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palo verde tree bougainvillea backyard landscape

Do you have parts of your landscape that you would like to change? 

Perhaps you have areas you like, but there are plants you are tired of or are struggling with.

I want to show you what I did in my backyard, where I blended both old and new elements.

First, a little history:

I was fairly happy with with the areas bordering the walls of the backyard. They are filled with colorful shrubs such as Bougainvillea, Coral Fountain, and Yellow Bells.

However, the center of my backyard space was dominated by a large lawn, which we had removed last year.

The decision to replace the grass was made with a focus on plants that I love and would blend well with the existing plants.

The focal point is a new flagstone seating area with Adirondack chairs arranged around a portable firepit. Around this area, boulders add height and texture. Angelita Daisy, Artichoke Agave, Blackfoot Daisy, and Pink Muhly grasses surround the seating area, which adds year-round color and texture.

In another area, a gentle mound stands planted with a ‘Bubba’ Desert Willow tree. Purple Trailing Lantana grows around the tree and will soon cover the entire mound in a mass of purple blooms.

At this point, the new plants are still rather small. However, plants grow quickly in the desert climate and, in another year, will soon reach their mature size.

The result? A landscape where the new and old will blend seamlessly together.

I must admit that I am delighted with how it turned out. It took me a long time to decide what to do with this area – it is so much easier to design someone else’s yard than your own.

I look forward to seeing it evolve and promise to share it with you 🙂

Have you ever had something happen to you that was such a coincidence that it was hard to believe?  Recently, I had one such experience.

 
It all happened on a beautiful, sunny morning in August…

But first, a little background:

Those of you who have been reading my blog for a long time may remember me sharing about my past job as a landscape designer.  I wrote about my adventures that you can read about, here.  

There were things that I enjoyed about my job and others things that I did not.

However, I did enjoy working with clients and helping design the landscape of their dreams.

*Okay, back to my amazing ‘coincidence’ story.

It was a beautiful, sunny day and I was on my way to an appointment for a landscape consult – (I work for myself now).

As I got off the freeway and started driving through the residential streets, I realized that I had designed a landscape there years ago when I worked for the landscape design company.

As I got closer to my destination, I saw that I was in the same neighborhood.  I promised myself that I would try to find the same house after I was finished with my appointment.

My GPS directed me down the street where my ultimate destination was and soon I found myself sitting in front of the SAME house that I had originally designed back in 2008.

Hard to believe?

My first reaction was “I can’t believe it!”

I had designed hundreds of landscapes and the chances of being called back to the same one by a different owner was so small.

The second reaction was, I hope they don’t hate their existing landscape – if they did, I wasn’t sure I would tell them that I was the original designer.

But then I remembered that my client had told me via email that she and her husband had just moved into their new home and wanted to learn about the plants in their landscape and how to take care of them – they had no idea that I was the original designer.

I knocked on the door and my client greeted me and proceeded to take me into their backyard.

Now 

The first thing I saw was the pathway made up of broken concrete (called ‘urbanite’) that was had already been present the first time…

Then 

I did have pictures of the landscape when it had been newly installed in 2008.

The new homeowner told me that she and her husband had bought the home because they loved the relaxing backyard landscape.

I then told her that I had been the original designer.  She couldn’t believe it either!

Now 

As we walked into the backyard, the details of the design came flooding back.

Would you believe that there used to be a swimming pool in this backyard?  

Then

Back in 2008, we filled in the pool and added mounds, boulders, drought tolerant plants and a palo verde tree. 

Now

The original owners wanted to get rid of their pool, which they hardly used to convert it into a drought-tolerant landscape with a seating area underneath a tree.

I had designed a meandering path from the patio which ended in a seating area made from flagstone.

Then

You can really tell how much the tree and other plants have grown over the past 7 years.

Now

While the overall landscape looked good and I was happy with how the design turned out – but there was an issue.

Most of the plants were brown and straggly – not very attractive and showing signs of under watering.

The new homeowner provided me with the irrigation schedule that the original homeowners had been using and it was easy to see why some of the plants were a bit small for their age and didn’t look great – they were getting too little water.

Then

I helped her adjust her irrigation schedule and assured her that her plants would soon improve in appearance.

Although some of the original plants had been lost due to under watering, I remembered what they were and was able to give her a list of replacements to buy.

As I got ready to leave, the homeowner told me that she couldn’t wait to tell her husband that by sheer coincidence, their landscape consultant turned out to be the original designer.

I drove away with a huge smile on my face because it isn’t often that a residential landscape designer gets to see their designed landscape a few years later.

It made my job feel very rewarding that day 🙂

**For information on watering guidelines for the low desert including how to avoid over & under watering, click here.  

Well, there I was….in my new job, working only as a landscape designer for a large home builder.  My surroundings had definitely changed since I left my small and sometimes dirty maintenance office and traded it in for a beautiful office on the 14th floor in downtown Phoenix (you can read more in my “Part 1” post if you like).

Now you would think that with as a horticulturist, I was more then ready to get started……well not exactly.  Before I was allowed to meet with home buyers by myself, I had to learn how to design a whole host of custom structures.  And so, I spent 4 weeks learning how to design built-in BBQs, firepits, seatwalls, arbors, fountains, raised patios, etc.  

Built-in firepit

It was harder then you may think because I had to design these structures from the ground up, which I found challenging.  Trying to factor in gas lines, how many bricks, did it need to be reinforced, how much material was needed, water lines, paint, stucco finishes, etc. was exhausting. I soon learned that visualizing these structures, much less drawing them out, was quite hard for me.  My brain just does not work well that way.  But, I did learn how….but I cannot honestly say that I enjoyed the process.

With my new knowledge, I was soon ready to meet with clients in my fancy new office.  I had traded in my work gloves and boots for manicured fingernails and a business professional wardrobe.  Did I already mention my black granite desk in my previous post?I know I did….but it was just so beautiful 😉

In addition to the fancy trappings of my office, I had a variety of samples to show new home buyers.  Pieces of flagstone in all sorts of colors, pavers, cultured stone, colored concrete and I even had a clear glass box with fake grass inside.

I still have a couple of flagstone samples…..I’m not sure why I kept them.

I think my favorite prop was my ‘rock box’.  Doesn’t that sound exciting?  I still have it and so I dug it out of my stuff in the garage just to show you how cool it is….

Okay, maybe it isn’t the most exciting thing you have seen, but wait until I open it up….

Still not too interesting, is it?

Personally, I found the subject of landscape rock selection quite boring, but clients needed to see samples of what type of landscape rock (gravel) they could chose to use in their landscape.  (It was surprising how many people get hung up on choosing landscape rock.  Throw in a couple who have differing opinions, and it would take forever.)

So I was finally trained and ready – after all I had my rock box ;-).  But, I was so nervous.   Did I mention that I had to actually draw out the landscape design in front of the client, price the entire landscape and get a signed contract within a period of 1 hour?

Believe it or not, I gradually got used to designing on the spot.  I enjoyed meeting so many different people and most of them were very nice to work with.

Over the course of my two years working with the home builder, I met with many wonderful people.  I also met with some unusual people as well.  Here is just a small sampling of some client meetings that stick out in my mind…..

CLIENT #1:

This particular client did not want any trees or plants in his front yard.  NONE!  Now for the horticulturist and plant lover in me – I just couldn’t fathom someone not wanting plants in their yard.

I did my best trying to describe the benefits of having trees and plants in his front yard.  I told him that I could design his landscape using low-maintenance plants.  But, he was not swayed in the least….not even when I whipped out my photos of beautifully landscaped areas.

Well, who do you think got their way…..me or him?

I did!

I wish I could say that I persuaded him by showing him examples of my landscape designing expertise….but that would be a lie.

I got my way because the community where his new home was to be built, required trees and plants in the front yard.  Actually, 2 trees, 10 large shrubs and 12 smaller groundcovers.

The expression on his face was just priceless because he just couldn’t believe that he had to have plants.

CLIENT #2:

I had a wonderful time meeting with this client.  She was moving into a beautiful community located in the upper desert surrounding Phoenix AND she loved plants.

All except for this one…..

Red Yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora)

I’m not sure why she did not like this plant.  It is quite beautiful, low-maintenance as well as being drought-tolerant, all of which are good things.

Now the fact that a client did not like a particular plant was not unusual and did not usually present a problem; I would create a design using other plants.

However, the community she was moving into had some strict guidelines in regards to what types of plants could be planted.  Every home had to have one particular plant in the front yard.

Guess what plant she absolutely had to have planted in her front yard?

Yep…..you guessed it,  Red Yucca.

The client couldn’t believe it, but she was quite nice about it.  Together, we figured out where we could have it planted in her front yard where she would not have to see it.  We put it on the side of her house where only her neighbor would be seeing it.

CLIENT #3:

This client was building a home in a gorgeous part of the desert, called Gold Canyon.  It is located by beautiful mountains and the views from her new home were going to be stunning.

This particular community required a quite a few plants in the front yard – I love plants so designing for this community was always a treat.

We spent our time creating her landscape design together.  I suggested plants and their placement and I could see that she was getting excited about how beautiful her landscape would look.

I loved working with clients who could ‘see’ what the finished landscape would look like.  They were very easy to work with.

I remember her discussing her plans for inside her new house and she couldn’t wait to move in.

Because it was a corner lot, there was a 1 ft. wide strip of land between the block wall of her backyard and the sidewalk.

As we were getting ready to wrap things up, I mentioned that little strip of land was hers and that she was responsible for maintaining it.  Now, maintenance for that area was easy.  There were no plants there, just landscape rock.

Well, she was not happy about owning that little strip of land.  In fact, she was so upset that she walked up to the front desk and canceled her house purchase.  She wouldn’t even want to consider building her house on a typical lot.  

You know, I soon learned to expect the unexpected.  Each person is unique as are their preferences.  Who would have ever guessed that someone would back out of a house purchase over a little 1 ft. wide strip of land……

**********************

I hope my stories are not too boring.  I have had fun recalling some of the more memorable moments.

If you are not completely bored to death……come back for Part 3 in a few days 🙂