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A Natural Fit
By Mike Dahl, Editor LC/DBM

Sustainable landscaping and hardscaping at this residence in rural Wyoming outside of Cody compliments the surrounding vistas. Included in the upgrade was an all-composite deck (except for the custom-cut stone cap on the propane fire pit) and plantings that are tolerant of alkaline soils and can withstand high winds.

For the former owners of this house near Cody, Wyo., surrounded by the grandness of nature including the East Gate to Yellowstone Park, sustainable landscaping meant sparse and native; in other words, "dirt and weeds." But when George and Claudine Dillman moved from Texas and bought the house, they brought a little higher expectations for sustainable surroundings, and hired Leslie Nistico, the owner of Green Concepts, to help make their ideas a reality.

The home is located on a rural road surrounded by farmland near the south fork of the Shoshone River. The area receives only six to seven inches of rain per year, has highly alkaline soils, desiccating winter winds, and, at an elevation of 6,000 feet, an intense summer sun. Landscape contractors have their work cut out for them here, where a common attitude is that ''nothing will grow.''

A Balanced Approach
Approximately two acres were designated for the upgrade, while the remaining property was kept in hay production. Nistico designed the hardscapes first to provide the framework for planted areas. She started in back with a composite deck with an outdoor cooking area, built-in table (so the table wouldn't blow away), propane fire pit, dog gate, benches and planter boxes.

Her carpenter with one other crewmember spent five weeks, less several snow and high wind days, constructing the deck. Green Concepts subcontracted with a plumber to run the propane to the fire pit and grill, an electrician to install the outdoor deck lighting, and a mason to create the octagonal stone top for the fire pit.

Tiger's Bobcat Service was brought in to re-grade and install driveway turn-arounds and accesses, which defined landscape buffers and planting areas. It then took Nistico and a three-man crew with a Dingo one week to install and complete an automatic irrigation system. (Soon after, Nistico began the process with the state of Wyoming to bury and relocate the high-maintenance wastewater ditch, and the following year, a large cistern was installed and stone was placed in 100 feet of the drainage ditch to provide a clean, maintenance-free water source. Drainage from surrounding irrigation fields, and natural runoff, provide more than ample water for the irrigation system.)

The plants for the front and back yards, the island and the perimeters were chosen for their tolerance to alkaline soils, their ability to withstand winter desiccation, and their seasonal impact.

Nistico credits soil preparation as one key to the sustainability of her plantings. Areas are rototilled to break-up the heavily compacted, nutrient-poor, clay (bentonite) soil. Glacier Gold Compost from Mountain West Products is rototilled into the existing soil to allow plant roots to establish beyond planting holes.

Trees included Canada red chokecherry (left) and spruce. Sunflowers, hollyhocks and pansies are planted in the foreground. The irrigation system uses a Gould's 1- 1/2 horsepower pump with 60 mesh Vu-Flo filter, and a Hunter controller to run six zones of lawn irrigation and three zones of subsurface drip irrigation. Green Concepts installed over 1,200 feet of PVC piping, sized per flow, and 54 Maxipaw rotors, chosen for their ability to handle the dirty water that came from the waste-water irrigation ditch.

Cross Timbers composite decking was used for the floor, railings, benches, planters, built in grill, cooking cabinets, and octagonal shaped table (to match the angles of the deck). It was selected for its durability, warranty and hidden fastener system. The planter boxes on the deck are equipped with Netafim drip irrigation.

Drought-tolerant plantings include dwarf blue globe spruce, Rudbeckia (bottom right and top left) and Sedum 'Autumn Joy' (left). To help retain moisture, trap organic matter and prevent weeds, scoria stone chips (inset), which stay in place in high winds, were used as mulch.

When installing shrubs and trees, she over-digs holes with Dingo augers, again to allow better root growth. Additional Glacier Gold is mixed into each planting hole, as well as PHC Tree Saver, which contains rooting hormones, mycorrhizal fungi, and a polymer to retain moisture at the root zone. The pre-emergent herbicide, Treflan, is applied to form a barrier against weeds.

''The other key to our sustainable planting is mulching,'' says Nistico. ''Due to the high winds in our area, bark mulches don't stay where placed. At Dillman's, we used scoria stone chips.''

Green... and Colorful
Wichita blue junipers were planted to frame the front entry, and dwarf Korean lilacs were embedded along the foundations. Blue globe spruce (Nistico's signature plant) was installed for color impact along with Bonica roses, blue salvia, catmint, cranesbill geraniums, and self-seeding pansies. To buffer the dog yard and provide the dogs shade, Green Concepts installed aspens and feather reed grass with an underplanting of juniper.

In the backyard, the dark green of two Austrian pines contrast with the blue of aspens and a Colorado blue spruce. Peking cotoneaster and Arnold's red honeysuckle create a living wall just below the deck railings. A Skycole honey locust provides shade while maintaining views. Blue globe spruce, Russian sage, perennial geraniums, and pansies were installed to highlight the entries onto the deck.

Hybrid lilacs and Canada red chokecherries were used to delineate the property perimeters. To separate the property from the road, two 15-foot spruce trees (the only plantings that the previous owners had) were transplanted to the center island along with three more spruce trees.

Beartooth Hydroseed installed a mix of grass seed to create an alkaline tolerant, green lawn. Bluegrass Sod was installed in the backyard for the dogs.

Seclusion's Drawbacks
According to Nistico, one of the biggest challenges with this job, and all installations, is the remoteness of Cody.

''All my plant materials are shipped by truck, usually monthly during season,'' she says. ''I have used Glacier Nursery out of Kalispell, Mont., both for the quality of their materials and their regular shipping into Wyoming. After plants have been stacked in a truck for several days, I like to keep them in my holding beds to ensure that they are at their best when installed at a customer's house.''

Soil amendments also have to be shipped in: compost and other products from Rexford, Idaho; scoria stone from Sheridan, Wyo.; bark mulch from Billings, Mont. And truck drivers don't like delivering to Cody without an outgoing load.

But as challenging as it may be to work as a landscape contractor there, Nistico, who fell in love with the area 12 years ago when she and her daughter moved from Cleveland, Ohio, admits that it is ''very rewarding.''

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October 23, 2019, 10:53 pm PDT

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