Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Lawn Replacement Rebates Renewed

Succulents are excellent landscaping plants for our mediterranean climate 
The Santa Clara Valley Water District (SCVWD) announced that rebates for replacing your lawn with climate appropriate low water-using plants have been extended to June 30, 2015. 

This means that the current rates of reimbursement per square foot of lawn or pools removed will remain at the high rates of $2 for Mountain View and much of the county, and an enticing $4 for Palo Alto. Call the SCVWD hotline (408) 630-2554 for more information, or see their web page.

It's not difficult to qualify if you have an existing lawn and/or functioning swimming pool that you'd like to replace. See my previous post for tips and links to resources.

 Thymes and sages are approved plants for lawn replacement rebates

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Crimson Flowered Broad Beans or Favas

A special, old variety of fava, er, broad beans
Normally I call these fava beans, but with respect for this lovely bean's origins, I'm including broad bean in the title of this post. What we call fava beans in the USA are called broad beans in the UK. I was stopped in my tracks when I first saw them flowering at Seed Savers Exchange's (SSE) Heritage Farm in Decorah Iowa last summer. 

Crimson-flowered Fava Bean growing in SSE's diversity garden
Fava beans are one of my must-grow crops every fall to spring season. In the San Francisco Bay Area they're the perfect thing to grow over our mild winters. They can take our frosts, and if I plant them in the fall I can count on eating fresh fava beans in the spring around April. But I had never seen this gorgeous red variety.

The common fava flowers are white with black splotches  
Far from being a novel and modern cultivar, the crimson flowered fava was apparently saved from extinction by the Heritage Seed Library after receiving a donation of only four seeds from a gardener in Kent in 1978. 

I got my seeds from fellow SSE member Christina Wengar, who is the sole seed steward for this variety in SSE's member's yearbook, where members go to discover which seeds are available to request from other members. 

When I searched for other seed sources I found some in the UK and Australia, and those sources referred to the crimson flowered fava as being very rare.

My fava spring salad

I can't wait to try out the crimson favas in my favorite fava dishes. And yes, you can bet I'll be saving those seeds!

Photos: Patricia Larenas, Urban Artichoke

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Flip This Lawn - Don't Water, Be Happy

A newly installed front yard garden with gravel paths and a bocce court

If the California drought convinced you to replace your lawn (front or back yards) with plants that have lower water needs, you will want to take advantage of the rebates offered through the Santa Clara Valley Water District.  The rebate periods have been extend yet again in response to our extended drought.  Applications will be accepted if postmarked by December 31 (extended from October 31).

The rebate program is an incentive to convert water guzzling lawns or swimming pools into gardens that feature plants appropriate for our Mediterranean climate. Under this program plants are chosen from an extensive approved list. Rebates rates are $2 per square foot for most cities in Santa Clara County, and a whopping $4 per square foot in Palo Alto for qualifying lawns. Even lawns that have been let go dry may qualify.

Many California native plants are drought tolerant, like this Matilija poppy

Life Without a Lawn- Don't Water, Be Happy
What does a garden look like if there is no lawn? Letting go of the lawn aesthetic opens up many possibilities that can add to our quality of life. Now there is room for a butterfly and hummingbird garden, perhaps with a quiet place to sit with your morning coffee before starting a busy day.  A birdbath placed in view of a window amid greenery and flowers becomes a welcome refuge for neighborhood birds, and you get to enjoy the show. Concerned about the decline in bees and other pollinators? Choose from a long list of flowering perennials that provide food for them and beauty for you. Add simple paths with stepping-stones or a rock garden with succulents to provide interest and structure.

I find it extremely satisfying to include a kitchen herb garden in my lawn replacement projects. Several of our essential culinary herbs are approved low-water needs plants, including: rosemary, sage, thymes, and French tarragon. Once established they need only occasional watering.

Several culinary herbs qualify as low-water lawn replacements

Challenge yourself to brainstorm creatively about garden features that fit your lifestyle and interests.

Recently, I redesigned a front yard to include a bocce ball court at the client’s request.  They now enjoy this traditional family game together, surrounded by a mix of attractive flowering shrubs, gravel paths, and seating areas for visiting together. It was satisfying to watch the visiting grandkids playing in the court together. I don’t think they miss the old lawn.

How to Apply
First, make an appointment to get a pre-inspection survey. Water district representatives will visit your garden to determine if you qualify. They’ll take measurements of the lawn or pool, check irrigation, and let you know if you qualify. They will fill out a request for application form, and you will be sent the application package. Follow the instructions in the application package, which typically requires photos, a plant list and simple diagram (or description) of the garden design.

You can do this yourself or hire a garden designer to design the space and also take care of submitting the application for you. Or hire a designer on a consulting basis, if you’d rather do some of the work yourself.  A designer can help you find a landscaper too.

Santa Clara Valley Water Conservation Hotline at (408) 630-2554

Santa Clara Valley Water District Landscape Rebate Program

A version of this article appeared in the Los Altos Town Crier

Photo credits: Patricia Larenas, Urban Artichoke
Bocce court garden installed by Jackie Marsey, Paradise Landscape and Garden