Arid or xeriscape landscape does not have to be hot, boring, sparsely planted or just gravel covered areas that look bleak. We call these designs water-wise.
A good designer has the human environment or microclimate of your home uppermost in thought. The designer should look at the upper story first to see where shade, screening, wind protection should be in your landscape.
The trees are the upper story layer of the environment. The next layer is large bushes or shrubs, which also soften blank walls, screen areas and generate color and texture. Next is the medium size bush or plant that gives more interest, color and texture.
Then you drop down to a smaller bush with the same factors in mind and, lastly, to groundcovers that can absorb ultraviolet light, color and provide that always pleasant, green carpet look.
They don't have to be high water plants to get this look. This is called microclimate layering design.
You develop those climatic zones that give you a cool colorful look. Next, a designer should focus on vignettes or focal points to excite the eye and give an appealing vignette where you can enjoy a meal, quiet moment or a good book.
This requires good plant knowledge, good horticultural skills and study to design this kind of environment. A designer also wants to have in mind how to utilize water harvesting and all the activities that you would like to do in your backyard. The bonus is a great microclimate environment that gives you texture, color, scent and peace that you can enjoy.
To "go green" in your landscape without feeling guilty about its water consumption, your landscape design and plant choices should be what we call "desert friendly."
There are so many plant choices that use little water and are nicely suited for desert dwelling, some are native desert plants like palo verdes and mesquites, others like sages and cassias originate from areas in the world with similar climates.
Other great choices include: Cassias; genista, sweet broom; germander, teucrium; Mexican tarragon, tagetes lucidum; eremophila maculata, emu bush, grewia caffra, lavender starflower, African daisy, vigueira deltoids, golden eye, jasminum polyanthemum, pink jasmine, gelsemium sempervirens, Carolina jessamine, hardenbergia violacea, desert lilac vine; sophora secundiflora, Texas mountain laurel, gazania, carrisa, elephant food; myoporum, Baja ruellia, salvia leucantha and Mexican bush.
While lush and green, avoid plant choices that are tropical in nature, like hibiscus; these are heavy water users and they are sensitive to extreme heat and cold.
Another idea that is underutilized is the use of flowering, perennial groundcovers like African daisies.
Sown by seed, these types of groundcovers cover large areas and have a stunning effect in the spring when they bloom. And, they are self-seeding, meaning they will come back every year with good rain or watering.
A lush look is achieved as much by the garden design as by the plant choices. Many people think to be water conscious you have to eliminate the front yard lawn. Not true unless your HOA doesn't allow it.
While a lawn is a relatively heavy water user by comparison, the hybrid Bermuda grass used locally uses far less water than is typically applied. Many people over-water their Bermuda lawns.
To have the beauty added by grass, simply limit the lawn size and surround the area with lush groupings of water-wise trees, shrubs and groundcovers - especially ground covers. Of course, you can always use artificial turf that looks and feels good.
Utilize techniques, like massing, and place large numbers of the same plant in an area to get the coverage you need. The results will be stunning and green!
• Gary and Sharon Petterson own Gardener's World and Gardener's Eden Landscaping in Phoenix. Reach them at (602) 437-0700. For the nursery, call (602) 437-2233 or visit www.gardenpro.net. For landscaping, visit www.gardenersedenaz.com.