It's a great addition to the station, really. It shows that you can do something besides grass for yards. —Ryan Ortega
SALT LAKE CITY — Firefighters on Monday loaded wheelbarrows of mulch and raked it around plants in the newly xeriscaped area in front of Salt Lake City Fire Station No. 6.
"It's a great addition to the station, really," firefighter Ryan Ortega said. "It shows that you can do something besides grass for yards."
The xeriscape replaces grass and large bushes in an effort to use less water and diminish hours spent by firefighters maintaining the yard.
Fire department spokesman Jasen Asay said the hours spent on maintenance was taking away from firefighters' time responding to emergencies, training and participating in public education events.
"We felt that those hours and those people could be serving the public in a better way," Asay said.
Stephanie Duer, Salt Lake City's water conservation programs manager, designed the landscape to maximize water efficiency through irrigation, plant choices and layout.
"I hope people see that water-wise landscape doesn't have to be a hard or sterile landscape," Duer said. "Water-wise landscapes can be lush and inviting and beautiful restful places, or invigorating places."
Asay said the six- to eight-week project was a collaboration between the city's fire and public services departments, and its parks and public lands division.
He said before the xeriscaping was done, bushes in front of the station were overgrown, detracting from the aesthetics. He said it also made residents leery of approaching the fire station.
"The residents here were kind of fearful to do that because it was kind of a scary situation going up to the front door," he said. "We're hoping we've relieved that situation with this project."
Duer said the old landscape blocked the architecture of the building.
"We wanted to open up the landscape so it didn't create any areas for any nefarious individuals to harbor," she said. "But we also wanted to create an attractive landscape that gave the guys in the firehouse a sense of home and personal space."
Duer said she incorporated thyme, purple-leaf winter creeper and ornamental grasses in the yard.
"The value of ornamental grasses is not only are many of them water-wise or low water, but they don't require much maintenance," she said.
Duer said she designed the yard with a plaza to highlight artwork made through Salt Lake City's Public Art Program. The yard also has a path that weaves through the landscape to offer a more picturesque option than the sidewalk, she said.
Asay said artists Benjamin Higbee and John Hess were commissioned to do the art. The piece, titled "Courage Under Fire," depicts three firefighters holding a hose putting out a fire.
“It just adds to the atmosphere of the station,” Asay said. “We’re all excited that the station looks a lot better.”
The plants display "soft greens and grays and sort of steel blues" that Duer said provide a backdrop to highlight the reds, oranges and yellows of the artwork.
Asay said he is not sure how much water or money will be saved with the xeriscape, but the department will record the results and use the information to decide which of the city's 14 other locations will also be xeriscaped.
Duer said turf generally needs watering two or three times a week during the middle of summer. When the fire station's new xeriscaped yard is established, it may only need watering every seven to 10 days.