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  • Jennifer Jewell


Ross Gay - Poet & Gardener, Photo by Natasha Komoda |


Judith Phillips is a renowned landscape designer, founder and principle of Design Oasis, based in Albuquerque, New Mexico. For the past 30 years she has been an advocate, activist, and leader in native plant and climate adapted garden design, the goals of which are beautiful and livable spaces within the limits of an extreme environment in order to provide benefits to not only humans but the land and wildlife of her place as well.

Judith is a founding member of Albuquerque's Xeriscape Council, which hosts the Land and Water Summit, serving the ecological landscaping and land management industries across the US West.

Judith’s design projects include 1500+ gardens in New Mexico, Colorado and Arizona. Her experience researching and propagating native and adaptive landscape ornamentals informs her work as a designer and garden writer. She is an advocate of landscaping with native and xeric plants because she sees their resilience is our hope for a greener future.

"Design is an opportunity to strengthen

the relationship between people and nature,

to create beautiful, sustainable living spaces from the ground up.

The better matched the plants are to the growing conditions, the more sustainable the garden will be and

the easier it will be to maintain."

Judith Phillips, Design Oasis - Albuquerque, NM

The author of five books and numerous articles encouraging people to garden with a passion for the high desert, Judith also speaks regionally on water conservation, native and arid-adapted plants and design, habitat gardening and related subjects, and teaches a plants class in the Landscape Architecture Program at the University of New Mexico.

Judith's 1995 book set, published by the Museum of New Mexico, includes Natural By Design and Plants for Natural Gardens, profiling hundreds of native plants of the high desert. Judith's personal mission is advocating for not only good coherent design, but an abundance of biodiversity in our gardens.

In February of this year, Judith was recognized by the Land & Water Summit held annually for her amazing contributions to the ecological landscaping in New Mexico and the Southwest – an award well deserved for a long and passionate career still in progress.

"Plants are absolutely the heart and soul of my designs, but extraordinary gardens are much more than collections of plants," she writes. "The walls and arbors that enclose spaces, the walkways that connect them and the patios and porches where people gather create oases cooled, colored and perfumed by plants."

"I'm an advocate of landscaping with native and xeric plants because of their beauty, their harmony with place and purpose. My inspiration comes in part from natural areas that are compelling: where boulders condense dew and shelter plants; where the periodic flooding of arroyos supports the refreshing shade of small trees; where meandering paths coax you to follow them. The desert that inspires my designs is the desert after rain, those moments in the lifecycle of the parched landscape when just enough rain comes to change an austere scene to one of amazing abundance.While natural springs and artesian wells are disappearing, our rooftops, driveways, patios and paths shed thousands of gallons of water during rainstorms every year. This is a largely untapped source of water for our gardens. Harvested water supplementing careful plant selection is a means to a green and truly sustainable landscape."

According to Judith's world-view, "An eco-inspired garden isn't wild-looking unless you want it to be. It may be:

decidedly restrained

simple and serene

exuberantly dramatic

It may transition from one mood to another as you move through a series of garden rooms:

a welcoming front courtyard

a lush dining patio surrounded with aromatic herbs

a serene bedroom patio with hot tub or outdoor shower

an energizing work space"

Join us again next week when we kick off a Seed Season series with a revisit to the UK's Clare Foster whose book The Flower Garden: How to Grow Flowers From Seed will begin our winter dreaming and seed list making. Listen in next week!





Do you notice something about this conversation with Judith? Have you noticed – that up until the first break we had yet to talk about plants? But even so, do you notice how incredibly deep her understanding of the water ways and seasonal water cycles and the hydrology and water courses at play with the geology of her place and her climate is? It’s astounding to me really. I am in awe of this knowledge this intimacy with the ways of her place that Judith is modeling for us right now. And It gives me great hope. For me and for you and for those coming up in this tradition of a what a gardening life looks like. Because a full-bodied wholehearted - to use Brene Brown’s lovely term – gardening-life aspires to this kind of intimacy and understanding over time and caring experience.

My interest was sparked when Judith reminded us via her daughter’s field of study that what we as humans know as "cultural standards" are fully ingrained in us by the age of 8. What our place in the world looks like, sounds like, is.

Friday the 23rd of October, I served as the moderator for a full day conference being held by the Illinois Landscape Contractors Association. The conference known as IMPACT has been held for several years now and this year’s theme is building sustainable landscapes. There are sessions on Eco-Beneficial Landscapes, reducing salt for winter hardscape management, building better native plant based landscaping businesses, designing for stormwater management, ecological pest management for tree care, and adding art and ecology as a priority, and presenters include Valari Tallapatra, William Moss, Bartlett trees, and the Millenium Park foundation. Earlier this year, I was the evening speaker for the Ecological Landscape Alliance in Amherst Mass and I have to tell you – to see gatherings like these around global environmental concept and topics like this in the professional working person levels of our landscaping industry gives me great hope. It will be only be with changes from all levels in our cultural standards of what is beautiful and what is beneficial and valuable that we begin to see real change in what the green spaces of our cities look like and how they are cared for. And only in this way with change on all levels of the issues will children growing up reaching the age of 8 with a fully embodied concept of places that look like the places they are – considering and including all the lives that live there.

Judith’s use of the word poverty in the context of most of the "landscaping" we see in our built environment jumped out at me. Like a gut check in fact.

Such a harsh, apt word for so much of how we have so-called “landscaped” our human-built lives. I was driving through a new development in my own town the other day, a town in a rich growing region, a biodiversity hot spot on our planet, a region whose iconic golden rolling hills dotted with green oaks of summer are recognizable by people around the world, and once you got one block into the development you could have been anywhere. Non-fruiting ornamental blobs lined the streets, green grass had been rolled out smotheringly from hell-strip to building, and this chemical soaked wet blanket of turf was stuck through in places with unrecognizable smaller blobs of generic shrubs and similarly generic and unseasonal again so -called annual color at a time of year in this Mediterranean climate when annual color is jarringly out of place. This default version of “landscape” which is not only not appropriate to this place, but is costly and damaging and not deserving of the word “Gardened” is a profoundly negative bar for our cities and counties and states and culture at large to set and accept.

It’s a negative Feedback loop between landscapers and property owners and therefore suppliers and growers diminishing our visual palette to visual and environmental and psychic poverty – disconnected from everything around us. This negative feedback loop compounds so many other problems attached to that – from water quality to air quality to aesthetics to economics – to what the next generation sees all around them and grows up learning as “the plants of their place” - especially when you consider the fact that we are only becoming more developed and urbanized. If this poverty of imagination, and plant literacy, of life itself is the standard we are going to set and accept then we’re doomed. We are a large large population of people who consider ourselves to be gardeners we are the ones who can help.

Conscientious and thoughtful and caring Gardening is an act of proactive faith and love and resistance and activism. With gardens and gardeners that cultivate self and community and place and that positively interface and interconnect with all the larger lives on whom we depend - from the seasonal seeds stocked up for the next growing season, to later summer skippers visiting the late blooming salvia, to the birds making their way down the Pacific Flyway for winter, to the rattlesnakes preparing for a winter sleep, and chorus frogs soon to gather in moist spots to sing us through the rainy season – well, with gardens and gardeners interwoven into the fabric of their places like this, maybe we stand a chance of creatively growing better a world who so desperately needs us to do just that.




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