How These Landscape Pros Create Sustainable Yet Beautiful Gardens


Arizona exterior desert landscape

The Green Room Collaborative focused on bringing native plant material back to an Arizona project. (PHOTO BY ROEHNER + RYAN)

As water becomes increasingly precious, landscape designers offer tips—and hope—for creating drought-tolerant gardens.


With decades of experience gardening through droughts, landscape designers across the West Coast have themselves become a precious resource. Their collected insights and ideas offer a path forward that reduces water consumption and aides in the overall improvement of our environment. From big changes to concepts as simple as using native plants, the West’s take on waterwise gardening—the practice of selecting plants that require less irrigation—is a wellspring of inspiration.

Embrace the beauty of waterwise gardening.

Many in the industry agree that a first step is changing our mindset: Waterwise doesn’t mean unattractive landscapes. And outdated language like xeriscaping (a term coined by Denver’s Department of Water in the 1980s) hasn’t helped win anyone over. Landscape designers today are moving the conversation beyond gravel and cacti and showing just how inviting waterwise gardens can be. “People are getting into it now,” says Charlie Ray of The Green Room Collaborative in Phoenix. “They’re seeing how a dynamic native garden adds to the atmosphere of their home.” Montecito Landscape’s Lisa Cullen has similarly shifted the dialogue with clients. “Nobody wants to do something because they have to,” explains the California-based organic gardener. “Rather than selling waterwise, we focus on the benefits and how pretty it can be.”

Get to know your native plant options.

“We’ve overwatered environments for decades because of inappropriate material choices,” continues Ray, who carefully considers which flora and fauna to use for each project and often starts by adding shade trees, which create a micro-climate under their canopy. “Layer shrubs, massed for drifts of color and texture, and then lots of wildflowers—you’ll see the birds and butterflies come right in,” he adds. For Forestoration’s David Noftsinger there is such joy in seeing blanket flowers grow wild in nearby Glacier National Park, and equally happily in his own garden. “Planting natives helps develop a sense of place and an appreciation for the bounty of your area,” explains Noftsinger, who recommends homeowners familiarize themselves with natives unique to their state. Visiting local botanical gardens for inspiration can also be helpful. “Become a member, go to workshops, volunteer—they’re a key resource for local communities,” says Ray.

Reduce water consumption and think about sustainability no matter where you are.

All in all, the approach to gardening and landscaping happening on a local level along the West Coast can be replicated across the country. And as Noftsinger believes, “the more pieces we put back together, and incorporate what’s supposed to be there, the more change we’ll see—every bit you can do is beneficial.”

garden with lavender in Montana

Forestoration created a unique garden oasis at the foot of Montana’s Columbia Mountain.

garden with sustainable plants in Southern California

In Southern California, Montecito Landscape used colorful, drought tolerant plantings.



Discover new home wellness trends, restorative retreats and innovative products, as we examine how today’s spaces are promoting physical, emotional and spiritual well-being.