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 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!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Agave havardiana

Big Bend or Havard Agave / Agave havardiana may be the largest agave cold hardy into dry areas of USDA zone 6 and even 5b:
Peter Wong and Ted Hodoba checking out Ted's seed-planted specimen years ago, at his property in central New Mexico, where it's a warm USDA 7 / Sunset 10; a dead ringer for hardiness. 

They like full sun to a half-day of it, and they need room...since the plant gets 4' tall x at least 5' wide, give it a 6-7' area. Softer low water-use wildflowers and low shrubs can soften it at the edge of it's mature spread and mingle with the bold agave. In the wild it grows on foothill slopes in desert grassland and with small junipers and oaks, mostly over 4000' in elevation; it can also take Phoenix heat in part shade. It thrives in full sun from Santa Fe to at least El Paso.

The first Havard Agave that I witnessed flowering, 2002 in NE Abq: 
The same one later on. Bold enough? The flower stalk is 20'+/- tall: 
Havard Agave is quite common in Abq, though some appear to be natural crosses with smaller species and not as large as others.

Another nice specimen; I recall this one at the UTEP Chihuahuan Desert Garden since my first visit in 1998. A morning view:
Closer in: 
It pups, and so have mine: 
I've given some of my pups away, as well as planted a couple as free replacements of less hardier agaves around the house. 

The same El Paso plant, in the afternoon:  
With the advent of proactive nurseries growing them from seed, the greater southwest is assured of a vigorous plant. 

And hopefully, minimize the demand for such plants to be sold by ranchers, then dealers who make sure those are in Scottsdale or Albuquerque landscapes instead of where they belong - undisturbed on the hillsides of the Trans Pecos! 

You can read more on that - here and here 

Monday, June 18, 2012

Finish the Front

Over time, gardens change. This house was built in 1998, and since, plants have grown, others died, and ideas have been refined.

As the designer, I won't change and compromise it like some clients have (boo, hiss!), but rather, to improve it. Will it reach finality? 

Feel free to chime in with your ideas!

As I watered in new Nolina texana and Penstemon baccharifolius, weeds responded. But some installed plants, grasses and wildflowers, and those from nearby vacant land, also volunteered in. That's my cue.

The wispy grasses will be transplanted. The smaller forbs are mostly unwanted and will be removed. All will be neat again.
Neat, structured, yet naturalistic; not like a hospital, but balance.

The grass you ask? Purple Three Awn / Aristida purpurea:

I won't have to buy or special order this bunch grass,  native to all mountain bajadas from here to El Paso, and over many areas of the intermountain west's deserts, onto the great plains steppes and up to the sub-humid prairies.

So, what was here? No time to show each year, but the decade's shift follows. Some plants grew, others grew but were damaged by the record freeze and drought, others reseeded to a fault, and others died.

5/2001 - 

5/2002 -

5/2009 -

1/2011 -
6/2012, looking W -
It's time to clean up and "cherry it out" better than ever. I noted transplanting all Purple Threeawn to the parkway. Plus -
+ weed out undesirables and invasive non-natives
+ slow and use stormwater flowing downhill - water harvesting
+ define entry better, the gate out to the street 

At the concrete slab by the curb, I may add an Opuntia subarmata on either side, to relate to the one in the yellow pot. Those might be planted in the ground to add evergreen structure to the grasses, or be placed in matching pots to do the same but add height. I'll have to prune those Opuntia to keep them in-bounds, but like O. engelmannii, they get huge; may as well use the same species.  

I also have many Agave neomexicana pups and countless young volunteers of Penstemon parryi and  P. eatonii, that can be added at only the cacti, or to intersperse between the grasses. Thoughts?

6/2012, looking N - 

More native grasses are here; Fluffgrass / Erioneuron pulchellum in front can be relocated into more natural areas N of the house.

The parkway does not afford rare, hard rain to soak or flow in like it could. The granite and weed fabric used in 1998 to match other homes is OK. But the fabric does not prevent weeds; I knew that, but chose to pick my battles then; no developer or builder to answer to now.

I'll pull the rock out and stockpile it on the sidewalk, dispose of the weed fabric, and remove soil to create a 6" to 9" deep swale down the middle; I'll spread it on low spots on the lot. Every 10-15 feet, I'll try to slow the water flowing downhill, such as with buried CMU block..there's probably too much bedrock at the grade for buried hay bales.  

After planting the grasses and cacti, I'll put back the stockpiled granite. But no point in June! I'll wait for the cooler 90F and higher humidity of the monsoon season to attack it, repairing the landscape lighting first.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Foliage Followup - 6/12

Thanks Pam for your official monthly post celebrating all things foliage and form - check out other posts here.

Seeing my new landscapes can be disappointing without infinite construction budgets or huge initial plant sizes...especially on trees:
The young Gray Oak / Quercus grisea clump (front L) has downlights; the evergreen foliage is healthy, offering promise for this tree to grow moderately and vigorously. It will become quite the focal point for guests leaving their home most any evening - whether a chilly winter dinner, or a hot summer cocktail party.

The cottonwood's (distant R) coarser texture has uplights, and while existing and already over 25' tall, the rustling deciduous foliage is also nice to illuminate. At least before it's invasive roots tear up nearby driveways and pipes, and it is hopefully replaced by a real tree species...

Sandpaper Verbena / Verbena rigida, tough and gritty - an exception to larger leaves being less tolerant of our "wonderful" dry heat:

Green Brittlebush / Encelia virginensis out front is the focus now, since I am pretty sure anyone here knows Texas Sotol!! 
This is related to the Sonoran brittlebush or Incienso, though more compact with green foliage. And far more cold hardy. Several different species of green brittlebushes are found further west, but few are available at our nurseries. Someday...

This one is native to the Mojave Desert and Colorado Plateau Semi-Desert, but it sure likes my gritty, granitic soil and might be a problem, since it's spreading all over. Maybe it's the Vegas lounge music I play...well, at least Neil Diamond? I'll have to pull some volunteers off the adjacent lot muy rapido...

Yes, it's a weedy yellow aster / composite...but that's a bloom day post:
Remember the Spanish name for the Sonoran species? Well, the sandpapery foliage also has a scent of incense when crushed, though it is quite rough! If the humidity and wind are just right, I can sometimes detect it without harming any leaves.

With the windows and most blinds shut to keep out the heat, a solo Big Bend Agave / Agave havardiana faintly glows in the mid-day shadows, as seen from my desk. Those blinds stay up, since a shade ramada shields that window from the sun:

Parry Agave / Agave parryi - the rigid form contrasts the tan crushed granite path, echoing the finer-textured lavender hedge behind it.

I really like the bluish glow and the dark spines down each leaf margin. Equally appealing as seen with its stone, tinaja-like container:

And a fast look at a simple, home entry and circular drive planting I designed a decade ago in the Corrales sand hills:
Sand Sage / Artemisia filifolia softens down low, while Palm Yucca / Y. faxoniana (middle R) stands sentry and the Desert Willow / Chilopsis linearis (back L) softens up high. The first wispy and gray, the second bold and green, and the third with green, narrow leaves mottled by pink blooms and protecting people from that desert sun and endless blue sky.

Most of the above hold their own attractively in winter, by the way.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day - 6/12

Summer has been in place for a few weeks in Albuquerque and lower; typical in my 20 years here. 90F+ highs most days for over 2 weeks.

Thanks to Carol of May Dreams for another bloom day - here!

And summer in the high, Chihuahuan Desert was signaled this past week by - Soaptree / Yucca elata (near El Paso TX).

Soaptrees occur in the desert grassland and sandy areas of the Chihuahuan Desert, from central NM / Abq to Marfa to near Tucson. It may be the most common tree yucca  in landscapes. They're our only tree yucca I've seen native north of Artesia and T or C.

Soaptree / Y. elata (Belen NM, Sandia Mountains distant L)

Back at the house, Rock Penstemon / Penstemon baccharifolius 'Del Rio' is starting to bloom, though I should probably water rain gauge got .35" in the last 2+ months.  And Damianita / Chrysactinia mexicana keeps on, as long as it doesn't hit 100F.
Soon, this shall pass...late June and early July is often the hottest time here. Then comes summer dormancy until / if the monsoon cools it with moisture.

Red Yucca / Hesperaloe parviflora in pots have blooms that sway in the breeze, or when small birds land on the stalks to eat aphids:
Right out my home office window, every day.

Went to a garden tour in Corrales this past Sunday. Enroute, I had to see what could be salvaged for photos at two homes I designed way over a decade ago, due to exceedingly neglectful maintenance. Not much. But two features I designed - the Red Yucca mass and the adobe wall - worked nicely together. 

About the only thing of value on that tour's desert denial house was this rose. The shape and the fragrance for an oasis...oh yeah! 

OK, one more positive there - yes, an overused Autumn Sage / Salvia greggii, but with a color I don't recall + coral? 

Across the street - the sandy "soil" the last landscape attempts to alter, then flood. Northern Chihuahuan Desert native, Broom Dalea / Psorothamnus scoparius needs no such help. It only grows on sand, no matter how hard one tries on other soil types. 
I bet that plant might make good honey.

Poppy Mallow or Winecups / Callirhoe involucrata in an oasis spot, on another home garden on the same tour. 

Parry's or Mescal Agave / Agave parryi along the road...multicolored flower stalks are rare, but this species is far from rare. 
It's planted everywhere, as in at every few properties one can drive by in Abq. As common as junipers, lollipop trees, and yuccas. 

Sandpaper Verbena / Verbena or Glandularia rigida on yet another tour house's garden.

Yerba Mansa / Anemopsis californica on yet another tour garden.

This is one of the most widely-used herbal remedies, by regional curanderas and herbalists. It's native below 6000' along moister drainages in the southwestern US including Abq, and of course southern and central California. The scent is unearthly. You can Google its uses...

I visited a residential client's home one evening this week, to see her lighting in operation and how the plants fared from a late summer installation. Her Angelita Daisy / Tetraneuris acaulis (AKA Four-nerve Daisy in TX) looks finished with flowering until moisture, dead-heading, and/or cooler weather happens. But in the distance, the mass of Trailing Germander / Teucrium chamaedrys is still in bloom...nice!

And yesterday, as I was scouting weeds to pull while watering in new Rock Penstemon, the golden Damianita are still out. They've never flowered this long...5+ weeks. They are small since I cut all back hard this March, to just above the roots. Maybe that's why, not just the lack of real heat? 

Thanks for visiting. July will most likely look more bleak!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Desert Willow - Design Thoughts

Desert Willow / Chilopsis linearis is a common landscape tree in high desert cities, such as Albuquerque, El Paso, and Las Vegas NV.

It reaches the nicest proportions and character in the desert and southern high plains; in wetter locales, recent plantings may improve with time. Ours typically reach a 20' to 30' height and spread, casting filtered shade; in ideal conditions they get larger (like this older tree in an irrigated Bermuda lawn in Abq):

To those still not over being in the desert, they are considered shrubs, slow-growing, etc. That's more the case in drier sites. Even in cooler, semi-arid Denver, it grows back each year from the ground to about 10' high, used similarly to crepe myrtles in the lower midwest, where they are root-hardy but not top-hardy.

It's native to Desert Southwest arroyos, from just north of Albuquerque and Saint George, into low desert areas around Phoenix, Tucson, and Palm Springs. But due to the low desert's winter resort industry and greater evergreen tree choices, it's far less common in their landscapes - too deciduous. It is not native to "cold deserts", though I know of nice small trees in "banana belt" spots like Grand Junction.

A small, 10 year old tree growing on bedrock, with drip irrigation (a standard pink selection or 'Lucretia Hamilton'?):

As an arroyo tree, it's used to rare flashes of soaking water interrupting long, dry periods. That one's underplanted with Autumn Sage and Mescal Agave within gravel mulch, forming a companion planting of similar water needs for all roots.

The flowering shows up well against the green foliage and building shadows, showing that this is not a willow (Salix), but a desert member of the Bignoniacae family, related to Trumpet Vine, Catalpa, Cross Vine, and Yellow Bells.

Some minor winter freeze damage exists on this local native, but that simply means the owner needs to lose her fear, and prune out the dead branches and twigs.
Pink to burgundy are common, though most in the wild are white. It's a hummingbird and sphinx moth magnet. Some smell nice; most have no scent. 

Many forget mature size; plan for mature size and don't pretend "plants can always be 'pruned back' ". These are on 15' centers, which will overgrow as each matures and fail visually at roadway traffic speeds (the 'Warren Jones' selection, I think):

This El Paso streetscape has similar traffic speeds as the above example, but the designer understood mature sizes. These are spaced at 20'-50' centers; near mature heights and nicely-pruned (a standard white or pink selection):
Imagine this tree planted in depressed areas, using passive water harvesting off nearby paving areas to irrigate, as in nature?