Fire pit and pool designed by JSL Landscape and built by Waterline International
Fire and water is always a good combination

Several years ago after I moved my business from Scottsdale, AZ to Sedona, AZ, I had to find a pool builder with whom I could work. I had been used to working with several of the top pool builders down in the Phoenix area including Shasta Pools, Thunderbird Pools and Mossman Brothers Pools. But they don’t work this far up north in Arizona so I had to start over.

Not that I design a lot of pools, but what I do as a landscape designer often allows me to design a master plan of someone’s yard that often may incorporate a pool – that is if they haven’t already hooked up with a pool builder. You don’t have to be a pool contractor to be able to design a pool.

As a landscape contractor with a Masters in Landscape Architecture, I have the knowledge, skills and abilities to be able to provide not only a master plan of an exquisite outdoor living environment, but also to put together a team of highly skilled craftsmen who can build the design.

My company name JSL Landscape Design Build reflects exactly what I do. I design it then build it and that’s exactly what people want – someone who has the designer’s perspective and creative expression yet who knows construction and how to get through the permit process.

My intention is to help Norm Olsen, owner of Waterline International get more pools built here in Sedona as well as Northern Arizona and perhaps some of those projects will need a little bit of landscaping don’t you think? Like firepits, waterfeatures, bbq islands and all the rest that will make the pool well integrated into a real creative outdoor living space.

Check out his new website:

We are not legal partners per se as in a legal partnership nor is he a member of my LLC nor I a member of his LLC. We just enjoy working together and I enjoying creating websites in my spare time.

Fences and walls are often play a significant role in the landscape. Whether you want privacy, screen an ugly view, protect your pets or simply want to delineate your property any fence or wall is subject to local zoning ordinances and in most cases, will require a permit. In fact, in the City of Sedona, any fence or wall greater than 30” high requires a permit. Knowing that, let’s look at some of the rules.

Fence Regulations in the City of Sedona

Fences and walls up to 6’ feet high are allowed along the rear and side property lines. Within the front yard setback, no higher than 4 feet is allowed with some exceptions. If you are on a corner lot, you may have a 6 foot high fence along the street side yard setback but you must check with the City to confirm which side or the corner is considered your front yard. Just because your front door and mailbox are on one side of the corner, does not necessarily mean the City considers that to be your front yard. Corner lots are also subject to a “visibility triangle” for traffic safety purposes. Check with the building department for your particular zoning to see what is allowed before you hire anyone to build a fence or wall.

Ocotillo fence

What materials are allowed?

Typical wood fences, whether they are solid, picketed or any combination of vertical or horizontal planks are allowed except that they must be of conventional construction built with commonly used materials. Fences built using old wooden pallets are not allowed. Wood may be left unpainted to weather naturally, but if you intend to paint it, you must follow the rules regarding the Light Reflective Value of the paint. A paint sample will be required upon submittal of your building permit. Although the Ocotillo fence pictured here may be the perfect complement to your rustic estate, the City may consider it to be too unconventional so check beforehand.

Metal fences follow the same general rules as well as conforming to the color of the paint or finish. Chain link fences are not allowed in front yard setbacks but are allowed in the rear and side yards in certain zoning districts however, they must be vinyl coated with a black, brown or dark green color. Razor wire fencing is not allowed nor unpainted corrugated metal roofing material.

Block walls are allowed but must be finished and not left in their raw manufactured state. Walls that face a public right of way, street or public trail longer than 20 feet must be buffered with landscaping. If more than 40 feet long, it must contain some sort of articulation such as columns, pilasters or jogging and offsets to break up the massing as well as contain some shrubbery.

You must build within your legal boundaries of your property

If your property corners are not evident by surveyor’s pins, you should consider getting your property surveyed. Just because an existing fence appears to be built along the property lines, don’t count on it as being legal. It may be encroaching one side or the other. It is also important to discuss your plans with your neighbor. Neighbors can sometimes be very territorial and object to your plans even thought you have a legal right to build withing the bounds of your property. That is why its a good idea to build the fence a few inches inside of the property line. That way, the surveyor pins don’t get covered up.

Your property typically does not go all the way to the pavement. Most lots with City maintained streets have a portion of land between the pavement and your front property line known as the Right of Way. This is City owned and is not legally part of your lot. You may not build a fence or wall within the Right of Way.

Right of Ways often contain utilities such as electric, gas and cable. Utility lines can also be located in easement that are not within the public Right of Way such as paralleling a side of your property or along the rear. If you are planning on building a fence or wall within such a utility easement, the City will require you to get permission from the various utility companies who may have a right to that easement.

For more information check out the City’s recently updated Land Development Code at this link:

JSL Landscape Design & Build is a licensed fencing contractor ROC 313211

unlicensed_contractorMany homeowners are simply unaware of what constitutes “contracting” as it is defined by the Arizona Registrar of Contractors who is the state licensing agency. Anything over $1000 requires that the person with whom a homeowner engages to do work is a duly licensed contractor. Having a license is not an optional way of doing business yet it may seem that way when local classified ads end with the phrase “not a licensed contractor” as if they elected not to get a license. Homeowners also group anyone who does remodeling, building or construction as contractors whether they are licensed or not. However, the Arizona Registrar of Contractors does not refer to such people as contractors as that implies they are licensed. They are referred to as “unlicensed entities”. Referring to them as contractors gives them a form of legitimacy. Just as the classified ad phrase “not a licensed contractor” claims they are a contractor, just not a licensed one. Thus you may have seen the bumper sticker issued by the Arizona Registrar of Contractors to all contractors who just obtained a new license “Licensed Contractors Build Trust”.

Despite the warnings from state agencies, consumer protection boards, Angie’s List or the Better Business Bureau homeowners continue to take risks and hire unlicensed contractors for any number of reasons.

8 Reasons Why Homeowners Do Not Hire Licensed Contractors

  • Your neighbor hired them and they were pleased and recommended them;
  • They shop for the best price and take a risk as to quality of construction;
  • They are willing to overlook the lack of license, insurance and perhaps knowledge and skill to “save money”;
  • Everybody wants a “good deal” don’t they? Why pay more if you find a bargain? That bargain may fall apart after 6 months with no way to track down your “lowest price guaranteed” contractor;
  • You just need a retaining wall rebuilt to correct some erosion problems and a guy in the local classified ads says they do that kind of thing. You are enticed simply because that person says they can do what you need – to solve your landscape problem. You don’t care about insurance or anything, you just need this done right away;
  • They haven’t yet been burned from hiring unlicensed workers.
  • They were conned by door to door fly by night guys who took advantage of needed storm damage related work;
  • They are elderly and are not as sharp as they used to be especially in areas of judgement and trust.


I am in the middle of rebuilding a waterfeature that the homeowner had built by an unlicensed contractor. In fact, he tried hiring a replacement contractor after the first guy stopped answering his phone to fix a leak. Now the second guy did such an awful job and also did not respond to multiple calls to return and fix it. He found me on a list put out by the local homeowners association which several neighbors had mentioned I was a reputable landscape professional. Yet he did not say he hired me because I was licensed but since I am, I am not going to bring it up.


9 Red Flag Warning Signs That you May be Hiring an Unlicensed Contractor:

  • You call someone from your local paper and he doesn’t even have his voice mailbox set up;
  • He doesn’t have a website or email;
  • He doesn’t have an address on his business card or better yet, he spells shrubs as “scrubs”;
  • He gives you an estimate on a hand written note pad right then and there;
  • He uses a can of spray paint to “design” your backyard instead of putting it to paper or God forbid a computer;
  • His cell phone number goes to someone other than himself because the minutes on his phone expired;
  • He doesn’t show up when expected or only shows up to ask for money;
  • He answers his phone by saying “hello” rather than using a business name or his own name;
  • He says he wants to get paid in cash because you will get a better deal that way when the real reason is he has no bank account


Individuals that know they should be licensed but who choose not to be are not only doing business illegally, but who are probably avoiding paying sales tax, getting a city business license, insurance and all the other “paperwork” required to be legal and legitimate. Why support such an individual? You are certainly not contributing to the “keep it local” movement and may in fact be contributing to the flow of money across the border.


That being said, there are many good, skilled workers who are sincere about doing a quality job for their clients who for whatever reason are not licensed, cannot get licensed, but are otherwise good people. The problem is not picking one of these and ending up with a bad apple. Why take the risk? Licensed contractors build trust.

Ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens) is a vase shaped cactus like plant with spiny canes that are covered with small green leaves typically after substantial rains and have a reddish orange tubular shaped flower at the tips in Spring. But most of the time, they are deciduous and look like a clump of thorny dead branches.  Sedona native Ocotillos are also found in the lower deserts and into Mexico.

When I first moved up to Sedona from the Phoenix area, I was surprised to see Ocotillos growing among the pines and junipers. At an elevation between 4200-4600 feet Sedona is probably at the upper level of its range. When in bloom – and when I say bloom, I mean the leafing out period where the green leaves cover the canes, they are striking sculptural features that add an unusual accent to any landscape where you want a bit of a desert flair. Ocotillo is often said to “bloom” due to its on and off leafing out cycles due to the amount of rain. However, some Ocotillos hold their leaves for longer periods between seasonal rains. Otherwise, they take on their deciduous persona which is not the Ocotillo that most clients are looking for when they request a Sedona native Ocotillo in their garden.

Sedona Native Ocotillos

But being patient is what we can learn from them

As a landscape designer and contractor, I am reluctant to suggest the idea of Ocotillos in a design for a few reasons. One of which was recently articulated in an article by the Backyard Gardener, Jeff Schlau of the Arizona Cooperative Extension Yavapai County titled, Native Ocotillos Require Patience. 

Ocotillos are native to Sedona and are useful as sculptural elements in the gardens

Ocotillo is known for its upright slender spiny canes covered with small green leaves.

Most people expect their Ocotillos to look just like the picture, but that’s not what they look like when you buy them at the nursery. Most all Ocotillos are harvested bare root from their native habitat, wrapped tight with wire for easy transport and handling. The roots are severely cut to sometimes to the point where there is not much to go into the planting hole and you wonder what is going to keep it from falling over. The process of taking a native plant from its habitat and putting it into your garden is considered transplanting Ocotillos and what Mr. Schlau is referring to as “patience required” is that some Ocotillos can take anywhere between 6 to 24 months before any signs of blooming or leafing out. Presumably because of the severe root pruning during harvesting from the desert.

I tell clients who are interested in Ocotillos that they will be planted bare root and will not have any leaves. I then tell them it could take years to look like what they expect. I also say they are unpredictable as to when they will leaf out and to be able to appreciate them in their deciduous state because that is what they will look like most of the time. I have had countless former clients complain that their “Ocotillo is dead” or “When is it going to leaf out?” I tell them to scratch a branch with a knife and if its a pale green, that its still alive and to be patient. The problem is, I am the guy with the great idea to plant the Ocotillo which is constantly under performing expectations and makes me look not so cool.

The point of this blog post is to forewarn anyone considering planting Ocotillos in their yard. Not that they should be avoided but to fully understand why they may  not meet your expectations. Ocotillos are great specimens that symbolize the southwest and provide a sculptural element that provides instant vertical height and looks great when lit at night. The otherwise brown deciduous state should be considered as the predominant look most of the year.

Many a garden writer who delves into the more deeper aspects of gardening will tell you gardens can teach you about yourself. Those inner aspects of your being are often reflected in the garden if you pay close attention . Patience is a virtue that can be learned through gardening. The Ocotillo is a wonderful teacher to instill patience. Sometimes it is more enjoyable to one day notice the buds on your Azalea that hasn’t bloomed for three years than to come home to a bountiful display of riotous color in your container garden every day.

There is a common request I get from landscape clients: they want low maintenance, lots of color and don’t want to spend very much – and they want it now, not have to wait three years for everything to look great. Usually after I get a little introspective talking about patience, being in the present moment, allowing things to be as they are, people come back down to earth.

Yes, Sedona native Ocotillos do inhabit our surrounding national forest and is perhaps the best way to appreciate their beauty and elegance. Walking in silence, being at one with nature, not thinking about anything in particular, and then as you come to the top of a crest, you are greeted by an Ocotillo in full bloom as if it was waiting for you.

If you do buy a bare root Ocotillo on your own, check out this publication from the Phoenix Botanical Garden.


Rainwater harvesting in Sedona is a great way to capture and store rainwater for later use in the garden. In this case, I will show you how we recently installed a 5000 gallon rainwater catchment system in a residential landscape remodel in Sedona.

But first let me give you my perspective about rainwater collection and why rain barrels will quickly have you wondering why you didn’t opt for a much larger tank instead after it fills up in about 20 minutes during a good downpour, overflows and you watch all that “wasted” water that you could have captured.

Serious rainwater catchment systems are designed based on your needs. There are a lot of calculations involved based on how much water you will need to supply your garden, your regular landscape shrubs and trees and other uses you may have. Most professionals who deal with rainwater system design and books on the subject recommend buying a tank as large as you can feasibly locate on your property. However, many homeowners considering rainwater harvesting in Sedona think it would be nice and a “sustainable thing to do” to help save water will quickly back off a serious system after finding out the overall cost of the equipment. A 5000 gallon tank alone can cost around $2500-$3000. On top of that you have to have a pump and all the plumbing accessories not to mention the labor to install everything.

Compared to a serious rainwater catchment system, rain barrels are a popular alternative as they are easy to hook up to a single downspout and as long as the height of your rain barrel is higher than what you want to water, a garden hose pressurized by gravity will work and is affordable. But a rain barrel that only holds 50-100 gallons won’t supply the needs of a decent sized garden or trees that are not on a regular irrigation system. People realize the limitations of rain barrels but cannot justify the expense of spending several thousand dollars on a serious system.

So what are the reasons people find capturing rainwater attractive? Here are several possible reasons. Remember, people buy based on emotional reasons and only use logic to back up or to justify their decision.

  • Rainwater is pure and plants definitely respond better to rainwater than treated municipal water;
  • People are bombarded all the time with educational material from the government about the need to save water – use it wisely as it is a precious resource and thus people already do some form of water conservation inside the home and so why not do so in the landscape?
  • To reduce their overall use of water and thus reduce their water bill;
  • They are doing it because it is a lifestyle choice and it fits in with their identity as a conscious consumer who values green living, sustainability and is doing their part to save the planet.
  • Rain barrels are now stylish and they want to make a statement to their neighbors that they are good citizens that save water and recycle everything possible.

So it’s not so much (or at all ) about saving money. It’s about saving water and feeling you are part of a society that recognizes the scarcity of water, and is willing to not only conserve the use of water, but to capture and save it for later use during dry periods. People that do opt for an expensive rainwater capture system do so not to save money on their water bill as it will not pay for itself anytime time soon. It’s a lifestyle choice in order for them to be able to look in the mirror and feel good about their decision to save water – regardless of whether its on a grand scale like a 10,000 gallon storage tank or a 60 gallon rain barrel.

This thinking is very similar to why somebody will justify spending $100,000 on a Model S Tesla electric car when it may take 40 years to amortize the cost of gasoline that they are “saving”. And again, it’s not the cost of gasoline; it’s the non-reliance on fossil fuels and using free energy of the sun which is akin to the free water from the sky.

Rainwater harvesting in Sedona is just as popular as driving a Tesla, only people opt for a Toyota Prius and a rain barrel too boot. Maybe I should give away a free rain barrel with the purchase of every landscape package…hmmm… maybe there is something to that idea.

Watch us off load a 5000 gallon rainwater tank and set it into place on a recent landscape remodel job we did in Sedona:


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