February is a good time to prepare your vegetable garden for planting. But before you get too eager and start sowing seeds, do some preparation of the soil first. Here are some tips and guidelines any good Sedona landscape designer would tell their clients:

1) Check the condition of the soil.

Did the plants perform as expected? Was the soil amended properly last year? Does it have good drainage? Is it still too clayey? You may want to take a soil sample and have it tested by the local County Extension office. Here is a list of soil testing companies   that can provide soil analysis.

You can have the Ph of your soil tested for free by the local extension office in either Prescott or Camp Verde.

Turn over the soil after folding in some organic matter, mulch or compost. If you do get a soil analysis, add the proper nutrients and other amendments necessary before you turn over the soil or use a roto-tiller. This will help compost any mulch or leaves you added and improve the tilth of the soil.

2) Check your irrigation system

If you have your garden set up with an automatic irrigation system, Depending on the type of irrigation system you are using, make any changes you need such as fixing leaks, adding a spray head, etc. If you have underground pipes, know where they are before you dig. You may want to make a diagram of the piping so you don’t forget from year to year.

If you use above the ground drip tubing or soaker hoses, pull that all away so you can properly amend the soil. Were all the planting beds getting adequate water from your system? You will need to make adjustments as you put the irrigation back in place.

I use an overhead spray system after starting out with soaker hose tubing. I found the soaker hoses were not releasing the same amounts of water from the beginning of the hose to the end resulting in patches of the garden getting over saturated. The overhead sprays provide complete coverage of the soil. Although this is not considered the best method for water conservation, it suits my needs for vegetable garden irrigation.

3) Plan your garden

Sedona is at the 4500 foot elevation level more or less, so we are right between the two ranges that differentiate lower Arizona from the upper elevations of northern Arizona.  Here is a list of when to plant vegetables in Arizona  depending on your region.

http://ag.arizona.edu/pubs/garden/mg/vegetable/guide.html

Cool-season vegetables include beet, lettuce, broccoli, spinach cabbage, carrot, onion, pea, potato, radish, and turnip. Cool season plants are frost tolerant and germinate in cold soil so they can be planted in winter or early spring depending on location. These crops need to mature during cooler periods rather than in the heat of the summer, so getting them out early in the garden or starting them in a mini greenhouse indoors is important.

Warm-season vegetables include sweet corn, sweet potato beans, cucumber, melons, pepper, pumpkin, eggplant, squash, and tomato. These are not frost tolerant and need warm temperatures to set their fruit. Temperatures too high will reduce quality such as sunburn, discoloration and less than ideal size.

Compensate for the mistakes and lessons learned from last year’s crop. Did you plant too many seeds of one type all at once and ended up with too much at one time? Be patient and stagger your seed plantings. Plan out a schedule of when to plant what and mark it on a calendar. It only takes a few minutes to sow some seeds.

Planting from seed is a lot cheaper than buying little 4” pots already leafed out. Consider planting early even before it may freeze again. Who knows when the last frost will occur and if you get lucky, you will have a head start, if not, you will not have lost much in your investment. But do wait till after the last frost or say mid April before you invest a lot in those 4” pots and risk losing them to a late frost.

4) Container plantings

In the practice of landscape design, the use of pots and containers adds an accessory element to the overall design. Pots are useful to feature individual plants and to decorate a patio area. Pots are suitable for many types of vegetable crops, especially vines types. I like to group pots and place a trellis behind them. If you have a lot of empty pots that you don’t otherwise need for perennial or annuals plants, you may want to use them for vegetables.

Be sure that the pot is big enough to handle the growth of the root system regardless of what type of plants you choose. Too many homeowners have collections of small pots and never invest in buying larger sizes to transplant their plants. Use these smaller pots as transitional containers as the plants grow just like nurseries do with 1 gallon, 2 gallon and 5 gallon containers.

Every landscape design in Sedona should have a garden of vegetables, perhaps sprinkled with some ornamental flowers and herbs. Adding colorful pots in strategic spots will make your garden look like you put some thought into the design and aesthetics.

As a landscape designer in Sedona, I get asked often by clients considering a fountain about how much maintenance is involved. It seems that fountains often are left untended and dry up because the owners don’t want the  hassle of getting it up and running.  But there is a type of waterfeature that Sedona residents should consider for their landscape design.

Pondless waterfeatures include both the naturalistic boulder style ponds that have a waterfall as their main point of discharge into the feature as well as fountains that usually have a top central return line that allows the water to cascade down the sides or lower parts of the fountain.

Pondless waterfeatures are no different than a regular waterfall and pond except they do not have an exposed surface area of water that you would normally see. Instead, the water pools into a storage basin below ground where you cannot see it. The water still gets recirculated to the waterfall as a normal pond waterfall system. You can enjoy the sight and sound of running water without the downside that the surface of the pond area is normally associated.

The waterfall itself, with its cascading stream and gurgling sound of water over stones and gravel, is the most beautiful and favored part of any landscape design that features water as the focal point or theme. But some people are concerned about debris floating on the water surface or the safety of exposed water. Others may have space limitations.

A pond and waterfall is a natural feature unlike a more formal manmade fountain. Both provide the sound of water, but a waterfall with the sound of water that mimics the real sound in nature, is favored for its realistic, nature-like appearance.

All fountains and waterfeatures whether or not they have a waterfall component, need a basin of water where the pump takes the water back to the point of discharge. This may be underwater at the bottom of the basin area, or in the form of a skimmer at the surface of the water just like in a swimming pool.

Benefits of Pondless Waterfalls

1) Safety

A pondless waterfeature has no exposed water surface, which can be a gathering spot for falling leaves, attract mosquitoes and be a potential drowning hazard for small children or even rodents. Having no exposed water surface can give one peace of mind and can be left operating without worry anywhere in the yard.

2) Cost

Cost can be a important consideration when thinking about the kind of waterfall you may want to have. In most cases, the cost of a pondless waterfall will be lower than a pond, due to there being less labor, less rock, and other materials. Pump size is smaller because of less water to pump, thereby allowing for better efficiency and operating costs.  Because you are not creating an aquatic ecosystem, you do not have to run the pump 24/7.

3) Space Saving Design

The small size of the pondless waterfeature means you can create and enjoy a beautiful waterfeatures anywhere in your garden — even in a courtyard !. As long as there is nearby water and electricity, you’re good to go.

4) Maintenance

Taking care of your pondless waterfall is easier than a waterfall with a pond. Because you don’t have a body of water to capture leaves and debris, the pump’s filter will be clean less often. Because the underground reservoir is not exposed to the sun, it will not evaporate as much and reduce the amount of water needed to offset evaporative loss.

Most pondless waterfeatures are sold as kits that include the basin, the pump and plumbing. These basins have a lid that has small holes that allow water to flow through but not larger size gravel to fall through, essentially hiding it from view yet providing a sufficiently large volume of water as required for the pump to operate efficiently. I can speak with direct knowledge as we recently installed one in a Sedona courtyard as the focal point of the landscape design.

The basins have access ports that allow you to easily get to the pump for maintenance or to adjust the flow if equipped with a flow control valve. They may also have a second access port where the water leveler is usually placed, again hidden from view.

5) Creative Opportunities

A Pondless waterfeature kit can also allow the design of a variety of unique fountains to be built from objects that are not necessarily thought of as fountains. Since many fountains are self contained with their own basins, you are restricted to the entire design. Yet when using a pondless waterfeature basin, you can use vessels such as large ceramic pots or cored out pieces of stone as the main aesthetic feature of the fountain.

A large colorful ceramic pot already has a hole in the bottom, and so you simply feed the pump return tube into the pot, seal it with silicon and as the pot fills up with water, once it reaches the brim, it then overflows and cascades down the sides of the pot giving a subtle yet tranquil feel to the design.

Other devices and objects can be retrofitted in a similar fashion, so don’t be limited to just the off the shelf fountains, get creative!

Contractors and designers qualify you at the same time you are qualifying them. By asking these questions, you can flush out the core essentials about how they operate and be better prepared to have a meaningful consultation.

1) Do you give free estimates?

If the answer is yes, they will come out to your property at no charge, discuss your plans, listen to your ideas, explain how they typically work and ask you if you have a budget or a range of expected costs.

Most contractors that do piece meal work such as install a patio or a fence give free estimates because it’s the nature of the industry. A project that is involved enough to require a plan drawn to scale may trigger a request for a design fee so that the “free estimate” can be accurately based.

Most savvy contractors will not answer yes or no to this kind of direct question, but first ask the prospect for some information to qualify them. If a prospect asks someone if they give free estimates, it indicates that the prospect may be under the assumption that the contractor will provide a design along with the cost to install it for no charge.

A better question to ask a landscape contractor during the initial conversation is after first briefly describing your project, you then ask them “So tell me how you work”.

2) Are you interested in my type of project?

Before assuming that the contractor will be eager to come over and give you your free estimate, understand that the contractor will be sizing you up to see whether it’s worth their time and effort. The ideal client is one who is looking for a professional who delivers value and exceeds expectations and are willing to pay for that value.

If you are shopping around for design ideas among 4-5 “bids” from several companies and don’t intend to pay for a unique design, then the contractor will quickly figure that out during the first on site meeting by the way you treat them.

The contractor may realize that your project justifies a design be prepared and at the same time, sense that you are trying to simply gather design ideas from several people so that you can go back to the lowest bid and have them revise their quote based on other people’s input. This is not fair to those contractors who give away free and valuable advice in hopes of building a rapport and trust.

3) Do you charge for your designs?

Not every project requires a carefully drawn plan, especially if the budget is fairly low. The other case is where the needs of the client are so straightforward, that putting it on paper would primarily be to calculate square footage and quantities.

The question of whether to charge for a design or not depends on the individual contractor and how they work. Some may indeed charge a separate design fee for a project that certainly requires a carefully thought out plan and other may not. I do know that the pool industry is so competitive that they never charge for a design.

Contractors also know that they may be risking losing the job because they charge for a design. Why risk say a nice $10,000 contract if the client balks at paying $300 for a design?

Some contractors will not charge the fee but go ahead and prepare the design and estimate so they can close the deal on the contract. They may not however, be willing to let you have the design to mull over without first signing a contract or hand over a deposit.

4) Are you capable of providing me with my needs?

This may be an unspoken question, but you must first ask yourself, what is your project and what type of expertise do you need?

Do you just want a landscape contractor to do a “small job“? Then don’t call a designer who will say you need a plan. If you already know how the small job will be laid out and the materials to be used, then go ahead and get a “free estimate”.

Do you want a new pool, gazebo, outdoor kitchen, garden and lighting? Then be careful before calling a contractor who advertises, “free estimates”. They may not be capable of handling this kind of design. In this case, you should separate out the design from the construction contract to make sure the design is modified sufficiently so that your needs are met rather than settling for the one shot deal a contractor put together based on a single meeting. The more you think about a design the more often you will tweak it and think of different ideas to accomplish your goals. Sit down with a design professional to go through this process and not the contractor who say they can design.

Most every job will require some kind of design consideration and all will require a contractor to install it. Ask the people to whom you contact, whether they have design capabilities and are licensed as a contractor if required by law.

If your project has multiple trades involved such as the example given above, then call a full service landscape contractor. If your project is a single trade project such as a brick patio, then you may contact someone who advertises they do such work.

Do you need help with the design? Do you need a designer who can give you options and design ideas as well as a scale drawing so accurate bids can be prepared? Then start with someone who is capable of providing professional designs. If they are also a licensed contractor, then you have a strategic partner who not only can design, but knows how to build their own designs too.

A backyard with no landscaping is not a very desirable place to hang out, nor to look upon from the inside. That is what these clients were faced with when they decided to live full time in their Sedona home they had been renting out. I came over to take a look after they called me for a free consultation for a landscape design. While on site, I gave them numerous options on how to situate everything so that it looked well planned and then agreed to come up with a formal design (below).

The yard is about 20 feet deep, has a small covered patio and an above the ground spa. Their needs and wants were pretty straightforward: a place where they could entertain, hang out with friends and create a much more useable patio and outdoor living area.

Their wish list was basically the following: a built in bbq island, a fireplace, new extended patio flooring (they were sold on concrete pavers), and a small lawn area for their dog. Of course, trees and shrubs would be included as well in the overall landscape design.

Sounds pretty typical for a outdoor entertainment area, functioning as an extension of the home and incorporating the existing spa. So the next step would be to explore various locations of where to place these features both in a functional and aesthetic manner.

One big issue however, is the electric powerpole in the right rear corner and a electrical access box at ground level a few feet away. I knew there must be some kind of restrictions about building or planting shrubs too close for them to have access. There may even be some kind of easement as well. Once we find out what the restrictions are, we will adjust the design as necessary, but for now, I think the design works very well given the size of the yard and the views from the inside.

I placed the bbq island with the understanding that there would be some distance required to access the electrical equipment and powerpole. The island was placed in such a way as to use its bulk as a screen. Bamboo would be planted to help mitigate the objectionable powerpole — at least at eye level for the first 10 feet or so.

The fireplace was also placed towards the perimeter of the patio area and situated as a focal point of the backyard. Clearly visible from all windows of the house. The hearth has extended bench seating on each side of the firebox giving it width and angled to reflect the fortyfive degree angles used to accent the patio configuration and the bbq island. The fireplace will be a simple design, stucco and painted to match the house which is of a southwest territorial style.

The paver patio narrows as it follows the narrow covered patio effectively widening the four foot wide walkway leading to a bedroom door by another four feet. This allows improves the flow from that door and makes the backyard seem much bigger because there is now much more hard surface to walk on.

The patio ends and meets an island area for plantings which forms a transition between the paver patio area and the lawn area. It was decided due to the relatively small area involved, that synthetic turf would be a good choice eliminating the need to water, mow and deal with potential dog related issues creating brown or yellow patches in the lawn.

We will get started once the utility issues are understood and the necessary permits are obtained from the City of Sedona. Future blog posts will track the progress.

The real landscape design issue here is twofold: 1) how to deal with the powerlines/powerpole and 2) where to place everything. This design came together rather quickly for me as the clients already knew exactly what things they wanted and just needed a landscape design professional to show them how it would look arranged within the site limitations of their Sedona backyard.

A large backyard remodel in the Village of Oak Creek started out having nothing in it except gravel and a couple decks that kept the new owner wondering, what could or should I do with all this space in the backyard?

Working with this out of state client over the phone and internet, I began the landscape design process starting with a few conceptual ideas. They did want a pool, a gazebo and some kind of connection that integrated the two. The clients concept was taken from a picture in a magazine and they wanted me to apply the concept to their yard and make it work — and of course, look beautiful.

The client’s preferred style was contemporary, clean lines and simplicity.

The most difficult part of this was to make the elements visually interesting and relate to the house — which is angled which effectively creates two separate areas.  You can see in the design below how the yard relates to the house.

The pool was angled to reflect the angle of the house. This served to functions: 1) to create a focal point from the great room to view the deck jet waterfeatures designed into the backend deck of the pool; and 2) to relate to the ramada view deck which was 30 feet away and at a 45 degree angle.

The connection between the two use areas was a raised water channel that starts out as a fountain and then flows down the channel into the pool. The channel was a visual feature that is highlighted when looking down from the observation deck. We raised the back edge of the channel so that at ground level, one could see that it was lined with tile and served as a strong horizontal statement that guided the eye between the two ends of the pool.

Sitting under the view deck, the waterfeature basin contains a contemporary stainless steel fountain consisting of 3 tiered cylinders that creates a vertical movement of splashing water at the view deck end of the yard. At the far end of the view deck is a fire pit also designed in a contemporary fashion using oblique shaped planters set on pedestals. Cobalt blue fire glass was used to reflect the waterline pool tile.

The view deck and fire pit were designed in an axial symmetrical layout tot the french doors accessing the game room and primary entrance to the backyard towards the east side.

At the west side featuring the pool, the deck jets (also fiber optically lighted for night time effects) lines up with the primary view from the great room and front entry. Between the house and the water channel is an expanse of synthetic grass which gives the landscaping part of the design a clean look.

From the view deck patio, we created stairs to descend the slope down to the spa level where a new portable spa was built and integrated into the existing raised master bedroom wood deck. Against one side of the spa, we built a sit up bar with cantilevered counter top using the cobalt blue and glass tiles used in the waterline of the pool.

This kind of project is time consuming because of all the hardscape, infrastructure, grading, drainage and permits involved.

The final video images have not been taken as of this post, but I do have a mid way progress (in the middle of construction) video that I took from time to time to update the clients. Please forgive the unprofessional quality — its a rough “here is what is happening” type of video not a slick production.

The one disappointing thing about the project is that the clients decided to hold off installing or even thinking seriously about the plant material until they had time to absorb and take in the yard. In hindsight, I would now tend to agree since they had not even lived in the house to provide any meaningful reaction to my proposed plantings, nor have a grasp on the kind of plants that grow in our region. It just makes the project look somewhat unfinished, especially when I attempt to share it pictures and videos.

I’m not complaining and am grateful for the opportunity to share my skills, design ideas and construction knowledge with my clients regardless of the size or type of project here in Sedona.

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