Archive for March 2014

Patio Dining by Candlelight

Hello again everyone, I’m back from yesterday’s flattened state of mind and things today are looking at least half inflated.  Progress.


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With warmer nights upon us, it’s time to start dining outside at night! I love this time of year – it’s cool enough to have a small fire in the chiminea but not so cool that you need to bundle up (plus, no mosquitoes for a few months!).  And, these nights are made all the more dramatic with candles, lanterns, and string lights (everyone can benefit from a little drama).  We’re about to set up a very modest yet delightful shade structure in the backyard, which will also provide the elements necessary to hang various types of lights.  I might even add drop-cloth curtains and an outdoor sofa to really make it a deluxe entertaining space.  Now that I write this I’m feeling sort of motivated to get it done, so perhaps more on that in the next week or so.


For now, here are a few inspirational shots to get the juices flowing.  Do you have a comfortable outdoor entertaining space?  What are the essential pieces?


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On another note, I’m off to Havasupai Falls today through Monday!  First I’m meeting friends in Flagstaff where we’ll camp in their Volkswagon Eurovan (I get the loft), then we’ll spend two nights at the bottom of the canyon.  Should be pretty great.  I have a small secret, which is that I really don’t love sleeping in a tent – I’m fairly certain the longest I stay asleep is 6 minutes, at which point my bones begin to hurt and I have to shift my weight around.  What’s the math on that after 8 hours?  But I do love a good hike, and this one is 20 miles round trip plus an exploratory hike on the middle day, so that all works out nicely (minus sleep deprivation).  So I’ll be taking exactly three days off from the blog and then I’ll see you Tuesday, renewed and rid of the life-flattening blues.


Any fun spring weekend plans for you?


See you soon!

Mental Health Day

sea scape aloe

Well hello, friends.  Today’s post is super short due to the fact that I’m feeling flattened by an assortment of ordinary things that add up to a bit of a black cloud.  I won’t bore you with the details, because honestly life is just fine.  It’s just that I’m blessed with a neural network that is constantly planning and assessing the next 70 years of life and all the variations that may occur, so that in itself becomes heavy.  Do you have that same affliction?  It’s the pits.

So for today I’m meditating on the beauty of this lovely aloe.  Isn’t it stunning?  If you can’t tell from the photo, it’s huge – like 3′ tall (4′ if you include the flowers) and 2-3′ wide.  I think it would look great as part of an “under the sea” plant palette, which I might get a chance to do for a client in the next couple months.  I was reading an article on numan on how plants contribute to our health. I’m pretty excited about that opportunity because we have a whole bunch of things that mimic sea plants and creatures.

That’s the whole show for today!  Have a good one – I’ll see you back here tomorrow.

Structure + Fluff : Pairing up Saguaro and Foothills Palo Verde

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Here’s a quick re-cap on the whole “structure and fluff” concept: too much fluff (shrubby, wispy, blurred-edges stuff) = boring, too much structure (architectural plants like agave, barrels, columnar cactus) = wildly expensive (but super cool, so if you can afford it I totally recommend an all-structure portion of you garden), but somewhere in between = magical and lovely.  Our Sonoran desert is a great mix of structure and fluff and it looks magnificent, so garner as much inspiration as possible by taking a walk in one of our desert parks.


The saguaro and foothills palo verde combination is one of the quintessential desert pairings.  The palo verde acts as a “nurse plant” for the saguaro as it is getting established, meaning it protects the young cactus from sun, erosion, and trampling by two and four-footed creatures.  So not only is it an aesthetically pleasing combo, it’s functional!


These are a few shots from Greasewood Park where you can see all stages of the saguaro and foothills palo verde pairing.  I recommend taking a nice walk out there before we hit May and it becomes similar to the surface of the sun.


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Do you already have this plant duo in your yard?  I have a number of foothills palo verdes growing, but they’re each about 6″ tall and I suspect it’s going to be approximately 200 years before I can call them trees.  I’m hoping to snag a few small saguaros from an upcoming cactus rescue to add to the backyard desert ecosystem currently in the works.


Hope you’re all having a fantastic Wednesday!  I’ll see you back here tomorrow for whatever nonsense I drum up in the coming hours.


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Residential Landscape Design Ideas – Check Out GrowDown!

This last weekend I had a chance to check out a residential landscaping design competition at our local botanical garden, and it was a real hoot.  I mean it!  It was a bunch of landscape and plant nerds and a great time was had by all, I even got the chance to meet an amazing gate repair redmond wa company.  I knew all three competing designers and they each did beautiful, thoughtful, and detailed design installations. the amazing bushes and trees surrounding the house get treated by the tree trimming palm  services.  If you’re in the market for some landscape changes or additions, I really recommend calling 24/7 tree services for them to take a look – I think the installations will be up for a few months (though, looking their best right about now).  You can get a whole slew of ideas – rain cisterns, shade structures, fire pits, native and edible plant palettes, patio furniture, chicken coops, trellises – honestly the whole works.  During visits like these you can discover amazing types of work like hardscaping, which is a type of landscaping that can enhance the appearance of your home or business and increase the resale value of your property. You’d be surprised that you can find a good hardscape contractor out there! What’s more, they list the dollar amount spent on each installation (not including design or installation fees – materials only).  They range from something like $2500 to $7500 spent on each of the 15′ x 20′ plots, so you can see how quickly (quality) landscaping adds up.  (On the money side of things, I sometimes recommend that people compare how much they would spend on a total kitchen remodel and relate that to how it’s possible to spend an equal or greater amount on an outdoor space).

So here are just a few quick comments from ngturf.com/bermuda/ on each of the three designs, and a couple not-so-great photos.  You really need to see this stuff in person to get the right idea.

This first space was done by Iylea Olson representing LJ Design & Consulting.  It features a fantastic shade structure (knocking out that south and west sun), a deck with comfy patio chairs, a rain water cistern, multiple edible and native garden beds, creative trellises with grape vines, a great metal fence done by a fence company and some fancy potted plants.  Love it!!  I want this in my yard, next time I do lawn care in my yard I will be sure to incorporate some of the things I just mention.

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Next up is an installation done by Maria Voris of Petrichor Design + Build.  As you can see, the main feature is a shade structure with a huge swing!  So fun.  In addition, the space has a rain cistern, privacy commercial chain link fencing, custom pathway pavers, rain harvesting basins, and some incredible structural plants.  Truly a relaxing space.

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And finally we have a design by Micaela Michado representing Solana Outdoor Living.  This outdoor space offers up a stunning rammed earth wall, a creative chicken coop, gabion + rebar planter walls, a custom fire pit, designer furniture, and plenty of statement plants in ceramic pots.  What’s not to love?

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So get on over to the botanical gardens and take a look.  You’ll come away with plenty of inspiration and motivation, especially since we’re in the full swing of spring.  Time to start some digging and planting!

Lookin’ Fly – Even More Wildflowers

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On Saturday nights my girlfriend works at Rocco’s Little Chicago, an independent and totally rad pizza joint.  I’m sure you’ve been and I’m sure you loved it, because what’s not to love.  Anyway, these are my treasured solo nights where I do the following things:  nerd out about this blog and decide what’s coming up next, eat a lot of really crappy and ill-prepared food, such as a can of whole stewed tomatoes covered in melted cheese, and watch some less-than-superb television, namely, Parenthood.  I can’t believe I’m recording that last bit in writing for the world to see, but honestly I love it.  At least, I loved it until my mate came home early and caught the last half of a recent episode and pointed out some things I can no longer ignore.  A – the camera is constantly panning down to the hands of the characters, I guess to emphasize how real and intense their feelings and interactions are.  B – as they’re all talking over each other, they’re mostly just repeating a few key words over and over.  This last episode I think it was “class,” “pants,” and “printer,” and each were featured  dozens of times in a row.  C – beyond the repetition, it was pointed out that the dialogue is “laboriously predictable.”  Okay, I actually knew that one but it has never phased me too much.


So now my Saturday nights might be reduced to blogging and eating gross food.  I might look in to adding a section to the blog about the gross food I prepare and eat.  Nothing like a touch of class.


What are your secret solo activities?


Okay, on to some plant stuff!


Clockwise from top left:

Spreading Fleabane – These are lovely, petite, happy spring flowers that look great rambling amidst your other desert plants.  Based on what I saw in a friend’s garden, they re-seed readily and do well on very little water.  I’m definitely adding this to my wildflower mix later this year (in seed form).


Tufted Evening Primrose –  Big, showy flowers like this are somewhat rare in the desert, especially outside of the cactus blooms.  There are lots of different kinds of primrose, many native to the West, but this one is a real treasure.  The petals look pink before they open, then turn to white, then back to light pink as they close up.  Each bloom lasts one day – opening in the afternoon/evening and closing by midday – so you have to get your fill during that window.


Paperflower – This is a super tough native wildflower, found by walking around in the desert areas just adjacent to development in Tucson (and lots of other areas, I’m sure).  They have wispy foliage and lemon-yellow flowers, and you can get some started in your own yard just by grabbing a few of the flower heads and waiting for them to dry out before tossing them in a basin with mulch.


Desert Bluebells – Such great color on these!  Not a lot of blue to be found in the desert, so these are a real treat when they pop up.  They have a pretty decent bloom time at up to a month long, and again are easy to establish by seed (just remember the nooks and crannies thing – almost no seed will get well-established on a flat/hardened/uniform surface).


Have a great Monday, ya’ll.  I’m off to install 10,000 lbs of rock, hopefully in 2 days or less.  Wish me luck and bodily strength.







The Sunday Snatch featuring California Poppy Seeds

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My partner in life and crime has informed me that today’s Snatch is on the boring side.  Maybe so for those of you who already have some of these beauties in your space, but still somewhat thrilling for anyone who’s looking to add something new and free!  Though, this mission definitely requires some ability for delayed gratification.


The California poppies in my yard have begun to slow down in the bloom department, but they’re gearing up as far as seed production goes.  So now’s the time to gather some up if you’re interested in getting them established in new areas.  If you’re happy with where they’re at, just leave them alone and they will continue on their merry way.  These types of flowers almost always come back completely from seed each year – the whole plant will die back and you’ll get a new one (or hundreds depending on how much viable seed each plant makes) next year.  It might be the case that the entire  plant survives year-round in some climates, but definitely not here in the desert.


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Okay, so what you are looking for are the long tube-shaped pods that form after the flower petals have dropped.  They will go from skinny to plump as the seeds mature, and eventually the tube will dry out and explode, acting as a sling-shot for its contents.  You want to catch the tubes when they are plump but still green – too thin and the seeds won’t mature as readily, too dry and the pod will most likely explode as you handle it.  It’s not terribly tricky business – once you check them out you’ll see what I mean.


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So, just start trimming the pods with some scissors, store them in a breathable container with a lid (I put mine in a Trader Joe’s cardboard coffee container – lid is essential or the sling-shot mechanics send your seeds everywhere) and forget about them until the first winter rain (at which point you can toss them about your yard – preferably where they can settle into some nooks and crannies, like between rocks or under some mulch).  Until then, it’s a good idea to store them somewhere dark and dry, like a closet.  You’ll hear them pop open as they dry out.


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Happy seed hunting to you!  You’ll be pleased next spring when you see your sleuthing put on display.

Have a great Sunday, everyone.  I myself will be charting out the spring “to-do” list: re-coating the roof, patching adobe cracks, digging footers for a shade structure – all the stuff that becomes somewhat impossible in May/June.  Soaking up the 80 degree days while they last!

Adding a (tiny) Splash of (non-native) Color

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So I know just a couple days ago I carried on about our native plant palette, and how desert color comes and goes, and how we all have to come to appreciate the multitude of gray-greens that surround us.  But I love petunias.  And they are so far from native, or near-native, or desert-adapted.  I love them and I’m going to always have one fun pot of them on my front porch because I’m not soulless or completely dead inside.  They smell fabulous and they come in the most vibrant colors, and after all it’s just one pot.  By June I’ll have a small grudge against them because they’ll need a pitcher of water about 3 times a day, but for now they make me happy with their tropical flowers and happy green foliage.

Do you have a splurge pot?  Marigolds, perhaps?  Pansies?  Now is a great time to get these types of flowers growing – the nights are warm enough and the days aren’t scorching.


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Have a great Saturday, everyone.  I hope you get at least a few moments to relax and soak up some Spring sun.

The Multiverse + Craigslist Patio Round-Up

Have you taken a look at the April issue of National Geographic?  If not, you’re missing out on a fancy removable insert depicting the progression of our universe from the size of a golf ball to its current detectable size (the edge we’re aware of is 47 billion light years away).  They also throw in the idea that we may be part of a multiverse, and that “our cosmos may be one in a sea of others just like ours – or nothing like ours.”  This stuff simultaneously freaks me out to the point of hysteria and completely calms me to the core.  I’m trying to grasp and maintain the latter stance for now.  Helps me realize that A. if we blow it on this version of Earth, maybe we really can get a do-over elsewhere, B. I’m glad I have plenty of opportunity for distractions so I don’t go crazy thinking about the multiverse, and C. next time I get to feeling bad about the million-odd things that have gone wrong so far in my short life (I want those hours of reading a Nicholas Sparks book back – seriously) I can meditate on the fact that we, meaning all of us and all of everything, were smashed together into a golf ball glob at one point and attempt to feel the warm fuzziness of that experience.


What about you?  Does space give you the jeebs?  Given the chance, would you take a space holiday? (nope)


Okay, so here are a few delights from the Tucson craigslist interwebs this week.  Some are awesome, and I want you to invite me over for a cocktail party when you have purchased them.  Others will be snapped up by yours truly.


“Real Art From Prison” – $100

I’m going to start off with a bang, because why not.  The only thing I’m going to say is that I found this by searching “plants” in craigslist, so surely some wires were crossed when this listing was posted.  Rather than insert my own commentary, let’s let this guy do his own explaining: “I have these 2 peaces of art they r drawn on a new sheet with a pen my roomate drew them when i was in prison they are verry detailed of naked wemen and weed plants dnt wana get rid of them but wife wont let me hang them up i Want a 100 for them.”  Anyone want to go in on this?  I love that these ladies are lazing about in a pile of weed foliage!  Brilliant.

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1960s Furniture Set – $230

Love this set.  And I think the price is pretty fair, right?  Perfect for a small patio on a hot summer night.

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Tulip Table – $495

Obviously I’m a sucker for Mid-Century furniture, but this looks like it’s in really good restored condition (8 new coats of paint?!?) and the ad says they typically go for more than double this price.

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Gothic Lamp – $295

Look at this fantastic lamp!  It has six different colors of stained glass and I find it totally enchanting.  I imagine you need a series of bolts and hooks to support the weight (they think it came from a church at some point), but I think it would look so nice amongst some creeping vines and potted plants.

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6′ Tiki Statue – $150

I’m not totally joking around on this one, just like I wasn’t joking with the dragons from a few weeks ago (those are still available, by the way).  I think if you’re going to go for some garden art, really just go for it.  One huge piece that attracts some attention is so much more pleasing than a bunch of trinkets spread around like flies on cow patties (all that buzzing is distracting).  So if you’re in the market, why not this guy?  Tuck him in with some shrubs and boulders and forget the BigLots metal butterflies.

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Patio Lamps – Assorted Prices

I really enjoy a good estate sale, especially when they feature large and mysterious collections of unrecognizable (to me) objects.  What I do recognize, though, is that I love lamps and I will probably need all of these lamps at some point in my life.  A table lamp (or 4) really brings a touch of romance to a covered patio, and even more so when they’re old and rusty.

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“Death Chair” – $1

Again, I happened upon this mysterious ad as I was searching for “house plants.”  I imagine it’s a hazard of trolling craigslist.  Well, whatever this project was supposed to look/function like, it’s now up for grabs if you can scrounge up a 12 pack of Bud Light to trade.

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Happy weekend deal-hunting everyone!  I’ll be heading to the Tucson Botanical Gardens tomorrow morning to take a look at the Grow Down competition.  Head on over if you’re looking for backyard design ideas, should be pretty great.

The Quest for “Lush”, “Green”, and “Colorful” Landscapes in Arid Regions

I get these requests all the time, and actually part of me is going for the same thing in my own space, but with a different set of parameters in mind.  Lush, green, and colorful can all be achieved in the arid West, but they come with some asterisks.  I mean this in the nicest way possible, but if you’re looking for tropical foliage, dark green grass, and ever-present blooms, I hear Hawaii is real nice.  How about we all go soak up the rainforest for a couple weeks, take note of the vastly different ecological conditions, then come back with renewed appreciation for our lovely deserts and western landscapes!  You pay, I’ll blog about it.

Now, I also want to get something else straight.  I keep hearing about the California drought on the radio, and the conversations invariably boil down to residents either having grass (old model) or cactus (new model) as landscape plants. Check this index if people need the best landscapers.  People can read and learn more about commercial landscaping design here. I’m going to take two minutes to expand on that today, but more in relation to southern Arizona (though plenty applies to CA as well…along with most of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah…you get the idea).  Yee haw! People can also check this contact form, if they need goo landscape services.

lush desert

 Lush: We can do lush.  In fact, the Sonoran desert in particular has some very lush areas, including those in and around Tucson.  If you were to take a walk in Greasewood park, on the west side of Tucson, you would see bountiful vegetation.  The mix includes saguaro, foothills palo verde, triangle leaf bursage, jojoba, hopbush, prickly pear, ocotillo, mesquite, acacia, creosote, and dozens (hundreds?) of other plants packed together.  It is far from the iconic wind-swept dunes of the Sahara.  And it’s a variety of plants that is infinitely more interesting than whatever you can import from other climates that may or may not survive long-term.  The key to achieving this type of lush look in your outdoor space is to reintroduce complexity, by which I mean nooks and crannies, a small bit of topography, passages for water to flow through, and a mix of rocks of all sizes.  I’ll hit on that in another post because it’s a biggie.  But trust me, we can do lush.


 Green:  Being the plant nerd I am, I took my Behr paint color book outside and checked out the actual hues of green in my yard (p.s., I don’t work for Behr, I swear, but they make some great paint like ones at Archute services.  You don’t even need to get the paint + primer they offer, just go for the normal flat finish and you’re in business.  Low odor, zero VOC, the whole nine.  Plus, you can get a color sample book for free!  Behr, call me, I will work for you).  Our plants tend to be olive green, gray green, and other shades that are better at deflecting some of the sun’s potent rays.  You might get some of the traditional grass-green color in small bits, or on plants that thrive during the monsoon and then fade back into brown.  So we all just have to adjust our expectations of what we mean by “green” and come to appreciate “Mother Nature” (actual Behr color that matches many of my shrubs).

prickly pear color

Colorful:  We’re never going to have the same brand of color as you see in botanical gardens across the Pacific Northwest, Midwest, South…I guess actually most of the rest of the United States.  The scenario we have in the West is much more subtle, with pops of ridiculous color here and there as plants gain the energy to put on a show.  You will definitely see hot pinks, rich yellows, saucy oranges, and every other shade you can think of, but they will come and go as seasons and patterns permit.  You have to soak it up here and there – orange globe mallow this month, yellow palo verde blooms next month, white Saguaro flowers in May and June – the colors are fabulous and somewhat fleeting.  So yes, we can do color.  Not the azalea and dahlia kind, but a palette that is strictly ours that reminds us of the seasons and the sun.

That’s all for today, folks.  Riveting, I know.  Tune back in tomorrow for some craigslist high jinks!

Year-Round Dipping Pools + Bionic Backs

It’s about that time of year where I’m dreaming of some kind of major back-muscle intervention.  I’m thinking we just take out the whole latissimus dorsi, seen below, and replace it with Spider-Man webbing.  Surely someone in the world is working on this, and I’d like to volunteer to be first in the trial run.


On a related note, wouldn’t a year-round dipping pool be so nice?  I don’t think we’ll ever take the full plunge into installing either a hot tub or swimming pool (so much water and maintenance), but it would be really awesome to have a well-designed vessel that can be used as a replacement for both.  Heated in the winter (some achieve this with a wood fire!), left as-is in the summer (add ice if needed when 110 degrees), and emptied when not in use (into a basin with trees, of course).  I guess I’m talking about an over-sized outdoor bathtub, but with a  nicer look and function.  I would love to hop in one tonight and give the Icy Hot a rest.  It’s starting to get a little stink-tastic in the house with all that menthol in the air.

Anyway, feast your eyes on these gems:



Outdoor bathtub





#4 (not that glamorous but pretty affordable…we could jazz this up a notch)


#5 (okay this one is a little bigger than what I’m picturing, but it’s rad, and it looks like it can dump into the happy trees around it)

Trees are really vital for they give us oxygen, store carbon, stabilize the soil and give life to the world’s wildlife. They also provide us with the materials for tools and shelter. I suggest not to cut them away, let’s just trim them with a tool like axes for splitting and chopping woods so they can still stay for some more years.

Do you also dream of something like this?  Once June arrives (or April if we’re being really honest) we’ll all be wishing for one.  If you’ve already got some good ideas about this kind of thing, hit me up!  I’m ready to work out the details.

Have a great day, everyone.  I’ll see you tomorrow (unless it turns out I head in for a full musculoskeletal transplant).

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