The desert landscape of Las Vegas is tough: Water is at a premium, and the soil is poor. Luckily for this couple, their property abuts conservation land that provides a canopy of shade over their backyard, and they found landscape architect Jonathan Spears of Sage Design Studios, who knew how to make the most of this microclimate. "The couple wanted to reflect the regional landscape in the front and have a 'staycation' destination in the back," says Spears. "They are both very busy professionals who like to come home and relax in the backyard after their long days at work." Spears completely redesigned the front yard and the driveway to add desert-appropriate plants and curb appeal. Out back, he worked with the shade to create a lush and relaxing atmosphere that requires minimal water.
Vegas Desert 1: Sage Design Studios Inc, original photo on Houzz
Houzz at a Glance Location: Las Vegas Size: Front: about 4,500 square feet; back: about 2,800 square feet That's interesting: Before Spears' landscape intervention, the property's water bills averaged about $200 each month; now they average about $50 per month.
"Most of the front yard used to be dominated by driveway," says Spears. He reconfigured the driveway into a semicircle and matched it to the rocks he used in the front yard by using Scofield Mesa Base Colorant. "Less driveway equals more curb appeal," he says.
"The rest of the front yard was sod," says Spears. "I love to get rid of sod; using sod in this climate leads to rampant wasting of water." More appropriate and desert-tolerant blue yucca and agave dominate this corner of the front yard.
Vegas Desert 2: Sage Design Studios Inc, original photo on Houzz
Other plant choices in the front yard include golden barrel cacti, euphorbia and a lacy red bird-of-paradise.
A full flatbed truck's worth of Utah ledgestone was also added out front, connecting the home's facade to the greater desert landscape.
Vegas Desert 3: Sage Design Studios Inc, original photo on Houzz
The tree to the left is a Palo Verde (you also have a good view of it in the first photograph on the left side of the house). Its leaves are small and have a feathery look from a distance, and it blooms profusely with yellow blossoms. "The Palo Verde has a green trunk and branches and a wonderful structure that looks beautiful all year," says Spears.
Plantings in between the new driveway and the sidewalk include yucca and agave.
Vegas Desert 4: Sage Design Studios Inc, original photo on Houzz
The backyard has a very different microclimate than the front yard, thanks to the canopy provided by the shade trees. "Due to their microclimates, there can be up to a 30-degree difference between the temperature between the front and backyards," says Spears. "Cacti would not live in this much shade; the desired effect was to make the backyard look lush without requiring a lot of water. I also like to keep things organic and chose hardy plants that won't require the use of pesticides."
Upright boxwoods and purple cordyline add color and contrast to the garden. "I count on foliage to add texture and color to the garden," says Spears. "The true test of a plant palette is how it looks in September, after surviving the harshest months in the desert."
Vegas Desert 5: Sage Design Studios Inc, original photo on Houzz
The spa on the left was existing; Spears brought in dry-set quartzite pavers to connect it to the rest of the backyard and create more of a grotto feel. "The star jasmine gives the area a beautiful fragrance for three to four weeks," says Spears.
Other plants in this area include crepe myrtle trees and lilyturf.
Vegas Desert 6: Sage Design Studios Inc, original photo on Houzz
Creeping fig, Oregon grape and purple ajuga surround an existing art deco fountain and a 9-foot wall. “I love to play with light and dark foliage; here the bright green leaves are a highlight against the darker colors,” says Spears.