Mo’ Money Mo’ Plants

It’s Thursday and it’s never too early (or late?) to throw in a B.I.G. reference.  I keep trying to hum the main chorus and my girlfriend keeps asking me if I’m humming the Star Trek theme.


Alright, now that we’re on a roll with talking about the financial parts of landscape changes, let’s get into a tiny bit of detail about the plants.  I’ve often thought, “oh, I just want a few plants to throw in the yard, nothing too crazy.”  Fair enough, right?  So, looking at this photo below, what’s your guess as to the total cost?  (I know you can’t see it all, but it’s generally a mix of yuccas, agaves, barrels, desert spoon, and some perennial flowers).






Well, you’re looking at 2 Gs worth of wonderland plants.  That’s right, $2,000.


Now, there is a slim fraction of people who say that sounds about right, or, oh, I would have thought more, when the topic of plant costs comes up.  Most people (including me) go in to some kind of shock that feels like a baseball bat to the chest set to the sound of a slot machine jackpot, except each “cha-ching” of the money coming out is actually the money being sucked from your wallet.  It’s nutso.


But, then I take a step back and I realize that they must have been growing most of this stuff for years – honestly, a very long time.   Because I bought my own 1-gallon desert spoon (the one you can see in the back right, below, which sells for $100) for $6 from Home Depot 5 years ago, and I actually think it’s smaller today (about 6″ diameter) than when I bought it!  No joke.  It has not done a single tiny bit of growing.  So you’re paying for someone’s patience and care and the ability to keep something alive in a pot for an unreasonable amount of time.  After pondering that factoid 100 bucks a pop doesn’t sound all that bad.


Of course there are other plant options, and other ways of making your space look good over a stretch of time.  A friend mentioned yesterday that you can get great, structural plants through the Tucson Cactus and Succulent Society (you go on a ‘cactus rescue’ and get the chance to come home with really cheap ocotillo, fishhook barrels, saguaros, and other fun stuff).  There are always ways you can pull things together.


Anyway, these plants pictured have now filled an entry garden to the house shown, maybe 400 square feet total, and they look stunning (if I do say so myself).  More photos of the final arrangement coming soon.




Enjoy your day!  See you tomorrow, everyone.

Running the Numbers on Landscape Design and Installation


running the numbers


Sometimes I get questions about what a person can get for $100 in relation to landscape stuff (design, plants, hardscape, whatever).  I’m totally with you on this, and the answer isn’t exactly “nothing.”  You could make some pretty decent changes to either your front or back space (not both – let’s not get too silly now) on a very limited budget.  So I’m going to break down a few financial thresholds and throw out my opinion on how you can start to make some changes to your space.



Okay, for 100 smackers I would say this:

*Start participating in the Sunday Snatch (you’ll like it, it’s fun).  You can amass a small (or large, if you’re like me) collection of low-water high-impact plants without spending a dime.

*Throw a plant exchange party that goes like this: invite 10 people to a beer + nachos + plants extravaganza.  Each person has to bring 10 of one type of plant that they can get out of their own yard (prickly pear, agave, pedilanthus, you name it) to donate to the cause.  Each person then goes home with 10 new specimens.  Bang-a-dang.

*Check out a bunch of library books on water harvesting and native plants.

*Draw yourself a plan as best possible (print out an aerial photo of your house).

*Do a whole bunch of digging to make basins and paths – this part is free!

*Buy yourself three 5-gallon shade trees ($35 each) and get them planted.  If you already have trees, buy a bunch of 1-gallon desert shrubs ($7 each) from a local nursery.



*Bring someone in (*wink*) to create a front or back yard plan for you.  Mine come in the $350 range, based on a typical 10 hours of work.  I definitely know designers and landscape architects who charge as much as $120 an hour and graduate students who might go as low as $15, so there’s a range to consider.  The plan gives you freedom to add to your space as you have the means, and also gives you the vision of a complete composition over time.

*Still do a whole bunch of digging on your own.

*Spend the remaining $650 on 15-gallon shade trees ($80-ish), 1-gallon desert shrubs, some do-it-yourself gutters (water harvesting), and a shade sail that can be mounted at least partially to your house (rather than using 4 steel beams).

*Still participate in The Snatch, and probably a plant party or two.



I would say the $3000 mark is where you can gain a bit more freedom, creativity, impact, and the ability to not do every ounce of the digging.

*Bring someone in to do the front or back plan.

*Hire someone (*winkety-wink*) to do 20-30 hours of knowledgeable labor including basins and water courses, plant shopping and placement, actual planting, and potentially some flagstone or decomposed granite pathway creation ($700 – $1050)

*Still put in a bunch of 15-gallon trees and 1-gallon desert shrubs.

*Add some high-dollar stuff like agaves, barrel cactus, ocotillo, and yuccas.

*Don’t forget the shade sail – though it still might be DIY.


$5000+ (+++)

Now we’re getting to the point where you can start to think about things like seat walls, contractor-installed concrete or block, fences, irrigation (though that wouldn’t be my first choice – more on that in the near future), shade sails, lighting, and nice plants.  Though, honestly, not all of those things at once, and still definitely not including both the front and back yard at once (unless you have a micro yard).


And, something else that might be of interest (and which I’ll talk about more in the future), if you end up hiring a general contracting landscape company, you can plan on spending 2-3 times as much as the numbers I’ve mentioned.  Maybe more.  I’ll give a recent example soon.


Hopefully this doesn’t scare you off.  It’s nice to have an idea of what things might cost before you begin a landscape change.  Plus, now you know you can definitely do something with your $100!  Time to start digging, my friend.


“Are You Gonna Stay the Night?” – A Musical Dedication to the Neighborhood Javelinas

"Are You Gonna Stay the Night?" - A Musical Dedication to the Neighborhood Javelinas




There’s a song on the radio right now called “Are you gonna stay the night”, and I’m not sure who the talented artist is.  It seems to be an enormous hit.  If you don’t listen to high-quality radio pop like me, you’re probably missing out on this gem.  Here, let’s just slip a link in so you can take a peek when you get bored.  If that sounds like too much work, here’s a snap shot of the lyrics:


Are you gonna stay the night?

Are you gonna stay the night?

Oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh

Are you gonna stay the night? (repeat x 10)


See what I mean?  I’m fairly certain that the person being sung to in this song is going to stay the night.  It’s a safe bet.


I dedicate this song to the javelinas who live close to our neighborhood and pop in the yard for a visit now and again.  My lyrics go like this:


Are you gonna stay the night?

Are you gonna eat my plants?

Are you gonna crush my stuff?

Are you gonna stay the night?


I actually really like javelinas (they look at least a little snugly, right?), but they can definitely stomp and chew the heck out of a landscape in a very short period of time.  I’ve seen packs of 30+ wandering local neighborhoods, polishing off plants, ripping up irrigation, and flattening shrubs to make a nice bed.  I’ve heard you can use various potions to keep them away – coyote pee, human pee, hot peppers, vinegar, yadda yadda yadda.  I’ve also heard those things only work moderately well.  So, for some fun today, $3 in change and a free Slurpee to anyone who has ideas that have been tested, proven, and don’t include installing a new fence.  Throw ’em out there.


On a minor side note:  I very much want to be involved in the making of a huge hit song like the one referenced above.  I can come up with equally solid lyrics and can eek out a few chords on the keyboard.  Message me and we’ll get started.





Lookin’ Fly – Native Bonanza

Lookin' Fly - Native Bonanza


Okay, let’s chant it together here – NATIVE!  NATIVE!  NATIVE!  I’m serious.  Chant it.  Just do it a few super loud times at your desk and you’ll feel so much better about the day.  It’ll be just weird enough for those around you that you might spark some worthwhile conversation, plus, chanting is fun.


Obviously I’m a huge plant nerd (and many other types of nerd – mostly for plants),  but native plants are the way to go.  It just makes so much more sense to plant stuff in your yard that naturally grows a mile away in the desert rather than specimens from thousands of miles away in Australia, Chile, and South Africa.  Right?  Honestly, can we agree to agree on that fact?  Sure, plenty of things from Australia do great here, at least until we get a 17 degree night that freezes it to the ground, or a huge gust of wind that rips the roots out with ease.  Native plants have an enormous evolutionary advantage in that they are adapted to specific temperatures, water availability, symbiotic wildlife and pollinator relationships, and wind patterns.  Go native.  I’ll only talk about it another couple hundred times, so if you’re not quite on board yet there’s still time.


Alright, on to the good stuff.


Clockwise from top left:


Brittle Bush – This is such a great plant, and it’s fantastic at informing you of the weather/rain/sense-of-place stuff we all need to stay grounded.  Brittle Bush is an airy shrub that has silvery-gray leaves ranging from small to medium depending on the amount of water it has received.  It gets lovely yellow flowers in the spring, and sometimes again throughout the year after decent rain.  It can definitely be over-watered, in which case it droops and becomes quite unhappy (but it will bounce back – just give it a rest with the hose).  During the hottest part of the summer it can go at least partially dormant (like the rest of us), but it will surely spring back into action with some rain.  Five Points Market in Tucson has a huge blooming mass of it right now – way to go native!


Creosote – I already sang the praises of creosote last week in the “Structure + Fluff” bit, so I’ll spare you that piece of the pie right now.  It’s beautiful!  A desert yard needs creosote, no question about it.


Ocotillo – Take a walk in the desert surrounding Tucson and you’ll find thousands (millions?) of ocotillo friends.  After a rain, sometimes even a sprinkle, they quickly shoot out new leaves, followed by beautiful red/orange flowers at their tips.  As quickly as they gained these signs of life they drop them, conserving energy for periods with no water.  They look great both dormant and fully fluffed, and they’re another sign of what’s up with the weather.  If you’re out on a desert drive and see them springing into action, you can bet that we have recently had a bit of rain (like we did last weekend).  To boot, hummingbirds love them.


Pink Fairy Duster – This small-to-medium shrub, native to the Sonoran desert, gets the most amazing fluffy/spiky pink flowers you’ve seen.  Right around now they put on a big bloom (in proportion to the amount of winter rain we’ve received), and then they go back to being a sturdy medium-green shrub that mixes in nicely with other more structural plants.  It’s so fun to see a splash of pink in the spring.  There are some nice specimens blooming around the University of Arizona campus right now if you’re interested in confirming my ramblings.


That’s all for today!  Have a good one, folks.

The Sunday Snatch featuring Slipper Plant (Pedilanthus macrocarpus)

The Sunday Snatch featuring Slipper Plant (Pedilanthus macrocarpus)


Good afternoon!  I think you’re really going to dig this edition of The Snatch.


Anyone who knows me knows I love and preach the joys of this particular plant.  Here’s why:  it can grow in full sun or full shade, its form is very structural and ranges from totally vertical to twisty and  curly-Q’ed, it gets small red flowers (shaped like a lady’s slipper) that attract hummingbirds, it’s low water (I forget to water mine for weeks sometimes), it has zero thorns or pokey parts, and its flesh color ranges from bright green to rust/orange depending on the time of year, temperature, and exposure to the sun.  They look great as a focal plant or a mass-planting, and I bet you could even keep it as a stunning house plant.  It’s truly a magical unicorn plant, and I recommend getting your hands on some.


The kicker about this stuff is that you could spend a small fortune on a very minimal installation.  Last time I checked the nurseries were selling 1 gallon specimens, containing about 4 small sticks each, for a whopping $20.  So if you want to buy some and try to make an immediate impression you could easily buy $400 worth!  Granted, after a few years they’ll reproduce like crazy and you’ll end up with enough to give to friends (or start your own nursery), so it might be worth the money up front if it fits your budget.


SO.  The good news is that this plant has grown wildly in popularity in the last five years, meaning there’s plenty of opportunity for you to get some established for free. There’s a certain large academic institution in Tucson with a huge planting of them (I’m talking thousands of the sticks – you could take an armload and no one would know).  I also just noticed them at various In-N-Out drive-thrus.  I think you might have luck with this because A. those kids working there are super polite and probably won’t ask what you’re up to and B. like I’ve said before, you’ll notice that no one cares why or where you’re poking around with plants – they just don’t.  Once you’ve got this plant in your mind’s eye you’ll notice them all over, so you can scope out a spot that best fits your risk-taking abilities (maybe your friend’s house will do).





Alright, so here’s the very easy nitty-gritty on starting your own batch.  You simply begin grabbing at individual sticks, give them a tug, and determine whether they are going to budge or not.  The new growth, anywhere up to two feet tall, usually releases from the soil pretty easily and you’ll have an entire root to work with.  Others you’ll test will be too solid to move.  Sometimes you will get an in-betweener that starts to pull up but then the root snaps.  I’ve never had luck planting the snapped specimens, but I always try it just to see what happens (they die).  I never bother with rooting hormone or any other fancy tactics – just pull them up, bunch them into a group, and plop them in a pot with decent soil.  I’ve seen them planted directly in the ground as well, but I recommend loosening up our desert soil with either some potting soil, perlite, sand, or anything else that doesn’t get so compacted. Ta-da, fantastic new addition to your yard.





Have a deluxe afternoon.  See you tomorrow for more  on the Lookin’ Fly front.

Saturday Inspiration – Indoor Green Walls

I love houseplants as much as I love those in the yard.  Our living room currently has 17 varying specimens, and I’m always thinking about how to add more.  They clean the air in the house, which in this case is fortunate because Gendry the dog, otherwise known as Buttsley or The Butts, has unending gas.  He does the classic sit-n-fart nearly every time his rear hits the tile.  That’s a lot to manage, so I’m pondering a green wall.  Plus I just think they’re cool.  Don’t you love them?  You see them all over designer magazines and blogs and they always look so pulled together.  I wonder how the average plant person does with something like this – do you need to hire a horticulturalist to come in and manage your installation?  I’m going to look into it and post more at a later date.  For now, some motivational photos.


green wall 1



green wall 2


green wall 3


green wall 4


green wall 5


the butts

(hiking grimace…he prefers to lounge)


Finding a Daily Groove + Craigslist Patio RoundUp


Well hello.  Good to see you again on this fine Friday.  You’ll be pleased to know that wordpress is back in line, without any explanation or intervention.  Bizarro.


I want to say one quick thing before the furniture fun begins.  Sometimes I get quizzical looks and questions regarding my desire to plunk around with a wheel barrow for so much of my day when I possess a master’s degree in landscape architecture.  The answer is super simple.  When I am sitting at a cubicle/desk/computer screen for more than 20 hours a week, this is my soundtrack to life.  Seriously.  It’s not good at all.  When I’m out digging, talking with contractors, whipping up sketches, and dreaming about plants, this is a much better fit.  I know I’m not alone in this, but when I’m at a computer or desk for large portions of the day my brain completely short-circuits.  All systems down, call in the paramedics, bring in life-support sort of brain functioning.  I descend into a dark vortex of swirling sludge.  And unfortunately for me, clacking away at the computer is a primary activity in the world of landscape architecture.  AutoCad, SketchUp, Adobe programs, and email end up filling limitless 8,10, or 12 hour days at design firms everywhere.  So I’m not sure I would call my decision to do what I do totally scripted – it’s just that I find it natural, mostly pleasant, and in line with my feelings about the earth and my small number of days here.  Plus, I came equipped with super sturdy Iowa farmer legs that can dig the heck out of some dirt.  Without them I would need a big old drum of Prozac.  Have you had the extreme privilege of finding your daily groove?


That’s the length of my Sedona-inspired talk for now, potentially more on that in the future.


Okay!  On to the craigslist finds.  I was going to wait another week to do this again, but I found enough wonders and delights that it seems worthwhile.




I don’t know, maybe you do have occasion for this 1920s ashtray stand – your next theme party, perhaps.  Smoking was all the rage, after all.  Apparently the 1920s are making a comeback in a stuffy sort of way.

$45 Elevated Ashtray

ash tray 45



I like both of these pieces.  I bet that lamp looks killer on a nice covered patio, and the plant rack is pretty rad as well.

Found at an estate sale this weekend.

color lamp



If someone said they would buy me this $200-$1000 magical “Bungled Jungle” sculpture made of “a minimum of 13 separate materials interlayed and hand painted,” well, I would say “sure, why not, bring it over.”  It is sort of cool, right?  Tucked in some bushes where it could really spook someone at night?  You should definitely check out the actual craigslist ad – the seller apparently got into a brawl with this beast as his shirt is a mere shadow of what it once was.  If you want to send me this, I accept.

$200 – $1000 Dragon

dragon 200 - 1000



This is a nice mid-century set – it looks like one long piece, but those tables are not connected (I’ve seen some mid-century stuff where it’s all connected and I find it a bit strange – you need an extra long space for furniture like that, and a desire for zero flexibility).  The cushions are all new and they say it’s in great shape.  Pair it up with the hanging lamp from above!

$325 Mid-Century Bamboo Set

mid century sofa 325



It’s a little hard to tell from the angle of the photo, but these are kind of nifty.  They’re retro 1960s/1970s cantilevered wicker patio chairs made by Lloyd.  They’re a really good deal, too, at $25 for the pair.  Is it a crime to give something like this a little coat of paint?  I probably would, but I’m no expert on what’s worth preserving.

$25 Wicker Chair Set 

patio chairs 25



Love this.  If you’re into a western look, I’m picturing this in an intimate covered porch.  Nights of poker games and sarsaparilla cocktails.

$225 Western Hanging Light

western light 225



There’s nothing super fabulous about this, except that it provides some shade and it’s $25!  If you look at umbrella listings much, you’ll know that they are never this price – like not even close, even for the junky versions.  This should be snapped up today.

$25 Umbrella

umbrella 25




I can’t really tell what this sculpture is up to.  It’s probably just great, and it’s totally possible that this guy sells tons of them.  But what does it for me is the blue painter’s tape price tag stating “$20k.”  Just in case you’re cruising craigslist this weekend and you’re in the market for s $20,000 sculpture (OBO), this is your man.

$20k Sculpture

sculpture 20000


Have  a fantastic day, everyone.  I’ll be here tomorrow with a new round of antics and total nonsense.

Landscape Drawings vs Real Life Construction

Landscape Drawings vs Real Life Construction

Hello everyone, thanks for tuning in on this lovely Thursday.  Sorry about the crunched spacing in this post – all of a sudden wordpress is a fickle friend.  Dear wordpress, please do what I tell you to do; you’re  digital technology, not my cat.

I’m going to keep today’s post brief due to the info overload from yesterday.  Instead, I’m showing a couple pretty plans I’ve done.  The one above is a current project and the one below is from about a year ago.  Both share something that is pretty much unavoidable when working on any outdoor space – the need to improvise as unexpected challenges come up.  Some examples include unmarked utilities, tree stumps hidden below grade, mysterious patches of concrete or asphalt long-buried, and myriad other pains-in-the-butt that require the ability to take a step back and thoughtfully change the original landscape plan.  In these scenarios I try to sit down with a pencil again and think about how to shift things, delete things, and adjust to the new constraints.  Sometimes decisions need to be made on the fly, so some bit of aesthetic and functional intuition is necessary.  If you’re working on making some changes to your space and come across a game-changer (in my yard: behemoth concrete footers scattered everywhere – like maybe there was a whole village back there?), I suggest taking a breather and thinking about alternatives.  Maybe you can plant those trees five feet to the west, rather than sledging up what could be hundreds of pounds of concrete.  Who knows, you might come up with something that looks far better in the end.

Okay, I’m stopping here.  Have a wonderful day!  See you tomorrow for a couple thoughts on finding a daily groove, with a sprinkling of craigslist treasures.

landscape plan-01

Shade Sail Installation : Part 1

Shade Sail Installation : Part 1

image source

As promised, here is a bit of information on how you can go about installing your own shade sail, which can potentially save you a bundle of cash.  Even if you want to hire someone to do parts of the process, you’ll have a better grasp on what’s involved (and then what you’re willing to pay).  This ended up being a wildly long post, so if you’re not actually into this type of thing, turn back now – you’ll want these 5 minutes of your life back. (I recently read that the average person is now only interested in the first 80 words or less of any writing…so I think you’ve probably stopped reading already.)

Before I start, just in case you want to know only the basics, here are some figures:

18 x 18 square shade sail

Poles set at 20’10” apart

Above-ground height: 9′, below ground depth: 3′

(4) 12′ poles, 4″x4″ steel, 1/8″ thick – $220

Auger rental – $40

Re-bar for bottom-of-pole stabilization – $8

Concrete for footers – $60 (plus $20 for delivery)

Lumber for bracing poles while concrete cures – $30

At one of my current job sites, we decided on an 18′ square shade sail to cover a portion of the driveway that needs striping as well as asphalt repair and asphalt patching. We decided to go with asphalt repair olympia wa for our parking lot striping and Home Asphalt Repair, as they are the best asphalt repair and paving contractor out there.  This size is one that many companies offer pre-made, meaning the price is a lot lower.  Unless you’ve got a really specific goal in mind, I would suggest choosing a pre-made size – the cost difference is no joke.  One company I talked to offers a 16′ square at nearly double the price of an 18′ square because that smaller size does not maximize the use of the fabric rolls.  Anyway, it’s something to keep in mind as you plan some shade for your outdoor space.

In order to accommodate an 18′ square sail, you have to account for both the mounting hardware and the ability to tension the sail over time as the fibers loosen a bit.  We ended up putting the poles 20’10” apart (as determined by the sail company).  If you end up with too much space between the pole and the connection to the sail, you can always add some extra chain loops to make it work – but more on hardware and the sail in the next installment.


image source

Once you have your pole spots marked and measured, it’s a good idea to rent an auger – getting down 3 feet in a nice cylindrical fashion is really difficult when you hit caliche, rocks, and plain old hard dirt.  The auger attachment you need will be 30″ long and 8″ wide – it just looks like a giant drill bit.  For the last 6 inches the auger doesn’t reach, you’ll have to dig it by hand/trowel/posthole digger/etc.  Sometimes augers are really tough to use if the ground is dry – it’s smart to dig a tiny starter hole and let the hose drip in it for a while.  After you have your holes done, you need to go back and widen them out to 16″ –  the width of the hole is nearly as important as the depth for structural stability.

Okay!  Now we’re getting somewhere.  It gets at least 3% more interesting coming up.

The next part includes buying the poles that will support the sail.  I did miles of research on this stuff, and there is equal support for using 1/8″, 3/16″ and 1/4″ steel (the thickness – also referred to in gauges and schedules, but everyone understands inches), either in 4″x4″ or 6″x6″ square tubing.  For residential settings the consensus was that 1/8″ thick 4″x4″ tubing is great.  If I were installing at a school or park I’d definitely go a notch or two up.  So after settling that whole shenarnigans, I went to a local steel shop and bought two sticks of 24′ square steel tubing, which they cut in half for free, leaving me with four 12′ sticks.

steel poles

At that point I embarked on drilling tons of holes in the steel using my trusty corded drill.  After much misery and almost total loss of hope, I had punched four holes in the bottom of each pole ( through which I stuck re-bar, which limits twisting of the poles after they are set in concrete) and two in the top of each pole for the connecting hardware.  Let me just tell you this: you can definitely drill through 1/8″ steel, and even 1/4″ steel – no need for the fancy drill bits or some insanely powerful drill.  You can get the standard Milwaukee brand bit (3/8″ size to accommodate re-bar at the bottom and sturdy hardware at the top), which is something like $6, and a small container of “3 in 1 Oil” for $2 and you’ll be all set.  You need to drill for a couple seconds, put down a few drops of oil, drill for half a minute, and so on until you break through.  It’s tempting to lean your whole body weight into the drill – but don’t do it.  I found out, long after being totally defeated by my drilling project, that the more you push down, the hotter the drill bit, the hotter the steel, the harder the steel becomes, leading to an infuriating amount of time drilling with no progress.  So just chill it out a bit and let the drill do its job.  Trust me on this.  Also, one more thing – half speed on the drill is about right.  Full speed = the insane hardening I just mentioned.  No bueno.  (I had to phone a friend to get out of this situation.  Come on, Home Depot, couldn’t someone have clued me in after not one, two, three, but four trips to talk about drilling.)  Actually I have so many feelings about drill bits + steel that I think I’ll just do a whole post on that soon.  So tune in soon for that gem.


Alright, so once you have your holes ready and your poles on site, it’s time to plant them!

Quick side note here:  as mentioned at the top, I bought 12′ poles so I could put 3′ in the ground and have 9′ above ground.  The information you look at online for setting any kind of post recommends putting a full 1/3  of the material in the ground.  So that would have been 4′ in this situation.  Then I ended up talking to a number of general contractors and they said I could easily get away with 2′ as long as the posthole is wide enough.  So I went for 3′ plus a wide hole to make extra sure that this thing won’t bend or lift in the future.  Again, though, if I were installing in a public or commercial space, I would go with the 1/3 rule.

Okay, I’m going to leave some detail out here because it’s a little mind-numbing. Basically you want to place the (very heavy) steel poles in the postholes, while checking and re-checking that you’re maintaining the original layout dimensions.  Then you’ll build support beams with 2×4 lumber so you don’t have to hold the poles the entire time they’re curing (I had huge and amazing help with this part – it’s worth involving someone who has handy building skills and the proper cutting tools for the lumber).  Next you’ll mix up a bunch of concrete – we did 300 lbs per footer (five 60lb bags) – and slop it into the holes.  At this point you’ll adjust your braces as you keep an eye on your levels (making sure it’s vertical).  Wait 24 hours, remove the braces, and let it cure for a day or two more.  VOILA.

sail braces

So this is definitely something you can try on your own.  I wouldn’t call it an easy project, but it’s also not so challenging that you shouldn’t consider it.  Or, plan it all out and hire someone for the individual parts.  Either way you’ll be dramatically increasing the available shade in your space, and you’ll know the specifics about how to do it.

Farewell for now, friends.  Tomorrow will be much less of an information overload.

poles with concrete

Structure + Fluff : Pairing up Creosote and Cholla

Structure + Fluff : Pairing up Creosote and Cholla


Welcome to a new segment on the ol’ blog.  With”Structure + Fluff” we’ll look at plants that compliment each other nicely because of their form.  Your typical well-structured plant, otherwise  called an “architectural” or “accent” plant, is one that has an easily discerned shape or outline with noticeable edges.  The fluff is everything that is soft, roundy, and lacking clearly defined edges.  I’m sure there are plenty of things that also fall in the no-man’s-land middle.


Most nice landscapes (and a lot of the natural areas around Tucson) have a good mix of both, which leads to really interesting compositions.  There are also plenty of gardens that are purely structural that look fantastic – they have a deliberate and artful quality that is hard to beat.  An example would be solely planting things like barrel cactus, agaves, prickly pear, giant hesperaloe, and others that have the same architectural appearance.  Conversely, it’s hard to get away with a landscape here that is all fluff.  While we have some nice shrubs and perennial flowers, most of them go in and out of dormancy based on rain, heat and cold.  The perennial borders of the Midwest are beautiful, but we have a much more fun and unique landscape style available to us.  Plus, you’ll use less water and have much lower maintenance. BINGO.



 Beautiful Structure + Fluff Garden – Check out some writing about it.


So for some specific ideas on matching structure and fluff, this semi-regular bit will show examples from both nature and designed landscapes.  The first up is staghorn cholla and our old friend creosote, found in a loving embrace at Greasewood Park (love that place – tons of trails for short jaunts in the desert).  Creosote: attracts tons of native bees, smells great in the rain (and other times too, just less pronounced), has delicate yellow flowers, and gets beautiful silvery bark as it grows older.  Staghorn cholla:  flesh changes from green/blue to red/purple throughout the year, has incredible (like sci-fi style) flowers, grows into an elegant vase-shape, and keeps the dogs out of your garden (after they become familiar with the spines once – mean but not that mean).


Try it on for size, I think you’ll be happy with the outcome.

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