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Sustainable home landscape design is more than just saving water by using drought tolerant plantings and employing water efficient irrigation systems. Sustainability goes beyond the limits of your own property. Here are some sustainable landscape elements that you may want to consider.

For example, water that is not otherwise used to irrigate your landscape runs off the property into drainage swales and storm drains and finds its way into streams or groundwater aquifers. Sustainability involves ecological, economical and social issues. But primarily homeowners will receive the most tangible benefits of sustainability by focusing on water conservation techniques they can apply to their  home landscape as they are the easiest to put into place.

1) Drip Irrigation – A drip system delivers water at a rate based on gallons per hour compared to gallons per minute as does a conventional spray head system. Both use the same kind of valves, but a drip system’s valves need to have a pressure reducer to bring the pressure after the valve to around 25-30 psi. Drip emitters then deliver water right to the root zone and so are therefore much more efficient than overhead spray heads.

2) Smart Controllers – A “smart” controller is a conventional automatic irrigation controller that is equipped with a computer that you can program that makes use of rainfall data in your region thus helping to improve the efficiency in delivery and conserve water by changing the settings as the level of soil moisture changes.

Hydrawise Smart Controller typical home page
This is my personal dashboard for my Hydrawise smart controller

3) Rain Sensors – when used with a Smart Controller they can overide the default settings in order to save water based on rainfall. A rain sensor can also be used in conjunction with a conventional irrigation controller and will override the controller’s settings when it senses sufficient amount of rainfall.

4) Soil Moisture Sensors – Probing the soil with either a manual rain sensor or one connected to a controller will allow you to adjust your irrigation settings for each zone you are testing. Zones are important in irrigation and planting design to provide adequate water for the plant’s requirements.

5) High Efficiency Nozzles – Spray heads that can be efficient for shrubs and lawn areas by using low precipitation rate nozzles. Make sure they are labeled as such.

6) Rainwater Harvesting – Use rain barrels or larger storage tanks so you can utilize the captured water during periods between rains. Raingardens and Bioswales use the natural runoff from a site to irrigate the plants.

7) Permeable Pavers – Capture rainwater so you can either direct it back into the soil or into a RainXchange underground storage system where the water can then be pumped to use as you wish.

8) Graywater – Water diverted from your washing machine, sinks and showers can be used for irrigation in the landscape. Local building codes vary by state. Not all states allow graywater use, but it is allowed in Arizona.

9) Food Gardens – Providing for at least some of your own food is not only healthy because of its freshness and hopefully grown organically, but is in the spirit of buy local. Not everyone can grow a majority of their own food since most of us live in urban areas, but each of us can do own part regardless how small a contribution.

10) Organic Non-Toxic Methods – Growing organically and avoiding the use of toxic chemicals such as pesticides and herbicides or inorganic fertilizers helps our water resources to remain unpolluted.

11) Recycle, Reuse, Reduce — Composting is an essential feature for any sustainable landscape that will not only reduce burdens on landfills, but improves the soil in your food garden and other planting areas.

On the big picture level, sustainability is a global concern for the continuation of the earth’s resources to provide for the needs of our planet, both human and environmental needs. Sustainability is also a lifestyle choice that affects how we behave and our attitudes. By focusing on sustainable landscape elements, you can help the sustainability of your local region.

Sedona Hummingbird Gardens are easy to create. You just need to include some of the hummingbird friendly plants that will grow here in Sedona.

Hummingbirds are fascinating birds that seem to mesmerize us while they suddenly buzz into our Sedona gardens and search out suitable flowers to feed on nectar. They hover like winged insects suspended in the air grasping at miniscule gnats in the air, but also require the nectar from flowers. This act of feeding on the flowers in our garden is what is so thrilling to watch. They dart from flower to flower with such speed and accuracy, if you are not paying attention, you could miss their visit.

Hummingbirds are different than most other bird species in that they feed primarily on nectar whereas other birds feed on insects, nuts, berries and seeds depending on their beaks. Hummingbirds, therefore do not compete with other bird species for food resources. They do however; compete with each other for territories that include adequate food, shelter and hiding places. Where there is adequate food sources such as a yard with multiple feeders hanging in the garden, there may be overlap to these territories since there is plenty to go around.

In Sedona, we have several species of Hummingbirds, the most common being the Anna’s Hummingbird which tends to be tolerant of cold temperatures and hangs around during the winter. Other species are migratory and tend to show up in early spring and peak out in midsummer. Because of the migratory behavior of most hummingbirds, they will tend to return to the same feeding spots every year. So having flowering plants and hummingbird feeders will keep them coming back to your Sedona Hummingbird garden.

When you understand that hummingbirds have the highest metabolic rate of all vertebrate animals with a heartbeat that can reach 1000 beats per minute, you will see why they are constantly feeding on nectar. The sugar is what they need to fuel their high rate of metabolism. Hanging a feeder is not frowned upon as the feeding of other animals species is. In fact, they need it and you are helping them to survive. Having flowering plants is just icing on the cake.

Do they really need red colored sugar water in the feeder? Hummingbirds are certainly attracted to the color red, but the nectar need not be colored with red dye. All hummingbird feeders are colored red as it is, so no need to buy that special hummingbird feeder mix.

So ideally, it would be good to have both feeders and flowering plants since you may not have enough flowers blooming to support them. The sight of watching a hummingbird feeding from a flower that is in full bloom can’t be matched by the bird – feeder combination. It’s just not the same.

My Sedona clients often request a hummingbird garden, or at least some plants that will attract hummingbirds to their garden. It’s simple to just hang a feeder on your porch or outside your kitchen window, but better yet to wander through a thoughtfully designed garden and watch the hummers feed from your assortment of hummer friendly flowering plants.

What kinds of shrubs have flowers that will be attractive to your Sedona hummingbird garden the most?

hummingbird pomegranate

Photo credit: Nancy Buron

There are numerous shrubs that are named after their hummingbird attractiveness. Here are three examples of hummingbird bushes:

Agastache species (about 15 different species, also called Giant Hyssop, Hummingbird Mint)
Hamelia patens (Firecracker bush)
Anisacanthus quadrifolius (Flame Acanthus, Hummingbird Bush, Desert Honeysuckle)

But there are many more with different flowers that attract hummingbirds and not all of the flowers are red. Some are blue, pink, yellow or white.

As a professional landscape designer, I have written several articles and posts about how important it is to prepare a plan before you create and build your landscape and garden areas.  But do we, as designers follow our own advice?

What I mean by a plan is something mapped out on paper or computer. After all, that’s how I was taught in school and it is also the way I operate in my life. I am a planner type personality — not at all a spontaneous; shoot from the hip type of person. So preparing a master plan for a landscape from a big picture perspective comes natural for me.

When I cruise through neighborhoods, checking out everybody’s front yard, it is frustrating to see so many landscapes that are obviously unplanned or simply poorly designed. Plants are placed in the wrong places, typically overgrown for the space, a hodgepodge of species, or a complete disregard for any sense of design at all. You’ve seen it, that barren desert look with all gravel and maybe a few shrubs that can survive without an irrigation system.

What about my own yard? As a professional designer, should my yard be the best on the block? Clients will often remark, “I bet you have a beautiful yard”. Well, truth is, I did in the past, but not in my current residence. I have only been in it for 3 years and am dealing with all the previous owner’s poor plant choices, overgrown natives and other design issues.

I did prepare a plan of the entire yard when I was thinking of building a koi pond, a perimeter wall, a spiral staircase and other projects that could not be easily designed in my mind by simply visualizing them on the spot and building them. Items involving hardscape, electrical, plumbing, grading and elevation issues are best put on paper. In fact, for certain items, I am better working from a plan view perspective than 3D in the space itself.

What has evolved over time is that I stopped designing anything on paper and have designed everything so far based on simply being in the spaces and pondering various design ideas over time. Living in the space allows me to do that, something I cannot do for my clients.

I have a collection of sorts of Buddha statues spread around the yard. I brought these from my previous house and have found suitable spots. They are  not oversized statues and so I have placed all of them on some kind of raised platform or pedestal in order to make them more in scale with the surroundings. I also have accumulated more and more bamboo, some in the ground and some in containers. Much of the yard is in a natural state with local species of Juniper trees, Pinon Pines, Manzanita and scrub oak. An Asian feel blends well with the natural surroundings.

I do have a couple of Celtic items though, a 5 foot tall Celtic cross and a couple of gargoyles although there is no semblance of an Old World or Medieval style around the landscape. The cross fell over the other day when the support brace broke. I repaired it and decided to relocate it to a suitable spot in the yard so we could enjoy it more than where it had been.

It was a hard decision, choosing a spot without having thought about it before. Just the kind of mistake people make when they don’t have a plan. Everywhere I considered placing it; you could see something Asian and mixing these two styles just didn’t sit well with me.

The good thing about accessories and pots is you can rearrange them as your design ideas evolve.

I ended up placing in next to a grouping of pots on my deck and although another Buddha is within view, it is separated enough to justify. In design terminology, this is often called an eclectic style.

My own yard is a work in progress. I am continually walking through each space considering how I can enhance the overall function and feel. Just as the spaces change over the seasons, my thoughts evolve as I become more and more attuned with the yard, the light, the plants, the views and my needs. Usually I end up doing nothing as it seems I enjoy the process of designing in my mind until I come up with an ideal concept. Things change and so I allow this process to happen before I act upon my ideas and start any kind of construction or rearranging.

So there is a kind of plan, it’s just not something I need to put on paper. I am able to visualize my plan in my head, take my time and allow things to change. That is the pleasure of not following a plan. Nothing is set in granite and design ideas are as fluid as my thoughts.

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