Monday, June 25, 2012

Garden Designers Roundtable: Texture

This month's Garden Designers Roundtable is a topic often stressed.  


Texture is so timely, as it is dormant season #2 in Albuquerque - summer. It's usually wasteful in effort, time / money, and water resources to pretend we are somewhere cool and/or wet enough to carry out past garden mindsets. But it's always more informed and successful to embrace what looks great without flowers or an addiction to irrigation; a garden that reflects the power of it's place


Good use of texture holds a space together when foliage and flowers cannot. 


Rough is an acquired taste to many where I live, especially the desert phobe. But once people become savvy with where they are, to include this vital element in the garden, they rarely go back. Unless they go back to where their hearts long. I wish.












The ubiquitous stuccoed block wall, and bold foliage say all; rough-on-rough, as it contrasts in color...blue-green vs. a reddish-brown. The imprints on the leaves from other leaves, before they all unfolded. That particular agave is not perfectly Agave scabra nor Agave salmiana...I think it is some funky cross between the two. But regardless, how about those hooked spines? Rough!




Soft is what most everyone craves, even the roughest among us. But without the rough, soft is mostly powerless. Yin and yang. 


The pink seedheads of desert native Bush Muhley / Muhlenbergia porteri softens the chollas reaching upward from the bajada made of various sizes of decomposed granite. Bajada =  alluvial slope or pediment; a gravelly texture, but no photos of that.


In a Jimmy Zabriskie design, related species do the exact same thing in El Paso as in the natural example in Albuquerque, above.


Ocotillo / Fouquieria splendens pierces that blue sky, and another pink grass softens the base - this time Gulf Muhley or Regal Mist Grass / Muhlenbergia capillaris 'Regal Mist'. I can tell Jimmy hikes, sees what works together, and then abstracts it all, too. 



I was unable to explore some other textural elements, such as fuzziness or smoothness, as those go too much into floral aspects, which I chose to leave out, for now. It borders on infernal outside, and I want you to get the full effect!




Light is something the southwest has - somewhere between too much, and almost-too-much; rarely is there not enough light. To me, sunlight softens plants and hardscape early and late in the day, and this can be used to great effect with well-placed spots to use equally well-placed edges and plants.














Please ignore those flowers, as it was a March photo, the end of our dormant season #1 - winter. But you know that!




Shadows are probably not texture, but to me, they are where one can pause to see texture.


Shadows make every form within it hard to read from being out in the blinding sunlight. Yet they beckon one to come into their presence, to feel cool and see more.  This time of year, this aspect of texture is saving the best for last. I think it means rest.







When I was designing the exterior of this building at UNLV in Sin City, the design team at my office at the time, Dekker Perich Sabatini, kept discussing the intense light. 


Las Vegas is lower elevation and slightly further north than Abq; it's extra dust due to being even more arid than here, and denser lower elevation air holds more dust - all of that scatters light. As the sunniest major US city, that's a great deal of light to scatter. 


Rock salt finish concrete was used, with Davis "San Diego Buff" integral color added - is pitted a texture? Sandstone from nearby rock formations was used for low seat and garden walls, as well as bands to break up the concrete expanse, obviously a sandy texture. And this allows one to see the now-dormant Desert Marigold catch light against the smooth wall shadow.







OK, I did use some other textures, after all...


A view from the front door...the sandy texture appears again, due to decomposed granite I specified to serve as both mulch and walking areas. Only soft Deergrass plants and the walls on different radii define where a person can go.







Places to ponder texture, or just cool off. It gets to 115F briefly most summers in Las Vegas, and 100-105F is the norm for 3 months.


Considering summer starts there as early as mid-April, and might not end until mid-October, that encompasses a few months of the fall and spring semesters, and the entire summer semester.

Now, the first view one has entering the Science and Engineering building, shown last so you can consider how to use darkness to relieve the present and upcoming weeks of dry heat and endless sun to come. And see how I invited you in.







One wall in the shade, other in the sun, mimicking canyon walls that inspired this to me.


Feathery, but young, Western Honey Mesquite / Prosopis torreyana growing upward and outward, in the shallow water harvesting basins - sure to extend the shade near the building. That's it for me. Stay cool, always discovering what grabs you!


Please visit my fellow "Knights of the Roundtable" this month, to see their thoughts on texture!


30 comments:

  1. The death star has a broad range for its laser beam, as your descriptions make clear. We have issues here in central Texas with some people craving the SOFT gardens they see in magazines, to the exclusion of the SPINY, ROUGH plants that grow so well here. But as you rightly point out, "without the rough, soft is mostly powerless." I'll remember that line.

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    1. Yes and yessss! Even in winter-less places like San Diego, or esp. the tropics, where flowering plants hold their own, they use bold plants and great containers to get some bling!

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  2. It's funny my first reaction when I see your posts is I WANT THAT FAB PLANT, which would be ridiculously in the humid, temperate mid-Atlantic. Entirely the opposite reaction your posts are meant to inspire. But one of the great contributions of your blog (and your work) is to show that great gardens can be anywhere--even in the brutal desert. You just have to have an eye for the beauty of the place. And boy oh boy, you do . . .

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    1. I hear you, and the same thing out here, but that's half the fun of plant selection...finding what we can each do in shade, sun, etc that keeps the regional distinctiveness. Here, it's more spare than most still want, but glad AZ has gotten it. Someday...

      And thanks!

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  3. I will admit to feeling like I'm on an alien planet every time I look at your photos. I lust after agaves and some of the super cool low water plants you are able to use but don't relish the heat and hot sun they have to grow in. I'm conflicted no matter how wonderful the texture is...but then again I'm conflicted about a whole lot more than that.

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    1. Ha ha, or should I say, "live long and prosper"? This would be a fun blog post or article on how to create similar effects or appropriate effects for different places! Conflicted here, too, on many fronts.

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  4. When I think of your area, texture is foremost in the mental image...rock, cacti, grasses.
    I love those last photos. The feathery foliage of grasses and trees soften the hard surfaces of stone and concrete.
    Good post.
    Stay cool.

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    1. You also stay cool, or more realistically, less burning up! Yes, we are like you were last year every year...similar elements without thinner, more hidden or discrete amounts of green.

      Thanks - that last will hopefully mature nicely, though maintenance is already a concern at UNLV.

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  5. I am so thankful that I have you to introduce me to your planet David. :-) Compared to Seattle, this is a place that is SO foreign to me. I love it!

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    1. Space, the final frontier...

      Star Trek aside, I hope to showcase all the various dimensions and elevations of the southwest in garden-speak! First time I flew to Seattle in late September, we left 90's Abq and the pilot said, "rain and 54 degrees"...we high-fived each other!

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  6. David, I greatly admire how you handle your work, and your though process. It interests me that many of the same issues surface for designers in environments that are are so completely different. Thanks for your post, Deborah

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    1. Thanks so much, and I look forward to continuing to hone that process and design styles much more. Yes, similar issues and concerns, just different methods to handle.

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  7. Beautiful examples of the interaction between plants and the spaces along with light and dark. Many front doors around here are set back, welcome into the cool shadows...

    Desert plants are definitely an acquired taste which I am warming to after much resistance and I'm a native. The xeric perennials are struggling again this year so I'm going to replace more of them with cactus.

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    1. Thanks! What's interesting is that we have a mix of dark and light tones here, but in the northwest, they do everything interior with light or white.

      Yes, but not a desert native. I think you can do some things with plants we can't, but cacti, even a nice clump of cacti (or a tall yucca) in a container, can really stun, too. Funny how I see more of that in San Antonio than Austin.

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  8. I SO love the plants that grow where you live. What I wouldn't give to have an Ocotillo growing in my garden!! Thanks for taking us on a journey to your hot and arid climate, and showing us how beautiful the plants look - despite any love whatsoever from Mother Nature! Yay for Texture!!

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    1. Thanks! When I moved from San Diego to Albuquerque, I was thrilled to see that New Zealand Flax could be substituted by using Giant Hesperaloe...similar form. Even the granite boulders and their chaparral had a similar, though not the same, counterpart here. While some things would have no substitute. All to be celebrated!

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  9. Most excellent examples of light and texture. I will say this about the desert. It took me several years to acquire the "taste" of desert landscaping. Even though I loved it, I wanted my soft plants around me. Then we went to several places several rain forests in Central America....green everywhere.....I then realized that missed the structure and form of the cacti around me. When people had several tropical varieties of cacti growing around their landscape, I got excited and missed my plants back in Tucson. And let me tell you about color and agaves!!! Central Mexico has the most incredible design which heavily relies on Agave in the landscape. You will find these arrangements around Puebla or Oaxaca. If I head back this year, I'll snap some shots of this design. It's really nice. And the lighting!!! Very important....that shade also plays a big role with the eyes....especially on the concrete during midday. Another great post! We also got rain tonight which made many many people smile:)

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    1. Thanks - at first, I "needed" some lawn and certain ways of arranging plants. But once I became familiar with natural areas both in the desert and adjacent foothills, and others' really compelling designs (loose to tight to spare to lush), I woke up. The light...how to use it, I am barely into learning.

      I can't wait to see your examples from central Mexico!

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    2. I detest excessive green everywhere...however, in this concrete/asphalt isle most people think is great.

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    3. Only so much water, but even in a place with much rainfall, a landscape still needs some relief...negative space! I agree.

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  10. Right I am calling that REAL texture!
    Great post! LOve that UNLV design. Respect!
    Best
    R

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    1. Thanks, a bit scattered, rushed, and wrestling w/ blogger. But it made it...thanks, I like how UNLV came out!

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  11. Nice post!

    There were a few things that stood out that I've started to recently realize. I've began to walking/exploring(I'd call it hiking but Lubbock/Clovis are too flat) a lot of the natural landscapes. I understand why you enjoy hiking so much and where you get a lot of your inspiration from. Nature truly is the best designer.

    I've also recently becoming more involved in photography. I never thought it would help me with design but it has trained me to look at things in more detail. Shadows are just one of the things that REALLY stand out to me now. I think the forms cast by the shadows are in-themselves an important design element.

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    1. Thanks! Yes, gut-bust exercise in the wilds is a crucial inspiration, as are great designs. So much with light, shadow, and form. I do need to really ramp up my Pinterest and Picassa pages, not to mention my biz website for that.

      Please post on some natural areas near Lubbock and Clovis that grab and inspire you. Lived many years in Aurora CO, also high plains, and it was near impossible to find any natural areas...all intensive farming (winter wheat) or new development, except the Highline Canal and a few less-grazed ranches.

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    2. I have been so busy lately that I haven't had much time to post on Pinterest, Twitter, or even my blog. I need to get that updated also!

      I will for sure do that. I have quite a bit of pictures that I have taken between the two areas. Lubbock and Clovis are pretty similar but there are also some differences that I have noticed since living in both places.

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    3. I look forward to all that. I have plenty of my own refinements to do in the meantime!

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  12. Thank you, David, for being an on-going champion of genus loci! I especially love your insights and use of shadows. Our high elevation garden designs need more of that thought process ...

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    1. You are most welcome! I guess I am so passionate about it, since I need to get it even more. (can't wait to apply the Colo front range / high plains / mtns genus loci at Pro Green:-)

      I think so - if it weren't for the pueblo revival architecture as a backdrop to many landscapes and gardens here and esp in Santa Fe, the outdoor spaces might not suggest anything special about their own place. You are onto something I sometimes suggest - lower elevations get it more, but I think higher elevations have more drama to potentially work with. Like Denver vs. Wash D.C.

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  13. I love reading about your definitions of soft in the context of your garden conditions -- everything is relative, isn't it? I do love pairing the hard, structural plants or hardscape elements with soft plants and plants with very different textures. Then each can stand on its own.

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    1. Very true - I do like contrasting different materials. I need to post some on when everything is right, perhaps during our summer monsoon season, and the plants are at their lushest...it is really soft. 6 summers ago, we had so much rain, that some hills between here and El Paso looked like Ireland...most every shade of green in the book. And I lost those pics...

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