JSL Landscape completes landscape remodel at Sedona Golf Resort

The elements of fire and water make a landscape feel more balanced.

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to live on a golf course? You don’t have to be a golfer to appreciate the park like setting that an expanse of green grass brings to the backdrop of your landscaping.

You would want to share this view with your friends and neighbors right? Well then it should be a backyard landscape designed for outdoor entertaining. Everyone would love to visit and enjoy the features that you built to make it appealing and entertaining. Here is an example of one backyard landscape we recently completed in the Sedona Golf Resort.

Backyard Landscape Remodel in the Sedona Golf Resort

This home was purchased several years ago with the intent to eventually move in at retirement. Meanwhile, it was rented out and as many rental properties go — the landscaping is usually minimal. This was certainly the case with the property. The backyard was nothing more than a hodgepodge of overgrown shrubs. This makes it somewhat easier to create a new landscape since there were no structures to remove or work around.

The plan was to create a backyard oasis that included a pool, outdoor kitchen, a fire pit of some sort, patio areas for furniture and a small patch of grass for their small dogs to play. Being empty nesters, this was truly a backyard for adults to play and entertain their friends.

Being in the Sedona Golf Resort, the project required approval by the Homeowners Association as well as permits issued by the County of Yavapai. The owners were rather concerned about all the guidelines and restrictions, but since I have been to this rodeo before, the process went through without any glitches.

Here are some of the design details built into the landscape:

The pool was finished with black pebble which gives it an upscale sophisticated feel. Scupper wok bowls flank the back of the pool on raised stone veneered pedestals. The stone is also used as the veneer on the bbq island and fire table. The pool also has a “baja bench” which is an extended first step large enough to place a couple of lounge chairs.

The fire pit is actually what is now referred to as a fire table. A fire pit in the middle, but with coffee table height surfaces to make it more practical to sit around and have permanent furniture set up. The fire pit itself is gas fired and we used fire glass called “black reflective gold”. The fire glass picks up the black pebble texture in the pool. A subtle feature that allows the owners to share with their friends about the nuances of their masterpiece.

Tumbled travertine was used for the fire table surface as well as on the bbq island countertop.


Most homeowners who live in Sedona have been around and may have previously had landscape work done working with a contractor and or designer. They may be somewhat familiar with the costs. But if you are just starting out with considering a new landscaping project, perhaps remodeling a home you just bought and moved into, here are some guidelines to consider when interviewing prospective contractors and or designers. Hereinafter, I will just use the term ‘contractor’ for ease of writing.

1. Tell the contractor what your needs and wants are and walk around the property. Part of the interviewing process is not just to give them an idea of what you want so they can come up with a price. People buy from those whom they know, like and trust. So you have to go through a bit of a process to determine those factors. For some, it may only take one meeting. For others it may be over several meetings. At the end of the first meeting, if it is not clear, ask the contractor “How do you work?”

2. What you say and how you say it to the contractor may reveal your intentions and may or may not be in alignment with how they work. So it is better to show the contractor around and let them ask questions without being in control of the whole experience. Homeowners who march you through the project and describe it without hesitation as if they have done it several times before, tells me they have no intention of knowing anything about me and they are just going through the process to get another bid, perhaps the third of fourth. Believe me, I can tell when this is happening and these prospects are not my client.

3. A contractor who gets marched around the property and is then expected to get out his tape measure and give you a bid may stop you and state how he works and that he charges a fee to come up with a design. Most landscaping is sufficiently complex that spray painting it out on the ground and preparing an estimate on the spot is highly suspicious and should be a sign of someone who is not professional and probably not licensed.

4. If you have already talked with several contractors, know exactly what you want and have been given perhaps “free estimates” from others, you now have an indication of what your budget is. Did you pass on the contractor(s) who wanted a design fee to prepare the proposal? That was a mistake because any contractor who prepares a design and proposal is not going to spend the time nor be very thorough with the costing out process nor spend very much time on creativity.

A homeowner who is going through the process of “interviewing” several contractors and getting “free estimates” and or “bids” should not be limiting their evaluation based on the lowest bid. There are many other factors the homeowner is assessing while going through this process such as experience, credentials and references. But the question is, should the homeowner pay a fee to go through this process if the “bid” requires significant time and creativity to develop a thoughtful design upon which the costs can be accurately determined compared to an “off the cuff” ballpark estimate?

What I have learned over the years as a designer and as a contractor, what the client really wants is to experience the finished project. If the project is complex enough and requires a design to be prepared, then requiring a design fee is justified. Other simpler projects may be more straightforward and can be sketched conceptually on paper to show a visual of the design without a lot of time being spent. Again, this goes to the question of asking the contractor how do they work?

It will be up to the individual contractor to determine if they should charge a design fee to prepare a proposal. They could end up working for free, providing valuable design ideas and solutions and never get the job.

The most reasonable way to handle this is for the company to require some kind of design fee that may be credited towards the construction contract. That way, the design/free estimate is prepared with sufficient detail where assumptions are not made, materials are specified and the input of the homeowner is reflected in the design to make it truly custom.

As a design-build contractor, I emphasize the design aspects of a project which allows the homeowner to compare my creativity and value with others who may be more focused on the construction. A design fee on a project where it is justified truly shows my creative skills and allows the homeowner to get to know me as a person, not just another “bid”.

The Amara Resort and Spa is a boutique hotel owned by Kimton Hotels and Restaurants and is located in the heavily visited uptown district of Sedona, Arizona. Catering to the upscale visitor, Kimpton purchased the property about a year ago and began major renovations including the exterior grounds and landscaping. JSL Landscape LLC was engaged to perform a much needed landscape makeover. Since JSL Landscape is a design and build landscape construction firm based in Sedona, the corporate decision makers decided it was a good fit for their needs.

The existing landscaping at the Amara Resort and Spa was in need of a major overhaul as it was not only neglected in terms of maintenance, but the basic design – especially the choice of plants, would have to be totally changed to reflect the desire to create a more “chic” look as was requested by Kimpton’s Director of Design.
During the design process, John Leslie, owner of JSL Landscape, performed a site analysis and made several observations to develop a plan that would provide solutions to the lackluster design and give the overall landscape a clean, sophisticated look. There were several problem areas that needed attention:
1) The main entry lacked a sense of arrival. There was no distinct focal point. No statuary, fountain or other bold statement embellishing your sense of arrival.

JSL Landscape designs and builds a landscape makeover at Amara Resort and Spa in Sedona

Main entry at Amara Resort and Spa before landscape makeover

The main entry was rather simple, comprising the end of a long driveway that looped around the parking area. The Amara Spa was located across the main entry and interestingly, did have a waterfeature in front consisting of three contemporary oblique shaped basins with a metallic sphere which gurgled out water. Unfortunately, they were low to the ground and could not be seen if there were cars parked in the adjacent parking spaces. Furthermore, the handicap access ramp along with the railing was directly in front which really made one question why this fountain was placed there at all.

JSL Landscape designs and builds a landscape makeover at Amara Resort and Spa in Sedona

Waterfeatures are not only too low to be seen, they are blocked by parked cars and surrounded by the handicap access ramp and railings.

JSL Landscape designs and builds a landscape makeover at Amara Resort and Spa in Sedona

A repainting and some pedestals to raise these fountains in proportion to their surroundings was a minor improvement.

In order to improve upon the waterfeature, we built split face stone pedestals to raise them higher at different heights and relocated one of the basins to the main entry of the resort to give it a focal point and tie together the resort and the spa.

JSL Landscape designs and builds a landscape makeover at Amara Resort and Spa in Sedona

One of the fountains was relocated to the main entry and raised much more prominently to provide a focal point and structural element.

This is no Bellagio resort mind you. Sedona’s resort properties are low key and certainly do not attempt to be ostentatious. We also had to keep their budget in mind, so creating an expensive solution that could otherwise be achieved economically was the way to go.

2) The central courtyard where the pool, outdoor restaurant seating and the outdoor wedding venue is located had major problems with its planting design as well as the poor condition of the turf.

JSL Landscape designs and builds a landscape makeover at Amara Resort and Spa in Sedona

The existing courtyard showing the lackluster plantings and scruffy grass.

One of the biggest objections to the existing plantings was the use of deciduous shrubs that would look dead in the winter – especially the use of Red Barberry. Further, there were mass plantings of Deer Grass, which is not a deciduous shrub, but needs to be given a haircut during the winter in order to stimulate new green growth in the spring as well as keep the growth in check.
Other plantings included long continuous rows of Juniper that was pruned to keep it like a hedge. Small Blue Festuca grass was also planted in mass, with most of them dead or full of brown leaves. There were also Arizona Cypress trees newly planted about three feet from the guest rooms. It was determined that they planted the species that can reach 60 feet tall. Presumably, they wanted the dwarf variety but that is not what was planted.
So the solution to the courtyard plantings was to remove virtually everything in the courtyard (there were several Magnolia trees in suitable locations that would stay) and replace with a new planting configuration that favored groupings of a select number of plants in a repeated fashion. This would provide variety and interest, yet avoid the monotony of continuous rows of the same plants.
All of the new plantings would be cold hardy and evergreen so as to provide year round interest. Shrubs and accents would be used to give varied textures without creating a need for continual maintenance. The basic plant palette was as follows:

Lirope muscari (Lily Turf) both regular and variegated
Pittosporum tobira ‘Wheelers Dwarf’ (Mock Orange) both regular and variegated
Raphiolepis indica (Indian Hawthorn)
Chrysactinia Mexicana (Damianita)
Hesperaloe parvifolia (Red Yucca)
Muhlenbergia regens (Deer Grass ‘Regal Mist’ – in limited quantities.

In the shaded areas which made up most of the main entrance we used:

Aucuba japonica (Gold Dust plant)
Aspidistra elator (Cast Iron plant)
Liriope muscari (Lily Turf)
Nandina domestica ‘Nana” (Dwarf Heavenly Bamboo)
Euonymus japonica ‘Gold Spot’ (Golden Euonymus)

JSL Landscape designs and builds a landscape makeover at Amara Resort and Spa in Sedona

A more user friendly courtyard turf scene that invites you to have a seat and enjoy the view.

JSL Landscape designs and builds a landscape makeover at Amara Resort and Spa in Sedona

Even the new synthetic turf was “power broomed” so as to mimic lawnmower tracks seen on ball fields.

The turf in the courtyard was the subject of much debate among the corporate decision makers. When it was suggested that synthetic turf may be an option to the existing natural grass, a heated debate ensued as to whether “fake grass” was in keeping with the stylish nature of the new renovations. There was also concern that synthetic grass would not be perceived as being “natural” or that the resort was not “sustainable”. But in the end, the practicality of synthetic grass was decided to be preferred. The reasoning is simple: synthetic grass looks great all year long, has no maintenance needs other than blowing off leaves, needs no watering or mowing and stands up to having gatherings such as weddings and other events without having to worry whether the grass looks good enough or placing signs that tell the guests “no pets allowed” – in the pet friendly Amara Resort.


Most subdivisions that create individual lots, also have streets, drainage systems and utility easements that are either dedicated to the local jurisdiction or an easement over your private property. Streets are often designed to certain standards and their overall width as shown on the subdivision plat map often encroaches onto what you may think  is your property. The right of way goes beyond the edge of pavement.So don’t assume your property line is at the edge of the pavement.

A Right of Way or Rights of Way (ROW), is typically the section of land between the edge of the street and your actual front property line. This Right of Way allows the city or county to do a number of things including access utility connections, maintain drainage ditches, curb and gutter, sidewalks or even to widen the road if that is in the master plan. So what can the homeowner do to install landscaping in the front yard right of way you may ask.

In the City of Sedona, a Right of Way permit is required for any kind of development within the ROW including mailboxes, drainage ditch rennovation, driveways and even the placement of dumpsters. The County of Yavapai also requires Right of Way permits for the same kind of improvements.

Most homeowners are not aware that this section of land has restrictions on its use. In fact, many Sedona homeowners assume they can do what they want with it since all the surrounding homes appear to have landscaped all the way up to the edge of the pavement. Whether it is an easement across your property or the Right of Way is city or county owned, you may not build or construct anything you want without risking it being removed if access to land is required. A Right of Way permit is required to do any kind of improvements, yet most homeowners are unaware of the rules.

Landscaping in the front yard right of way is not entirely up to you. First, you must determine exactly what you own and what the city or county owns. In a Right of Way, typically you may install a driveway across the ROW to access the street. But building any kind of wall is typically not allowed within a Right of Way or Easement. If the city or county was to grant you a permit to build it, who then would maintain it and if the city had to dig up utility lines and remove the structure, who would pay to replace it? These are the reasons, only minimal improvements are allowed such as driveways and landscape plant material.

You will also find out about your front yard building setback which is different than an easement or a ROW. It is a part of the Zoning District setup by the city to regulate how close buildings can be to their lot lots on all four sides. Front yard setbacks restrict how close to the front yard property line you can build your house or any extension of it including low walls such as for a courtyard.

In planning the design of residential landscape, I check with the city as the first step to determine where the Right of Way, Easements and Setbacks are located. These are all building restrictions that must be followed, especially if what the homeowner wants to do requires a building permit.

Jurisdictions have different regulations and use restrictions as to what can be done and who will maintain it. The city may turn maintenance responsibility over to the homeowners even though they own the underlying property. If a homeowner improves the Right of Way with landscaping for their benefit, then it is in their best interest to continue to maintain it so it looks good. The one thing the city is most concerned about is liability. If the Right of Way is subject to flooding or has excessive weed growth, it may go ahead and perform maintenance because, legally it is the owner of the property.

Restrictions on the use of one’s property is part of the due diligence everyone should perform when buying new real estate. Locating the property corners will often reveal that a good portion of the front yard is really not your property, or may have restrictions that may not be acceptable to you. This is often the case with raw land where the actual property lines are not obvious.

I have seen where a person property is actually the center line of the street and also where the property line is about 25 feet away from the edge of pavement.  These Right of Ways and Easements can vary widely among jurisdictions. If you have an issue with your Right of Way landscaping, I may be able to help.


Newcomers to Sedona who plant Bougainvillea or Lantana in the fall go through a learning experience and then realize why they don’t see them planted all over town like in their former towns. The reason is freezing temperatures. Subtropical plants cannot withstand temperatures much lower than 32 degrees. But plant materials are not the only concern when it comes to cold weather. Irrigation systems, masonry and fountains are also concerns for Sedona landscaping in winter. Here I share some winter weather lessons learned for your Sedona landscape.


Sedona has a USDA cold hardiness zone of 7 or 7b, which means the average lows can reach 5 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit. Some subtropical plants can tolerate an infrequent dip below freezing, but a series of cold nights below 25 or so can be deadly, especially if the root system is not established as in newly planted. The best thing to do to deal with our cold winters is to choose plants that can tolerate Zone 7 and treat others in higher zones as annuals, or expect them to lose their leaves during winter.

Lantana is a colorful plant that is widely planted in the Phoenix area which is Zone 11, but I have seen some Lantana around Sedona as well. The difference is they lose their leaves after the first frost even though they are considered an evergreen shrub. They should be cut back in late winter to trigger new growth in the spring.

Plants that can tolerate our winters are ideally planted in the fall when the soil temperature is still warm enough to allow for some root growth before winter. Planting during winter is okay for some plants in containers, but don’t expect any growth till spring. It’s better to wait and not risk losing these newly planted shrubs especially if they are small 1 gallon containers or came directly out of the greenhouse at the nursery.

 Arizona Municipal Water Users Association How to Prune Frost Damaged Plants


People who come from harsh winter climates know how to winterize their homes. Exposed pipes can burst when frozen water expands, even a copper pipe can burst. That is why all exposed piping above ground should be insulated. Pressure Vacuum Breakers (or PVBs),  are those devices near your water meter and keep water from back flowing into the municipal water system. PVBs have an internal plastic part that can freeze and break, causing a major leak to occur under pressure. They must be above ground to function, and thus vulnerable to the elements.


Protect them with specially made thermal insulated pouches.





PVC piping that feeds your valves or sprinkler system is also at risk if it is holding water during a freeze. It’s best to have a bleed valve at the lowest part of the system to drain all the water from the pipes. If your site is level, you can dig a dry well to create a low spot for the water to drain. Also shut off the water supply that feeds the irrigation system, so in case a leak does occur, the system will not be under pressure creating a significant waste of water until you discover it in the morning.


Our climate is not cold enough to be concerned with soil freeze thaw conditions as in the Northeast. Hardscape such as concrete, masonry stone and tile is more susceptible to water penetrating their surfaces, freezing and then expanding and causing cracks or lifting of the top surface.

Care must be taken with certain installations during winter so water is not trapped underneath freshly laid tiles or stone. If gaps and crevices are present, these are areas where water can accumulate. A tile job for example should be laid, grouted and sealed without water infiltration and without freezing.

Drainage is also very important so that the surface does not collect water or snow.




It is recommended that pumps be operating during freezing conditions, otherwise water inside the pump may freeze and damage the pump. Flowing water also helps keeps the water from freezing in the plumbing. Sometimes, however it is best to shut down the fountain for the winter depending on the kind of fountain or water feature you have.

A fountain with relatively shallow basins such as a shallow bowl like a bird bath will freeze solid if cold enough at night. If the material is prone to crack due to the expansion of the ice, the vessel itself may be at risk, so it would be better to drain the water from the vessels and turn off the pump.

Since there are so many different kinds of fountains, it is best to ask, what if the pump stopped running and all the water in the basin and the bowls froze solid. Could the fountain otherwise remain intact without cracking? Is the material reinforced? Or is it made of fiberglass or resin? How easy would it be to remove the pump and bring it indoors? These questions should be asked when designing and installing a fountain whether its custom built or prefabricated.


This urn style fountain to the left if filled with water and froze, may expand and crack the vessel because of its shape. However, these wok style bowls to the right, have a very large surface area of water that if expansion occurs would simply rise in the bowl.





When spring comes and the weather warms up, its easy to forget about frozen pipes and plants that died during the first freeze in November. The best strategy for Sedona landscaping is to plan around the worst season of the year — winter and its freezing temperatures rather than the heat of the summer.



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