THE GRASS ISN’T ALWAYS GREENER: 5 Tips for eco-friendly SoCal landscape design

By: Andres Acosta

Photo: Doug Shemer, Groundswell Landscape

If the grass is always greener on the other side, it’s probably fake. With record low rainfall bringing a historic drought to Los Angeles, maintaining the picture perfect lawn has become harder than selling a screenplay in this town. If your neighbor’s grass is truly much greener than yours, chances are their upkeep isn’t green at all.  Water wasting elongates the drought and has become increasingly unfashionable amongst the community. Public drought shaming has begun to tarnish the reputations of developers and celebrities alike. Stay green and avoid shame with five tips that use drought resistant design to creatively tweak the landscape of your home without compromising curb appeal.  

Photo: Thomas J. Story, Sunset.com

1. Get stoned.

You don’t always need grass to get stoned. In fact, the best way to create a drought resistant landscape is to use as little grass as possible. The easiest way to avoid grass is to implement stone. Whether it be a walkway of large pavers or a dense bed of gravel, stone allows you to fill yard space that requires absolutely no water.

Beyond their environmental value, the versatility of stone caters to endless aesthetic.

stones

Selecting your stone: There’s a stone for every color scheme and using a variety of stone is great for creating texture. Find the stone that best compliments your aesthetic. The polished feel of dark flagstones and smooth pebbles are ideal for sleekness, which exudes modernity. Adding a touch of cinder or brick to the mix can sprinkle in an industrial chic vibe. Glazed concrete pavers and darker gravel are best for a contemporary landscape. Rougher field stones or light gravel are less polished and prime for  preserving a more rustic feel. Whatever you choose, once you landscape with stone your maintenance will be low and your water consumption even lower.

2. Grow “native plants.”

Photo: Patty Sullivan, sdcwa.org

Why monopolize your lawn with thirsty grass when you can decorate it with plants that actually strive here? Not enough Californians are aware of the state’s flora.  SoCal’s native plants are as diverse as the region’s people and architecture. Contrary to popular belief these plants go beyond dull succulents and actually provide enough variety to colorfully compliment your landscape while using up to 80% less water.

Color Coordinate: Deer Grass is great to fill or dot your garden with, its bright green leaves and spiky cream flowers provide a neutral base which you can build upon with other more colorful plants. Malva Rosa flowers and Coral Bells provide a bright pink and red pop of color. The pale purple of Douglas Iris and California Lilac can offset the louder flowers with their softer tone. For a more exotic look use Seaside Daisy or Beach Aster, their vibrant purple flowers with bright yellow centers are sure to catch the eye.

Conserving water is not the only environmental bonus these plants have either. The majority of them require no fertilizer or soil preparation and are known to attract butterflies, ladybugs, and hummingbirds.

3. Tackle turf.

Turf tends to carry many misconceptions. People commonly assume turf is always artificial; this is false. Before you decide on turf do your research.

Natural vs. Synthetic

Natural vs. Synthetic

A Tale of two turfs: There are two types of turf; natural sod turf and artificial synthetic turf. While synthetic turf has the highest potential for water conservation, natural sod turf preserves the least amount of water. Unlike field grass, which is grown and cultivated directly from the ground, sod turf is a matted surface layer of soil that contains rooted grass and is sewn or plotted into the ground. Artificial turf is designed and applied just like natural turf, except it is comprised of entirely synthetic material.

Which turf is right for me?:  If your dependency on keeping a traditional field-like  grass yard is too hard to let go of,  natural turf is your best friend. Sitting in a natural turf yard means still feeling real grass. Sitting on synthetic turf, while quite comfortable, can feel like running your fingers through plastic. While it is possible to achieve a traditional field look with synthetic turf, it only maintains authenticity from a distance.  Since artificial turf requires no watering it is more optimum for patching and striping between stones and pavers. Regardless of choice, either turf requires less maintenance than field grass and is a step in a greener direction.

Photo: http://gardendsgn.com/

Photo: http://gardendsgn.com/

4. Divide & conquer.

Now that we’ve conquered stone, plants, and turf; it’s time to find and apply the right design technique. Dividing your landscape into sections can advance the eco-friendliness of your space while preserving  an overall flow. Juxtapose the stone, plants, and turf to create a contingent harmony amongst your landscape.

 

Harmony in Divide: Large pavers like the ones pictured above easily form a walkway that generates a solid border between sections. The grass striped between the pavers create a pattern that blurs the border and softens its transition into the gravel filled garden before it. Aloe vera plants uniformly dotted into the gravel compose the perfect juxtaposition between the dull grey and vibrant green. When combined, all of these variables manicure the comprehensive landscape of your space.

Adding Accents: Attention to detail  uniquely makes a landscape your own. Whether it’s a bright plant, large boulder, or colorful pot; every landscape benefits from a statement peice. Using a sculpture or statue as an accent can give your landscape a museum like atmosphere.  A standalone accent piece has the power to carry bold dramatic energy. If you want more flare to your accent accompany it with ornamental deer grass, which can add to its significance or create an aura of hidden mystery.

Photo: Thomas J. Story, Sunset.com

Photo: Thomas J. Story, Sunset.com

5. Enhance energy efficiency.

The simplest tip for producing a drought resistant landscape is energy efficiency. Remember, the native plants listed above require almost 80% less water than non native plants and stone requires no water at all. The ultimate goal should be to cut out dependency on sprinklers entirely. Unless you use natural turf, the plants in this article can be taken care of with a periodic misting from a spray bottle. If you are still dependent on sprinklers, invest in energy efficient sprinklers and try to only use them during the early morning hours to minimize evaporation.  Don’t forget to check your sprinklers for leaks and never use them while it’s raining.

Beverly Hills has a water conservation rebate program which encourages energy efficiency and drought resistant landscaping.  You can even apply for a rebate to meet with a professional landscape consultant. Think before you plant because saving the environment  can also mean saving money.

 

 

 

By: Andres Acosta