Ways to abandon your grass with gusto!


Part 1 of 3

Is this the future of lawns in Southern California?

A beautiful, lush, green lawn was once a symbol of success and the good life. Today, a green lawn means high water bills, extra gardening expenses, and wasted space. (What do you use it for anyway?)

Getting people to rip up their lawns has been an uphill battle. We love our lawns, even if we don’t use them and only stare at them in awe.

For most people, a drought-tolerant landscape is synonymous with a drab desert landscape. Rocks, gravel, and cactus imagery haven’t led to people abandoning grass with gusto.

However, with Governor Jerry Brown’s executive order last year, some homeowners decided to take a second look. What they found surprised them.

“I think the misconception of a low-water garden as rocks and spines is mostly a result of misguided impressions,” surmises Ron Vanderhoff, general manager, and vice-president of Rogers Gardens in Corona del Mar. “If most people were to go around the neighborhood and label each garden as low, medium, or high water use, I suspect most would be wrong.”

The truth is that with native plants and succulent gardens, you can have an amazing Mediterranean landscape that attracts birds, butterflies, pollinators, and other wildlife. “Ugly is not a good turf substitute,” insists Mike Evans, of Tree of Life Nursery, a wholesale San Juan Capistrano nursery that specializes in growing California native plants. “Nor is swimming in a deep sea of mulch.”

The advantage of a succulent soft-scape

The advantage of a succulent soft-scape

“Why would you want a strange head of cabbage when you could plant a flower?” That’s what one customer said when trying to understand the allure of juicy succulents. It’s because of all the advantages a low-water garden brings, of course. And surprisingly that strange head of cabbage can look really cool, too!

Miraculously transformed into a skilled botanist

These plants are a lot easier to manage. It is common for drought tolerant plants to be hardy and withstand many undesirable conditions. Writer Gwyneth Kelly even suggested, “They refuse to die from neglect; they miraculously transform you into a skilled botanist.” Maintenance time is reduced since most plants are native to the area and the climate. “They tolerate our weather and local pests and diseases,” explains Vanderhoff. “Once the drought tolerant garden is established, gardening services are generally reduced significantly, perhaps from weekly to monthly.”

A beautiful outdoor living space to entertain family and friends

The Pflueger’s new fire table

Not only will it use about one-tenth of the water needed to support the grass — envious neighbors will be inviting themselves over. The truth is that lower water gardens are beautiful gardens. “The gardens of California are historically among the most beautiful in the world,” assures Evans.

“A self-sustaining, functional landscape, featuring regionally native plants will invite people’s interaction and engagement.” In fact, one of the most common statements from people who have redesigned their gardens is that they actually spend time in them now. Before, it was just grass. In most cases, the homeowners rarely set foot on it. By using pathways, stones, walkways, landings, patio furniture, or benches, they have turned useless turf into functional space.

“Virtually every landscape design we do has a strong element of conservation in the discussion or plan,” explains Vanderhoff. Many times, when designers discuss drought-tolerant gardens, clients squish up their faces with a reaction of disdain. But often times, it is because they don’t know what a drought-tolerant garden looks like. Vanderhoff finds that if he can show them one that is well done, they always say, “Really, that is low water? I like that.” “We just need to break the stereotype,” he explains. “Low water gardens are beautiful gardens.”

An amazing place to enjoy breakfast on the veranda

“We spend a lot of time in our redesigned yard,” explains Rebecca Pflueger of Dana Point. “We removed approximately 1,300 sq. ft. of turf in our front yard and courtyard and replaced it with a drought-tolerant garden, putting green with artificial turf, and hardscape with a seating area and fire pit.” The extra square footage turned the previously unused yard into a place to entertain friends and family. It became an outdoor living space while saving approximately 55,900 gallons of potable water per year.

Joyce and Dean Clark completed a water-wise makeover in both the front and back yards of their historic Spanish Colonial Revival home in Capistrano Beach. The Clarks removed approximately 8,626 sq. ft. of turf and replaced it with a drought-tolerant garden, synthetic turf, and a drip irrigation system. The landscaping includes California plants and succulents. The new water-wise landscaping is expected to save approximately 370,918 gallons of potable water per year. The yard includes an area for grandkids to play soccer, a pergola to enjoy a book, a lovely terrace for a morning breakfast, and a beautiful seating area to enjoy a glass of wine and a breathtaking sunset.

Trendy house plants, succu-mania, or just a fad?

Gwyneth Kelly wrote in New Republic magazine “succulents are having a moment.” Google searches on “succulents” are growing exponentially. In less than five seconds, a search on Google resulted in over 1.25 million hits. Pinterest is overflowing with thousands of boards for succulents. Home decorating TV shows and designer magazines are full of ideas on how to design with succulents. Bridal magazines tell brides that succulents are “must-haves” in bouquets, table runners, adorning your veil, and even on your cake.

Is it just a trend? Green Thumb Nursey in Lake Forest doesn’t think so. Drought tolerant landscaping plants take up a large portion of their outdoor nursery. Their California Certified Nursery Professionals help those who would like to join the succulent revolution on a budget. It is the new normal in Southern California and it’s not going away.

“Too bad it took so long to sink in,” laments Evans. “We really can’t go back to our old ways, ever. If we have learned anything this time around, it is that when there is no more water, there’s no more water.”

For more information on drought tolerant gardens, landscape designers, nurseries, free classes and more visit scwd.org/conservation.

Special thanks to Tree of Life Nursery, Roger’s Garden’s, and Green Thumb Nursery for their advice.

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