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B E T T E R L A N D S C A P E D E S I G N
Designing Your Own Desert Oasis
by Sandy Turico,
Imagine ... a front yard so appealing that those passing by will stop to
admire it. Picture a backyard so inviting that you might consider skipping your annual
vacation just to relax in your very own paradise. No matter how big
or small your yard, no matter how large or limited your budget, you CAN have
a beautiful landscape! All you need is a well-thought-out plan, some imagination, and patience.
T h e re are a multitude of issues concerning your home site that you need
to address before picking up a shovel or buying a single plant: What do you
intend to accomplish with this project? What type of ambiance or "mood" do
you wish to create? How large is your budget, and how much time are you
willing to give to establish and maintain your landscape?
Keep in mind throughout the design process that here in the desert, water is
our most precious resource. Using Xeriscape (low-water) principles is the
responsible way to protect our desert environment.
Analyze your home site: Study your yard's microclimate, which is determined
by existing structures and plants. Temperature, airflow, and patterns of
sunlight and shade vary by season, and should be considered as you decide
how various spaces will be utilized.
Walk your home site and examine the surrounding views. Are there eyesores
such as utility poles or unsightly structures you wish to camouflage...bright
lights you need to block..annoying traffic noises to mask?
Check the view from the interior of your home. Do you need to move that
trash bin to another area? Are your existing plantings so overgrown they're
obstructing a pleasant view?
Evaluate your type of soil and current irrigation system.
Draw a plot plan: Use graph paper to draw a plot plan (a scale of 1/4 inch to
1 foot works well). Measure your site's boundaries, house perimeter, and any
other existing structures. Note window locations. Pencil in existing
plants as well as service, pool, play, and garden areas.
Examine your diagram care fully. Decide which features you would like to retain
and which areas you would like to redesign.
List your objectives: Water and energy conservation should be a top priority for
desert dwellers. Privacy, security, and sound-control issues should be
addressed. Is a play area needed for children? If you intend to entertain, think
about space for a patio and barbecue.
A major consideration in our desert climate is respite from the summer
heat. Shade trees, arbors, ramadas, and patio umbrellas can provide this.
If you wish to attract wildlife to your landscape, you'll want to offer food,
shelter, and water.
Locate an area with appropriate amounts of sunlight if a vegetable or
herb garden is on your wish list.
Choose a garden theme: The architecture of your home should influence
the look of your landscape. Will your landscape be formal or informal?
Whether you choose a native desert, Mediterranean, tropical, or rustic
theme, you can incorporate Xeriscape principles by utilizing low-water plants.
Look to nature for inspiration.
Finalize your plans: Use tracing paper placed over your plot plan to explore
different design possibilities.
Once you are satisfied with your basic plan, transfer your ideas directly to your
plot plan and figure out the details. Sketch in those details...structures,
plants, and garden and turf areas.
Decide how to budget your time and money: An attractive landscape does
not have to be time-consuming or costly. Your plan can be developed in stages
as funds become available. Projects constructed from low-cost materials
can look striking. Small plants are less costly and will rapidly catch up to more
Are you a do-it-your selfer, or will you feel more confident working with a
landscape professional? If you decide to do the work yourself, there are many
helpful resources available to you, including Xeriscape classes, books, and
How much time are you willing to give to maintain your landscape? A low maintenance
yard will minimize watering, pruning , mowing, and fertilizing.
If you have questions regarding local building codes, permits, or homeowner
association rules, get in touch with the proper agencies. To locate underground
utilities in Maricopa County, contact the Blue Stake Center (602/263-1100).
Designing your landscape should be an enjoyable process. For enthusiastic gardeners
it's a never-ending project, one that evolves over time. So have fun
with your endeavor, take time to relax in your own personal oasis, and above
all remember that we need to be good stewards of our very special desert
Photography: Donna Atwood
Maricopa County Master Gardener Volunteer Information
Last Updated January 25, 2003
Author: Lucy K. Bradley, Extension Agent Urban Horticulture, University of Arizona Cooperative Extension, Maricopa County
© 1997 The University of Arizona, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Cooperative Extension in Maricopa County
Comments to Maricopaemail@example.com 4341 E. Broadway Road, Phoenix, AZ 85040,
Voice: (602) 470-8086 ext. 301, Fax (602) 470-8092