West Valley Idea House

By Amanda Strack, Conservation Garden Park

The Idea House is a housing program which provides safe and affordable homes to first time homebuyers.  West Valley City, the Community Development Corporation of Utah, Granger-Hunter Improvement District and other partners select a home in need of rescue and jointly invest in transforming the home from eyesore to showplace.  The Jordan Valley Water Conservancy District partners in this program by providing a landscape design for the new home that meet the guidelines of Localscapes® while also demonstrating how to build a quality landscape on a limited budget.

When we start a project like the Idea House we recognize that the situation is unique because we won’t be able to communicate with the homebuyers before we begin the planning process.  In a typical circumstance, we would ask them many questions about their needs and wants of how they plan to spend their time within their new landscape.  Because we can’t do that, we plan for a landscape that will be low maintenance with year-round color and hope that it meets most of their initial needs but also leaves them with room to build on.

Our first step is to remove unessential areas of lawn that create maintenance and irrigation inefficiencies; creating instead a central open shape of lawn in the front and back yards.  We also take out any unhealthy trees and shrubs.  We utilize healthy mature plants and any other helpful onsite material.  For this specific project, we left a large tree in the front yard and two trees in the backyard—which meant we would not need to add any new trees to the yard.

For the new elements of the design, we focused on using shrubs and tall ornamental grasses around the perimeter of the house and along the foundation of the house.  We selected tall growing shrubs, like Black Tower Elderberry, to add foliage color and to frame windows around the foundation.  We also used low growing shrubs, Kelsey’s Dwarf Red -Osier Dogwood, below windows so we didn’t block any views and to add winter interest with the red twigged branches once the leaves have fallen.  These shrubs will act as the backbone of the planting design because their structure will remain once the perennials have died back to the ground.

To ensure year-round color and season-long bloom, we added long blooming perennials in the full sun areas such as Western Sundancer Daisy and ‘Walker’s Low’ Catmint.  In the shaded areas, we focused on perennials with foliage color and/or texture.  We used plants like ‘All Gold’ Japanese Forest Grass and ‘Citronelle’ Coral Bells.  On the north side of the house where the space was very narrow and had an un-usable area of lawn we added a path lined with upright shrubs, giving the area a purpose.  A seating/gathering area in the back yard provides function to a corner of the landscape that previously hadn’t been used.

Our friends at Granger-Hunter Improvement District provided the labor for the landscape and their expertise for the irrigation installation. Irrigation is an area where you don’t want to cut cost and you want to plan it right the first time.  With their help we created a water efficient and beautiful landscape for some lucky first time homebuyers.

Visit conservationgardenpark.org for more information.