PROJECT FACT SHEET
Project Name: The Gardens on El Paseo
Project Location: Palm Desert, California
Project Budget: $350,000
Purpose of the Project
Gardens on El Paseo provides a vibrant, fashionable retail environment in a unique,
outdoor garden setting for tourists and residents of Palm Desert.
The six-acre site is centrally located along the El Paseo, a street lined with small
boutique shops and commercial offices. It is an ideal location for the development of a
major retail destination in the heart of the city.
It is this vision, and the need to stimulate a weak local economy, that prompted the City
of Palm Desert to consider a retail center at this vacant site. During the late 1980s and
early 1990s, a decline in retail sales and taxes in the El Paseo commercial district
occurred greatly reduced the city’s ability to provide additional public infrastructure and
social services for its steadily growing population. In response, the city envisioned a
centrally located retail destination that would generate year-round revenue.
While many plans were presented to the city, a reduction in shopping activity during the
summer curtailed the ability of many developers to secure financing to build the 250,000
square foot retail center. In 1994, the site was purchased with the intention of creating a
thriving retail environment organized around a variety of local and national retail stores
and restaurants, accented by gardens, courtyards and promenades.
Role of the Landscape Architect
The landscape architect played a significant role during the approval, design and
implementation process of the project. Close collaboration with the owner and the
architect during the initial site design process facilitated the creation of several site plans
that were presented for discussion with city representatives and key neighborhood groups
to confirm the project’s goals and objectives. These goals and objectives included:
1. Provide a place that people can visit and use year-round that provides human
comfort – especially during the summertime.
2. Provide a space that can be used by the owner and the city for special community
events during the year.
3. Provide a sustainable landscape in a unique garden setting.
4. Provide opportunities for community outreach or participation in the project.
5. Provide opportunities to educate people about the city and its desert
Using these goals as cornerstones of the design, the landscape architect worked with the
architect, lighting designer, graphic designer and civil engineer to create a plan that
provided a variety of garden spaces with year-round appeal.
Special Factors and Significance
1. The desert garden and public lawn area celebrate the community’s environmental
and cultural history. Called the central garden, this half-acre area serves as the
main focal point for this project. This garden contains a native palm grove and
desert arroyo garden reminiscent of the natural landscapes found throughout the
surrounding Coachella Valley, where natural stone and plant materials form a lush
garden of palms, shade trees and succulents.
2. The local community college encourages its horticultural students to use this
garden as a testing ground for cultivating rare or endangered desert annuals. In
the springtime, these annuals will emerge from the gravel floor to provide a
stunning flora showcase that can be seen from the north side of El Paseo Street
that borders the central garden.
3. The City of Palm Desert required that public art be a significant component of the
project. This collaborative process between the developer, the landscape architect
and a renowned local sculptor yielded a work of art that embodies the spirit and
power of the desert.
4. This entire process is chronicled in an illustrative brochure. The piece depicts the
methods used to transcribe the environmental and cultural history of the area into
a design idea, and ultimately, into a built environment.
The Gardens on El Paseo is the result of a positive collaborative process that successfully
addresses economic goals, community needs and environmental issues. The project, now
in its fifth year of existence, is fully leased, enjoys some of the highest sales tax of any
retail project in the region, and has become a showpiece for the developer and City of
PHOTO DESCRIPTION SHEET
Gardens on El Paseo
1. Aerial Context Map of Palm Desert
2. Photograph before construction showing site to the left and El Paseo and existing retail shops to
the center and right of image
3. Illustrative Site Plan
4. Conceptual sketch of Paseo and Shade Garden
5. Photograph of retail paseo, standing on second level at palm court looking down retail paseo
towards El Paseo street.
6. Photograph of shade garden area, standing on second level at palm court looking towards the
central lawn area.
7. Photograph of shade garden interior, standing on second level looking down.
8. Photograph of central lawn area during a jazz concert, standing on second level looking toward
the stage and desert arroyo garden beyond.
9. Photograph of desert arroyo garden, standing near rock/ water sculpture looking towards central
lawn area and retail terminus.
10. Photograph of rock/ water sculpture, standing near El Paseo street and looking towards retail
buildings that flank the desert arroyo garden
11. Photograph of the educational brochures that are available to the public. These brochures describe
the design concepts for the gardens and public art sculpture for the project as well as telling the
history of the palm trees in the area.
12. Photograph of the central lawn and desert arroyo garden, standing from the second level looking
towards El Paseo street and existing retail shops beyond.
13. The master plan for Wildcat Ranch illustrates the minimal impact that development has on the
ranch. Building envelopes, indicated by the circles, contain all disturbance within an eight acre
parcel. Open space, ranging from wetlands to agricultural bottomlands to dry pinon-juniper
lowlands to aspen-spruce forested hillsides, occupies more than 95% of the property.
14. The ranch is located in a contained valley surrounded by high mountain peaks. Water rights,
while senior and plentiful, are carefully monitored through a series of agricultural ditch systems.
Human impact is minimal in this pristine agricultural landscape, and wildlife and vegetative
habitat systems take precedence over all other activities.
15. Remnants from the original homesteaders in the valley are in evidence everywhere. Agricultural
activity has always occurred in the bottom of the valley where water is most prevalent. The ranch
operates under a land management plan which monitors seasonal agricultural usage.
16. The landscape architect was instrumental in leading the land restoration activities throughout the
ranch. Because the ranch had been heavily grazed, the damage from cattle was overwhelming.
Streambank grading and planting, road cut grading and planting, and an irrigation master plan
were all implemented under the landscape architect.
17. Modest landscape improvements were made to the roadways and common areas within the ranch.
Gravel roads are accented by vernacular walls and fences at appropriate locations. Native
plantings are utilized to highlight views, improve safety and tie into the existing vegetation
patterns. In short, it is difficult to discern the hand of the landscape architect in this vast
18. The ranch headquarters house the ranch manager and several staff members. Development of the
ranch included the complete restoration of the historic buildings and the reintroduction of a
cottonwood grove at the base of the slope.
19. Ponds, ravaged by years of use by cattle, were restored and enhanced with wetland plantings. As
a result, the water quality improved and wildlife and trout habitat increased.
20. Wayfinding elements are used sparingly at Wildcat Ranch. All signage is constructed out of
elements found on-site, such as this boulder marking a turn in the road.
21. While alternative proposals for Wildcat Ranch included the installation of a ski lift to connect to
neighboring Snowmass Ski Area, and development of 12,000 residential units, the only
improvement that was ultimately made to the ranch was the expansion of Lake Wildcat to 50
acres. Lake improvements included bank restoration and wetland plantings, cottonwood groves
and the construction of a modest dock.
22. Lake Wildcat is a self stocking lake, offering fishing opportunities, as well as electric and paddle
boat activities for residents of ranch.
23. A field guide was produced for all property owners at Wildcat Ranch. The guide contains
illustrative and scientific notations about animal and plant species found on the ranch. A map of
hiking and equestrian trails is included in the guide as well as wildlife and vegetation habitat
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