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A Sustainable and Native Livelihood

When the idea of using xeriscape landscaping in yards became popular, most people resigned themselves that to save water, they had to settle for what Nigel Sparks calls a “gravelscape” – nothing fancy or colorful, just efficient.

“I think that is what people came to see and that was not the intention when xeriscaping started,” he said.

Sparks, the owner of Flagstaff Native Plant and Seed, would like to propose something different for your yard.

You can have a shaded patio and beautiful, colorful native plants and trees for your outdoor living space by simply using native plants propagated locally and still save acres of water because the plants respond to nature’s nurturing.

“We can put in native landscape, and after two years, it will be established,“ he said.

Besides, he said, gravelscapes are not as environmentally friendly as most people think.

“It’s consumptive landscape. Think of the gravel mines, the transporting of it and the diesel machines spreading the gravel,” he said.

Sparks, who has had a landscaping business and retail nursery since 1994, said there are many colorful alternatives to the dull, water-efficient yard.

“We specialize in native plants from locally collected seed, so they are generically adapted to the weather conditions and insect population,” he said.

These reduce water consumption and help preserve them in the local gene pool.

Because Sparks propagates the plants locally, the carbon footprint is reduced because most nursery stock that is not, is shipped in by truck from warmer areas, he explained.

His native plant landscapes are designed with an understanding of local soils, plant populations, wildlife and climate variation. Post-construction restorative landscapes are also available from the company. His landscape designer tries to carry out the customer’s vision, and “they try to discourage gravelscapes,“ he said.

Sparks and his staff also give advice on how to do it yourself, such as now to create a butterfly or bird garden in the separate microclimates in Sedona, Doney Park, Baderville and Flagstaff.

Four years ago, he created a Community Supported Agriculture program where members pay part of the farmers’ expenses and then pick up fresh produce when harvested.

Sparks moved to Flagstaff in 1984 as a registered nurse who came to work on the Navajo Reservation.

“I came out here as a kid, as a nurse. I liked it a lot. I spent 10 years there,” said Sparks, 55.

When he left the Navajos, he moved to the private sector with a big hierarchy where he didn’t feel he fit in.

“I wasn’t happy. I started looking for change. I had always been a gardener,” he said.

He started his business on the landscaping end in 1994 and eventually evolved into a nursery as well.

Sparks and his wife, Nancy, have a 14-year-old son.

“I think the main thing we are trying to do is grow a business and keep it sustainable at the same time,” he said. FBN

To learn more about Flagstaff Native Plant and Seed, call Sparks at  928-773-9406 or visit  “


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