What exactly is a Feng Shui garden? What does a typical Feng Shui garden look like? The same elements that are essential to good design are the same used in designing a Feng Shui garden.  Feng Shui principles are as subtle as basic design principles. They don’t jump out at you with overly thematic elements. Let’s look at a case study of a remodel of the front entrance of a contemporary southwest custom built home that was in need of some curb appeal. Or, contemporary southwest meets Feng Shui in the garden.

The subject property was built about 15 years ago and as such, the front entry evolved to fit with the needs of the owners. Recently, a large native pine tree that graced the entrance died and was removed leaving a large empty spot near the front entry. Not only did it soften the architecture of the home it gave the entry a woodsy feeling – the type of energy recognized in Feng Shui as that coming from living creatures including trees and shrubs. A form of good Chi, or beneficial energy.

Without that tree, the entrance felt bare and lost its vitality. Focus was also shifted to what remained – a 6 foot high iron fence that was installed to keep deer out of the owner’s small collection of roses. But now the fence seemed more like an afterthought, certainly not intended when the home was initially designed. The area inside the fence was rather small, filled up with a mixture of shrubs that became overgrown, further affecting the flow of Chi.

The owners knew their front entrance needed some help. They agreed the fence took away from the potential of a newly remodeled entry and were willing to see it go away. They also wanted to be able to sit out and enjoy perhaps a small fountain. I was then called in to prepare a design. With that background and basic criteria, I began to further study the front yard area. My criteria however, is a stealth one, that is, to blend in Feng Shui principles into all of my designs whether or not the owners request it. Of course, I knew in the end, the new entrance would not “look” like a Feng Shui garden, but would have that certain attractiveness that is hard to put into words.

In addition to creating a more Feng Shui friendly entrance, the secondary focus was to create a remodeled entrance that did not appear as an addition, but rather, that it resembled the original architectural design and features. The result is a more inviting entrance, with excitement and drama, a small patio space to sit and enjoy and a mix of native and low water use plants that are not as attractive to deer and wildlife.

With the fence out of the picture, I could literally open up the entrance and let the Chi pour into the front door and circulate around the entry, the sitting area and the new plantings. Here was my approach:

1) Remove the psychological barrier of the uninviting fence.
2) Use deer resistant and native plants that obviate the need for a barrier to wildlife.
3) Add a fountain to improve the flow of Chi and prosperity and abundance to the entrance and the occupants. Also serves as a focal point and a reason to pause and admire the space before entering the home.
4) Remove a portion of the existing concrete and replace with paver stones to delineate the entrance area from the driveway and to allow for more useable space.

5) Create a small patio space to enjoy the view from the north side of the house, previously where there was simply a walkway.

6) Use the Chinese 5-Elements Theory to create a balance among the elements.

The vision was a low key, low profile contemporary style fountain that was based on the strong strip-stone style flagstone used on the veneer of the house. I created a two tiered set of pedestals that were elongated and set perpendicular to each other, each with a wok bowl style fountain that created a double series of pouring scuppers. The lower wok bowl poured into a submerged basin covered with red polished river stones.

 Here are the solutions that incorporate the 5 Elements Theory:

Earth: Use of low profile horizonal lines, natural flagstone stripstone

Water: A flowing fountain

Fire: Red Sedona flagstone colors, spiky grasses, Agave

Wood: The proportional use of plants to balance the hardscape.

Metal: Steel agave sculpture and the circular shape of the wok bowls


This contemporary style front entry landscape remodel shows that you don’t have to create an Asian style garden when using Feng Shui principles. So we now have an example where  contemporary southwest meets Feng Shui in the garden.

Photograph contributed by client (name withheld for privacy)

Note: I want to give credit to the client/owner for many contributions and inputs that went into the details of this project including the idea and selection of the steel agave and planter and its night lighting, the off setting of the pedestal walls to reflect the angle of the home, the color of the basin pebbles, the choice of pavers and the styles of the planters in the background.


Sedona fiberglass pool being craned into placeIf you live or have a second home in Sedona and are thinking of getting a pool, your choices are basically concrete, fiberglass or vinyl. Depending on which part of the country you are from, you may be used to vinyl or fiberglass. People who come from cold climates are very concerned about concrete pools because of freeze and thaw soil conditions. Fiberglass and vinyl liner pools will not crack and so theoretically may be better suited for the colder climates. But if you have never owned a pool before, you may be confused as whether a fiberglass pool is the best choice for Sedona.

Research performed on the internet will reveal a huge debate between concrete/gunite pools vs. fiberglass. Much of the information is being put out by the fiberglass pool industry in defense of the misconceptions and myths about the downsides of fiberglass pools. So be careful as you educate yourself as the information is very biased when they are making side by side comparisons.

If you search for “sedona fiberglass pool” you will not find any local builder. There are only a couple of builders who claim to be able to install fiberglass pools, but it is not their mainstay. Most Sedona pool builders install concrete pools. So even if you have made the decision to go fiberglass, you may have to find a fiberglass pool builder located in the Phoenix area willing to come to Sedona to install your pool. This limits your selection process from whom to solicit proposals. Each builder may be able to install any of the top fiberglass pool manufactures, but may focus on only one because of issues of delivery, shipping and manufacturer warranties.

Things to consider for a Sedona fiberglass pool:

1) Maintenance

The long term maintenance cost savings of a fiberglass pool is persuasive for pool buyers who want less maintenance and less monthly cost. Because the fiberglass shell is impervious to water and chemicals, water chemistry is less likely to get out of balance compared to a concrete shell.

2) Initial Cost vs. Long Term Costs

It would be in your best interest to compare the cost of a concrete pool to that of a comparable fiberglass pool in terms of the initial cost of installation. Generally speaking, fiberglass will cost more and you will have to take that added cost and see how many years it will take to offset it due to the lower maintenance costs.

3) Design Considerations

The major advantage of a concrete pool is the endless shapes and styles that can be designed. There are no limitations. You are not limited to a number of cookie cutter shapes as in a fiberglass pool.

sedona fiberglass pools are typically uninspiringFiberglass pools also tend to be variations of a basic rectangle and are made from molds or templates. Fiberglass pools are not made to order, you have to choose from among what they have to offer.

4) Aesthetics

Fiberglass pools are not very imaginative due to the manufacturing process. You will not see many negative edge fiberglass pools, nor will you see boulders set into the edge of the coping nor inside the pool itself as you will with concrete pools. Spas that come with a fiberglass pool combination tend to be simple square extensions of the pool and not very innovative in design options.

Vanishing edge concrete pool designed by JSL Exteriors  Landscape Design Build

Innovative site design like this is not possible with fiberglass pools

You cannot have beach entries or place umbrella sleeves inside the pool. A fiberglass pool must be embellished by the decking and surrounding elements since the shape itself may be on the simple side.

5) Value

Pools do not add actual market value to the home, nor does the overall landscaping for that matter. What it does however, is make the home more marketable, but only for those buyers who are looking for a house with a pool. Some people see pools as a maintenance headache and safety issue, but everybody is different. A fiberglass pool may have a perceived value of being less desirable than a concrete pool because of the stigma due to decades of being criticized in the industry as being a “plastic facsimile” of the real thing. Some may have heard stories about fiberglass pools being prone to floating out of the ground.


If your criteria is primarily based on simplicity of design and lower maintenance costs and you plan on living with the pool for the next 10 years, then a fiberglass pool should be considered. But if your primary consideration is innovative, unique design that is well integrated with the surrounding landscape elements, a concrete pool will be the better choice.

In either case, I am familiar designing with either fiberglass pools or custom designed concrete pools. From a design standpoint, I prefer to not have to work around a pre-designed shape, because it is often difficult to find a shape that fits the design criteria. I do find it a fun challenge however, to take a simple fiberglass shape and design around it to make the overall landscape design innovative and unique.

So if you are still in the market for a Sedona fiberglass pool, I can help you with the whole process, from design to installation with my network of contacts and years of experience both in Phoenix and Sedona.

Top 10 Drip Irrigation System Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

Here is my top 10 drip irrigation system mistakes based on people not adhering to common practices that good landscape professionals follow. Mistakes are made when a system does not adhere to these practices. Does your drip irrigation system lack any of these guidelines?

drip irrigation system mistakes

A properly installed set of drip valves

Nobody wants to knowingly waste water, but since over half of a typical household water use is outdoors, a poorly designed drip irrigation system is usually the cause.  Wasting water is only one of the top 10 drip irrigation mistakes, but it also stems from planting plants in the wrong locations. Most people don’t really monitor the operation of their drip irrigation system. Most of the time, they base its operation on whether their plants are doing well or not.

Reading through these may reveal some deficiencies with your own existing system. Not following these points can result in more costly repairs, inefficient irrigation, over watering and higher maintenance. Thus, the top 10 drip irrigation system mistakes.

  1. All irrigation systems must be equipped with a vacuum breaker as required by the Uniform Plumbing Code. These could be above ground atmospheric vacuum breakers that are built into the above ground valves, or it could be a pressure vacuum breaker which is installed before the valves which would then be underground located in a valve box. Above ground valves should not be used in climates where freezing is a concern and exposed PVC pipe is not a good idea either.
  2. A shut off valve should be located along your mainline before the vacuum breaker so you can turn off the irrigation line for repairs while maintaining water for the main house.
  3. Drip systems operate under low pressure, usually 20-30 psi. A pressure reducer is installed after the valve so the pressure going through the drip line and out the emitters is low enough so the fittings don’t blow off. Since there is no glue used as in PVC piping, drip fittings are designed for low pressure water delivery.
  4. Lateral driplines should be placed in pipe sleeves when running under driveways, patios or other surfaces to access planting areas separated by hard surfaces or other hardscape like walls, planters, etc. This allows the piping to be installed in the first place without possibility of getting damaged or kinked and allows the piping to be pulled out and replaced later if necessary.
  5. Emitters for each plant should have a separate ¼” tubing connected to the lateral. Do not split off the ¼” tubing to feed more than one shrub since you will be diluting the amount of water than can reach the plant.
  6. Keep the ¼” lines no more than 10 feet long measured from the lateral line. This may require the laterals to be looped or tees inserted to provide relatively close distance to all the shrubs in any particular zone.
  7. Adequately bury the lateral and ¼” tubing. The lateral line should be buried about 6-8”. If it is accidently cut with a pick or shovel later on, it is easy to repair. Further, since the lateral is after the valve, they are not under pressure except for when the valve is running. ¼” tubing is often not buried deep enough often placed just underneath the gravel cover. ¼” tubing should be buried several inches in the soil so the lines will remain in place and not easily get pulled up from a rake and be exposed.
  8. Avoid relying on hose bibs to locate your irrigation valves. Hose bib connections to a drip line may be manually controlled or you can install a battery operated single station valve. This is not a professional installation especially if the planting design requires multiple zones. For isolated areas cut off from connection to the main system, they can be used provided there is a nearby faucet.
  9. Separate tree zones from shrub zones. This is a very common mistake. Trees ideally need water for a deeper watering (longer duration of watering time) and less frequently compared to shrubs which have more shallow roots.
  10.  Make a sketch of the irrigation layout. It is very common to forget where the lateral lines are buried since they are often curved and looped and not always straight. One trick to locate the lateral if say you want to install a new shrub later on is to pull up the ¼” tubing closest to where you want to plant and keeping pulling until it takes you back to the point of connection to the lateral.

You may need to go beyond reading through these common mistakes. You can find out how to set up a garden drip irrigation system on another one of my posts on this topic.


Garden drip irrigation systems must be installed properly

typical garden drip irrigation system layoutIrrigation systems for landscaping are often installed improperly or don’t even exist. This observation is from my many years remodeling the landscapes of homeowner’s properties. Fixing an improperly installed drip irrigation system is a very common need for most landscape remodeling projects. Here is how to set up a proper garden drip irrigation system.

Proper Planting Design

An irrigation system is designed based on the layout of the plants. Proper irrigation design is best when the planting design is done with the irrigation system in mind. Plantings are not only selected for their form, shape and structure, but for their sun/shade requirements. The concept of planting zones will dictate the way the irrigation system is set up.

Create Irrigation Zones Based on the Plantings

Zones allow for the garden drip irrigation system to deliver water at different durations and frequency. Thus an irrigation station or individual valve is dedicated to a particular zone.  Examples of zones would be front lawn, rear lawn, trees, front shrubs, north shrubs, Xeriscape area, food garden, containers, etc. Note that each of these zones requires different amounts of water. Some require daily watering, others only once per week.

Determine Valve Control Box Location

Once you have a layout of which zones are to be irrigated, you then figure out where the valves should be located. The control valves will need a source of water, so where that point of connection is will affect the location of the control box.

On newer homes, the mainline feeding the house may have a pressure reducer and a line going into the house exposed on the outside of the house. Sometimes, they will install a stub out tee fitting for connection to the garden drip irrigation system, if not, you will have to tie into that mainline and run a line to your valves.

Locate the Irrigation Controller

The valves should be automated and controlled by an irrigation controller. The controller should have as many available stations as you have valves. The controller may be located indoors or outdoors and in either case, connected to a source of electricity. Control wire will run from the controller location to each of the valves so it’s not critical to locate the valves close to the controller.

Install the Lateral Lines and Emitters

Once you set up the mainline connection, your valves and controller, you can run your “lateral” lines that feed each of the zones. For a typical drip system, the lateral will be a ½” tube with separate ¼” tubing for each individual plant. The emitters can be anywhere from ½ GPH (gallons per hour) to 5 GPH.

Keep in mind that if you have one plant with a 1 GPH emitter and another with a 5 GPH on the same zone, one plant will be getting five times more water. Perhaps these plants were not properly chosen nor the irrigation system designed in conjunction with the planting design or installation.

The emitter output should be consistent among all emitters on each zone. This is determined at the time the plants are selected and designed. Since you can’t be perfect with this, some plants that are otherwise considered to have the same watering needs may require different amounts due to variations in soil moisture and sun exposure.

Does Your Planting Design Match the Irrigation System Design?

A proper garden drip irrigation system starts with the design of the planting plan. Unfortunately, too many landscapes are installed in a hodgepodge manner with no plan and consequently, the irrigation system is installed inefficiently resulting in higher maintenance and over watering. Unless you follow these guidelines, consult a professional for your next project to fix your existing system. Your plants will thrive being given the right amount of water.

For another post on drip irrigation systems, see my post called the top 10 drip irrigation mistakes and how to avoid them.


Sedona Second Home Landscaping Tips for Prospective Owners

You’re shopping for a second home in Sedona and will use it part of the year or perhaps move into it full time when you retire. Since you will not be there full time, how much effort should you put into your Sedona second home landscaping? The answer depends on the current state of the landscaping and whether you intend to live in it part time or rent it out.

second home landscaping tips

Landscaping is included when shopping for a second home

For instance, the home may be a foreclosure or bank owned with neglected landscaping. Or it may be fully landscaped in good shape and you will need to continue the maintenance. It may have been a rental with minimal landscape improvements.

Regardless of the type of property it was, you need to assess the current state of the landscaping. It could be anywhere from a landscape that was disregarded (yes, even in Sedona), to a high end outdoor living environment where the owners valued professional landscaping and invested in a custom design and installation.

The current state of second home landscaping falls into three general categories:

1) The Clean Slate (needs a complete landscape)

These types of properties are homes that may have never been landscaped except for a few trees and shrubs and gravel cover. They are homes where the owners did not value upgrading the landscaping by installing improvements such as a patio, nice fencing, or other elements. There may be a lot of native vegetation left in its natural state.

To some degree, these properties are like a clean slate because there isn’t much that you need to rip out and redo the way you want it or to correct mistakes in terms of taste or poor quality work. These properties include foreclosures, rentals and older properties.

2) The Remodel (needs repairs and a makeover)

Your new home may be equipped with a concrete driveway, block walls, brick patios, a barbeque island and would appear that it was installed as a complete landscape project at one point. It may have been installed by professional landscapers, or some of the improvements could have been homeowner built.

When a landscape needs a makeover or renovation, it’s often because it doesn’t work for the new owner. It may need repairs, it may lack certain elements, it may not have enough patio space, the front may lack any curb appeal, the barbeque island was placed in an unacceptable location and so forth.

3) The Acceptable Landscape (fully landscaped)

The home may have been fully landscaped with an irrigation system, drain lines, a lawn, a fountain, decking, nice trees and shrubs and was maintained either by the owner or a maintenance service. This type of landscape requires minimal improvements except for areas where you would like to customize or add something it lacks. While being an absentee owner, you will need to make sure it is maintained.

Now ask yourself these questions:

Will it be vacant while you are not using it?

If it is an Acceptable Landscape, you may not need to do much at all except engage the services of a maintenance service so it looks good when you do visit.

If it’s a Remodel, you may be compelled to make a lot of improvements so that when you are visiting, it will accommodate your needs and wants and allow you to enjoy the outside without being reminded of all the fixing and replacing it needs.

If it’s a Clean Slate, how enjoyable will your second home be if there is not much to the landscaping? You will certainly want to make some improvements and here is where you can start from scratch and design the whole yard the way you want.

Will you rent it out so its not a financial burden?

If you will not be visiting your Sedona second home on a regular basis as in the case of the vacant property, you will most likely view it as an investment property with the intention of either changing it from being a rental to an actual second home or moving in when you can retire and relocate to Sedona.

The decision regarding how much you should landscape the property will often be made soon after you purchase the property and the current state of the landscape will affect your ability to market the rental for the going market rent for the price range of the home. For instance, a high end Sedona property that rents for at least $2000/month will need to have decent and well maintained landscaping. A property that is either a Clean Slate or a Remodel will need its landscaping to be acceptable and comparable to the rental amount.

Being a rental, most landlords are not inclined to make improvements that do not make a return on the investment, so they tend to keep everything as is. They will wait until they move in themselves to make significant changes to the landscape.

If you are currently looking for property for a second home or investment, consider hiring a landscape professional who can give you a Sedona second home landscaping assessment of the improvements required to bring the landscaping up to the standards you require depending on how you are going to use the home.

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