Ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens) is a vase shaped cactus like plant with spiny canes that are covered with small green leaves typically after substantial rains and have a reddish orange tubular shaped flower at the tips in Spring. But most of the time, they are deciduous and look like a clump of thorny dead branches.  Sedona native Ocotillos are also found in the lower deserts and into Mexico.

When I first moved up to Sedona from the Phoenix area, I was surprised to see Ocotillos growing among the pines and junipers. At an elevation between 4200-4600 feet Sedona is probably at the upper level of its range. When in bloom – and when I say bloom, I mean the leafing out period where the green leaves cover the canes, they are striking sculptural features that add an unusual accent to any landscape where you want a bit of a desert flair. Ocotillo is often said to “bloom” due to its on and off leafing out cycles due to the amount of rain. However, some Ocotillos hold their leaves for longer periods between seasonal rains. Otherwise, they take on their deciduous persona which is not the Ocotillo that most clients are looking for when they request a Sedona native Ocotillo in their garden.

Sedona Native Ocotillos

But being patient is what we can learn from them

As a landscape designer and contractor, I am reluctant to suggest the idea of Ocotillos in a design for a few reasons. One of which was recently articulated in an article by the Backyard Gardener, Jeff Schlau of the Arizona Cooperative Extension Yavapai County titled, Native Ocotillos Require Patience. 

Ocotillos are native to Sedona and are useful as sculptural elements in the gardens

Ocotillo is known for its upright slender spiny canes covered with small green leaves.

Most people expect their Ocotillos to look just like the picture, but that’s not what they look like when you buy them at the nursery. Most all Ocotillos are harvested bare root from their native habitat, wrapped tight with wire for easy transport and handling. The roots are severely cut to sometimes to the point where there is not much to go into the planting hole and you wonder what is going to keep it from falling over. The process of taking a native plant from its habitat and putting it into your garden is considered transplanting Ocotillos and what Mr. Schlau is referring to as “patience required” is that some Ocotillos can take anywhere between 6 to 24 months before any signs of blooming or leafing out. Presumably because of the severe root pruning during harvesting from the desert.

I tell clients who are interested in Ocotillos that they will be planted bare root and will not have any leaves. I then tell them it could take years to look like what they expect. I also say they are unpredictable as to when they will leaf out and to be able to appreciate them in their deciduous state because that is what they will look like most of the time. I have had countless former clients complain that their “Ocotillo is dead” or “When is it going to leaf out?” I tell them to scratch a branch with a knife and if its a pale green, that its still alive and to be patient. The problem is, I am the guy with the great idea to plant the Ocotillo which is constantly under performing expectations and makes me look not so cool.

The point of this blog post is to forewarn anyone considering planting Ocotillos in their yard. Not that they should be avoided but to fully understand why they may  not meet your expectations. Ocotillos are great specimens that symbolize the southwest and provide a sculptural element that provides instant vertical height and looks great when lit at night. The otherwise brown deciduous state should be considered as the predominant look most of the year.

Many a garden writer who delves into the more deeper aspects of gardening will tell you gardens can teach you about yourself. Those inner aspects of your being are often reflected in the garden if you pay close attention . Patience is a virtue that can be learned through gardening. The Ocotillo is a wonderful teacher to instill patience. Sometimes it is more enjoyable to one day notice the buds on your Azalea that hasn’t bloomed for three years than to come home to a bountiful display of riotous color in your container garden every day.

There is a common request I get from landscape clients: they want low maintenance, lots of color and don’t want to spend very much – and they want it now, not have to wait three years for everything to look great. Usually after I get a little introspective talking about patience, being in the present moment, allowing things to be as they are, people come back down to earth.

Yes, Sedona native Ocotillos do inhabit our surrounding national forest and is perhaps the best way to appreciate their beauty and elegance. Walking in silence, being at one with nature, not thinking about anything in particular, and then as you come to the top of a crest, you are greeted by an Ocotillo in full bloom as if it was waiting for you.

If you do buy a bare root Ocotillo on your own, check out this publication from the Phoenix Botanical Garden.

 

Lack of curb appeal is a problem for many homes. But the attractiveness of how a property appears from the street is not enough. The functionality of the home in terms of the flow of circulation both pedestrian and vehicular is important as well.  Here we have a case study I will call Sedona curb appeal problem solved, of course located in Sedona Arizona where the clients approached me to consult with them about how to fix an issue they realized they had after purchasing the home some six months earlier.

The house was designed on a sloping lot where the garage is situated towards the rear of the lot and accessed by a long driveway off to one side of the property. The front door is on the upper main floor and does not face the street although there is a sidewalk that leads to the entry.

The “before” picture below shows how the house looks from street view.  As you can see, there is not much curb appeal. But the aesthetics are just part of the problem.

Here we see an aerial photo showing the issues with this property in terms of front entry, curb appeal and circulation.  The problem is when new visitors come to the property, they pull into the driveway and are taken down to the lower level garage where the front door is not visible. People are lost not knowing where the front door is and end up knocking on the garage door.

 

Although the sidewalk at the upper street level leads to the front door, it cannot be seen and there is no shoulder to park on along the street. It can be confused for the side of the house given the driveway is the alternate entry point. People would believe that driving into the driveway, the entry will be revealed, but unfortunately, they just get confused.

The problem with the front entry curb appeal is that the concrete sidewalk alone is not enough to tell people that it leads to the front door. The plantings are so boring that the eye keeps looking for signs of “welcome, you are at the right place” or other signals.

One idea the homeowners thought of was a very straightforward solution to build stairs from the lower level accessing the second floor and front door. A small sign would be added to further guide people up the stairs to the entry.

I agreed that was indeed a solution, but when I approached the property for the first time as a visitor knowing their issue, I immediately noticed that they had no curb appeal and that the entry must be embellished to call attention to it so that it was obvious where to go whether you were walking along the street or approaching in a car.  The front yard was virtually unlandscaped with a large gravel expanse which was conducive for a semicircular driveway.

With the inclusion of the mailbox in the middle of the driveway island, the property address clearly visible on the corner of the house near the front door and additional plantings to draw the eye towards the entry, the front yard now successfully invites people to drive up and enter through the front door and not get lost in the lower garage level.

We did include a paver sidewalk from the new circular drive that leads to a set of steps connecting the lower and upper areas. Plantings were used on both levels to unify both spaces. The stairs were added not only to unify the separate levels, but to act as a back up in case some people try entering through the old driveway and not the new paver driveway.

Below is the front yard at the completion of the new paver driveway. The plantings will take some time to mature, and will only add to the overall curb appeal.

The homeowners are most pleased with the solution. Another Sedona curb appeal problem solved.

Outdoor rooms extend the useable living areas of the home. Sometimes they are adjacent to the home itself as in a covered patio. Sometimes they are fully detached and separate from the residence and have their own roof structure.

A simple shade structure may or may not be designed to create the feeling of an outdoor room, because it may only be designed for shade as the primary function. In this case, do we want total shade as in creating a solid cover, or do we want partial shade which allows light to filter through an open beam structure?

Most shade structures are not designed as outdoor “rooms” unless they have some kind of wall or enclosure that defines the area under cover. The furniture and other amenities that are placed in the space also define how well the ambiance feels like an true outdoor room.

Today, many pieces of furniture and fabric can withstand the elements including area rugs. Some outdoor speakers are also designed as water resistant.

Look at this slide show of projects I have designed and built giving some examples of Ramadas, Gazebos, View Decks and other structures and spaces:

/* */