Students of the Desert Botanical Garden Desert Landscaping School fill in the front yard of one lucky family with gravel to complete the free landscaping that was a class project for the landscape school students.

Desert Landscapers in Training Test their Skill in the Community

By Tasha Silverhorn
Au-Authm Action News

Wouldn't it be great to choose from three different plans offered to you by three landscape-design experts for your real-life landscape-design project? One lucky homeowner in the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community had the opportunity to do so.

During April, members of one class of the Desert Botanical Garden Desert Landscaper School put their eight months of training to work during the final month of their course. As the class' final project, the landscapers-in-training and Desert Botanical Garden teaching staff spent every Friday morning at a home in Salt River installing a beautiful desert landscape-for free.

"We are doing five houses," said Desert Botanical Garden Desert Landscaper School Coordinator Rebecca Senior. "Two are Habitat for Humanity homes, two are for the town of Guadalupe, and we're doing the one here in the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community. We got the idea of possibly doing a home here in the SRPMIC from a good friend, Ken Singh of Singh Farms located here in the Community, so we got in contact with the Housing Division, and they set us up with a rental home that needed landscaping."

Selecting a Home for Landscaping
Housing Division Maintenance Manager Rob Jones explained how the Housing Division chose the home to receive the free landscaping. "We had three homes outside of our rental subdivisions that are our scattered rentals, and those were our prime candidates. One rental had grass, one rental is not being lived in at this time, and the third home, which is the one we chose, is being lived in by a single mother with four children.

"We asked her what she was looking for-what kind of plants she liked and how it would be useful for her and her children," continued Jones. "She mentioned that when people come to her house they drive right to the front door, because [the yard] was bare and full of dirt and rocks. So the class focused their project on her front yard."

Jones and Housing Community Outreach Specialist Valerie Lewis acted as the clients and went to the Desert Landscaper School two times to give the class members some input on what the resident wanted. The class did an interview to understand the family's needs and what was right for the family, then they broke off into three teams to come up with three different designs; Jones and Lewis selected one they thought would fit the family perfectly.

Weekly Progress
The installation was completed in four weeks; the landscapers-in-training worked on different stages of the project for four hours on Fridays, from 8 a.m. to noon.

On the first Friday the class did soil work, because the front yard sloped off drastically on the north side. They brought in 20 tons of fill dirt to level the yard. Jones and some workers from Engineering and Construction Services helped with a Bobcat and a front loader to move the dirt around.

"After the soil was placed, the students created water-harvesting depressions called swales and built up some berms to stop the water from leaving the property and keep it around the root areas of the trees," said Senior.

The second Friday, the landscapers installed a fully automatic drip irrigation system to conserve water and keep plants healthy by delivering the water directly to the plants' root systems. "We rented a 36-inch self-propelled trencher and put in the main water lines of 5/8-inch polyvinyl tube. It looked like a couple of very large gophers had been in the front yard during the process," explained Senior.

The next Friday, students added the plant material that had been selected from a prepared list of materials provided by the Desert Landscaper School. The list offered one 24-inch box tree, two 15-gallon trees, plus 43 five- and one-gallon plants.

"The box tree selected was a native velvet mesquite, but when the tree came from the grower, it did not look like it was an authentic velvet mesquite but had some part of its heritage from a South American mesquite," said Senior. "That would not do, so we called our friends at Desierto Verde, which is just up the road from the job site, and they brought us a beautiful true native velvet mesquite."

On the final Friday, the students installed the hardscape: five tons of brown rip rap to edge the outside, the path, and the new seating area the students created.

The seating area got six tons of quarter-inch minus granite that was compacted to make a smooth, hard surface. Then, 20 tons of half-inch minus granite was spread over the rest of the front yard. Once again, Jones helped out with the Bobcat to get all that done in four hours.

Native Plants Have Cultural Meaning
"We tried to focus on using native plants in the landscape because maybe they would be useful historically as a source of food or medicine or have some other cultural significance," said Senior. "The Desert Botanical Garden is a museum, and our mission is to share and educate. We do this by teaching landscapers how to be successful with desert-adaptive plants. We don't use only plants from the Sonoran Desert, we also use plants from other deserts of the world that have the same ability to survive and even thrive in our heat, lack of humidity and high-pH soils."

The Desert Botanical Garden Desert Landscaper School is in its 14th year of providing an in-depth landscaping training program utilizing desert-adapted plants. It is geared toward training people with a wide variety of backgrounds, aptitudes, previous knowledge and goals. The school is a nine-month certification program providing comprehensive training in desert-adapted plants to the landscape industry. There are five classes of over 20 students.

For more information about the Desert Botanical Garden Desert Landscaper School, contact Rebecca Senior at or (480) 481-8161.

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