Landscape tour inspires the gardener and poet

Block wall with Cactus and Penstemon at the Bill and Kat LaHaye Home in Morongo Valley

The Desert-Wise Landscape Tour hosted by the Morongo Basin Conservation Association April 23-24 inspired visitors with daydreams of midcentury houses and cozy retreats with the bones of ’50s cabins and the soul of a hideaway for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

The gardens, some overflowing with native species, some stark and natural with an intimate relationship to the desert boulders, whispered their names in the wind, like George and Nancy Huntington’s Rancho del Vida Dulce or Sarah Kennington and Steve Bardwell’s Agave Acres. Meandering paths through the Robin Kobaly and Doug Thompson Song-Bird grounds were staged with sign posts of native wisdom and a touch of the romantic.

Plants with names like Mexican primrose, whirling butterfly and blue festuca at the Huntington House invoked thoughts of far-away places and idle hours.

This year, George Huntington said, was his best yet for growing herbs and vegetables. The fenced-off vegetable garden was packed with large summer squash, beets, tomato plants, cucumbers, strawberries and chives about to bloom. Huntington dismissed the mint encroaching over its boundaries next to the beets as a pushy cousin and introduced one majestic looking cactus as part of the family, it had been around so long.

The LaHaye house high up on a hill overlooking Morongo Valley proudly displayed Colorado desert creosote scrub, wild plum, Spanish dagger and desert almond dominate. A block wall framing a variety of penstemon species and succulents was high enough to contain the brick patio that swept its way around the house and low enough to say, “Come on in.”

Some of the homes, sleek and modern like the home of Brian Leatart and Cheryl Montelle and the home and guest house of Molly Quinones and Scott Bohannon, sit regally amongst the boulders and native plants in the Joshua Tree Highlands.

“Living in the desert is wonderfully restful and challenging,” said Kathleen Bartle, who recently moved into her renovated homestead in the foothills of the north Morongo Valley with her partner, Alan Hedman.

Essay contest for tour takers

If you took the tour, the Morongo Basin Conservation Association is holding a short essay contest. Write about your experience and you may win the first-place prize, a $200 gift certificate to Unique Nursery, the second-place prize, a $150 gift certificate to Cactus Mart, or the third-place prize, a $100 MBCA gift certificate.

Just write 150-300 words about your experience. Let your imagination soar. Maybe you learned about drought-tolerant plants that will save you money. Maybe you were inspired to “go native.” or are now inspired to redesign your home, incorporating the natural landscape into your house remolding plans.

How did the Desert-Wise tour make you feel? Write it all down and submit it as a Word document or insert the text into an email to by May 16. MBCA will announce the winners by May 23.

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