Wednesday, March 31, 2010


    Our yard is a mud flat right now. We have some plans to change this, but the thing about building a house on a budget is that the budget runs out at some point. I would love to work with a landscape designer for our property, but it's not in the cards.

    Back in December we toyed with getting a few trees in the ground before the heavy winter weather hit so I drew up a landscaping plan then. We didn't get the trees in the ground (seriously, we have nothing but mud right now), but we have spent the winter thinking about spring, warm weather, and a landscaped yard. Here is that plan:

    The notations are plant varieties, hopes and dreams I have for various zones of the yard. We're trying to limit our green grass varieties and water-hungry plants -- that's as much a financial decision as a sustainable one. I'm not interested in spending money to water my yard with culinary water!

    We've visited the Conservation Garden Park in West Jordan a couple of times, checked out several water-wise gardening books from local libraries, attended a couple of landscaping classes at the library (trees! edible yards!), and done a lot of thinking about what we'd like in a yard and how we imagine we'll use it, both now and in coming years.

    So, a couple of conclusions:

    • We do want some grass.

    Looking around at options for Utah's climate, it's become clear to me that if you want a lawn to look like a lawn, you have to expend some water on it. Sure, there are several different varieties for lawn grass that claim to use significantly less water, but looking at the actual water required compared to the standard Kentucky Bluegrass lawn, it's all more or less the same. A couple of other options might be a dwarf tall fescue mix or a bonsai dwarf tall fescue mix. From what we saw at the conservation garden, these have a similar look and feel to a traditional bluegrass lawn but with slightly less water usage. I don't know how easy they will be to find in sod here, though (we don't think we want to do a lawn from seed).

    • I'd love to do rain-water catchment.

    Our "flat" roof is slightly sloped to drain at three points on the north side of our house. Right now that drainage goes straight into a buried pipe system that eventually goes to a drain sink in our backyard. Every time I hear that dripping -- or on recent days with this heavy, wet, spring snow -- I think about capturing that water, storing it over the winter, and then using it for a garden and to "make up" for some of the higher-water plants that we will inevitably have.'s currently illegal in Utah. Not a huge deal at the moment because there does seem to be some momentum to change this law (at least for residents doing temporary catchment and then re-using the water on their own property), but I'm looking down the road.

    • It turns out that I really love a lot of low- and zero-water plants and Utah natives.

    The varieties of creeping thyme, native oak, native maple and native high-desert flowers have a stark beauty about them that I'm really loving at the moment. We're already planning on several varieties of creeping thyme for around our south-side patio and kitchen garden, and I think we'll end up with more than a few native flowers for the front yard.

    • We may have an inter-family fight brewing over the front-yard trees.

    I want to plant gambel oaks in a stand of 5 in our front yard, toward the north. Tai is a bit leery of them (and their more common name -- scrub oak). We've heard they send out runners that will undo a lot of careful landscaping work. But they're native! And I grew up with them in my grandparents' yard! And if you give them a little water (instead of zero supplemental water) they behave more like trees and less like shrubs! This is a sample of our stimulating evening conversations of late.

    So, we welcome your suggestions. We're doing some preliminary planning — we got an irrigation system designed for us by a local sprinkling company. Next stop will be trenching for that system, then Tai is bound and determined to lay his own sprinklers! We're also collaborating with our neighbor to the south on fence plans (some designs that caught my eye are here, here, here, here, here, and here), and thinking about what we would put in the garden boxes we have planned.


    amelia said...

    We're in the same boat. We're planning to rip up our front yard and do some sort of drought-tolerant (and pine needle-tolerant) landscaping.

    Sunset magazine had a cool series on this topic:

    Kersten said...

    Oh man, I love Sunset. But they're so Cali-centric that I have doubts about the over-wintering of many of their suggestions.

    Yeah, I'd love a California climate for landscaping. You could do SO much.

    tri_urbane said...

    My friend Tracy directed me to your project and asked that I give a few suggestion if I so desired. Having studied landscape architecture it's hard for me not to make a comment or two.

    I love your design because it feels like it will compliment your house's unique style. You are also ahead of the curve by designing a native/drought tolerant landscape. The sooner Utah figures this out the better it will be on the landscape and their pocket books.

    As far as plant selection goes, I often use this website:
    Personally I love the sage steppe and riparian planting regimes.

    As for your rainwater harvesting bill, it has be signed by the Governor!

    I haven't seen many vendors in the area selling cisterns, but if you do install one, it will pay for itself very soon.

    I love the grass layering idea, always a personal favorite of mine. A sod that I like to specify when designing landscapes is Bio-meadow. These guys are local and you can see how well it has held up if you've ever been to the outdoor stage at Red Butte Gardens.

    Well, I'm glad there's people out there that can appreciate great sustainable/economical design. Good luck!

    Kersten said...

    That is incredibly helpful. I'll definitely check out those links -- thanks!

    Barbara said...

    We are going to take out the grass in front of our house--well if you can call it grass and put in an edible ornamental garden in boxes. We want to grow as much of our fruit and vegetables as we can. We are taking out a couple of trees in the backyard and will put in some small fruit trees and down the road berries. I have had fun designing it. I hope it will look as good as I see it in my head :)

    Cecile said...
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