Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Masses Last

Low maintenance. Tight budget. No time. (and, now) Sustainable.

Few ask me directly to design anything other than the above; it's assumed in this hard country called the high desert. But those who do ask for something else - sans the budget part - do so indirectly, by wanting many inappropriate elements. I didn't sign up for this when I changed my college major at 19, but...

On a recent Austin trip, I planned a meeting with an architect client on the return drive - an addition to an existing El Paso hospital project I originally designed to meet City code.
Most of the native bones are holding together or growing, but the flowering accents are gone. The latter were also tough, but the size and impact of bold, succulent and woody trump herbaceous under common maintenance mindsets.

Masses of boulders, from the same parent material as the landscape gravel mulch, rest firm.

Blue Grama / Bouteloua gracilis used as ornamental bunch grasses, similar to how
it grows on gentler upland slopes of nearby Chihuahuan desert grasslands,
as well as the Torrey Yucca / Yucca torreyi across the drive.

The grama grasses can and do get stepped on, and can easily recover. Masses.

Chinese Pistache / Pistacia chinensis is starting to show off it's autumn best in
many parking lot islands, soon to read as a unifying, open mass.

More Blue Grama used in the narrow parkway, by others and too tight for most plantings. These have been maintained a bit harshly, but as with foot traffic, they can recover from it better than other plants.

And positive spaces (masses of grasses in blocks), divided by negative spaces (landscape gravel).

Passing traffic creates a dancing movement in the Blue Grama, even if the uber-winds of the high desert miss a day. The way the eyelash seedheads read in low light angles is nice, too.

This variety is 'Hachita' , selected from areas to the west, after a mountain range of the same name. This was long before boutique names were given by the ambitious, at designer prices. (at least at some nurseries...I couldn't resist!)
At the front entry, it was to be many years before the next building addition - an in-patient tower - was to be built. So, I picked up on curvilinear forms inside the building behind the glassed wall, and carried them out via colored concrete paving, a swirling band of exposed aggregate concrete, and the red seat wall / garden wall arc.

Masses of Blue Grama grasses, accented by the Sotol / Dasylirion wheeleri and Red Yucca, are holding up; Texas Red Oak trees, though, aren't. The winter of 2011 took out the Blue Ranger / Leucophyllum zygophyllum 'Cimarron', once massed behind that wall. All failures perhaps in consort with the maintenance, irrigation operations, and rabbits!

No big deal, now. Construction on that tower is begin this winter, in the broad area beyond that curved wall, along with a reconfigured drop-off drive and landscape space, which is partly what I met on - to revisit and refine some portions of the design. My fountain is no longer to be built here, as well as some other amenities...maybe for the new tower? Cut!

And I think the second take on this will be good, with continued communication, rethinking what worked and didn't. 
And you can bet I'll visit this maintenance issue on this overall project and plants.

I also didn't sign up for the sotols getting turned into pineapples, where there's ample room to develop to full size and impact. Thank you, masses of grasses, wall mass, and light / shadow. No one can stop the latter pair in the high desert!

I'm honored to build on what's left, hopefully to get my vision, the owner, and maintenance crews to dance together.


  1. Good luck with those maintenance crews, lol!

    1. Thanks for the reality check, not to mention, "¿Habla Español, David?" I'm no longer seeing any Wheeler in that Dasylirion, either.

  2. OH NO...that poor Sotol...what were they thinking? Actually, the problem is that they weren't thinking. LOVE the Grama Grass...I never tire of seeing it in your designs...especially against a wall...perfection.

    1. Craaazy on the pruning, unless that's the effect one really wants. Here, it is taking time to do that from time better spent making sure the irrigation is working, plants are healthy, trees are growing, etc. Grama grasses - thanks, and that reminds me to get pics of the masses of Giant Sacaton along the freeway...before maintenance crews hack them into balls!

  3. Looks good, great inspiration ideas. Nice use of grasses as always.

    The poor, sad sotol. There's no reason to cut it up, you gave it plenty of room.

    1. Thanks...I left out the bad parts for another post...can you also believe Texas Sage was virtually annihilated? That takes some effort.

  4. I've got to get to bed, it's 22:07 here Well 10:00PM

    I love these types of plants with kool looking building architecture like that, Love the contrast of those colours and I was noticing the bunch grasss along the roadway. If some stupid idiot fool throws his cigarette out the window and they all catch fire, no problem, they are all self repairing in a week or so.



    1. Thanks - I hope the whole combination of elements you note add some visual jalapeño or green chile, to spice up the Nordic day! Most everything's top growth gets so dry out here, it might all catch on fire, especially if dormant...if it were cacti or iceplant, it might be eaten by jackrabbits or stab someone.....