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2012 Young Guns - Eli Nielsen

Author: LeeAnn DiSanti
Issue: September, 2012, Page 72
Eli Nielsen
Portrait by Tim Fuller

Eli Nielsen, Landscape designer
EcoSense Landscaping, Tucson
Age: 31

How did you get into this line of work?
My first “landscaping” job was with an artificial grass and putting green company in Scottsdale. It was very, very tough work, but I really enjoyed seeing the designs come to life, especially when we got to add personal touches. I never intended to stay in the landscape field—it was only meant to help me get through college—but I started taking what I learned and applying it in my own yard, and it slowly became an obsession.

What inspires you?
I love going to places like Tohono Chul Park, Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, and Tucson Botanical Gardens, where the landscaping draws you in and helps put you at ease. I visit these picturesque places and I see what the designers are doing. This inspires me to continually innovate and improve how my company goes about its designs, installations and maintenance practices.

What is your design philosophy?
My philosophy is not fixed and keeps evolving from job to job. I’m always looking to incorporate new elements that will add to the beauty, uniqueness and sustainability of the finished product.

What is your biggest design accomplishment to date?
I think the job I’m the most proud of was a dry creek bed that also incorporated catch basins and check dams to help manage rainwater runoff. Following a major rainstorm, the client’s property would be covered in sand, and there were numerous large ruts caused by erosion. She agreed to a reworking of the creek bed to slow the water and allow it to be used by mature trees on- site. Now, except in the most severe of rainstorms, not even a single drop of water should ever make its way to the street. This ended up being a very practical and relatively cheap solution to a major problem.

What’s on the horizon?
My five-year goal is to open a nursery that specializes in native plants. I’d love to run the landscape business out of a nursery that we could also use as a showcase for local, sustainable businesses and various “green” products. I also want to continue to grow and improve our service offerings.

In addition to planting low-water-use vegetation in this Oro Valley, Arizona, backyard, Eli Nielsen installed a retaining wall to break up a slope that ran the length of the property. “The sloping yard wasn’t very inviting or easy to navigate, and it prevented the clients from really getting out and enjoying the space,” he explains. A new flagstone path meanders past boulder-strewn garden beds.

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