Saturday, September 13, 2014

Behind The Garden Gate

In my last post I showed you a typical garden gate protecting a New Mexico courtyard.  One of my first memories of visits to Santa Fe as a child included walking from a very hot dry dusty lane that was Canyon Road in those days through a gate into a very different world, lush with tree, flowers and a burbling fountain.  Today folks landscape a little outside their gates, but in those days, it was blank adobe walls with colorful gates that you only wished you could see behind! Here a few glimpses...

Photograph by Kim Ashley
Painting by Mary Giacomini

Image Via
Photo by MarkStudio

Susan Blevens Garden - Taos - Photograph by Charles Mann

New Mexico Colors by D Neely
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A patio garden at a John Gaw Meem designed house on the 2012 tour, photo/Steve Collins

Kathryn and David Blog

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Through the Garden Gate in New Mexico

New Mexico's climate is harsh with high winds, strong sunlight, and drought being the norm rather than the exception.  When the early Spaniards came to New Mexico they built houses with courtyards enclosed by heavy gates and high walls to mitigate this extreme climate.  (Well, and to be honest, to protect themselves from the irate Native Americans who did not appreciate their hospitality being violated by being enslaved.)  This tradition is still followed today, although folks generally don't have to worry about keeping out hostiles.  Indeed, all three cultures, Native American, Anglo's and Hispanics that live in New Mexico get along rather well.  The courtyards, however, survive as we struggle to grow gardens in the increasingly arid desert.

Francesca and Ralph's new house has a courtyard garden that needed some help.  And while we are a long way from finished, it is looking a bit better.  

First time visitor to this blog?  Click here to see the before photos.

The new pathway that leads more directly to the front door is laid.  Gravel mulch will keep the weeds down.  
Hens and Chicks are planted alongside the stepping stones.  Eventually they will spread and bring in some much needed green.  To the left are planting spaces awaiting herbs, which we hope will be brought as shower gifts. 
The soil is inhospitable to all but the most hardy wildflowers, so will be amended with compost to keep the clay from choking baby roots.  Lavenders will provide year-round interest.  The purple mums are place holders for Jupiter's Beard (Centranthus) which are still rooting in the flat to the right.  Several pots of flowers add temporary color until the new plantings get established.  The tree is an existing desert willow which we trimmed quite a lot because it was blocking the views.

Borrowed pots of flowers will be replaced after the wedding shower with rose bushes and Thymus "Pink Chintz" as a ground cover.  Ralph will choose the roses since that is his area of expertise. 

Here you can see the sculpture that we think we might move when we can figure out how to do so without breaking it.  Behind the scupture is a Spanish broom which blooms bright yellow in the spring and has a heavenly scent.  Doesn't look as though this one has bloomed in several years. With a little water and a touch of fertilizer, the bees will be in heaven next spring.  To the left of the blue pot of geraniums is an Autumn Sage which should look like this... 

Autumn Sage

And several Russian Sages which look like this when they get a tiny bit of water.
Succulents will be used as centerpieces on the tables for the party and then planted here and there.

This arched gate is just crying out for a climbing rose, don't you think?

Just because I love them, in my next post, we will look at some other New Mexico Gates.....

Monday, September 8, 2014

Evolution of a courtyard

Recently I shared some inspiration photos for a courtyard I am helping to design for friends in Placitas, New Mexico.  You can re-visit that post here.  Based on a sketch I did, we have made a little progress.

I had not placed the existing Desert Willow in its actual location, so we will not have room for the small patio table to the right of the gate.  First design change!



My second site visit- you can see the gate is leaning on its side having sagged to the point of no longer closing.  Ralph has now re-hung it.
Establishing the curve of the new pathway with the old concrete pavers.  A friend of Ralph's gifted him with a potted cactus which we have placed temporarily in front of that ugly power pole. The artist that lived here previously left some artwork, the "Enchiladas" sign on the front porch, the metal sun lantern you see below and an interesting (somewhat disturbing with horns) clay sculpture not pictured.  The sculpture may be moved to another spot if we can figure out how to pick it up without breaking it.
Just in the nick of time, before we added too many rocks, Francesca and I realized we needed another design change.  We really did not like the pavers as edging and decided to go with large rocks instead.  We will lay the pavers instead as stepping stones through the center of the path somewhat like this...

Drop by tomorrow to see more photos of the "after"

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Keeping a Journal

As I mentioned in my last post, my friend, Katrine Stewart, by posting an online question for them to consider, is encouraging some of her friends who keep journals.
In response to Katrine's question last week, "The poet Rilke maintains that a rose can be more important than a piece of bread. Is this true for you?", one of the participants posted a poem sometimes attributed to John Greenleaf Whittier, but more likely written by the Persian poet, Muslihuddin Sadi in the 16th century.

If of thy mortal goods thou art bereft,
And from thy slender store
two loaves alone to thee are left,
Sell one, and with the dole
Buy hyacinths to feed thy soul.

Both Katrine's question and this poem led me to consider whether or not extreme want would obliterate the need for beauty in our lives.   And I think not.  

I remember studying Maslow's heirachy of needs in college and being uneasy at the thought of humans being unable to consider higher needs until their basic needs were met.  

While I agree it might be more difficult to think about beauty when you are hungry, still mothers feed their children before eating themselves, the Jews in concentration camps formed choirs and orchestras while starving to death, and mankind seems to be continually renewed by the beauty of nature.  

However, I have never experienced more that a couple of days of going without food, so perhaps I might think differently of my choice of a rose over bread.  What do you think?

If you would like to participate in Katrine's journal prompts, you can visit her website here


Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Katrine's Garden


Many years ago, my friend, Katrine Trobish Stewart, came to Camp Stoney for Opera Camp.  She loved it so much that she contacted me about spending the summer there.  I recruited her to be the the Spiritual Director of the counseling staff and Katrine began a journal project with them and with each of the camps that summer.  She had been leading spiritual journal workshops for a number of yearsWriting comes naturally to Katrine who is the daughter of missionary parents, Walter Trobish and Ingrid Hult Trobish Youngdale who served in Cameroon, West Africa where Katrine and her four sibling were born.  Her parents moved to Austria to provide better schooling for their five children and formed Family Life Mission. Family Live Mission is an international, interdenominational, not-for-profit organization dedicated  to family renewal. Over the course of their lives, both parents published many books.  Click on their names for links to the books.  

I had never kept a journal or done much writing at all at that point, but loved the idea of recording thoughts, impressions, and images of things that were important to me.  Sporadically I began to keep journals... primarily sketches since I am an artist. Many of you have seen some of the pages of my rafting journals.

Katrine pointed out to me recently that my blog is really a journal of sorts.  It keeps a log of snippets of my life.  In it, I reflect on events that are important to me.  With this in mind, I have decided to join Katrine's online journal prompts.  Each week, I will reflect on the question that Katrine asks.  You may want to join us.
I may share these reflections from time to time on this blog.

During that summer at camp, I planted flower gardens around the director's house and began to be too busy to maintain them, so every morning, Katrine would water them.  As they flourished and began to provide vivid color, Katrine started referring to her water chores as "painting with water." 

Today, Katrine and her husband, David, have recently retired to Albuquerque.  Katrine is still writing, leading journaling workshops, and enjoying her role as grandmother.  In addition, she has returned to "painting with water."   She has asked me to help her transform her neglected (her house was rented for many years) backyard into a family living space for her visiting children and grandchildren.
About ten years ago, they purchased a house in the Nob Hill area of Albuquerque.  It is a bit small, but has a guest house for visiting family.  Their property has been rented while Katrine, author and workshop leader, and her husband David, formerly Consul General of the U.S. Embassy in London, have moved around the world due to his career as a diplomat.  Steve Shelly Landscapes designed and installed a lovely small courtyard for the front at that time and prepared a basic drawing for the back.   I am flattered that Katrine has asked for help in making some design changes which includes an outdoor living room for her soon-to-be upgraded backyard.  Although her house has more of a cottage feel, Katrine has lived much of her life in Europe, I am thinking a little more formal than Francesca's patio for Katrine's garden. Katrine loves the tile and Moorish architecture that informed the Spanish influence in New Mexico gardens and courtyards.

Her yard is quite large and has very established trees, so shade will not be as critical.  She would however like to have a hot tub, an outdoor shower and a garden shed (for David's bicycle, camping gear, and garden equipment) and perhaps a "loo" as she calls it.  

She and David have four grown children and two young grandchildren.  The main house has only two bedrooms and a bath and the guest house has one bedroom and a bath, so she is thinking an outdoor pavilion that might be closed off with canvas curtains for sleeping when the whole family gathers.  I am betting that might cause some sibling rivalry about who gets the elegant outdoor bedroom!  A very large table, perhaps concrete to withstand its outdoor life, is a must for dining.

I neglected to take my camera when I made a site visit, but will be posting some photos soon of the "before" yard.

Here are a few inspiration photos for Katrine's garden.
The shed will need to match the house which is stuccoed.

We will probably do a curved seating area somewhat like this.

We might put the dining on a deck since we will need to mitigate the height of the hot tub.

Possibly a fire pit for winter?

Curtained pavilion for sleeping?  Roofed to provide protection for weather.

And, of course, my husband will be extremely annoyed if I don't soon get some ideas on paper of our own landscaping projects!  If you are wondering, NO, I am not a professional landscape designer, but have done some projects with friends over the years because of my love of gardening.

Any of my readers have plants they could divide and share?  Ideas or inspiration photos you would like to share?  Email me at

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Two Gardens

Wedding Bells are soon to ring for my friend, Francesca.  She will marry Ralph and move into a Pueblo style house they have purchased in Placitas, New Mexico, a bedroom community of the Albuquerque area. 

I am working on a design for her entrance patio, currently looking like this...
The former owner is clearly not a gardener.
 This is from a photo included in the appraisal.  Not sure what the former owner intended for these concrete paving stones, but ever the environmentalist (and cheap as well!), I will somehow use them in the new design or recycle them through Craig's list.

Some things I know...Ralph would like a little bit of grass, and must have roses.
Francesca might like a vegetable and herb garden.

  The design issues....
1.  No shade, so we will probably plant a shade tree.
2.  Poor soil - a dump truck of compost from Soilutions?
3.  Need to address irrigation
4.  Awkward placement of power pole and meters (how expensive to move?) Or 
    could we establish a different path to front door with a strong focal point to   
    move  the eye away from this?  Trellis or large potted plant in front of the
    power pole to disguise it?
5.  Unknown elevation...need to find out gardening zone.
6.  Do the new owners want seating and or a dining area in this area or just a 
7.  Do they want to introduce some curves in the design or stick with straight 
8.  Water feature?  Do we keep that very modern concrete block fountain seen at the right of the photo?
9.  Fire pit, chimenea or corner fireplace?
10. Budget constraints?
11.  Need to identify orientation to the sun and what existing plants will stay...think that is a desert willow on the right side of the photo.
12.  Do Ralph and Francesca like a riot of color or a more restrained color palette?

We need to get this space looking more finished by the date of the wedding shower, because Francesca's friends may hold the shower at this location, so we will need to borrow pots of flowers, move the pavers, and perhaps install some of the hardscapes...gravel or mulch temporarily until we can decide on a suitable grass?  Ralph, would you be happy with buffalo grass?

Here are some inspiration photos...


Linear softened by round rocks

Or a combination of straight and curvy?

I lean towards curvy myself, straight lines are a little too formal and modern for me, but, of course, this will not be my garden!  Francesca and Ralph which do you like?

More pretty courtyards....
Photo Via
 Can't wait to get out to Placitas to answer some of the above questions, take measurements and see where the water spigots are located.

Here is a list of plants we might be safe we will assume hardiness zone 6b although in this protected courtyard we might be able to get away with zone 7 for some plants.  Because Placitas' water supply is limited at best, we will choose drought tolerant varieties to begin with and then perhaps add a few things that might need a bit more water as we see how well the water sippers do and how much water it takes to maintain them.

1. Hollyhocks-typical along adobe walls in New Mexico

2. Salvia (Meadow Sage)
Image via High Country Gardens

3. Yellow yarrow.  Other colors are also available and beautiful.
4. Butterfly bush - comes in many colors and is very drought tolerant once established.  As you might guess, it attracts a host of both butterflies and bees.
Image via

5. Agastache or Hummingbird Mint.  Fabulous sunset colors, very drought tolerant with a licorice scent.
Image Via High Country Gardens

6. California poppies (best grown from seed)  Adds lots of color at a small price and comes back year after year from re-seeding itself.
Image Via

7. Jupiter's Beard (Centranthus ruber Coccineus)
   A personal favorite of mine, I am transplanting some from my garden.
8. Succulents that will spread- even grocery stores carry an interesting variety of these beauties.  Great for low water gardens.
9. Groundcovers (wonderful for conserving water once established) Some possible choices....Ceratostigma plumbaginoides-Hardy Plumbago, Cotula Tiffindell Gold -Creeping Gold Buttons, 
10. Autumn Sage blooms in the fall but it is beautiful year round.
Sedum when first blooming

Transitioning as fall deepens

 By October    Image Via

 And of course, we cannot do without penstemons and lavenders!
       Penstemon digitalish Husker Red is a beauty with its gorgeous foliage...

But to be honest, I have never met a penstemon I did not love!


This is not the only project on the drawing board. In my next post we will look at renovations to a very established Nob Hill garden.