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Short of rain dances and cloud seeding, Colorado landscape professionals have been challenged to do everything possible to develop self-sustaining sites that will help Colorad-ans weather water troubles for years to come. Last summer's drought wreaked havoc on urban and rural areas all over the Western region, and although our state has seen more snowflakes this winter than last, the chances for a recovery anytime soon are still minimal. Xeriscape: (continued from page 22) Working ahead of the curve, many public and private organizations have been looking for ways to demonstrate effective water management principles to a number of projects along the Front Range and Western Slope. One such project was presented with two Colorado Chapter of American Society of Landscape Architects (CCASLA) Awards in Denver this January. DHM Design received the CCASLA Merit Award and Land Steward Designation for their design of the Kuiper Xeriscape Gardens in Aurora, Colorado. "Kuiper Gardens was created to educate the public about water-wise landscaping," said DHM Design President Bob Smith. "As all residents of Colorado learned this past summer, water is a precious resource - particularly in our arid climate. Opportunities to teach people about effective water management and appropriate plant selection are more critical than ever." The City of Aurora asked DHM to design the Kuiper Xeriscape Gardens to educate the public on effective water management as well as to demonstrate the wide variety of xeric plants and their uses in commercial and residential applications. The xeric demonstration garden also provides a research planting area, where new plant species can be introduced, monitored and evaluated for further use. The concept for the garden literally blossomed into a flower design, fully ADA accessible, with petals radiating from a central gathering area. Each petal is designed to illustrate gardening with different levels of water use. The wetlands garden is unique because of its integration with the water treatment facility, channeling storm water from the parking lot and building's roof through the garden and into the settling ponds. Interpretive signage and a "garden passport" brochure were developed as important tools to help communicate the intent of the gardens to the visitor, whether they are students, homeowners, or business owners. Furthering the commitment to sustainable design principles, innovative irrigation, including the use of sub-terrainian turf irrigation, grey water usage and channeling on-site drainage through landscape areas drastically reduced watering costs. Completed in the spring of 2001, DHM Design provided detailed construction documentation and on site construction administration to ensure that the intricacies of the garden would be implemented. "Helping future generations to enjoy and appreciate precious water resources is an important step that both municipalities and landscape architects can take to model a commitment to conservation," said Smith. Colorado's growing concern with drought issues inspired DHM Design to launch a sustainable design initiative this year to spread the word about sustainable design principles and teach public and private clients alike how to transform thirsty landscapes into water conserving, durable and beautiful environments. For instance, building around the theme of the history and heritage of the Smoky Hill Trail, the Arapahoe Library District became concerned with the extent to which the long-term weather and water supply would affect their new library in Centennial, Colorado. The effects of the drought and its implications for landscape design provided an opportunity for them to become true stewards of the Colorado landscape by completely rethinking the landscape design for their new library site. The library district decided to redesign the irrigation system, decreasing the amount of bluegrass by 70%, increasing the area of native seed and introducing significantly more drought-tolerant and native plant species. Although these measures added to the landscape design costs, the District was very agreeable and understood that being insensitive to this condition during the design and construction phase of the project would result in increased costs and water problems further down the line. "We knew that the original grass we had decided to use was going to need a lot of water," said Eloise May, Director of the Arapahoe Library District. "As a library, we wanted to put an emphasis on the history of the land, and be true to it by planting native grasses. Beyond that, it was really a chance for us to be good neighbors - everybody has to do their part." The redesign applied basic sustainability principals. The site offered a variety of characteristics from detention basins that will have seasonally affected wet areas to west facing slopes that will be hot and dry. Native seed mixes were developed based on slope, aspect and the effects of site surface drainage. In addition to native seed mixes, the landscape redesign selected woody plant materials and perennials that will also respond to the variety of site characteristics and microclimates. The plant varieties will also provide a much more diverse plant palette, seasonal color and texture. The irrigation system was designed to allow fine-tuning of the water application rates based on the same site characteristics like slope, aspect and microclimates that the plant material selection was based on. For example the spray irrigation that will be used to establish the native seed on the hot dry west facing slopes is zoned separately from areas that have less solar exposure and natural surface drainage. In addition the woody plant material with in these native seed areas is also drip irrigated so that water may be applied in at a rate that will avoid runoff and be available long after the native seed is established and requiring less water. All woody plant material is mulched even if not contained within an edged planting bed to assist with maintaining soil moisture and reducing water requirements. Trees that are planted within the limited amount of sod area are also drip irrigated as a back up. This will allow the owner to protect the investment they have in trees even if irrigation of sod areas is restricted or prohibited entirely. Soil amendment rates have been increased to assist in moisture retention and penetration. A revised maintenance guide is being developed to assist the owner in the proper ongoing maintenance of this type of landscape design. More specific care is required than the traditional sod and tree site where mowing the grass once or twice a week is the primary concern. The library is situated alongside the historic Smoky Hill Trail that led pioneers and gold seekers west to Colorado. DHM Design was responsible for the landscape design around the site as well as a walking trail around the building, with several interpretive signs that will be placed to develop interest in community and state heritage by celebrating the lives of those who risked family and fortune along the Smoky Hill Trail. "It's a public space and should be built with public interest in mind," said Mike Gasper, Principal at DHM Design. "We really care about Colorado's environment and were thrilled to be a part of Arapahoe's vision. They gave us the opportunity to design water-wise solutions for our dry climate and preserve our natural landscape." The Smoky Hill Trail was the most direct route from Leavenworth, Kansas to Denver and the Pikes Peak gold fields in the mid-1800s. Its preservation is dependent upon public education about the pivotal role it played by transporting many of the individuals who formed Colorado's early settlements and helped build the state. The landscape component of the project, including the walking trail, will be completed later this spring. Because of the timely and significant issues raised by the drought this year, DHM Design decided to turn this project into a case study to formally discuss and quantify the benefits of sustainable design principles to municipal as well as private entities around our state. As part of the study, a cost analysis will be developed to outline the expense of implementation and differences in ongoing maintenance costs for this kind of design versus the traditional sea of bluegrass. Additionally, the study will cover the aesthetics of drought tolerant landscapes, laying out the multitude of design solutions that preserve the natural environment of Colorado. "Xeriscape doesn't have to be rocks and wood chips - there actually exists greater landscape diversity that is sensitive to water usage than has been typically represented in the Front Range," Gasper continued. "Native and adaptive plants thrive here and have the added bonus of being easy to maintain. Sites can be designed to create colorful, easily-sustained areas that use seasonal blooming, water-wise perennials selected to thrive in a wide range of climatic conditions. And Colorado native grasses not only grow better in tough environments, but they add appropriate color, natural movement and sound to the landscape." Ornamental grasses are becoming increasingly popular for their adaptability, low maintenance, four-season interest, and native image. Although many are xeric and require full sun, there are a few who prefer wet feet and seek out the shade. Many grasses are tolerant of a wide range of soils and in general do not require rich organic matter in which to grow. Although, optimum planting time is fall (growth cycles are similar to perennials), spring works just fine. As an added bonus, deer are not usually attracted to ornamental grasses. The transformation from water-wasting to water-wise is not a stylistic change, but a fundamental difference in design with a conscious attempt to develop plantings that are compatible with the environment. To apply drought-tolerant design principles to any site, the first consideration is the regional and microclimatic conditions of the site, then the existing vegetation, topographical conditions, intended use and water needs can be addressed. The careful design choices at Smoky Hill were vital to determine the overall effect of the landscape because any deviation from the appropriate selections would have created the need for more soil amendments, more maintenance and different watering schedules. DHM Design has applied sustainable design principles at Sequoia National Park, developing optimal design solutions out of a focused attention on ecosystems, microclimates, drainage patterns, and historic uses. Whether conserving water, designing attractive, sensible fire mitigation measures, or recycling materials, sustainable design can provide durable landscapes appropriate and sensitive to Colorado's climate. Several other awards have been presented to DHM Design for their application of sustainable design principles, including the Jefferson County Commissioner's Award of Excellence for their work at Lookout Mountain Nature Center, where they took a common sense approach to the needs of the project and respected the concerns and values of the client while respecting the limitations of the earth's resources. With an offices in lower downtown Denver and in Carbondale, Colorado, DHM Design is an employee-owned landscape architecture firm that provides a range of services, including urban design, land planning, graphic design and environmental planning to clients nationwide. Their sustainable design capabilities cover master planning and strategic site design, retrofitting designs of existing landscapes into water conserving environments, facilitating implementation for public and private agencies of sustainable design guidelines, educating maintenance staff on sustainable design principles, integrating and implementing non-traditional building solutions and full evaluations of existing landscape performance with alternative solutions for trouble spots. To learn more about DHM Design and their sustainable design practices, visit their web site at

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December 6, 2019, 1:09 pm PDT

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