Integrate your garden into the larger xeriscape that is our San Diego County.
(It could spell more fun and savings than you expected.)
With approaching retirement and more time to travel, Jeanie and Jim realized that their traditional garden didn’t seem to allow them much time away; it just didn’t respond well to weeks of absence. When they called me, I found that they begun to add to their traditional home landscape design many new-found loves: Various Aloes and Sticks on Fire Euphorbia, Organ Pipe and Barrel Cactus, ‘Bells of Fire’ Tecoma, Crown of Thorns and other xeriscape plants.
With their list of collected plants I was handed a clear mandate: Remove the old lawn, the worn-out shrubs and even the Queen Palms; create a drought resistant landscape, lively and evoking our local Anza Borrego desert, yet not too spiky and withered looking, that would be easy to maintain and allow them weeks of absence without needing human intervention.
Here’s their testimony about our adventure together:
What was the biggest motivator to transform your garden?
“We have always enjoyed succulents and the desert landscape, so we wanted both our front and backyards to look like the desert that we love. Also, due to our continuing drought situation, it made sense to convert to a low water landscape to save water. Additionally, the biggest motivator was to reduce our work in the yard: mowing would no longer be necessary. As we travel and are gone for extended periods of time, we wanted a landscape that was virtually maintenance-free during our absence.”
So where do I begin a landscape design renovation?
I imagined the entire garden as ‘playground’ for all the exotic drought resistant plants that Jim and Jeanie dreamt of. To display these plants to their fullest, the tilted surface of a mound would be useful; also, the mildly undulating terrain would bring some movement into the “flat” scene.
During our brainstorming the desire for ‘more entertainment’ were mentioned, so for the backyard I designed an extension of their patio, surrounded by seat-walls for casual overflow seating. Behind these walls, the terrain was also be mounded to give the planter bed here greater movement. Many of their desert plants were put here to which I added a few well-tested perennials and grasses: Sundrops Calylophus, Verbena ‘De la Mina’, California Fuchsia Epilobium and Angelita Daisy Hymenoxis. While the textures and forms of the desert plants are more permanent, the perennials and grasses would add a notion of seasonal decline and re-growth.
To these I added various Agaves, Rushes, grasses and Red Yuccas; also fluffier and softer foliage plants, such as Emu Bush Valentine Eremophila, and Texas Ranger Lynn’s Legacy’ Leucophyllum, chosen for its silvery foliage and light purple flowers that would offset well against the yellow and orange flowers of Senna, Tecoma and Palo Verde. I used creeping Elephant’s Food Portulacaria as an attractive groundcover and the grass-like Bulbine because of its flowers that attract bees year-round.
For me, Jim and Jeanie’s project was very satisfying; having clients who so clearly appreciate where they are, love region-appropriate plants and are open to a professional landscape designer’s suggestions makes always my job most pleasurable.
Here’s how Jeanie and Jim think about the experience:
What was your biggest and best-appreciated result?
“With careful plant selection, hardscape, lighting and other elements of the garden, we feel it was a success and we’re proud of having a really great yard. An unexpected bonus is the many compliments received from neighbors.”
To this I would add: With the boulders and the mounds as top dressing Jeanie and Jim have expressed their appreciation for our dry environment, but foremost they linked their garden with the rugged hills of Mission Trails Park across the canyon. The plants they love and the chip seal (a coarse DG) do another to give their garden a strong regional and authentic character.
What is your greatest pleasure now, or the thought or feeling most often felt when walking through your garden?
“We really enjoy the variety of our plant selection with the many colors, textures and shapes. Using DG (decomposed granite) as topdressing mulch allows the plants to really “pop out.” Over the last year we have witnessed the growth and color changes of the plants realizing that the landscape feels more alive and ever-changing than just a static lawn. We also appreciate the hummingbirds and bees that visit regularly.”
Any lesson learned or any other thought that you care to share with the readers?
“We learned: In drought situations, drip irrigation is the best way to conserve water. Landscape lighting is extremely important. Anyone undertaking this type of project should get the best lighting they can afford since it makes the project exceptional as the landscape is not only admired during the day, but it is just as impressive in the evening. (We highly recommend Volt LED lighting (available on the internet.) Also, it cost us twice as much as we originally thought during the early planning stages. Hardscape, lighting and other changes made during construction drove our costs up, but we are so pleased with the results that we would do it again. “
Looking back at this project and considering the short time in which this garden has continued to grow, another idea comes to mind:
In southern California, it is sometimes hard to remember what time of year it is, but it is especially important to do so now: days are getting shorter and cooler: we need to remember how our bodies respond by storing more food, by changing sleep patterns and energy levels, by changing moods. A garden should be a natural environment, one that changes with the seasons and reminds us of our place in the web of life and of its cyclical nature. Those clipped lawns and shrubs surrounding our office buildings may provide us with a glimpse of green, if we are fortunate enough to have a window to the outside, but they leave us with little comfort and warmth when our lives change. If we get married, or divorced, have an accident, grow old, start a new career, buy a house, lose a friend etc., a static landscape may feel even more alien and uninviting if it mocks our changing natures.
What we seek in a garden is a reconnecting with the relish we relive every year, in the first days of spring when plants are just beginning to flower again, or on a warm day in fall, out at the edge of a clearing in the forest, that fills us with peace and amazement at how beautiful even small things can be: it can be a great comfort in times of change. Building a drought tolerant landscape is an opportunity to connect with the beautiful natural environment of San Diego County, and to let the seasons and change back into our lives.