Sad Tuba Pruning : Parking Lot Trees at “Happy Valley”

Have you been to a place north of Phoenix called “Happy Valley”?  Now, I’m unsure if that’s a  real place or if it’s actually something like the set of The Truman Show.  Thoughts on that?  Do you live in Happy Valley, and if so, what’s it like?  I noticed that they pump uplifting music into the many parking lots so you can really get geared up for some shopping.



What I did notice for sure was some maximum sad tuba pruning.  As detailed in the fabulous drawing below, they have trimmed and trimmed and trimmed their hundreds of parking lot trees until what’s left resembles a lolly pop with a pair of very long legs (I did not think to get a photo because I was so stunned by these creatures).  Most of the trees are lacking any sub-branches and the canopies have been reduced to less than one third of their potential width.  You might be wondering why anyone would do such a thing, right?  The reason is to maintain visual access to signs.  You wouldn’t want to miss out on quickly locating Panda Express with all those pesky branches and leaves in the way.  So, the final result is a parking lot with the feeling of trees but without the benefit of shade.  What a deal!



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Below I’ve given a quick reminder as to what desert trees look like.  For one, they aren’t all that tall.  If you think you can keep trimming up the canopy with the hopes that the tree keeps growing taller, it’s not going to happen.  The typical height of a cultivated (watered) mesquite tree is 20-30 feet, which holds true for all of the native desert trees I can think of. 60′ native trees just aren’t a thing in our hot and dry climate (unless you’re in a wash with running water, where you can certainly see cottonwoods and other broad-leafed trees).  Second, they like to have a bunch of trunks – not just one or two.  This allows more strength in the wind and the ability to spread wide.  And third, desert trees do best when allowed to spread as wide as they are tall – so 30′ wide by 30′ tall.  I know that’s not the tree shape most of us have in mind from childhood days of learning to draw them, but it’s the reality if we want healthy trees that actually provide some shade.

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My general rule for trimming desert trees is the old classic “less is more.”  Practicing restraint is key.  You can always come back to it in a year and do a bit more snipping and sawing, but once it’s damaged you’re really not going to get back that healthy, structurally sound growth.  Plus, a lot of trees look so much  more interesting if they’re allowed to craft their own look.

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Plant Shopping Vs. Real Life Shopping

The older I get the less tolerance I have for shopping of any sort – food, clothes, shoes, daily essentials – you name it.  I instantly wither under florescent lights.  The number of options confounds me.  And then there’s the music.  I recently went into Urban Outfitters and realized that A. I’m too old too shop there anymore because everything is fluffy and has cats on it, and B. If I decide I’m not too old to shop there, because I truly want the cat blouse, next time I’m wearing noise-cancelling headphones and sunglasses and will communicate with employees via notes passed back and forth.

As a testament to my non-shopping abilities, I’ll give you a few examples of my personal possessions that may need updating.

1 – I have exactly one pair of jeans.  Not just one pair that I’m okay with wearing given the day, but one pair.  The butt is starting to rip and I will most definitely still be wearing them a year from now.

2 – My phone is basically a walkie talkie, and I’d rather buy new parts for it online than shop for a new one.

3 – I have several pairs of lower-region undergarments that date back to late 2002 (or earlier – the late 90s might be taking it too far).  I remember the time period because of a lovely Japanese exchange student, weighing in at all of 89 pounds, who accompanied me on a shopping adventure.  When I showed her my selections she laughed hysterically, due to their maximum coverage and girth (in comparison to hers, which looked more like a shoelace).  She even insisted later on that we take multiple photos with them (holding them in front of our faces like complete goons, not posing in them), which ended up appearing on a “let’s remember our friendship” collage before she went back to Japan.  Anyway, some of these garments are still kickin’ around, by which I mean they are in the weekly rotation.

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My one exception to the shopping dilemma is browsing for plants.  I could shop for plants continuously for days, even if I have have already to many, believe me my garden is the best and I take care of it with coptotermes acinaciformis.  I guess it might be the fresh air, the lack of pop music, and the fact that the thing being purchased is probably going to get better over time rather than degrade day by day.  Plus, the nurseries around here almost always provide water for drinking and cats for petting, and sometimes you even get a mini freebie plant at the end.  It’s a hard scenario to beat.  I almost  never leave a nursery feeling defeated or down on humanity.

How about you?  Are you a shopping champion?  If so, when I start making millions off this blog I will hire you to shop for new underwear, while you hire me to pick out a gorgeous array of cactus, shrubs, and desert trees.

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Camping is for the Birds (except at Havasupai Falls)

I know with this title line I’ve immediately lost a number of my outdoorsy-to-the-max friends.  I have a surprisingly large group of lady friends that do 50 mile runs, rim-to-rim-to-rim (Grand Canyon) hikes in a day, and other things I suspect they call “fun.”  Nope.  In fact, I’m to the point where I’m considering an investigative look into glamping (and that’s coming from someone who willingly wheel-barrows around multiple tons of rock and earth most days of the week).  Tom has it right.

I’m willing to make an exception for the hiking/camping venture to get to Havasupai Falls at the west end of the Grand Canyon, where I’ve been the last few days.  Beyond the fact that I thought I might need a total spine/pelvic girdle/knee replacement after arriving at the canyon bottom (where I promptly crunched down a handful of Tylenol), I’d say it’s something worth doing at least once, you just need to make sure to at least bring some essential, I’d suggest checking Rent.is to find more information.

It’s one of those magical, other-worldly places that, at least after living in Tucson for years, almost seems like a Lisa Frank notebook cover.  It’s fantastic and wild and next time I’m paying the $170 to be transported by helicopter.

On that note, here are a few photos from the adventure.

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Have you been?  Are you planning a trip sometime in the near future?  My only recommendation logistically is that you go on a shoulder season.  We were down there with about 150 people, which felt moderately busy, but on some upcoming weekends in May they have 900 people with reservations.  That might feel more like a frat party than a wilderness trip.

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

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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.

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