Here is an interesting video from The New York Times that takes a look at three apps: two educational about water usage and its cost, Drip Detective and Dropcountr, and one, Vizsafe, that allows you to upload pictures or videos of water-use offenders without self incrimination.
While Drip Detective might sound a bit 1984 in 2015, our drought is extremely serious and people who waste water – by any means – need to be made aware that they are part of a problem that faces us all. And their actions, or lack thereof, have consequences and a little embarsament is a small price to pay for the waste of thousands of gallons of water.
I am delighted to report that HGTV selected a project I did several years ago to feature on their blog, Design Happens. It’s title, with an attached link, is An Outdoor Living and Entertainment Oasis. It describes the landscape I designed and built for the international film producer, Deepak Nayar and his wife Mary.
What a wonderful experience it was working with a man who had worked with directors like David Lynch, Wim Wenders, Paul Schrader and Gurinder Chadha, earned Golden Globe, Bafta and Oscar nominations and been involved as a producer for such films as Slumdog Millionaire, Bend it Like Beckham and Buena Vista Social Club.
When I asked them what they were looking to accomplish, he and Mary told me they wanted an indoor-outdoor expansion of their Sunset Plaza home in the Hollywood Hills that would be conducive to their family (two children and two dogs), and also a comfortable environment for entertaining frequent guests. Deepak suggested that I think of their house as a movie set with focal points when people first walk in and I did just that!
Here is a important article dealing with our drought from The New York Times, dated April 26, 2015, by Adam Nagourney and Jack Healey. It contrasts the disparity of water use in two Southern California cities (one rich and the other working class). It’s clear that this is a complicated issues but it’s also a moral one, given what we all are facing .
It, however, doesn’t deal with the fact that it’s not just about using water or not using water but recognizing that, as I’ve described in my previous post See Our Drought As A New Beginning, we live in a region of Southern California known as Chaparral and we should deal with our landscape in ways that recognize our climate’s limitations. There are many choices available to us to be both water wise and have an attractive landscape that acknowledges the world we live in and the future we face.
COMPTON, Calif. — Alysia Thomas, a stay-at-home mother in this working-class city, tells her children to skip a bath on days when they do not play outside; that holds down the water bill. Lillian Barrera, a housekeeper who travels 25 miles to clean homes in Beverly Hills, serves dinner to her family on paper plates for much the same reason. In the fourth year of a severe drought, conservation is a fine thing, but in this Southern California community, saving water means saving money.
The challenge of California’s drought is starkly different in Cowan Heights, a lush oasis of wealth and comfort 30 miles east of here. That is where Peter L. Himber, a pediatric neurologist, has decided to stop watering the gently sloping hillside that he spent $100,000 to turn into a green California paradise, seeding it with a carpet of rich native grass and installing a sprinkler system fit for a golf course. But that is also where homeowners like John Sears, a retired food-company executive, bristle with defiance at the prospect of mandatory cuts in water use.
“This is a high fire-risk area,” Mr. Sears said. “If we cut back 35 percent and all these homes just let everything go, what’s green will turn brown. Tell me how the fire risk will increase.”
The fierce drought that is gripping the West — and the imminent prospect of rationing and steep water price increases in California — is sharpening the deep economic divide in this state, illustrating parallel worlds in which wealthy communities guzzle water as poorer neighbors conserve by necessity. The daily water consumption rate was 572.4 gallons per person in Cowan Heights from July through September 2014, the hot and dry summer months California used to calculate community-by-community water rationing orders; it was 63.6 gallons per person in Compton during that same period.
Now, California is trying to turn that dynamic on its head, forcing the state’s biggest water users, which include some of the wealthiest communities, to bear the brunt of the statewide 25 percent cut in urban water consumption ordered by Gov. Jerry Brown. Cowan Heights is facing a 36 percent cut in its water use, compared with 8 percent for Compton.
Other wealthy communities that must cut 36 percent include Beverly Hills and Hillsborough, a luxury town in Silicon Valley. Along with Compton, other less wealthy communities facing more modest cuts include Inglewood, which has been told to reduce its water consumption by 12 percent over what it was in 2013.
The looming question now, with drought regulations set to be adopted next month, is whether conservation tools being championed by this state — $10,000-a-day fines for water agencies, higher prices for bigger water users or even, in the most extreme cases, a reduction in water supplies — will be effective with wealthy homeowners. Since their lawns are more often than not tended to by gardeners, they may have little idea just how much water they use.
As it is, the legality of conservation — the practice of charging higher water rates to people who consume more for big water use — came under question when a court ruled that a tiered-pricing system used by an Orange County city ran afoul of the State Constitution and sent it back to allow the city to try to bring it into compliance.
“The wealthy use more water, electricity and natural gas than anyone else,” said Stephanie Pincetl, the director of the California Center for Sustainable Communities at the University of California, Los Angeles. “They have bigger properties. They are less price sensitive. So if you can afford it, you use it.”
“Then it becomes a moral question,” she said. “But lots of wealthy people don’t pay their own bills, so they don’t know what the water costs.”
Last week I was interviewed by Patrick Clark of BloombergBusiness regarding how California’s drought was affecting the landscape’s of the affluent and what, if anything, they were doing to deal with it. I thought you might be interested in reading what he reported. I’ve highlighted my quote. Here is his article from BloombergBusiness of April 21, 2015.
A drought gives rise to high-end landscape design that favors stylish succulents
James Burnett, a landscape architect hired to build a public garden on a 15-acre tract of the Annenberg Estate in Rancho Mirage, Calif., dug his heels in the desert sand. His client, Leonore Annenberg wanted a lush, English-style garden that would flow seamlessly into the water-hog golf course at which she and her late husband, the publishing tycoon Walter Annenberg, had hosted such political and entertainment luminaries as Frank Sinatra and Ronald Reagan. “We convinced her that it would be better to build something that would be sustainable and practical and a model for a new approach to gardening in the Sonoran Desert,” Burnett says.
The designer’s intransigence put the Annenberg garden ahead of the emerging fashion for low-moisture, naturalistic landscaping on luxurious properties. Burnett embraced aloe, a spiky, flowering succulent that’s a favorite of hummingbirds, and he planted barrel cactus by the hundred. “I wanted to take a van Gogh approach to painting the desert,” Burnett said. The gardens, which opened in 2012, do look lush, thanks to 53,000 desert-native plants that flourish, despite using only 20 percent of the water allowed by local law. Three years later, drought-tolerant landscape design is blooming across the state.
As California’s water shortage grows more severe and local governments enact increasingly stringent conservation policies, homeowners across the state are reimagining their lawns. Conservation-minded designers have championed permeable walkways that allow any rainfall to be absorbed, as well as fruit-bearing trees that offer an edible bounty in return for the water spent. Others have opted for fescue and buffalo grass instead of thirstier varieties, or even artificial turf that requires no water at all.
Succulents, in particular, are enjoying a moment in the sun as landscaper designers turn to the fleshy, water-retaining category of plant for bursts of color: campfire crassula , pink echeveria, and a kind of euphorbia called sticks on fire. “It wasn’t so long ago that I would go scouting gardens and people would say, ‘I hate succulents,’” says Debra Lee Baldwin, author of Succulents Simplified and additional books on the subject. “Now people are coming to me and asking about them by their Latin names.”
The enthusiasm has helped drive business for designers like Eva Knoppel of the Los Angeles-based design shop, Garden of Eva Landscape Design Group, which is receiving 10 calls a day from homeowners who want to cut their water bills. Nurseries such as the California Cactus Center, a Pasadena business that specializes in succulents, also report rising sales. Altman Plants, a Vista (Calif.)-based horticulturalist, even opened an online cactus shop to keep up with drought-driven demand.
Earlier this month, California Governor Jerry Brown Jr. ordered water agencies to cut usage by 25 percent and called for 50 million square feet of grass lawns to be replaced with drought-tolerant installations. Cities, meanwhile, are offering both stick and carrot to curtail water use. Los Angeles will pay residents up to $3.75 per square foot of lawn they pull up, a policy that has eliminated 15 million sq. ft. of grass since 2009. Santa Monica fines residents for watering lawns during daytime hours or allowing water to run off onto sidewalks and driveways.
Modern houses with spare architectural design happen to look sharp with water-efficient plants. “About 50 percent of the projects we see under construction are going in the direction of a modular, modernistic style that happens to lend itself to drought-tolerant landscaping,” says Brad Fowles, a landscape designer in Moorpark, Calif. At one of his current work sites in Pacific Palisades, an upscale neighborhood of Los Angeles, Fowles says he ripped up rose gardens and a grass lawn to replace them a wood deck, barbecue area, and poured concrete planters filled with agave americana, sedum, and a flowering succulent called peruviana.
Not everyone is rushing in. “High-end clients with finer homes are not always concerned with the cost of water or being water-efficient,” says Sandra Giarde, executive director of the California Landscape Contractors Association. Even as local governments have implemented penalties for excessive water use, many wealthy homeowners simply opt to pay the fines.
At the other end of the spectrum, cost-conscious residents have installed barren lawns to maximize savings, particularly in cities that pay residents to replace grass lawns with drought-tolerant materials. Glimmering succulents and Mediterranean bushes qualify for the landscaping payments—as do plain old rocks and dirt.
The government payouts have lured some landscapers into the practice of turf arbitrage, replacing grass lawns for the right to collect their customers’ rebates. “They give you a front yard that is so bleak, basically a bunch of chunky rocks and a few carelessly chosen plants frozen in a grid,” says Ivette Soler, a garden designer and the author of The Edible Front Yard. “The more I see these kinds of yards go up, the more I see the character of the city starting to diminish.”
The costs of planting a beautiful, drought-tolerant garden, on the other hand, can quickly add up. Jeanne Meadow, a retired pharmaceutical executive, began replacing a grass lawn around her 4,500-sq.-ft. San Diego County home in 2009. Today, she lives surrounded by thousands of succulents, including 15-ft.-tall aloe trees and tiny senecio serpens. Any cost savings on the water that once went into her lawn have been spent several times over on cactuses. “There’s no real calculation,” she says. “I had an understanding that we were living in a desert and importing water. I said: ‘Let’s see what these plants can do.’ It turns out, they’re really pretty magical if you know what you’re doing.
USAToday recently interviewed me for a story they did on California’s on-going drought, “Calif. drought challenges state’s businesses“. From the title you can see that the focus of the article was on how the drought was impacting California’s business and my segment dealt with its impact on homeowners.
While the drought is indeed the worst in California’s history and, given the impact of Climate Change, will undoubtedly be with us forever … there is a sunny side (we live, after all, in California) to this issue. And here is what I’m telling my clients, “This drought is the perfect opportunity for a new beginning.”
A Little Background
We live in an area know as Chaparral, or as Wikipedia explains it,
Chaparral is a shrubland or heathland plant community found primarily in the U.S. state of California and in the northern portion of the Baja California peninsula, Mexico. It is shaped by a Mediterranean climate (mild, wet winters [a thing of the past] and hot dry summers) and wildfire. Similar plant communities are found in four other Mediterranean climate regions around the world: the Mediterranean Basin, central Chile, the South African Cape Region and in Western and Southern Australia.
This is the reality of our climate and the idea that we can replicate the landscapes of the East Coast with grassy lawns and thirsty plant material, which replicated English landscapes (where there has always been an abundance of rain), simply doesn’t make sense, given where we live and what we’re facing.
Here is an excellent article that came from Valley Crest Water Management that ties in perfectly with my recent newsletter/blog No-Mow Grass – A Lawn Saver. If you’re considering replacing your grass, this is invaluable information.
We’ve all seen it—the brown, scraggly patches that were once lush, green grass. With the drought now almost four years into its fury, that sight is becoming all too common and if current projections are correct, there isn’t much relief in sight for much of the western United States.
So, it’s time to bid drought-battered turf good-bye and ideally, replace it with drought-tolerant plantings (xeriscaping and/or hardscaping) with water management in mind. Below we’ve rounded up seven alternatives, listed in order of worst to best in terms of water conservation.
Take a look and see if there’s an alternative that fits your needs. Also, before you begin your turf rehab, consider your entire landscape. Choose an alternative that meshes with your environment and matches your budget. Keep in mind the savings that will result from water-wise planting and hardscape, and factor that into your decision-making process.
Here, from worst to best, are seven turf conversion alternatives to consider:
1. More of the Same – Re-Sodding
Undoubtedly, this is the quickest fix to that brown patch but it’s also the most costly in terms of dollars and the environment. In fact, with continued drought conditions, this option may also be the costliest in terms of labor and water, as you may well have to re-sod again before too long. On a more positive note, sod and seed suppliers are offering more and more low-water-use varieties, so if you must re-sod, use one of the xeriscape-friendly turf options.
2. Slightly Better but Water Intensive – Re-Seeding
Re-seeding is definitely less expensive than re-sodding but again, it’s just a band-aid solution when it comes to long-term sustainability. Recently re-seeded turf requires constant moisture, which, depending on the season and temperature, doesn’t help when it comes to smart water management. And like the option above, with predicted continued drought, if the re-seeded turf suffers more due to ongoing drought, you may end up right back where you started.
One note: if you choose to go the route of either of the two options above, choose this opportunity to update your irrigation system. Check your sprinkler coverage and improve as needed with upgrades such as matched precipitation-rate nozzles and/or high-efficiency nozzles.
Both of the above options are not ideal for properties in areas where water restrictions are in effect. For those areas the options 3 – 7 are better suited.
3. Most Affordable, Least Aesthetic – Mulching
The cheapest way to cover up drought-ravaged turf is to mulch—or sheet mulch—the impacted areas. In terms of water management, this is the most desirable of the first three alternatives we’ve presented, but just like the others above, it’s probably just a short-term solution since the aesthetics of the mulched areas will most likely detract rather than add to your landscape visuals.
4. The All New Approach – Planting Xeriscape-Friendly Shrubs
Another option is to remove the turf completely and replace it with clusters of low-water-use shrubs like Abelia, Phormium, Coleonema, Nandina’s and Oleanders. Of course, when choosing drought-tolerant plants, consider how they’ll blend in with existing landscaping.
You might also consider removing overhead spray or rotor sprinklers and replacing them with drip irrigation at the same time. Depending on the area you’re renovating and the existing configuration for your landscape and irrigation system, this might be challenging. Going with all new plantings to replace dead or dying turf makes sense if it works aesthetically or if it jibes with your long-term plans for the entire landscape. If not, this patch job could just end up looking like an ill-planned patch.
5. More of the Same – Extending Existing Shrubs
If it works with your landscaping, you could simply extend surrounding or adjacent shrub beds, filling in the drought-challenged turf with similar plantings. Again, if possible, you’ll want to replace any old or high-water-use irrigation with a drip system designed for good water management.
In terms of the options we’ve presented, this may just be the best value as it could just look like part of your original design. On the downside, if your original plantings are not low water use, it won’t help you long term in the way of sustainable xeriscaping.
6. Mix it Up –Blending Xeriscape-Friendly Shrubs with Existing Shrubbery
A smart transitional approach involves extending surrounding or adjacent shrub beds into the drought-challenged areas and throwing some low-water-use shrubs into the mix. At the same time, replace old irrigation with drip for better water management throughout existing and new shrubbery. This is by far the most appealing alternative presented thus far as it updates tired, worn out shrubbery that’s grown woody and scores points for smart water management.
7. Make it Architectural – Adding Hardscaping to the Mix
Finally, perhaps one of the smartest moves is to think long-term and incorporate decomposed granite, cobblestone or some kind of decorative paver or stone as well as drought-tolerant plantings into the areas you’re rehabbing. Obviously you’ll want to consider the surroundings, traffic patterns and your overall landscape before doing this but if it is an option, this is by far the most water-efficient and aesthetic choice. It’s also the costliest but money spent on this project could be savings gained in terms of water use and increased property value.
A Few Final Words
When undertaking turf conversion, be sure to check in with your local water authority to see if your project qualifies for any of the cash-for-grass rebate programs. Typically these programs require that you replace existing turf with qualified low-water-use plants and xeriscaping. Every water authority differs in terms of their requirements and rebates so check in with yours before undertaking any extensive turf conversion work.
Also, don’t wait. As drought conditions continue, the more you do to conserve water and think ahead, the greater the likelihood that your landscape and budget won’t suffer in the months and possibly even years to come. The drought outlook is not a pretty picture, but the more we practice smart water management, the better off all of us—and the environment—will be.
With California facing the worst drought in its history is it possible for a responsible home owner or property manager to turn a water-consuming landscape into a drought tolerant one and still include grass as part of it’s design?
The answer is …YES!
No-Mow Grass (a collection of fineleaf fescue “grass” species that have been developed over the last 40+ years) is the answer for low-maintenance, low-input, environmentally friendly grassy ground covers. No-Mow is ideal for home, commercial and industrial landscapes that include slopes, median strips, golf course roughs, cemeteries and untrafficked areas of parks.
The Photo Editor of Small-Space Gardening contacted me about a picture she found on on my website of a garden I’d designed. She loved it and asked to use it in their Spring edition. I, of course, was thrilled that they liked it and wanted to publish it, so, of course, I said yes!
And here it is! I am so pleased that it’s in such a wonderful publication — currently available on newsstands. It’s filled with fabulous pictures and great ideas for container gardens, small vegetable gardens, small backyards, color palates, plant selection and a great deal more.
Here is the photograph from the magazine, which they titled “European Charmer.”
Do you want to know: What to plant? Where to plant it? How to plant it? How deep to plant it? How much to water it? What to feed it? How much sun it needs? and What critters will like to eat it? Then, The University of California Cooperative Extension for Los Angeles County is a wonderful resource for almost anything having to do with gardening.
What follows is a wealth of information that flows from the UC system, including listings of their websites, divisions, publications, research papers etc. So, you might want to bookmark this for future reference. Take a look, try out the links and see how much valuable gardening information is available right here at your fingertips.
And if I can be of any assistance in answering your gardening or landscaping questions, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
One of the joys of living in Southern California is its weather. It’s now the middle of February and the sun is shining, the sky is blue and the temperature is in the 80’s – what more could one ask for? But an irony of our beautiful, sun-drenched out-of-doors is that we must have shade in order to enjoy it and to protect ourselves from the sun’s damaging rays.
As a landscape designer and contractor, there are a variety of structures I can design and build (pergolas, gazebos, arbors, greenhouses) to satisfy my clients’ desire for shade. However, these structures (hardscape) are expensive and usually entail a substantial amount of landscaping to go along with their construction.
But there are alternatives to a permanent structure and while a few of these may require a certain amount of installation, they can be added to an existing patio or deck or poolside without much fuss and without breaking your bank!