Sunday, July 1, 2018


Who buys a book and puts it on the coffee table for 2 weeks? Me. That's who. I wanted to savor the anticipation that came with the purchase.

Anticipation of the wonderful desert landscape projects I was going to see and read about. I don't live in the desert but I love the desert landscape and have spent many vacations hiking in the deserts of the American West. I would love to have the chance to create my own desert landscape although I am sure this will never happen now. But, with a son who lives in Phoenix, my plan is to enjoy the book and then pass it on to him. He is developing some plans for changes to his suburban desert garden and knowing his style this book is perfect.

So after two weeks of anticipation the day finally arrived when I opened the book. No leafing through the pages. I was determined to read about each garden one at a time.

But even before I opened the book I decided to investigate the gardening style of Steve Martino. I came across many articles including the interesting lecture he gave at Oxford University. And words spoken of him, " You celebrate the desert rather than deny it"  and some by himself describing his own work as "weeds and walls" and expanding on how he uses native plants set against his "refined" structures.

This is not really a book review; I have learnt that I am not very good at reviewing books. But rather  to improve my understanding of how I can apply Martino's style to my own garden. Yes, if I was starting over my own garden would probably be quite different. But I think there may still be time to get it out of intensive care and on the road to being a more sustainable garden.

The opening pages begin with a few words from the author, Caren Yglesias, and thanks to the photographer, Steve Gunther, who patiently waited for that perfect moment in time to photograph each garden. (I think we all know when that is... early morning or late in the day.)Then a brief introduction to Martino's designs. Every element in his landscapes must have a purpose. Walls to enclose and create privacy, structures to shade, areas for sitting,  plantings that require no additional water. He used the lessons of the desert itself to create his landscapes.

I was surprised to find that not all his projects are high end, although all had concrete structures which I know come with a price tag. And removal of a traditional style back garden pool, to introduce something more linear, must also be a major undertaking. Some of his designs are to create total privacy and some have majestic desert setting which use a borrowed landscape.

I love how he utilizes the "Accessory building" rule which permits taller structures. Sometimes he uses concrete and sometimes translucent fiberglass panels. Shadows from the structural plants play a big part in his placement of plants. No vegetable gardens here and only native plants. Bold colors are used on many of his walls. I wonder if his clients have input on this or whether like Frank Lloyd Wright he says " You'll get used to it" My thinking is probably not. I must admit I prefer his more muted colors although that may be a function of my age. I went though my bright colored phase in my 30s.

The surprise came when I reached the Casa Blanca Garden. Here was a 90 year old adobe house and Martino had the challenge of designing a garden that would pay homage to this historic structure. He introduced a prickly pear roof which has performed as any other green roof. A small photograph in the book shows the laying down of the pads which have filled in and are now almost 10 years old.

I'll say simply that I love Steve Martino's work and the presentation by Yglesias and Gunther. Just enough information about the projects and plenty of photographs.
The book is back on the coffee table, where, when I have a spare minute, I can leaf though and enjoy these desert gardens once again, before it is on its way to Phoenix.


  1. I'm eagerly awaiting the arrival of a review copy. I adore Steve's work and have had the pleasure of touring a few of his gardens with him. He has vision and is articulate about it, which is inspirational. I enjoyed hearing your thoughts about his book.

  2. I had the pleasure of reviewing this book for Pacific Horticulture magazine. I loved it, so many fabulous photos and the story of a man who is at one with his surroundings. Your son will be lucky to receive it, I’m not so generous and my copy I’d staying with me, rather than going to my brother in Phoenix.

  3. I've been longing to get a look at this book. I hope your son enjoys it when you pass it along.

  4. I'm dying to read this! Steve Martino is one my my all-time favorite designers. I need to just buy this damn book already!

  5. Well writtten, Jenny. Thank you for your research and distilling it for us, such as: that he thinks of his work as “weeds and walls” (I took my time and saw how this could be true for him, in his deserts, and in his perceptions), and that—in a simple summary—he uses native plants with refined structures. Wonderful insights into the thought process of this visionary artist.

  6. Desert gardens are so striking in structure, and they are really impressive in how they use plants that can survive in an inhospitable environment. It sounds like such an artistic book! I have to say, though, that desert gardening is very intimidating to me (it's all the pokiness of many of the desert plants combined with my clumsiness), and I am very glad I live where we get more rain!

  7. I’ve loved his work for years and did not know there was a book, so thanks for the update.