The yards and gardens of Chihuahua

Can you believe it? This is part 8 of a continuing series on Chihuahua, Mexico. I’ve decided to break this section on yards and gardens into several smaller posts. My travelogue about Mexico is running a bit longer than I expected initially, but I’m having fun putting down my observations about gardening in a completely different country and environment. 

Today, I’ll introduce some of the more common landscape plants as we tour by a few country homes, and then head into town to explore commercial/roadside plantings and middle class neighborhoods. We’ll start off with honey mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa), one of the native shrubs of the Chihuahuan desert. It’s in the legume family and produces pods that are sweet, hence the common name. As a kid, I spent hours building a little hideout under a cluster of mesquite that grew near our apartment. So, this is one of those plants that brings back a lot of fond memories.

Honey mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa)
Honey mesquite framing a country homestead

Side note. Although native to the Chihuahuan Desert, honey mesquite is considered one of the 100 worst invasive species in the world according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature. The list itself makes for an interesting read (link). Some of the listed species weren’t surprising (rats, house mice), but others were. For example, cats, gray squirrels, rainbow trout, strawberry guava, and common prickly pear all made the top 100. Common prickly pear (Opuntia stricta) has become such a problem in Australia that it sometimes called Australian pest pear! I had to chuckle a little that we humans weren’t on the list, though. We’re the whole reason that all of these plants, animals, and microbes became problems in the first place!

Honey mesquite shading an entryway

A few more country homes. They have so much more space to spread out and plant than the city folks do.

Pine trees (maybe Pinus brutia var. eldarica) and junipers or arborvitae
I like the simplicity of the fence. Pecan trees (Carya illinoinensis) in the background.

As you will see, most yards are very simple. A few specimen trees or shrubs, maybe a few potted plants, and that seems to be it. Remember, Mexico doesn’t have the same history of horticulture that we do in the US (described briefly here).

So much empty space in the front yard! The little green bushes in the brown grass are creosote (Larrea tridentata).

Heading into the city now. Although native plants weren’t very abundant in local nurseries, they were present in many roadside plantings, which made me wonder if they had been dug directly from the desert. The native ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens) were in leaf when we arrived in July 2023, indicating that there had already been some significant rainfall.

This window + ocotillo = perfection
Large specimen ocotillo

Palo verde (Parkinsonia aculeata and P. microphylla) and huisache (Vachellia constricta) trees, all native, are common around town. Incidentally, P. aculeata is one of the worst invasive weeds in Australia. That shift in perspective is startling. I’ve become so accustomed to the invasive plants that plague us in the US, that it is strange to realize our own native North American plants are a problem elsewhere.

Parkinsonia microphylla (Littleleaf palo verde)
Vachellia constrica (Huisache)

Native Dasylirion species, trimmed into the shape of sea anemones, and interspersed with nonnative oleander (Nerium oleander). I wonder whether this was a new planting and the Dasylirion had been trimmed to make installation easier or whether they were trimmed because they were too close to the sidewalk and each other.

Maybe this would have been more successful with smaller agaves and some native juniper scrub
Closeup. They look ridiculous to me.
A much nicer, more naturalistic planting

This gas station had some sad, shriveled up aloes  planted out. At least the ones in front of the main building weren’t covered in weeds and garbage. I am hoping they perk up a bit after it rains.

Cypress of some sort, maybe Cupressus lusitanica? No idea. We’ll see more of it around town and later, when I do the post about Chihuahuan parks.

Fruitless mulberry (Morus alba), or moro macho as it is known in Spanish, provides reliable shade in the desert and doesn’t need a lot of water, which is strange because it always looks so lush. Tree topping (the practice of periodically cutting back tree branches to keep the tree small) is pretty common around town because yard space is much more limited than in the US. Most of the trees in the following six photos had all been topped at one point or another.

An allée of topped moro macho
A lone mulberry tree and some weeds.

Lila (Melia azedarach, aka Chinaberry), arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis), and a mulberry lurking in the background.

Sicomoro (Sycamore, Platanus hybrid). This one had been topped within the last year or so.

Trueno (tree privet, Ligustrum lucidum) growing out of a hole in the sidewalk. Plus, look! A payphone!

Now, we are driving through a few middle class neighborhoods. Most yards have the bare minimum. Yard space is precious and often needs to accommodate a car or two. There’s little (if any) room devoted to plants. Maybe a small touch here or there. I wonder if an extensive public-facing garden would stand out too much as a sign of wealth, making the owners a more likely target for theft?

Concrete and iron minimalist yard. Low water use once established...that's a dry joke, folks.
Palm tree and grass along the left, concrete in front
Two tree laurels and a potted plant
Something green growing in the carport
Small lawn to the right of door, large Arizona cypress (Cupressus arizonica) out back
A small lawn, roses, and Italian cypress (called cipres panteonero here, meaning graveyard cypress)
Potted aloe on the front porch. Imagine if that was creeping thyme instead of weeds growing in the sidewalk.
A lawn, of sorts
Lots of potted plants blooming on the front porch. Crepe myrtle and yuccas in the hellstrip.
Cute place needs more container plants

I thought this last place was charming, with a lot of potential. Love the color of the house and how it contrasts with the variegated Agave americana out front. I’d stop pruning the poor thing, get rid of the weeds along the fence, and fill everything in with even more cacti and succulents.

Ok, that concludes today’s post. Next time, I’ll focus on yards from upper-middleclass to upperclass neighborhoods. There is a difference, as many of the yards are bigger and the owners can afford to irrigate, which results in a wider selection of plants.

This Post Has 10 Comments

  1. Tracy

    thank you for sharing, I feel like I walked through the neighborhood!

    1. Botanica Chaotica

      And a long walk it was, I’m sure! I have a hard time cutting back on the number of photos!

  2. Kris P

    I’m not surprised that trees are valued more than ornamental plants. The shady allees were particularly attractive.
    However, I was a little surprised that there seemed to be no focus on edible gardens but perhaps those tend to be tucked into the back areas even where garden space is limited.

    1. Botanica Chaotica

      I asked L about vegetable gardening in Mexico. His impression was that there aren’t many people doing it because it is very easy to get fresh vegetables in the market. However, I bet a few people do grow stuff in the backyard just to keep it from being picked. Out in the country, we did see more fruit trees, nut trees, and such.

  3. danger garden

    Those dasylirion do look ridiculous! Such big mature plants, they would look amazing if left to their natural shape. The lack of ornamental plants just looks so sad to my eyes. There is such a distinctive style to many of the homes, they could look so much more inviting with some tough plants, or like Kris mentioned, edibles. Peppers in a pot? Of course this is just my way of seeing, with all of it’s built in biases…

    1. Botanica Chaotica

      Yes, it is very limited. It’s obvious that people’s priorities lie elsewhere. Still, I kept imagining whether I could ever run a nursery down there, or if I could get a garden club going, and so on. I also wondered if maybe there are some gardeners down there and we just didn’t go to the right neighborhood, or they garden in their backyard. I wonder how much depends on who you know so that you can get an invitation.

  4. Beth@PlantPostings

    Oh, I wish I was there right now because of the warmth! The fencing, and the plants of course, are lovely. You’ve had some wonderful adventures!

    1. Botanica Chaotica

      I have to laugh because the warmth was a bit much while we were down there. Over a 110F on a few days. If only we could bottle it up for the cold days when we are curled up on the couch blogging!

  5. hb

    This is great. I love seeing neighborhoods and just domestic plantings. I like to drive around neighborhoods here with a friend as “tourists” in our own area. It’s always fascinating to see what people have done to their yards.

    Really interesting too about desert plants being invasive. Australia is working pretty hard on eliminating invasives so as to protect native plants, insects and animals.

    Yes so true, are humans not the most destructive, invasive species of them all? Sad. We have brains–if only we’d use them better.

    1. Botanica Chaotica

      I too love walking around neighborhoods and seeing what people have done with their yards. Time was, when I lived in town, that we used to do that at least once a week. Was a great way to get to know people.

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