seen here in 20 years!

Sunset towards the Magdalena Mtns (L - 80 miles away) and the Sierra Ladrones (R - 55 miles away). Christmas Eve 2011:

Lows are in the mid-teens, and highs are in the high-30's. Sunny days, starry nights. Plants are OK, but once it goes below 10F, look out. I think they are all going to be fine, especially with forecast warming to seasonal averages by this weekend. December is the coldest month in Abq, so it just goes up from here, especially after mid-January.

I can't wait to finish fixing my landscape plantings and lighting. And to hike and bike in shorts and shirt sleeves (long ones, that is).

A nice blanket that will melt and slowly seep into the now-wet, gritty, granite soils for the plants. I still can't describe that scent.

Glad I didn't try this on my mountain bike. A few inches of cement-like snow and slush, mud, or mushy granite.
It is best for me to rest, and let the land rest. I need some relaxation this week. It has been a tough several years.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Rosy Relative

I'll showcase many tough, evergreen plants during the balance of the cool season, since my locale's "xeriscapes" are especially devoid of them. We'll move way beyond the landscape version of the Myth of Santa Fe, as well as it's catalog-inspired version of desert phobia.

From one season of interest into all-year interest.

Chisos Rosewood / Vauquelinia corymbosa var. angustifolia:

Photographed at the UTEP Chihuahuan Desert Gardens in El Paso. This plant is stunning in my region, too.

It has a fine texture, yet it is lush.

But remember, it gets large - over 10 feet tall x 6 feet wide. An upright habit allows it to be maintained as an attractive plant in a narrower space...but it is still large!


No problem - large spaces need large plants. And large plants are great for screening.

Yes, it's in the Rose Family, and it thrived through our coldest and hottest weather. Low to moderate irrigation in the desert.

In the future, I'll make it a point to capture some plants you might be surprised that work in the arid southwest for evergreen lushness. I've often stated, "natives first, then adapteds where natives don't do the task."

Monday, December 26, 2011

Patterned Randomness

What dominates the it pattern or randomness?

Hand-made concrete pavers (I kid you not) at Rockrose, in the uplands above Austin TX. Just another view.

Perhaps the answer depends on the view I chose. Or perhaps it depends on the way you think. Or perhaps there is one correct answer. You can see more from my 10/11 visit here, or better yet, here.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Snowy Succulents

What an odd La Nina weather pattern here - unseasonably cold and wet for weeks. With some snow, it's a great time to see patterns in a plant form that should be common in gardens, as chile is in New Mexican food!

Compact Queen Victoria Agave / Agave victoria-reginae 'Compacta':

The repitition forming this agave rosette my favorite when it snows; thick, triangular leaf sections help. Like a Protea flower.

Big Bend Agave / Agave havardiana:

The last storm dropped 4" of cement-like snow, making for some botanical interest. This storm's precipitation totaled .95", helping December gain 1.93" of precip at the house, 4X wetter than our monthly average. Most high temperatures have run 5-20F below average, with low temps just below average.

Ahhh! So Madrean on this side of the property. ("Google it"):

Is it Desert Candle / Dasylirion leiophyllum or Texas Sotol / D. texanum?

Twistleaf Yucca / Yucca rupicola:

Beaked Yucca / Yucca rostrata, Mtn States' powder-blue selection:

Small (4") terra cotta pots, w/ Mescal / Agave neomexicana pup (L) and Pig's Foot / Cotyledon orbiculata (R):

Friday, December 16, 2011

Foliage Follow-up - 12/11

For foliage, Albuquerque can shine in winter. If poorly-planned, though, it's brown and gray, with various excuses made to justify it.

I advise using evergreens in over 2/3 of the high desert landscape.

First, foliage after 3 days of winds at 40 mph, gusts over 90. Concentric patterns formed on granitic soil by Beargrass in motion:

Even Mormon Tea:

I need to finish the update and clean-up of this landscape. But still winter interest from evergreen foliage used meaningfully:

Even after insane cold hit NM. Following strong winds, a 1F low here - freeze-dried Autumn Sage foliage, yet some is alive, flexible and green:

Here, Autumn Sage is deciduous and in colder winters, it dies to near the ground, though not lower in elevation.

Also unprotected from cold and wind, much of the Dahlberg Daisy foliage is still live and flexible. Huh? Que??

Hairy Mountain Mahogany and it's evergreen, Mexican Highlands nature. I collected the seed for these in '96 from nearby foothills: 

David-damaged Beaked Yucca, growing new foliage at base, in case the top dies! (I hope not, it's a 9' tall beauty):

And Common Thyme below it; that plant reseeds all over.

M-I-C...K-E-Y...M-O-U-S-E! Spineless Prickly Pear:

Squid Agave awaiting it's final place in the ground, this coming spring:

Big Bend Agave and those leaf imprints...and those spines!

Dormant, blonde Deergrass. Like I'm sure. Totally! But some mountains managed to make it into the shot:

And just outside the walls of our compound...evergreen Gray Oak and Desert or Shrub Live Oak along the arroyo:

Desert Live Oak - tardily deciduous to evergreen, but always spiny leaf margins like hollies, in time for Christmas interest:

And a favorite. Pincushion-like accent, Blue or Gray Sotol:

That's Dasylirion wheeleri, Liza. It's everywhere, thriving in Abq, Las Cruces, and El Paso. But not up north; too cold.

Eddie - "What a stressed-out cactus. Don't you water it?" Wally - "Knock it off, Eddie. That's a Beavertail Cactus in winter":

Rock Penstemon...I know, more plants with prickly leaf margins! But this is the first time I've noticed some prickles are reddish:

Thanks for your Foliage Follow Up, Pam! Foliage can even filter the wrath of The Death Star...all the above was photographed today.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day - 12/11

Thanks, Carol at May Dreams Gardens, for hosting so many garden bloggers to share what's blooming.

Here is what I saw in mid-November, before we shifted from a touch warmer to far colder, than typical. 1F at house, 5F in Abq and 8F in Las Cruces, spotty temperatures either side of that range, ended it all.

Mexican Blue Sage / Salvia chamaedryoides:

Desert Bahia / Bahia absinthifolia:

Rarely, a stray flower on Rock Penstemon or Autumn Sage is out in mid-December. More often, Rosemary is.
Maybe it will warm back up, closer to normal, and I can report on some Rosemary plants in bloom, bees buzzing about...and certainly Winter Jasmine? And maybe it will warm to above normal, as I dream!

And I'm thankful for the .67" of rain this week over 2 days. That helps me total .90" of precip, 2X my "wet" foothill locale's December average.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Last Flowers

This winter began in earnest; a deep, large and windy storm system pulled in very cold air behind it. It seems such storms have become more common. Our once-gradual changes to winter are now unusual.

12/1: the start of persistent, far-cooler-than-average weather, in contrast to recent, slightly-wamer-than-average weather:
Arctic air pushed through our mountains easily, yet the low level moisture moving in from the east was dammed up by the same mountains, as usual. But 50F then (a little cooler than average) felt much colder, with steady winds over 40 mph, and gusts increasing over 80 mph into the evening.

The cold increased, storm winds died down, and moist air came in. Voila, 2" of snow! Snow is not the same as cold; it is simply precipitation that occurs when the air is cold enough throughout - about <35F. 

Lavender's last blooms, during 80+ mph wind gusts:
This and a neighbor's lavenders were flowering in a much milder winter on 12/31/99. (and kept flowering into early January)

Some plants in Abq and El Paso flowered for the first time this fall, thanks to optimum rainfall and temperatures that followed a very dry spring and summer, as well as record freezes last winter. Around town, it was mostly the usual fall bloomers finishing out November, plus some oddballs like Banana AKA Datil Yucca.

I'll have to write a list of plants that typically flower late, vs. those that can, since such things need documentation.

Remember this potted Red Yucca? It sent up a flower stalk in response to cool October weather and 1.62" of rain:
A hard 23F freeze last week, now 36+ hours of icy winds this week with snow, and it is finished. It was enjoyable watching it to see how far it would go with developing dice! And lately, record cold hit.

For now, we'll have to settle for blooms on rosemary plants - assuming more typical weather returns?

Monday, December 05, 2011

Gray Plants, Colored Walls

Gray plants are all the rage where I live. But they are rarely used well, unlike those one can observe in good designs or in our wild spaces.

A November trip to El Paso, Alamito Gardens is a public housing project that I designed in 2008 for Moore Nordell Kroeger Architects:

Chinquapin Oak turned, the clean evergreen foliage of Pale Yucca / Yucca rupicola pulling off the cool season look.

This would not work with feathery, deciduous grays. Imagine gray twigs all winter? Reality over flowery prose - like "tapestries of colors", then stating how "our area is brown", commonly used to justify design and plant choices missing the mark of a space's needs.

Blue Sotol AKA Gray Sotol / Dasylirion wheeleri:

Some elements at work:
1) low budget, installation to maintenance
2) colored walls (notably red), native stone
3) evergreen in prominent locations
4) mature plant sizes considered for their spaces
5) microclimate - prairie yuccas E walls, desert sotols W walls
6) natives where they work, adapteds where natives don't work
7) bold foliage against random stone patterns
8) spiny leaf margins against a contrasting color
9) flowering lantanas died stolen, never replaced; succulents live on
10) massings of the same plant species, to unify

Friday, December 02, 2011

Shop For Patterns

When out and about, take notice at what landscape patterns work - where and why. Back to La Cantera in San Antonio.

Tan stone vs. foliage; metal agave in a pot vs. live agaves in the ground:

Tall elements (tower or live oak) with low plant masses at bases of each; wild live oaks in back with transplanted live oak in foreground, which one drives underneath:

And these won't shed limbs on your nice car in storms, unlike Abq's favorite trash tree, cottonwood, which does shed. Had to take a dig at those who diss quality like oaks, in favor of short-term fixes that grow fast, leaving the bill for others to pay. (!)

Nasty drought, but with recent rains, a Kerrville overpass sees new blooms of Orange Zexmenia / Wedelia hispida. But where? Where rain runoff stops at, then spreads, along an impervious barrier - here, the ugly concrete bridge embankment!

But they don't grow all over; just along the concrete. Zexmenia is a perennial; these have not colonized where drought and mowers disturb. Even if there was no mowing, there is more moisture at the edge. 
In a landscape, got lemons? Make lemonade. Change the grades to move water where you need it to go, then plant accordingly.

Can't control gravity or where water runs? No one can the first. Right plant, right place. Make the uncontrollable your friend.

Oh yeah!

And back to shopping La Cantera. Boulders with large succulents in back of the viewshed, low lantanas in front, and the negative space of Buffalograss turf in front of that, between the lantana and the curb.
One should adapt that for their region, as I would the latter two in my part of the desert. Purple lantana is usually an annual due to my cold, so I would use something else. And where such visual-only turf needs irrigation, which in the desert is unwise land use away from parks, golf courses, or back yards; another substitute or use those same plants at a different spacing or grouping. (San Antonio average annual precipitation = 28-30".....Abq average annual precipitation = 6-12".....Buffalograss grown as denser turf = 20-25" / year)

Whether like me (light shopping), or others I know (major shopping), look for landscape lessons everywhere!