GardenSmart :: EPISODES :: 2009 show5
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Show #5/1505
Arizona Landscape Makeover


Developing Eco-Friendly Subdivisions
PETER BACKUS HAS BEEN DEVELOPING ECO-FRIENDLY SUBDIVISIONS SINCE 1999, long before it was fashionable to do so. Peter went to the Univ. of Arizona, did a lot of horseback riding, came back to Tucson 12 years after graduating and decided to buy some land. After buying the land he decided he wanted to develop it rather than selling it. When developing land he doesn't always know immediately what the developed property will look like. He starts the planning process by riding the property, then hiking it, he covers the property.

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Building Envelop
PETER ALSO HAS GREAT IDEAS ABOUT DEVELOPING AN INDIVIDUAL HOME. Here they've created lots and inside that lot is an envelope. They use that envelope and tell buyers - build your house inside the envelope - but don't disturb anything on the outside of that envelop. The building must stay inside the envelop. This is the crux or focus of what they do. People will often say - Gee I'm not sure I want to build just inside the envelop. Peter's answer is simple. Don't you want to know where your neighbor is going to build? It's an insurance policy for everybody.

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Landscape Concept
What they have attempted to do with this property is CREATE A NATURAL, SUSTAINABLE ENVIRONMENT THAT DUPLICATES WHAT ONE SEES IN THE SURROUNDING DESERT. In the desert one sees texture, subtle color, elevation changes, accent plants like Saguaros, one sees scarcity, density and repetition. And, that's what they have tried to accomplish here. In the desert, in the low areas, where the water is, one finds foliage, critters, a blue oasis. They have used different elements to accomplish the look. They used rock, plants and elevation change. Importantly, simple doesn't need to be boring. Simple is hard to do.

Click here for more info

Landscape Plan
THE GUYS NEXT LOOK AT THE LANDSCAPE PLAN. Jordan Davis, their landscape designer, developed this plan and did a wonderful job. One instantly notices the simplicity concept at work. The overriding document was the approved plant list for the community. However this development's approved plant list is very much in tune with Richard U's and AAA's philosophy of going lightly on the desert. The plan features a lot of natives and plants that will fit right into what's going on. Most are natives with the exception of the Bougainvillea and the Yellow Bells. The plants incorporated into this design are small, young plants. And that was by design. The owner realized that with proper care and maintenance within 3 to 5 years one wouldn't be able to tell the difference from those plants and larger container-grown plants.

Click here for more info

Water Conservation
WATER CONSERVATION IS A BIG PROBLEM, NO MATTER WHERE ONE LIVES. Native Americans understood this thousands of years ago. They were dry land farmers and their survival depended on it. They realized that we get most of our waterfall during 2 periods of time. The winter rains are slow, nurturing rains, these are called mother rains. The summer rains, which can be violent, have big wind and lightening. These are called father rains. Those gully-washing rains can cause water to exit the scuppers 5 feet away, thus downspouts don't work here. They, instead use scour pads to slow the water. They then start the process of channeling water, to move the water into retention basins and check dams where it's needed. It's important to slow the water, capture it and let it soak into the ground.

Click here for more info

Irrigation System
To aid in this process A SUPPLEMENTAL IRRIGATION SYSTEM HAS BEEN INSTALLED. All new plants in the desert need a little extra water to get started, with the exception of the Cacti species. Thus they have a low volume, low flow drip irrigation system. The emitter lines get water directly to the root ball of the plant, it puts the water subsurface so you don't get evaporation. And, evaporation is huge in the desert. With flood irrigation or open system sprays one can lose up to 2/3's of your water through evaporation. Thus, getting it below ground gets it right at the root zone and you don't get evaporation. Another benefit, since you're not throwing water around the surface you don't get the weeds.

Click here for more info

Reviewing The Finished Project
THE LANDSCAPE DESIGN OBJECTIVE WAS TO BRING NATURE ALL THE WAY UP TO THE HOUSE. Jordan Davis is the resident mad genius, project manager and landscape designer. Jordan walks us through the design process. Jordan first sat down with the homeowner. They wanted to bring nature back and close to the building envelope. And that's what they tried to do. It required a lot of layering. Jordan used a lot of native Acacias and Ocotillo as well as other plants that are found in the desert. They then brought them up close to the house. The existing plant material really caught Jordan's eye when he 1st came out here. It set off the whole site. They just tried to accent that.

Click here for more info

 

LINKS:

Garden Smart Plant List

Loews Ventana Canyon Resort

AAA Landscape

Plant of the Week


Complete transcript of the show.

Show #5/1505
Developing your landscape or garden with the site in mind is a basic tenant of good design. In this Episode GardenSMART visits an entire subdivision and a landscape makeover of an individual house and yard that truly drives home this point.

PETER BACKUS HAS BEEN DEVELOPING ECO-FRIENDLY SUBDIVISIONS SINCE 1999, long before it was fashionable to do so. Peter went to the Univ. of Arizona, did a lot of horseback riding, came back to Tucson 12 years after graduating and decided to buy some land. After buying the land he decided he wanted to develop it rather than selling it. When developing land he doesn't always know immediately what the developed property will look like. He starts the planning process by riding the property, then hiking it, he covers the property. He certainly consults topography maps but topo maps don't show too much. They might show a dot but one doesn't know what that dot means, what it's going to be. One needs to go out and find it, to do this you need to walk the property. Richard notices the roads in this subdivision aren't straight. And, that's what happens when walking or riding the property. One looks at the topo map and think you know where the road should go, but when walking you find out there may be something you should go around. They then go around it or cut something out, one of the two. It drives an engineer crazy. At the end the engineers often say, good job, but it took us a long time to get there. This approach benefits wildlife as well. Peter often keeps the corridors the animals have been using for years open. Not only for the animals but for humans. These corridors provide excellent areas to ride horses, even walk the terrain. And, it makes the subdivision look better. This technique benefits the wildlife and in many cases cuts expenses because they don't build as many bridges to cross washes, for example. Saving money is always important to a developer.

The approach utilized here is not appropriate for every subdivision. But, Peter believes that every subdivision should be planned. This type planning should be utilized even with a piece of property that's nice and flat. The flat terrain is ideal for homes that cost less, it's ideal for more affordable housing. With any development, plan it well, it will assist in having nice streets and nice homes.

In the future Peter believes that planners should think about the fact that the planning should be done first. By doing this developers will benefit in the end. Preplanning helps keep costs down and maximizes land utilization.
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PETER ALSO HAS GREAT IDEAS ABOUT DEVELOPING AN INDIVIDUAL HOME. Here they've created lots and inside that lot is an envelope. They use that envelope and tell buyers - build your house inside the envelope - but don't disturb anything on the outside of that envelop. The building must stay inside the envelop. This is the crux or focus of what they do. People will often say - Gee I'm not sure I want to build just inside the envelop. Peter's answer is simple. Don't you want to know where your neighbor is going to build? It's an insurance policy for everybody. If you create your house and it has a view, the view is what you want to be looking at. Your afternoons might be directed at and focused on looking at that view. What happens when 2 years later someone builds on a piece of property you never thought they would build on and they build on it so that it disrupts your view. Then what will you then do? And, there are bad examples of that happening all across the country.

In developing your property first have the architect visit the property. There's no reason to have your house designed inside an office building. At the very least the conceptual part should be designed right on the land. Use the land, that's what it's there for. By doing this the landscaping is also easier. Peter provides an example. If you are planning a house with 3,000 to 4,000 square feet, it will take about 12,000 square feet to build that house with septic tanks and all that. Therefore it makes sense to have a building envelope of 18,000 square feet. But don't use the rest of your property, just blade the envelop, blade only what you need. Here they make you rope off the area inside the envelop, the area that you'll disturb. But, don't disturb the rest of the area, don't fight the site. If this is done then your landscaper can come in knowing much of the land isn't going to be disturbed, it will remain natural. The landscaper then knows what to put in the different areas and can coordinate the landscaping to look natural and consistent throughout the entire property. Peter knows Richard Underwood, the landscaper on this project, knows he's terrific and will do a great job on this yard.

Richard thanks Peter. This has been good, yet different information. Information we can all utilize.

Dr. Rick next meets Richard Underwood, with AAA Landscape, the man in charge of landscaping this property. Richard U. grew up in a small town, Holbrook, Arizona. It's in the northeastern plateau close to the painted desert and the Navaho Indian Reservation. His father was the county Ag agent, his Mom taught school. He and his brothers has a cowboy Ozzie and Harriet upbringing. They were involved in sports, 4-H, horses, junior rodeo, etc., it was a great time. In fact he and his brothers all became rodeo cowboys. They enjoyed that for a number of years but it is a young man's game. Eventually one must grow up and get a real job. His brother came to Tucson and wanted to start a landscape contracting company. He asked Richard to help him for 2 weeks. That was 32 years ago. Richard thinks his brother just wanted him for his truck because his brother didn't have one. Richard came with his truck, they bought a truck from Uncle Gene, borrowed $1,000 from Mom and that was it except for boundless optimism and some would say, creative stupidity. 30 years later they're one of the top 25 landscape contractors in the U.S. and they do award winning work all over the southwest.
Top

What they have attempted to do with this property is CREATE A NATURAL, SUSTAINABLE ENVIRONMENT THAT DUPLICATES WHAT ONE SEES IN THE SURROUNDING DESERT. In the desert one sees texture, subtle color, elevation changes, accent plants like Saguaros, one sees scarcity, density and repetition. And, that's what they have tried to accomplish here. In the desert, in the low areas, where the water is, one finds foliage, critters, a blue oasis. They have used different elements to accomplish the look. They used rock, plants and elevation change. Importantly, simple doesn't need to be boring. Simple is hard to do. Oftentimes we over think it and get a mess. Dr. Rick likes the way the environment is brought right up to the house. And that was the idea. With an English profusion garden there is a splash of color, one has a border that marks one area from the next. Here they tried to make it look as if the house sprang up out of the desert. It's organic to the site and provides a real sense of place in the southwest. Nothing artificial, yet at the same time, very stunning.
Top

THE GUYS NEXT LOOK AT THE LANDSCAPE PLAN. Jordan Davis, their landscape designer, developed this plan and did a wonderful job. One instantly notices the simplicity concept at work. The overriding document was the approved plant list for the community. However this development's approved plant list is very much in tune with Richard U's and AAA's philosophy of going lightly on the desert. The plan features a lot of natives and plants that will fit right into what's going on. Most are natives with the exception of the Bougainvillea and the Yellow Bells. The plants incorporated into this design are small, young plants. And that was by design. The owner realized that with proper care and maintenance within 3 to 5 years one wouldn't be able to tell the difference from those plants and larger container-grown plants. Plus the smaller plants are cost effective. Richard U. likes planting something small. Do it right, then hopefully within several years they'll look as good or better than the ones that were grown and planted as large plants. Especially with trees, if planting a smaller tree in 20 years one should have a healthier tree because it's adapted to the environment. More so than a large container grown plant. If they're started right, they can really take off. Plus here they have huge winds, they won't get blown down.

98% of the plants are natives, most were purchased, some were salvaged on site. Particularly the Saguaros and some of the Prickly Pears. An interesting fact about Saguaros. They are 99% water with stickers. And, tough to handle, they're sensitive and will sunburn. Richard U learned that the hard way. If you don't mark the north orientation on a Saguaro and you plant the north side facing south, it will mortally sunburn.

The Saguaros are being used in many cases as accent plants. Accent plants are plants that draw the eye, they're a focal point. They draw your eye to an area, they act as a punctuation mark.

Backdrop plants tie you to your place. They say this is my place and act as a transition to the other plants.

Screening plants are there to screen an undesirable view, to mark or differentiate 2 different areas. They can be simple. Plants like Hot bush, Bougainvillea, are examples.
Top

WATER CONSERVATION IS A BIG PROBLEM, NO MATTER WHERE ONE LIVES. Native Americans understood this thousands of years ago. They were dry land farmers and their survival depended on it. They realized that we get most of our waterfall during 2 periods of time. The winter rains are slow, nurturing rains, these are called mother rains. The summer rains, which can be violent, have big wind and lightening. These are called father rains. Those gully-washing rains can cause water to exit the scuppers 5 feet away, thus downspouts don't work here. They, instead use scour pads to slow the water. They then start the process of channeling water, to move the water into retention basins and check dams where it's needed. It's important to slow the water, capture it and let it soak into the ground. By doing this it decreases urban flooding which is a problem worldwide. A scour pad is what the water hits after it comes jamming out of the scupper. Thus there isn't a big hole in the ground, instead it hits the scour pad of rock which calms the water a bit, disperses it a bit and prepares it for the next step, the check dam. The check dam is a gully, a dam to hold the water back a little and to spread it. After capturing the water they have detention basins. There are several in the area.
Top

Moving on, once the installation phase is over the establishment phase begins. That phase is important in getting the plants to live on their own. To aid in this process A SUPPLEMENTAL IRRIGATION SYSTEM HAS BEEN INSTALLED. All new plants in the desert need a little extra water to get started, with the exception of the Cacti species. Thus they have a low volume, low flow drip irrigation system. The emitter lines get water directly to the root ball of the plant, it puts the water subsurface so you don't get evaporation. And, evaporation is huge in the desert. With flood irrigation or open system sprays one can lose up to 2/3's of your water through evaporation. Thus, getting it below ground gets it right at the root zone and you don't get evaporation. Another benefit, since you're not throwing water around the surface you don't get the weeds. This system makes for low maintenance and all gardeners hate weeds. Dr. Rick notices 2 main feed lines, or trunk lines through the whole system. That's because different plants have different requirements. Trees need less frequent, deeper watering whereas shrubs need more frequent, shallower watering. The idea is that the trees can eventually be weaned off irrigation completely and at that point the irrigation can be turned off for them and they will live on their own. The shrubs need a little bit more water throughout their entire life, particularly during the hottest months, most likely 2 or 3 months out of the year. The rest of the year they require relatively low usage. This system represents a very intelligent use of water. It's cost effective, which is particularly important where water is very dear. Since they're charging for water everywhere everybody likes a smaller water bill, it makes sense no matter where one lives.

They next look at the inner workings of the system. They start at the breaker box. There it's 110 volts but the step down transformer takes it down to 12 volts. Thus it's very safe. The system has, basically, a little computer. It's fairly sophisticated and will control time, will control station, will provide different water times, and it can be seasonally adjusted. Richard U. has sites where they have 3 or 4, 76 station controllers. They're so large that their supervisors program the clocks from their laptops in their trucks. They've got a satellite uplink to a meteorological site, they can adjust it up and down, in accordance with what the humidity is that day. It also considers the evapotranspiration rate, it's pretty sophisticated.

The water comes in on one side, there is a vacuum breaker and a pressure gauge, that shows the pressure is 65 pounds. It has a gate valve, which allows a shut down for repairs, a solenoid, which has 12 volts coming in, it controls the valve, then there is a pressure reducer and filter. Since it's low voltage and low usage, 30 psi, the filter is important because they get a lot of stuff in their water and the micro-porous emitters are low volume, low pressure and they can plug very easily. Thus the water needs to be cleaned before it gets to this area. Next are the feed lines, or emitter lines with a multi-port emitter. These have 1 gallon ports and you can feed as many feed lines as you want. The ones used here are for trees. The little tubes are spaghetti tubing feed lines. They look at a 1/2 gallon emitter. They're color coded and go from 1/2 gallon to 2 gallon. It's like tinker toys, just plug it in, run the spaghetti line to the root ball put about 6 inches of cover on it and move on. The system is very simple, very adaptable and very smart. Simple, again, is good.
Top

THE LANDSCAPE DESIGN OBJECTIVE WAS TO BRING NATURE ALL THE WAY UP TO THE HOUSE. Jordan Davis is the resident mad genius, project manager and landscape designer. Jordan walks us through the design process. Jordan first sat down with the homeowner. They wanted to bring nature back and close to the building envelope. And that's what they tried to do. It required a lot of layering. Jordan used a lot of native Acacias and Ocotillo as well as other plants that are found in the desert. They then brought them up close to the house. The existing plant material really caught Jordan's eye when he 1st came out here. It set off the whole site. They just tried to accent that. Jordan goes through some of the different plant material discussed earlier and the functions of those plants - the accents, backdrops and the screens. For backdrop plants they used native Acacia plants and native Hackberry. Although present in the existing landscape, in this plan they're bringing them up close to the house as well. The accent plants are everything seen in the foreground, the jewels in the desert. They brought some of those up close as well. Some are vertical elements, they pull your eye up, then cast your eye out into the landscape. That's what the Ocotillos will do, the Saguaros as well. For screening they used trees. Mesquites work well. These have been used to hide areas of the house. It's important to de-emphasize certain areas. The creek bed is not only functional but beautiful as well. It serves the purpose of collecting rainwater, which was something the homeowner wanted to do. He collects rainwater off the roof, directs it to the ponds, then lets it perk into the soil. Dr. Rick finds the completed project beautiful. It's natural and masterful. Richard U. feels Jordan has created a classic desert landscape. It has scarcity, density, texture, elevation change, subtle color, all the things one would see in nature. And, he brought it close to the home. It looks like it was here before the house was here. The landscape is not only beautiful but ecologically sound.

Richard U. provides some ideas for others to use in making Mother Nature happy. He notes, they live in a desert. Water is a scarce commodity. But if we're good stewards of the land and good stewards of our water we can live here for a long, long time. But we must do a number of things. Rainwater harvesting is huge. Tucson is the 1st community of any size to adapt a commercial rain-water harvesting ordinance. But that's just the start. Drip irrigation with computer operated controllers, putting water where it's needed, when it's needed is very important. Our water - we've got to use it and re-use it. Sewage affluents is a huge resource. We can clean up the stuff to the point where we can fish in it, we can swim in it, we can use it to water our golf courses, to water our lawns and water our parks. We can live here a long time but we must take care of the resources we have. Dr. Rick feels these are great ideas, not only for this part of the country, but for everybody in all parts of the country. Thanks Richard U. for your time. This has been a great learning experience. The finished product is beautiful and the lessons learned most informative. Thank you.
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LINKS:

Garden Smart Plant List

Loews Ventana Canyon Resort

AAA Landscape

Plant of the Week

 
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