Landscape lighting design is based on a variety of purposes as outlined below. We usually think of landscape lighting as highlighting the aesthetic aspects of the garden, but there are two other key essential needs for landscape lighting.

Safety lighting – Illuminating driveways, pathways, patios and stairs is as important as turning on a bedroom light so you can see where you are going. Lighting otherwise dark exterior spaces that could cause an accident or injury is a fundamental purpose of outdoor lighting.

Security lighting – Keeping your home safe is not only to keep you safe, but also to keep your home safe and the valuables inside that may be on the mind of a burglar. Spot lights that are motion controlled can detect an intruder and may deter them from trying to break inside. Security lighting however is usually a separate special purpose type of lighting and not typically connected to a garden focused landscape lighting design.

Having worked out the design for your new landscaping, creating a sense of drama and illuminating spaces and focal points is part of the appreciation of the landscape at night. There are certain basis type of lighting that are used:

Area lighting – Fixtures that light up an area such as a patio can be ground level lights or down lights attached to walls or patio covers.

Pathway lighting – Fixtures along a path not only light the way, but show off the linear aspect of the path whether it be straight or curved lines. The series of carefully spaced lights serve to reinforce the “line” which is a fundamental principle in landscape design.

Accent lighting – Architectural features that are illuminated so as to highlight the beauty of the object. This could be the stone veneer of a column, a large boulder, statuary, a specimen tree and many other possibilities. There are many ways accent lighting can be used:

This shadow was created by a setting sun
  • Silhouette lighting – This is a type of lighting that creates a shadow of the object either from backlighting or casting the shadow of the object onto a smooth surface.
  • Pools and Waterfeatures – Water can be illuminated by using direct spot lights, underwater fixtures or even LED strips integrated within a water fall device such as a “sheer descent”.
  • Steps and Seatwalls – There are fixtures called “hardscape” lights that are low profile small strip type fixtures that fit into the caps that cantilever over the face of a wall or bench or even steps.

Design Considerations

The above forms of lighting are for specific purposes and depending on the layout of your garden, fixtures are placed where they are needed. Beyond the functionality of the lighting, the aesthetics must be considered. This is where the fundamentals of design enter the picture. Here are some key elements:

Balance – Think of the landscape as a painting when seen from key vantage points which may be the curb appeal view looking at the landscape from the street or the views from within the home looking out. Lighting should allow your eye to follow the various points of illumination in a balanced manner and not be too concentrated in one area or leaving areas completely dark. Balanced is achieved by careful placement of fixtures as well as balance between path and area lighting vs. up lighting and accent lighting. Balance of lighting is integrated with the composition of the landscape elements.

Other principles of design that can be enhanced by the use of lighting include:








These elements are important to achieve good landscape design. Lighting only emphasizes these principles in the evening and sometimes creating a more intense impact or dramatic effect.

Dealing with Dark Sky Ordinances

Many communities have adopted regulations that control the type of lighting you can install outdoors in order to minimize the light pollution created by uncontrolled lighting. Everybody appreciates a dark sky when you can see the stars on a cloudless evening. The International Dark Sky Association has developed principles to achieve dark sky friendly lighting.

  • Minimize the amount of light by both number of fixtures and the wattage of the bulbs.
  • Reduce the area that is being illuminated by pointing lights downward, using glare shield, controlling the beam spread angle. Avoid stray lighting that is beyond the focus of what is intended to be illuminated.
  • Control the duration of how long the lighting is on by the use of timers.
  • Use low wavelength bulbs. In other words, use bulbs that are on the opposite end of the spectrum of a cool or blue wavelength. In LED terms, a lumen output no higher than 3000 Kelvin is preferred. Blue light disrupts our Circadian rhythm which is important for proper sleep cycles.

In terms of energy efficiency and global sustainability, switching to low watt LED bulbs has become a norm. Old halogen bulbs should not be used if you want to save electricity. Some landscape lighting manufactures offer bulbs that can be dimmed using a hand held remote to control individual fixtures instead of simply swapping out the bulb to a higher or lower wattage.

Landscape lighting involves not only using design to achieve a functional yet beautiful impact, but concerns the environmental and social impact on your neighbors and community.

Landscape fabric when used as a weed barrier can cause more problems than it intends to solve

As a professional landscape contractor, I do a lot of remodels and renovation work. Often a homeowner inherits the mistakes the previous owner made including the use of landscape fabric or weed cloth. It may have been the advice of a misinformed maintenance worker or even insisted upon by the homeowner, but in any case there are several pros and cons involved. Being educated about this controversial issue is important for any homeowner considering an upgrade to their existing landscaping involving plants, gravel and irrigation systems.

The Pros – where fabric is useful

1) Prevents weeds from growing from underneath sand set pavers or synthetic grass

2) Reduces weed growth in rip rap lined drainage swales

3) Soil erosion control in difficult sites (where the fabric is also covered with gravel or rip rap)

4) Could be used as an alternative to using chemical based pre emergent herbicides . But this doesn’t really fix the issue of weeds as fabric only delays the need to control weeds until the layer of gravel collects enough debris and forms a soil in which weed seeds that are wind driven find a
place to germinate.

5) Suitable for a minimalist style landscape where mostly Cacti, Agaves and Yuccas are planted and where upgrades and changes are minimal.

The Cons – where fabric creates problems

1) The wrong type of material can deteriorate in UV sunlight. I’ve seen many gardens with exposed black plastic sheeting that over time, looks hideous.

2) Adding new trees and shrubs can be a real mess. Removing the gravel in order to dig the hole, cutting out the fabric is relatively easy, but finding the drip irrigation lines to provide new emitters may be a real headache.

3) Repairing a leak in the irrigation system. Since the drip lines are installed under the fabric, it’s often difficult to pinpoint where a leak is originating.

4) Weed prevention is temporary. Yes, fabric will prevent any weed seeds that are already in the soil from germinating, receiving sunlight in order to grow, but after a few years, enough debris will collect on top of the fabric and along with the gravel cover provide a good soil medium for wind driven seeds to collect and germinate. Clients must be educated that this will happen and be prepared to either remove weeds manually, use a weed killer or pre emergent herbicide.

5) Prevents perennials that reseed and bulbs from populating. Perennials that reseed like poppies and alyssum cannot spread and if that if your intent is to create a perennial garden that thrives and grows from year to year, fabric should not be used.

6) Can be a hazard when used on slopes with the wrong kind of gravel. When used on a sloped area of the yard where perhaps you have a pathway or frequently walk across, roundish types of gravel like crushed granite actually will slide across the fabric as you walk on it, enhancing the
likelihood of slipping and falling.

7) Prevents easy application of fertilizers. Since fabric is placed close to the root ball of the plant when initially planted, its hard to apply fertilizers to the “dripline” of the plant which is where the feeder roots are and continue to form a larger radius as the shrub or tree ages.

8) Prevents earthworms from improving soil structure. Earthworms need organic matter that forms on the soil surface and derives nutrition from the fungi and bacteria that grows on the organic matter. Earthworms also need access to the surface typically after soaking rains since they need a balance of the amount of moisture their skin is exposed to in order to breath.

Not all healthy soils require the presence of earthworms, but their existence does indicate a healthy soil.

Landscape fabric has its uses but is not always the way to go

We recently finished landscaping an entire vacant lot that will be used as an extended backyard from the owner’s main house. He wanted fabric over the whole area which was covered with gravel, shrubs and a waterfeature. It was about 11,000 square feet. Although I hate to use fabric, in this case the soil was so bad in terms of being almost like dust, we had to use fabric so the gravel would not simply disappear into the “soil”.

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.

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

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