Monday, April 23, 2012

Garden Designers Roundtable: Garden Travel / Best Gardens

As my first Garden Designers Roundtable post as an actual member, I'll continue being candid and asking "why".

Familiar native plants where I live - desert marigolds, sotols. Unfamiliar plants to where I was visiting - an unknown-to-me agave species.

Some of you know that I work and travel some. As a solo practioner, it is tough to balance and get it all done, and still have a semblance of a life. I might get behind on taxes one month, give a program at a conference another month, only to lose a client that wondered where their design was, and then gain some small and interesting projects after that. Plus take another load of photos that I'll use some day, very soon.

And you can bet I need some inspiration, or I'll fail at all the above, plus the myriad of other things I didn't even mention.

Inspiration. My second "Grand Tour of Gardens" provided some of that, courtesy of the excellent periodical, Phoenix Home and Garden. In metro Phoenix, of course, the closest large city to my home in Albuquerque, at a mere 6 hours / 400 miles. Having taken 1200+ photos on a recent trip to the "Valley of the Sun", I'll attempt to focus on a few things in each garden works in a few words, and let you ponder other depths you are seeing.

Every city in the southwest is unique; some more than others, while some are more like certain places than others. All are interconnected, while each has its own natural and manmade personality.

Especially when perception is shunned, and reality is embraced...the reality of physical geography...landform, climate, and species. I don't dabble at the surface, towing some party line. Adapting reality is my thing.

House #1:

Phoenix is in the Sonoran Desert, and being quite different and warmer than my Chihuahuan Desert, there are effects we simply cannot create. Yet, there are effects we can easily create or adapt. That should lead one to let this inspire and inform what we can do better.

Bright sun and intense heat during summers call for relief. Deep, dark yet airy entries work their magic. 

I met the wonderful architect, who originally hails from the largest city in the Chihuahuan Desert, Ciudad Juarez CH. Exposed adobe bricks and rocks all work their durable magic here.
Cool and dark, looking into warm and bright.

Still sheltering, but more open than the front, for a different flavor of outdoor living.

This deep blue color works, but I would especially enjoy sitting out here on a spring night before summer begins its extended stay, the square firepit warming the air. Just looking up at the stars, hearing some coyotes.

House #2:

I spent more time at this garden than any other, to figure it out. The hardscape really resonated with me once I "got" this place.

So did my favorite color, blue. If you could have seen what this looked like when the tall, charming woman in blue was walking moments before this photo, still in the shadow nearer the house. She made the blue pool work better by just being there. Shirley of Rock-Oak-Deer in San Antonio TX gave her insight as I posted on this water feature on Facebook minutes earlier! She nailed it from that far away.

House #3:

Anyone who knows me knows I like sense-of-place with resource conservation, and all this wanton lawn is not that. After all, I and this house are both in the arid desert southwest, right?
Those huge urns, the pink flowers contained in them, the materials and layout, and attention to detail throughout this property, overruled what is wasteful for me. I also liked the owners leaving out a book on what is either a favorite dog, a dog like theirs, or a hint to would-be plunderers!

Ahh...a tight design, an olive tree, and comfortable seating. It's 72F, and there must be a glass of cabernet and fresh bread for me.

House #4:

Back to more desert plants, and a gracious, inviting, and dark / cool entry. The potted agaves on pilasters do not hurt, either.

The Phoenix area uses low garden walls quite well. Those are seen as unnecessary where I live, while other items of the busy and desertiphobic are not. Money does not buy taste, only more of whatever taste one has. Here, "it's all good", I'm happy to report!

And it buys simple, inexpensive materials like concrete, used well.

As well as stone, again, used well (is this a type of adoquin stone?):

Trips to Africa?

Cool winter days or spring and fall nights by the firepit?

But this use of incongrouous materials on the spa / pool is not my thing. Right word choice, proud weiner dog owner?
Minor detail. This man exudes dignity and graciousness, and ends a mostly nice garden visit so well. Onward!
House #5:

An appealing paver layout always grabs me, such as this one.

Pope John Paul II, or so I was told.

This formal space with tree roses and the nicest fountain on the tour moved me.

House #6...the last on the tour:

A few blogger compadres just might like this succulent heaven. Count me in, too! Extraordinary spaces from an ordinary property.

Unfortunately, I missed meeting the landscape architect, Thomas Park of Xerophytic Design. But I felt him in the subtle, spare details that express the power of the Sonoran Desert, plus other allied ecoregions.

His is great aggregate material use, to define path from planter in understated elegance. See the steel edging and borders? I didn't think so. Reducing to only that which is necessary always adds design power!

Tropical meets standard Arizona pool meets Canary Islands meets Sonoran Desert meets global desert. Yes!

The shadows here from all the sculptural plants, in this clear and piercing desert light - priceless!

Well cared-for, from the owners vision, the designer, and maintenance.

I enjoyed the Sunday garden tour. But more things to enjoy and get inspired by, as I engage in sensory endulgement. And a cool Monday morning ride in the northern reaches of Mesa, on a delightful, rolling trail via mountain bike...

With former colleague, still friend, Dan. I stayed with he and his wife Lori during this trip, and we got to catch up. A brutal few years...

Heard of nurse plants? This Ironwood once protected a younger Saguaro. And our unique southwestern desert sky.

The number of photos at each house do not really indicate any preferences. I actually just felt like showing those photos, as this is only scratching the surface. Great design elements abounded everywhere, as well as some elements or design I didn't get into, as well.
Design is not all subjective; there are real, proven design principles.
It is refreshing to see so many designs that strive and care about excellence. I'm privileged to be a designer who does care - allied with the like-minded, even if most are elsewhere and I don't know them in person.

As to these gardens, and others during my Phoenix trip, expect to see more posts on their details in the future!
- - -
To read more past Garden Designers Roundtable posts, click HERE. And please join me in visiting the insights of my compadres!

First, our guest for the month:
Fern Richardson: Life on the Balcony: Orange County CA

Next, my fellow roundtablers:
Susan Morrison: Blue Planet Garden Blog: East Bay CA
Susan Cohan: Miss Rumphius’ Rules: Chatham NJ
Scott Hokunson: Blue Heron Landscapes: Granby CT
Rochelle Greayer: Studio G: Boston MA
Rebecca Sweet: Gossip In The Garden: Los Altos CA
Lesley Hegarty, Robert Webber: Hegarty Webber Partnership: Bristol UK
Genevieve Schmidt: North Coast Gardening: Arcata CA


  1. Welcome to the Designers' Round Table and thanks for taking us along on the Phoenix visit. It was, as always, interesting to read your 'take' on the various aspects of landscape design. Always an eye for the paving, shadows. Almost felt as though I was there in that searing heat and on the lookout for the shady cool spot that is a must.

    1. Thanks! And you're welcome...I can't wait to dig into various garden concepts from that trip...and there's more than the tour! Isn't it interesting how on a <75F day, it "looks" searing there?

  2. What a wonderful tour to kick off your first Round Table post in such good company!

    Thank you for visiting and commenting on my quercifolia post. You gave me an idea to post about our native oaks, including the evergreen Live Oaks that shade the Coastal Plain.

    1. Thanks, and it is an honor! (I still have many past GDRT posts to read...) You bet, I enjoy seeing what you are watching unfold with the seasons, as I have a friend in Savannah (ex-Floridian) who keeps me informed, and it seems much like your area. I look forward to your post on your various oaks...esp my favorite, live oaks!

  3. Congratulations David! A well-deserved recognition to officially join the Garden Designer's Roundtable!

    Excellent analysis of what makes a desert garden work and as always you tie it together with the architecture. Each garden is well done in its own way and I enjoyed seeing them all.

    Thanks for the link and the attribution. I look forward to more of your posts on on the Roundtable.

    1. Thanks so much, down in San Antonio! You bet...nothing like the internet, where you can comment live from 900+ miles away down I-10, and we can share thoughts.

      There will be more on that Phx trip, and some day, another SA trip.

  4. Very good tour. And, more to learn from your take on design.
    Congratulations on becoming a Round Table contributor.

    1. Thanks so much, and there is much more, much deeper in the future. Each of those homes impressed me...maybe future posts, I can take a google maps aerial view of each garden, and key the photos to it?

      (I meant to do that with Rockrose, but I do have more to share on their garden:-)

  5. So glad you've officially joined the Roundtable! Love the tour...but of course it's garden #6 which really speaks to me, even the house looks "groovy" the photo of the plants about to take over the pool (which looks like it could have been just a touch smaller).

    1. I can almost hear that "knights of the round table" song on "Monty Python and the Holy Grail"! #6 was the favorite of more attendees that I heard, I think because of the passionate use of succulents, and how it was at a typically-scaled ranch home.

  6. My favorite part? The cooling touches of blue, and dark juxtaposed with bright. Hard to decide which garden I'd pick to relax in. Probably the one where you're indulging in bread and wine. :-)

    1. very interesting - I noticed the use of intense blues in tiles and color accents there, and your explanation makes sense. I also like the idea of relaxing at that one house, especially once that olive matures!

      Most homes had ample outdoor furnishings that were sized amply...a very common feature in southern AZ.

  7. Oh how I love that dark blue - it's calling to me right now! Thanks for such a wonderful tour of different homes and gardens. I'm a sucker for cactus and always love seeing your photos - thanks! Now I'm off to find my own glass of wine….

    1. It reminds me of that garden in Morocco! You bet, and I hope you enjoyed sips of wine surrounded with succulents. Regardless you have The Mixologist nearby... Clink, clink!

  8. Thanks for taking us along with you on your garden tour. Here in CT it's a chilly 35 degrees outside but I can feel the warmth of the desert air emanating from your photos. It's so interesting to see how some homeowners have really embraced the desert setting while others seem to be in denial. It would be interesting to find out if those with the most lawn have ties to the east coast, where lawn grass is still king. It can be difficult to break free from our ingrained images of a 'garden'.

    1. You are welcome! We've had so many chilly springs lately, I'm enjoying this warmer one. Barely warm enough at dawn to have windows open...perfect until 11 am, then too warm until 6 pm!

      I think you are onto something. Depending on where in the southwest, the look of lawn-large shade trees is mostly from midwestern or northeastern influences.

      Where I live, the 1930's started that look...a past mayor was from Oklahoma or Ohio, and planted elms and lawns all over town. The wealthier from elsewhere, often desertiphobes, moved here to escape asthema (healthseeker era) and/or have a real job but be near Santa Fe's art colonies, came. Over the decades, they planted lawns, or more recently, prairie meadows, to fight back the desert they think we are not, or should not be.

      But slowly, nature is winning. So much easier to celebrate where one is.

      Interesting topic you bring up, as well as on your posts. Much to ponder and put out there! Thanks for your insights:-)

  9. So many of your posts should be in major magazines. Your work, words/photography, would elevate THEM.

    It's your duty to submit.

    Ha, something else for you to-do list.

    Garden & Be Well, XO T

    1. Thanks, I am grinning, as you made my day! Well, time to move into the book, publishing, etc in my free time...or carve out some free time:-) I choose to accept that commission, General P. Barbuda!

      While never stopping designing and honing my practice / profession!

  10. David, that last garden is so exuberant in planting style that it wins my heart. But the first house, with the deep, shady porches, is the one I'd want to live in. Adding to my own skimpy front porch soon -- more protection from the Death Star!

    1. I favor that last garden, too, though I wanted more of a shade ramada or something. It was a small lot with an old-timey "pool close to house" situation, so perhaps no room?

      Today, when the sun decided to reappear at 1, as I started my ride, it felt far too hot...only low 80s, but those solar rays! Garden #1 was perfect for that cool, dark feel. I'll try to find my pics of a similar space in the Calif Desert you would really like...the visitor's center patio and entrance at Anza Borrego State Park.

  11. Oh that house #6! Fabulously first rate. Thanks for the tour!

    1. It was amazing, and I hope I can meet #6's designer some day. Most of the succulents at that home look so good, they could be in Sunset Z 23/24!

  12. My spouse and I absolutely love your blog and find a lot of your post's to be exactly I'm looking for. Does one offer guest writers to write content in your case? I wouldn't mind producing a post or elaborating on most of the subjects you write about here. Again, awesome web site!
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    1. Thanks for visiting - many interesting topics on gardens and outdoor spaces in the high desert, and I hope more will report on it, especially native plants.

      Feel free to contact me via e-mail (in my profile), and maybe I can entertain a guest post or two?

  13. Fascinating! Some stunning pics here and some great design points. Thanks so much!

    1. You are welcome...I only wish I could jet-set to garden tours for a living! But designing and taking a tour break a few times every year is good enough.

  14. Congrats! You have a beautiful blog and I enjoy reading your posts. Your kitty picture is adorable.

    Petittie Garden Centers

    1. Thanks for visiting and your comment! Not sure of the cat picture, but there might be one lurking somewhere...

  15. Great Blog dear totally in love with it.

    1. Thanks for stopping by, and I appreciate your comments!


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