Summer Blues

As the middle of August approaches, here in the Southwest kids are returning to school and the temperatures have finally dipped back below 110.

While many may not consider this a cooling trend, for us it is a sign of hope that Fall is just around the corner.

It’s hard to believe that summer is winding down, and it won’t be long until the days start getting noticeably shorter and the smell of burning fireplaces fills the air.

I imagine this anticipation is not unlike what most people in the Northeast sense around the beginning of February when they wonder how much longer Old Man Winter will be hanging around.

Summer in the Southwest has traditionally been a slower time of year for me. As temperatures soar, clients escape the heat and head to cooler mountain temperatures or warm California beaches and I usually spend this time catching up on “freebie” projects for friends and family that have been sitting in my “To Do” bin for at least a month -- or more like eight.

This summer was no exception, and I am almost to the bottom of the bin and am ready to start filling it up again.

But don’t misunderstand; Summer is not all work for me. I too need a break.

Every year, we try to visit my wife’s family in New England. This is such a welcome change of pace and scenery. Not only does it allow me to escape the heat and recharge my batteries near the ocean, but also it gives me a fresh perspective on landscaping trends in other parts of the country.

Even though I was born and raised in Arizona, there is something about New England that feels like home to me. Perhaps it is the cooler temperatures or maybe it is the uniqueness of the landscape. But every year I feel like I’m coming home, even if it’s only for a couple of weeks.

It’s amazing to see shrubs and trees that would never tolerate the desert heat thriving in their perfect environment. The colors and textures of the plant material found in the Northeast are so brilliant and unique compared to what I am used to.

I think the different shades of green I notice in the grass, trees and shrubs are what amaze me most. In the desert, the climate is arid and the color brown dominates the landscape more than green.

This is due, in part, to the less organic soil native to the Southwest and the rock mulch that is used for a number of reasons. Water is a precious commodity here in the desert, and irrigating large areas of turf can be expensive. With only approximately eight inches of annual precipitation, supplemental irrigation is essential to the viability and longevity of any landscape here in the Southwest.

When talking to people who aren’t familiar with the climate here in Arizona, one of the things I find interesting is the lack of awareness that anything besides cacti and boulders grow in the desert.

Okay, boulders don’t grow, but the metaphor still stands.

While the climate here is harsh in the summer, many perennials and annuals that thrive in the summer in the Northeast do quite well during the fall and winter here.

For instance, I enjoy seeing window boxes overflowing with the vibrant reds and whites of geraniums during the summer in New England. However, in Arizona, we plant them in the late fall and early winter and they will thrive until late May or early June, depending on the microclimate and weather.

Having just returned from our annual New England vacation, I find myself refreshed and looking forward to another year of projects. Even though my color palate may be a different hue than what might be considered “normal” throughout most of the country, I love its uniqueness.

While I will miss the variety of colors of the hostas and the textures of the pines and maples, I will try my best to emulate nature here in the southwest with mesquites, palo verdes and Texas sage.

And hopefully, those cooler temperatures and other signs of fall are just around the corner.

Boyd Coleman is a landscape architect in Phoenix, Arizona. He can be reached on Twitter at @CDGLA or email: