Launch Slideshow

Why Xeriscaping Makes Sense Everywhere

Why Xeriscaping Makes Sense Everywhere

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    Ed Gorman

    The Galleries at Turney, designed by Shepley Bulfinch, feature native plants such as a Palo Brea tree, Purple Mountain grass, and an Indian Fig tree.

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    Bill Timmerman

    The complex is a series of condos in Phoenix.

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    Matthew Winquist

    The Link, also by Shepley Bulfinch, is a mixed-use building landscaped with a Palo Brea tree, Desert Spoon, barrel cactus, and variegated agave.

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    Matthew Winquist

    In the courtyard of this condo is a mesquite tree, Agave Americana, Date palm, and Bundle Hedgehog cactus—all native plants.

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    John Cottle

    Xero gardening doesn't have to mean cactus. The land on which this Colorado home sits has been reclaimed with native grasses and fruit trees.

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    John Cottle

    To reclaim the property, architect John Cottle worked to bring the land back to the way it was 100 years ago.

To paraphrase Tennyson, in springtime, a man’s fancy turns to thoughts of landscaping. If you’ve got clients ready to start building or remodeling, you may be thinking not just about the inside of the house, but also about the outside. Chances are, many of your clients have their hearts set on a piece of rolling lawn, too, with fantasies of Downton Abbey dancing in their heads. But not so fast, says landscape designer Jonah Busick of Shepley Bulfinch Architects in Phoenix. Before you go ordering pallets of sod, Busick suggests telling your clients about the money they’ll save with xeriscaping.

Long associated with dry climates, prickly plants, and gravel paths, xeriscaping (also called xerogardening) isn’t just for the desert. It’s nothing more than smart landscaping that’s appropriate for the area you live in, says Busick. Yes, it originated in the West as a response to cutting back on water, but that mounting concern has since spread beyond arid places. "Something like 50% of domestic water is used for landscaping," says Busick.

Water shortages are only one reason to opt for this low-maintenance strategy, says Busick. You’ll use fewer pesticides and will save on lawn care bills, because plants that grow where they’re supposed to will stay healthier and need less babying. "The lawn used to be the default choice up until about 10 years ago," reports Busick. "But now people are thinking more critically."

Yet xeriscaping doesn’t have to mean foregoing that patch of green grass. "A lot of the landscaping we do is hybrid, where we do say 95% xeriscaping," he says. At the beginning of the design process, Busick asks clients exactly what they need a lawn for. If it’s for a dog or for kids to play outside—one of the main reasons people buy detached homes—he’ll often suggest a 10-foot by 20-foot patch of grass. In Phoenix, one variety he opts for is Bermuda grass, which doesn’t need much water.

There’s another reason to think about reclaiming the land and looking to the past when it comes to landscaping. Xero gardening, says Busick, beefs up property value. He advises that a well-considered landscape plan appropriate for its surroundings "helps organize design." "Tidy and appropriate translates to curb appeal," he says.

Amy Albert is a senior editor at Builder magazine.