Friday, March 09, 2012

Walk On the Mild Side - Front Yards

Well, it was mild until recently! But our present "wild" has probably happened for short periods before; may it soon pass.

A Tidewater Gardener called for posts on what we see walking, in "Winter Walk-Off 2012 - here; Danger Garden added her take - here. In true form, I combine both, though our winter seems over except a few blips!

Below is an inventory of native plants in my neighborhood's front yards, on a gloomy but mild 3/7/2012. I listed each plant in order of type, then by visually estimating how common each is. (my own property, rear or side yards, or less attractive yards, were not included)

trees + skyline accents
Palm or Faxon Yucca / Yucca faxoniana or Y. carnerosana:

Desert Willow / Chilopsis linearis:

Pinon / Pinus edulis:

Ocotillo / Fouquieria splendens:

This ocotillo is producing many new stems down low, a bit unusual:

A preview of what the same ocotillo looks like in the late spring, plus the Apache Plume the owners removed, but mentioned below:

Soaptree Yucca / Yucca elata:

Desert Olive / Forestiera neomexicana
Beaked Yucca / Yucca rostrata:

Arizona Ash / Fraxinus velutina

Apache Plume (see above under Ocotillo) / Fallugia paradoxa
Chamisa / Ericameria nauseosa:

Ceniza or Texas Ranger / Leucophyllum spp.:

Turpentine Bush / Ericameria laricifolia
Mariola / Parthenium incanum

Red Yucca / Hesperaloe parviflora:

Blue Sotol or Desert Spoon:

Banana Yucca or Datil:

Thompson Yucca / Yucca thompsoniana:

Tree Cholla
Narrowleaf Yucca
Mescal Agave
Brownspine Prickly Pear
Desert or Engelmann Prickly Pear:

Beargrass / Nolina microcarpa (R, cut back due to overgrowing space):

Claret Cup Cactus / Echinocereus triglochidiatus
Spiny Hedgehog Cactus / Echinocereus coccineus
Rainbow Cactus / Echinocereus dasycanthus:

Texas Sotol / Dasylirion texanum
Bunny Ears Prickly Pear / Opuntia microdasys:

Comanche Prickly Pear / Opuntia camanchica
Golden-Flowered Agave / Agave chrysantha:

Artichoke Agave / Agave parryi var. truncata
Santa Rita Prickly Pear

groundcovers + herbaceous plants
Mexican Feathergrass or Threadgrass / Nasella tenuissima:

Chocolate Flower / Berlandiera lyrata
Wright's Verbena / Verbena wrightii
Black Dalea / Dalea frutescens

In addition, about half the homes do not have one native plant used in their landscapes, and one home is without even one plant in the ground - that one happens to be across the street from me. Yuck!

Some may wonder about some details of the home landscapes, including "why???", or the budgets.

I can help - I live in the above neighborhood, and we had our house constructed in 1998 by the same builder who built many homes here from 1994 - 2003. We read the paperwork, including standard and upgraded features, and we wrote the checks. This is rather typical landscaping for other builders' and other front yards around Abq, for homes ranging from $150K - $250K, and up to at least $400K. Such plant densities are common since lawns became used less in the mid-90's.

$900 was alotted by the builder towards landscaping each small front yard; they hired a production landscape contractor to install that work, covering the bare minimums of:
+ gravel cover, rock accents (most really unattractive), and weed fabric
+ (1) specimen plant
+ (2-3) small plants
+ no grading or irrigation
Just doubling that money would have paid for subtle grade changes with passive water harvesting, and some more plantings - that would have made each more appealing than what you see. And not cut into the builder's profit except pennies. One could pay the same contractor for upgrades to that $900 out-of-pocket (larger trees, patio walls, more plants, irrigation, etc), though few did.

(as an LA with a concience, I think of such possibilities, even if that would require a totally different culture, sophistication and mindset in Al-blah-quirky, or that the Land of Entrapment has)

Also, very few people have added anything to their landscapes from the original owner, whether 2nd, 3rd, or 4th owners of said homes. Let alone have any hired or were willing to hire a professional designer to take the builder basics into something far better. Albuquerqueans spend their money on new cars, the insides of their houses (then buying a new house in a few years, doing it all over), vacations, eating out for dinner often, shopping at the mall, dogs they don't take care of, and other things like that - not outdoor living space, like people do in Tucson or some other SW region towns. No matter the income level.

To adapt Gov. Lew Wallace quote about NM and TX to horticulture. "Poor Albuquerque - so far from heaven, so close to Santa Fe."

But that's what I saw, walking each block. Did I mention desert willows, palm yuccas, ocotillos, sotols, red yuccas, and loads of rock? Just in case:

Bold = locally-native species straddling the Chihuahuan Desert and the Arizona-New Mexico Mountains, within 75 miles and 1000' in elevation

Italic = ecoregionally-native species to the above, but beyond my locale or elevation.


  1. This post would help any gardener improve their landscape design. Love how you broke it into a template.

    You make me think I could come and design a decent landscape there with the best plants.

    Of course with a zillion questions for you too.

    Garden & Be Well, XO Tara

    1. Hola, Tara P. Barbuda! Thanks...I added a few things at the bottom on the builder's budget. That is exactly my goal of every post...making some of our secrets not so secret, so the DIY is more educated, or those who pay us can concentrate on us applying our greater secrets:-)

  2. This is why you go to the older neighborhoods for inspiration! While many of those plants are beautiful and sculptural, the sameness is boring. Everything natural was scraped away and replaced. The opposite of my neighborhood.

    Some of these places take the term "decorative rock" way too literally. Most of the "arrangements" don't look natural and they don't work as designed elements either. I can see now why you are always writing about poor use of gravel and rock in landscaping.

    Additional plantings of flowering perennials would make such a difference.

    Interesting about the local views on landscaping investment. It seems that more people pay attention to their landscape in San Antonio -- and I see that at every level here.

    1. True - though I did this as a "what I see out the front door" inventory. Exactly on the poor use of rock, as well as adding softening plants. The latter would cost a few tanks of gas and dinners out...but a nicer yard would mean less vacations needed from "that"! People's mindsets...

      In a number of photos, there are some healthy plants (usually succulents) and even decent companion plantings, though in one, the Apache Plume shrub was removed, to leave a stark, lone ocotillo!

      "Stingy with plants" is something I heard about Abq landscapes.

  3. You're so right about what people spend their money on - and hardly ever is it spent on outdoor landscaping for new homes! And as you state, most people don't add to what was included in the original builder's 'landscape'. Here, it's usually includes grass, a tree, and maybe a knockout rose or two. It would be interesting to know what the budget is for each area of the country.

    1. Yes, just different outward expressions of cheap! Great idea on landscape budgets in diff regions...hmmm.

      A colleague worked for a landscape contractor in Houston in the late 70's-early 80's oil boom. He said for mid-priced homes on 75%-100% larger front yards than my area's, builders' standard landscapes were $4-5K then...not adjusting for inflation that is about $1-2K more for each!

      Last spring, a builder outside New Braunfels TX attended a talk I gave. He complained of the lack of residential landscape design compared to So Calif...he also didn't realize that those in Palm Springs or San Diego cost more $ and time up-front; perhaps he thought he could have that both ways?

  4. Wow...some color would go a long way to cheering up the neighborhood! (makes me think of your purple wall in a whole new light). I can't believe you have to look at a house with not a single plant in the front garden! Then again I look at a plastic bucket, tipped over umbrella and fallen bird feeder, that haven't been picked up in going on 9 months. Neighbors! Thanks for the tour, I enjoyed it and agree with Shirley that these beautiful plants get washed out in the repeat, they deserve better!

    1. Exactly on the purple 5'+ purple wall hides that neighbor and 2 others from view, and allows me to eat outside in peace. You and Shirley...right on! (and you're both interior designers)

  5. Ah...what a lovely view across the street. And, how creative to accent that power box with stones!

    Landscaping is hit or miss, in my neighborhood...mostly miss. It's an old neighborhood, with a few new houses sprinkled in. Very diverse say the least. most..have given up fighting the deer, and just go with what they call 'Texas Natural'. Translated..non-native, invasive shrubs and little else.

    OK...rant is over. It is what it is. We can just try to make out little patch work.

    Thanks for another great lesson. Oh, and thanks for the ID on the tree at our daughter's place.

    1. When I finally noticed that rock accent on the power box, my reaction was the same!! People do often give up instead of use the negative to make a greater positive, as you note in your neighborhood. No problem on the ID!

  6. I like your commentary a lot here. Why is it that NM do not attempt to beauty their homes more from the outside? I noticed that briefly as we drove through the area last time. Do they think it's useless to do so? It's a strange culture...all desert communities with different takes on things. Tucson does INDEED...especially the next two months go overboard when it comes to landscaping....even people who rent. This would be a fascinating study socially to figure out why NM's don't put the money into their landscape. Peach and apricot trees right now are out of this world.

    1. Thanks...I added the comments at the end, so I am glad I did! Your comment on NM's (Abq's) lack of interest in the outside spaces is spot-on, and it is hard to visit places like Tucson, Phoenix, or even Las Cruces and Las Vegas, only to return to this. Great social / cultural study idea to explore on a future post...

      The same trees you have in bloom are waiting out today, and I bet by Mon or Tues...a floral "pow"!

  7. Same as above. Cool plants with weird gravel. I'd be tempted to do the local oaks with pinyon. It would one of those "hippie yards". lol

    1. I know - the comments from others so right-on, that they are valuable with only photos and plants listed from me. I like your hippie yard idea...

      I am doing a follow-up post to cover my walking inventory of natural areas adjacent to my 'hood, same format.

  8. Ah yes...the builder see them pretty much everywhere...with the same effect (even if the plants themselves vary by the region).

    1. Same stuff, different channel! I guess if I can't help improve it, I can always work elsewhere (which I do), or I can move (hmmm...).

      Hence my sanity hikes to refresh my mind!

  9. Thank you so much for participating in my Winter Walk-Off, and bless you for trying to improve your neighborhood's landscape. It looks like you have nowhere to go but up.

    In new-build neighborhoods and in commercial construction here, the local cities mandate a certain percentage of the total cost be spent on landscaping. The choices are not always the best, but a greater effort seems to be made. The code people will really get on your case if you clear any wild areas, then your mandate to landscape is even greater and they give you a list of must-plant species with minimum sizes.

    I hope the Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce and Board of Tourism don't read your blog, but I love your honesty. Thanks again!

    1. You are most welcome...what a good idea you had to know one's walkable area. My follow-up will be a walk through the nice natural areas just beyond.

      Your landscape codes sound valuable in protecting the land and all on it, and they are to be applauded. Our codes are better than what they were, but... "Nowhere to go but up"...exactly! (and I concentrated on native plants in front yards)

      I hope those you note, plus builders, CABQ officials and others, read this in context and how others see the way city neighborhoods present themselves.

  10. Why don't you host a landscape design open house for your neighbors and give them ideas? If they are a little like me, they might be suffering from analysis paralysis. I wish I had a neighbor who could help my landscape with one or two thoughtful suggestions. Signed - Landscape Design Dummy in Cheyenne

  11. Now that is my kind of nieghborhood. Love the natives and the bold Y. faxoniana's.

    1. It could be worse, and most homes have nice plant bones to work with. Seems a walk in the public open space behind the homes to seek out patterns and plant species would benefit most homeowners there.

  12. Enjoyed reading your typology. Are these yards good/poor examples of xeriscaping?
    -- Georgia (local ecologist)

    1. I would say ecologically and asthetically-speaking, they need to be re-graded to catch and absorb stormwater instead of drain it off, then 5-10 more companion plants---my area has a 20-40% live plant cover of the ground surface. Small yards, decent bones, but time for some herbaceous plants like native grass clumps, wildflowers, maybe smaller shrubs and some more cacti. Doing it oneself, that would cost $100-150, plus an afternoon. Alot cheaper than plane tickets to even the nearest city Southwest Airlines flies to...


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