New windows refresh house exterior

We continue to pick away at the dated and energy-inefficient features of our 1970s ranch. We’d put off replacing our paper-thin, single-pane, silver-aluminum windows — one with a BB-gun hole covered with a piece of Scotch tape — because of the expense. But now that it’s done, I am thrilled with the result.

No longer can I hear people talking in the yard next door through my closed office window. No longer are the cracked plastic seals and shiny aluminum of the old windows distracting from the view inside and out. We expect immediate savings on our cooling and heating bills thanks to these high-efficiency windows (Don Young Aluminum Thermal Break).

Let’s compare “before,” “during,” and “after” photos, shall we?

BEFORE: Here’s how the house looked soon after we moved in. Don’t even ask what I was thinking with two Christmas wreaths at the door AND a leftover Halloween pumpkin.

DURING: I soon ripped off the inoperable shutters and the fake mullions on the windows. I pulled out the dwarf nandinas crowding the porch steps. I painted the wooden door green and the surrounding trim a creamy white. The lawn was drying out, and the liriope edging disappeared.

DURING: Two years ago, we added a gabled entry to the front porch, replaced the porch lights, and poured large concrete slabs to replace the cracked, water-collecting, tiled front walk. I ripped out the thirsty lawn on the hot, sunny side and planted architectural, drought-tolerant specimens in steel containers and other pots, mulching the entire space with gravel for a courtyard effect.

BEFORE: The small lawn was difficult to keep watered and didn’t enhance the entry. Also, the far wall of the house looked crummy, exposed, and too white.

AFTER: Here’s the space today. Although white or tan windows are trendy, I went with bronze in order to get a dark, almost black, frame on the interior, which I like because you notice the exterior view instead of the frame itself. Outside, I like how the dark color outlines the window like eyeliner, and it matches our existing bronze-clad doors in back and the front-porch lights.

The ugly back wall now blends into the background thanks to a greige coat of paint (Sherwin Williams SuperPaint in Mega Greige) and a clumping ‘Alphonse Karr’ bamboo.

AFTER: Yay! I think I now need to repaint the door surround to match the rest of the greige trim, to de-emphasize the traditional sidelights. But I’m worried that that the green of the front door won’t pop against it. What do you think? Repaint trim and door maybe?

And here are a few gratuitous garden pictures to end my post. Natives winecup (Callirhoe involucrata) and purple skullcap (Scutellaria wrightii) add color to the retaining-wall bed by the driveway. ‘Green Goblet’ agave narrowly survived the ravages of deer antlering last winter and is putting on new growth.

Have a great weekend!

All material © 2006-2014 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Xeriscape is not a zeroscape: Scottsdale Xeriscape Garden demonstrates the beauty of saving water

It’s a common mispronunciation, but it’s also a bit of a Freudian slip: saying “zeroscape” instead of “xeriscape.” To xeriscape is to design a garden that conserves water through the use of drought-tolerant plants grouped according to water needs, water-collection systems, mulch, non-wasteful irrigation, and other rather commonsense yet once-radical gardening practices. To zeroscape — to my mind, anyway — means to spread a bunch of rocks across one’s yard, maybe plant one agave or cactus, and call it done.

In drought-prone climates like central Texas and in arid ones like Arizona, xeriscaping is a popular concept, promoted by city water utilities and conservationists and eagerly embraced by homeowners who want to save money on their water bills and do the right thing. And yet you still hear that word “zeroscape” used a good deal, hinting that many people think water conservation means essentially giving up on having a beautiful garden.

The Scottsdale Xeriscape Garden at Chaparral Park, in suburban Phoenix, is a perfect illustration of the wow factor a xeric garden can provide. My friend Noelle of AZ Plant Lady introduced me to this public demonstration garden in early April, and its design and beauty are captivating. If you’re able to visit, you really should go, especially in the spring when the garden’s at peak bloom.

It begins with an overscaled, rusty steel vessel brimming with water — a symbol of abundance in an arid climate, and a “sacred element,” as landscape architect Christine Ten Eyck, who designed this garden, has described such a gesture. On the submerged rim of the vessel is inscribed this reminder: “The frog does not drink up the pond in which he lives.”

An imposing 30-foot-high, 320-foot-long wall — the facade of a water-treatment plant — is blended into the garden with an installation of geometric steel panels, soft-textured palo verde trees and grasses, and gabion terracing.

The steel panels act as garden sculpture while distracting the eye from that big, blank wall. Bougainvillea cascades down the gabion terraced beds.

Ten Eyck loves to use gabion walls in her designs (see her Capri Lounge garden in Marfa, Texas), and gabions are taken to new heights here, framing doorways and molded into buttresses.

Xeric (dry-loving) plants are massed for effect, like these agaves. The ground was dusted with golden “confetti” from the flowering palo verde trees.

Mexican olive (Cordia boissieri) adds glowing white flowers against deep-green foliage.

Shade sails float over plaza-like gathering spaces along the trail, offering shelter from the intense desert sun. Aloes bloom in the foreground.

Aloe closeup

The gabion walls — heavy-duty, wire constructions filled with river rock — that curve throughout the park slow the flow of water when it rains, allowing precious rainwater to soak into planting beds. Ten Eyck describes the terraced garden as a “bio-sponge.”

Throughout the garden, signs illustrate how to save water in home gardens.

As you continue along the path you come to the Mesquite Bosque, spiraling concrete walls that wind to the bottom of a bowl-like space, creating a naturalistic amphitheater that also acts as a water-collection basin when it rains. Mesquite bosques, or groves, were once prevalent along streams and rivers throughout the Sonoran Desert, according to the garden’s website, and this design references that natural history.

A dead tree, or snag, is left in place to provide habitat for hawks, which in turn keep the rodent population in check.

Soft vs. hard — a tufted meadow of deer grass and rounded boulders

Gabion terracing

The terraced beds created by the gabion walls…

…hold an assortment of desert-adapted species, like ornamental grasses, agaves, brittlebush, and desert marigold.

Charismatic ocotillo, golden barrel cactus, and pink evening primrose too

Ocotillo closeup

Desert marigold (Baileya multiradiata)

The final and most stunning feature along the trail is heralded by the appearance of rusty orange walls marvelously constructed of stacked ledgestone and bands of round river rock.

I am in love with these walls.

They add texture and pattern to the garden, as well as structural “bones” that give the space year-round interest.

The walls lead to the main event: an environmental artwork by Lorna Jordan called Terraced Cascade, echoing the form of the human spine even as it evokes a cascade of water and collects water when the rains come.

At the bottom of the basin, metal bridges cross a dry creek.

Masses of birch-like palo blanco trees (Acacia willardiana), small grasses, agave, and desert marigold fill the terraces.

Simplicity of planting: a matrix of just a few species, repeated for impact

Sinuous retaining walls

The ledgestone stair winding downward between boulders evokes a cascading waterfall. It’s magnificent.

A broader perspective

I couldn’t get enough of it.

If you can’t get enough either, visit Noelle’s post about Scottsdale Xeriscape Garden. And if you live nearby and still need convincing that you can grow a beautiful garden that doesn’t waste water, go visit in person. You’ll see that there’s nothing “zero” about this xeriscape.

All material © 2006-2014 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Visit to Desert Botanical Garden and Chihuly Exhibit: Desert twilight and Chihuly after dark

Have you ever visited a garden twice in one day? After a late morning/mid-afternoon stroll through Phoenix’s Desert Botanical Garden on April 4th, I returned just before sunset to enjoy the “magic hour” of light and see the Chihuly glass sculptures dramatically lit.

The low, warm light was indeed magical, incandescing these creosote fruits and turning saguaros into hulking silhouettes.

I love that DBG is open to visitors for 12 hours each day, from 8 am to 8 pm; if you’re a member you can enter as early as 7 am on certain days. Early arrival is much better for photography, for beating the heat, and for seeing a garden with few other people. Late departure, as I found, is pretty awesome too.

I headed for the Wildflower Loop as dusk fell, where silvery Agave colorata and pink evening primrose, along with other wildflowers, continued to shine.

The lilac and ivory seedpods of paperbag bush (Salazaria mexicana) glowed in the fading light as well.

Closeup of paperbag bush

Lilac and ivory in the larger landscape

The birds and I enjoyed the majestic saguaros…

…catching the last rays of the setting sun.

This hummingbird busied himself at the ocotillo snack bar for a pre-bedtime snack.

I wasn’t the only one shooting the evening light. Behind the photographers, on the butte in the distance, you can see the Chihuly installation “Desert Neon” — a line of neon cacti marching up the hill.

The saguaros themselves seem to be giving the finger to the universe.

It was nearly dark by the time I left the Wildflower Loop. The gardens were festive with laughing people, and no wonder — a wine bar had been set up in one of the plazas. The Chihuly pieces were illuminated for nighttime viewing.

I only saw a few of them, as I was dead tired by this point and ready to find my hotel.

The sculptures’ bright colors really stood out at night, illuminated against the subtle gray-greens of the cacti and succulents around them.

This Chihuly “sun” piece was my favorite, glowing brightly after the desert sun had gone to bed.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this 5-part series on my visit to Desert Botanical Garden. For a look back at the Edible Garden, palo verde splendor, and Chihuly balloons, click here. You’ll find links to the other DBG posts at the end of each post.

All material © 2006-2014 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.