Waterwise in New Mexico


    Today’s Guest Rant by Hunter Ten Broeck, founder of the design firm WaterWise Landscapes based in Albuquerque, highlights an upcoming conference that has changed landscaping and water use patterns in New Mexico while building community. You’ll also get a peek at some regional waterwise gardens. It may surprise you just how lush and colorful these landscapes can be.

    Here’s Hunter to tell (and show) you about gardening and living more sustainably in arid landscapes!


    When Evelyn Hadden asked me to write a rant, I wondered which direction to take. Like many guest ‘ranters’, I wear a number of different hats. My paying job is head designer and founder/owner of WaterWise Landscapes Incorporated in Albuquerque, NM.  My second hat is my passion as an outdoor photographer.

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    A vertically layered combination in my backyard: Giant Sacaton (Sporobolus wrightii), Purpleaster (Machaeranthera canescens), ‘Autumn Joy’ Sedum, ‘Seafoam’ Artemesia, Turpentine Bush (Ericameria laricifolia), and Algerita or Redberry Mahonia (Mahonia haematocarpa).
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    Autumn in my front hellstrip garden, planted in the late 80’s & early 90’s. Liatrus punctata, Cherry Sage (Salvia greggii), and Blue Star Amsonia (Amsonia grandiflora) contribute color and texture.

    My third hat fulfills my commitment to continuing environmental education. Since 1993 I have volunteered on the Xeriscape Council of New Mexico (XCNM). In 2011 I became Vice President. Sharing this third hat is my ‘rant’s’ focus.

    XCNM was formed in the 80’s to educate the Green Industry and general public on the benefits of xeriscape by producing a Xeriscape Conference. In the early 90’s the USGS confirmed what many on the Council knew instinctually – Albuquerque (like most Western cities) had a limited water supply. We needed to rethink how we use water.

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    My design firm has specialized in regionally appropriate landscapes since 1993. The cistern at our office waters the entire landscape on an automatic drip system.

    Several Council members, myself included, were instrumental in guiding conservation measures that specifically involved landscaping. These changes and others presented in Xeriscape Conferences helped Albuquerque decrease per capita water use by over 40% since 1994.

    Additionally and importantly, the Council includes local food growers, artists and businesses who are actively engaged in making the change we are advocating happen in our communities.

    Over the years we expanded the Conference into topics much broader than the original focus on xeriscape. Meeting this natural evolution, we re-branded the Conference ‘The Land & Water Summit’. Our focus topics now also include climate change, sustainability, Arid LID (Low Impact Development), water conservation, water harvesting, the energy/water nexus and community building.

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    Lamb’s Ear (Stachys byzantina) adorned with fall leaves of Bigtooth Maple (Acer grandidentatum) in my front courtyard.

    The 2016 ‘Land & Water Summit’ will be February 25 and 26 in Albuquerque. This year  ‘Creating a New Paradigm for Living in Arid Lands’ is our focus.

    Western landscapes present many challenges now and for the future. An innovative holistic approach is needed to bring experts from a variety of fields together with registrants to exchange information and energize all of us to turn the ideas into community action. The size and timing of the event is specifically designed to permit maximum interaction between all parties. The conference features a wide ranging group of speakers and panelists.

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    A WaterWise design/install of 2010 with English Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia), Gray Santolina (Santolina chamaecyparissus), Hopley’s Oregano (Origanum laevigatum), and Buffalo Grass (Bouteloua dactyloides).

    Since brew pubs represent one specialty of our locale where people gather and water quality is critical, this year’s event includes a beer tasting of local brews. How cool is that?

    And to satisfy the cravings of you garden geeks, New Mexico’s own garden writer and landscape designer Judith Phillips will elaborate on ideas from her most recent book, Growing The Southwest Garden.

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    This Judith Phillips design, installed by WaterWise in 2005 in the North Valley of Albuquerque, features shrubs and grasses. In the foreground are Threadgrass (Nassella tennissima, which can be very invasive depending on siting) and Gayfeather (Liatrus punctata). The cactus is Engelmann’s Prickly Pear (Opuntia engelmannii), the illuminated grasslike plant is Beargrass (Nolina microcarpa), the shrub on the right is Algerita/Redberrry Mahonia (Mahonia haematocarpa), and the large illuminated shrub in the back is Chisos Rosewood (Vauquelinia corymbosa ssp. angustifolia).
    Mounds of Gayfeather (Liatrus punctata) and Blue Oat Grass (Helictotrichon sempervirens) punctuate a labyrinth in a ‘Wizard of Oz’ themed garden designed by Judith Phillips and installed by WaterWise Landscapes in 2001.

    Check out our 2016 Land and Water Summit agenda, including a Stormwater Solutions pre-conference field trip. Take advantage of the Early Bird discount and register by January 19!


    Hunter Ten Broeck is an avid outdoor photographer, environmental educator, and head designer at the firm he founded in 1993, WaterWise Landscapes. You can see more of his regional nature and garden photos at the WaterWise Landscapes’ social media sites (Pinterest & FaceBook) and website. His photos have been included in two Timber Press books: Growing the Southwest Garden by Judith Phillips and Hellstrip Gardening by (Garden Rant’s own) Evelyn Hadden.


    1. Hunter, thanks for doing a guest post for us. I would love to get to the conference one of these years! And to see your amazingly beautiful garden in person. Keep up the great work!

    2. As a community (and beyond), we have choices to make. Our response to the many challenges defines us. I want to be defined by choices like THESE! Thanks for sharing your passion, Hunter. And your time. Continued success with the business!

      • Thanks so much John and David, it is my hope that more people will make the choices to do the right thing. The benefits are not only leaving things better for our children and beyond but having a more beautiful and wildlife friendly place to live.

    3. Love the look of abundance and blocks of color in your designs, and sensitive use of contrasting forms for high visual impact. Definitely proof that low water use and beautiful full plantings are not mutually exclusive. Thanks for sharing these photos, they make your case.

      David in Berkeley

    4. Albuquerque just released the per capita water use figures for 2015 at 127 gallons per person per day which is down from 240 in 1993. We were fortunate to have a wet year but even so reservoirs levels are still very low and groundwater levels are dropping. The trend is good but there is still much work to do.


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