Friday, October 30, 2015

Life After Conventional Gardens: a Liberating Experience

A climate appropriate garden is a beautiful garden!

Now that 2015 is waning and lawn replacements rebates are uncertain (in Santa Clara County, as of this writing) there are plenty of reasons to go ahead with your lawn replacement projects. I hope to continue to see more people taking action to replace high water-use gardens with climate appropriate ones. The current severe drought has forced us to rethink our gardens, and it's been a liberating experience for many.

Several of my garden design clients have been very pleased and excited by their new water-saving gardens that offer flowers and seasonal beauty to enjoy, as well as fresh herbs for the kitchen. I have the impression that many homeowners (especially non-gardeners) have traditional lawns as default landscaping, since it's difficult to figure out what to do otherwise. 

Besides the water savings, a huge bonus is not having to mow and fertilize a high maintenance lawn. A careful selection of appropriate plants leads to a low maintenance garden- that's also liberating!

But even if a patch of lawn is desired (for example, in a kids play area), there are several alternatives to conventional high water-use turf. See the Delta Bluegrass website to learn more. Native grasses offer seasonal beauty and elegance, but are not yet as tough as varieties that have been bred to withstand lots of foot traffic. 

An urn as a recirculating fountain attracts birds to this new garden (former lawn)

In the photos above, a garden we installed last May has grown to be a lush pollinator garden with native and ornamental sages, plus prolific culinary herbs for the kitchen (near the recirculating fountain, above). 
The photo below shows the garden after the lawn died and before the garden re-design:

Former conventional lawn before garden make-over 

A discarded but very nice pedestal fountain in the photo above was repurposed into a charming succulent planter by drilling holes into it so that irrigation tubing could be put in place (top photo). Succulents (as a group) are a great choices for low-water gardens. This group includes sedums, agaves, echeverias, sempervivums, aloes, as well as cacti. Nurseries have greatly expanded their offerings of succulents to meet the current demand.

The image below demonstrates the drama and color that succulents bring to the garden. 

Echeverias are paired with a large sculptural agave for an attractive color scheme
Photo taken at Succulent Gardens, Castroville, CA

The good news is that if you are ready to rethink your conventional landscape and make a liberating shift to a more climate appropriate one, there are more resources than ever to help you make the transition.

Here are some inspirational links to get you started:

Inspiring images of low-water gardens, Sunset Magazine

Santa Clara Valley Master Gardeners Drought Information page- chock full of resources

Xerces Society information page for creating pollinator gardens in California

Garden designed by Patricia Larenas, Urban Artichoke, Mountain View, CA
Garden installed by Jackie Marsey, Paradise Landscape and Garden, San Jose, CA

 Photos by: Patricia Larenas, Urban Artichoke

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Lawn Replacement Rebates Extended Through 2015

Flowering shrubs and herbs replaced a front yard lawn in Palo Alto 

Lawn replacement rebates for homes and businesses in Santa Clara Valley have been extended at the current elevated rates through the end of 2015. This news was expected after Governor Brown's recent executive order requiring mandatory statewide reductions in water use.

A kitchen herb garden replaced the lawn near the front door - my favorite lawn replacement trick!

Most homeowners in the county can expect $2 per square foot of qualifying lawn (or swimming pool), and Palo Alto residents enjoy a whopping $4 per square foot ($2 of this rebate temporarily ran out at the end of last year, but has been renewed to $4). The rebate applies to currently irrigated lawns and functioning swimming pools.

For details visit the Santa Clara Valley Water District website or call their hotline at 408.630.2554.

Photos: A lawn replacement installed July 2014 by Jackie Marsey, Paradise Garden and Landscape, and designed by me.

Photo credits: Patricia Larenas, Urban Artichoke

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Sources of Inspiration for Drought Proofing Your Garden

Dudleya pulverulenta is a gorgeous California native

The severe drought of the last three years has demanded a revised approach to gardening and garden design in California. If you haven't replaced your lawn yet, consider taking advantage of incentives and rebates. Check your local city web pages.

Dialing it up a Notch
Having a landscape with low to moderate water needs in a severe drought isn't good enough, so I've been dialing up the drought tolerance of my garden. Besides, the less I'm watering other stuff, the more edibles I can grow. 

And it's not that I'll be deprived of a rewarding garden, it just takes some focused plant choices. To keep it simple, collecting plants from the salvia (sages) and succulents groups offers lots of showy and water-wise choices, including drought tolerant California natives. As a bonus, saliva and succulent flowers are potent magnets for pollinators, especially hummingbirds and bees of various types.

A Sage for Every Garden

Pineapple Sage, Salvia elegans, is a hummingbird magnet
 Not all salivas are drought tolerant. For the toughest and showiest look to our California natives: Salvia clevelandii 'Winnifred Gilman', Salvia pachyphylla, Rose Sage, and Salvia apiana, White Sage, to name some of the most popular selections. Look for your local chapter of the California Native Plant Society (CNPS) plants sales to purchase native sages.

Many sages flower almost all year round

If you are choosing sages at your local nursery, make sure to check on the water needs of each specific variety before you plant them in your garden. They'll reward you with abundant flowers and fragrant foliage with very little upkeep. Most sages appreciate an annual pruning to renew foliage and flowers for the next season.

Succulent Envy

A recent shopping trip to Succulent Gardens in Castroville
There seems to be no end to the variety of shapes and  sizes of this plant group that includes cacti, as well as echeveria, sempervivens (Hens and Chicks), groundcover sedums, plus aloes and agaves.

Succulents pair well with natural rock features

Use them on the ground in mass plantings, create a rock garden, hanging baskets, or in plant in repurposed containers for interesting focal features. 

Success with Succulents
For low maintenance success you'll need to make sure the soil has excellent drainage, and no chance of remaining soggy. I like to use succulent & cacti planting mix or buy soil for potted plants and mix with lava fines 2:1. Don't fertilize, as a rule. If you must, use very little to kick-start growth then just water periodically when the soil is dry. Avoid keeping them moist which leads to rotting.

It's also important to note the hardiness, or frost tolerance of your selection. If you've fallen in love with a frost sensitive type, make sure you remember to protect her when the cold season approaches.

Photos: Patricia Larenas, Urban Artichoke