“The” tree…

I’m long overdue with an update on the landscaping project. I thought it might be fun to start with images Martha shot a couple of weeks ago from the roof, similar to those Bill Byrne shot 14+ years ago. You can compare the first two images in this post to the first two in the last post to see what’s changed, how the desert has healed over the course of 14 years and get an idea of how challenging it is to keep the disturbance to a minimum when replacing an irrigation system!


I’ll point out a couple of details in the photograph, (above), worth noting. First, the hand trenching. Yup, what you see has all been done by hand, and it’s taken weeks to complete. There were existing irrigation system lines, natural gas lines, low voltage lighting cables, water supply lines and unused conduit that had to be unearthed. Had we opted to use a trenching machine, it’s unlikely we would’ve made our way through the project without severing a line somewhere, (and happily, we haven’t)! Second, the pattern of the trenches. We will be able to get water to the new desert plants that started arriving about a week ago, regardless of where they are placed. When Todd Briggs was walking the site almost a year ago, he realized that we needed to (re)introduce the diversity that he observed out in the undisturbed portions of the property, and across the street, on lots that haven’t been built on. In short, he’ll be patterning the placement of specific plants after what he sees within 50 to 100 yards of our site. Lastly, those little pink flags. Each marks a specimen of a desert plant that is to be left undisturbed – it’s not supposed to get dug up, removed, bumped or stepped on.


One of the features that’s getting a lot of attention is a dry stack rock wall to the south of the patio. You can see it in a partially-completed form in the photograph, (above), just off the edge of the corrugated roof in the foreground. This image was taken while the wall was still being assembled, but the essence of what we’re trying to achieve can be seen. There is a large boulder that we’ve deliberately incorporated into the wall as a natural sitting area, reachable via a path what’s being carefully sculpted across the southern slope from the west patio area all the way over to the deck off the master bedroom. The path will have low voltage lighting placed along it, and you can see a couple of the pink flags indicating where the light fixtures are to be installed along this path.

Here’s another view, taken from the western edge of the dry stack stone wall, with the backfill, pathway and lighting in place, (below).

OK, it’s time to share the first photograph, (below), of what Martha and I now simply refer to as the tree.


Yes, this is the Ironwood tree Martha helped select back in early April. It was delivered a little over a week ago, and after much gnashing of teeth and rending of hair that day, the 60 inch “box” it came in was safely in the ground. You can see the PVC that’s been temporarily pulled out of the trenches in the background; the pink flags on the wall were poked in the ground to mark where the low voltage lights will be installed and the trenches in the foreground were (re)excavated. Martha described that morning as having been particularly “eventful”.

Hmmm… Eventful. Gulp!

18″ deep, 12″ wide trenches criss-crossing the site.

1 1/2 tons of Ironwood and the associated root ball swinging around, having been hoisted 6 feet into the air, hanging from the bucket of a front-end loader.

A custom-cast CMU wall mere inches away from the back of the excavated hole for said Ironwood.

Yeah, eventful… I’ll say!

The next two photographs, (below), were taken from the southern slope, looking north. You can see the front-end loader in the background.



We were alerted about the fact the Ironwood tree would lose a percentage of its foliage in transport, and it will most assuredly need to be attended to by an arborist, but we think you can begin to see why this particular tree was chosen. The rugged nature of the Ironwood will complement the angular features of the western elevation of the house. The tree was carefully rotated as it was being installed to optimize the views from the living room/kitchen/dining room, the guest bedroom and from the street before being permanently placed. It’s worth pointing out a couple of interesting features related to the house too – the tiny “void” in the wall above and behind the barbecue, (above, top), the “notches” in the CMU patio wall near the corten steel A/C enclosure, and the shifts in height of the CMU wall as you move away from the house itself, (above, bottom).


The new stairway on the east side of the house is nearing completion, (above). I mentioned the “adding back” in the previous post – Todd has done a masterful job of placing rock material on each tread to suggest rubble that’s sheared off the “canyon” walls framing the stairway. With the irrigation and plants now being installed, I can’t wait to see the final product!


Martha took this photograph, (above), toward dusk one day early last week. We originally thought the semi-circular planting bed would accommodate an Ironwood tree, but after excavating, we discovered the footing supporting the CMU wall to the south was going to limit the size of the root ball, so we consulted with Todd Briggs of Ten Eyck Landscape Architects and decided to install an ocotillo there instead. It makes perfect sense too – in fact, when we carefully examined that particular corner of the site, we noted there weren’t any ocotillo nearby, despite the fact they were prevalent elsewhere. Perfect solution! We ended up installing a trio of them, the one being illuminated to the right and two more immediately beyond the east CMU wall, up on the slope, to the left, (both are visible in this image). …and I have to mention the moon, just peeking above the CMU wall!


The lovely effects of low voltage lighting, (above). We opted for downward-facing lamps suspended in the mesquite tree to splash the surrounding planting beds and entryway with soft light. There is one upward-facing lamp illuminating the mesquite itself, and the combined effect is absolutely mesmerizing! In the distance you can see the illuminated ocotillo from a different perspective.

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