Use pavers in patterns to form a pathway in a useful area that needs no water in a California drought landscape.
How to grow a spectacular garden despite the California drought
Changing weather patterns are making headlines all over the country. While gripping cold and smothering snow and ice may grab the headlines, a quieter and more insidious weather phenomenon is making dangerous inroads on the West Coast: the California drought.
Three years ago the winter rainy season was stingy in California. Last year many spots broke records for lack of rainfall. This year the whole state is water-deprived and the open lands remain barren of green. Snow packs are severely low and life-giving water is not falling from the skies. In the normally wettest month of the year there was no measurable precipitation.
Life can survive most extreme weather, but it can’t exist without water. As homeowners continue to spray lawns and gardens with automatic sprinkler systems, starving wildlife has begun invading houses and gardens in search of food and drink. And the ‘dry season’ hasn’t yet arrived.
The first impact will be seen on our gardens. Water restrictions are likely and supply prices will soar. Maintaining the average California garden will become expensive and difficult. So far we are being asked to voluntarily cut back on water usage 20%. This is not enough.
Even now, farmers are unable to plant their usual crops and due to escalating feed prices stock herds are being culled — meaning less meat supplies in the future. This will inevitably push up food costs across the board all over the country. Yet with the large population on the West Coast, drinking water must be a priority.
Californians will finally take this seriously when they see their water bills triple and are subject to rationing. No one wants to see their groomed front yards go brown or watch their landscapes die. But the gardens are going to be the first victims of a severe drought.
So with this dire outlook, what can we do?
Happily, this is the time to reinvent your landscaping – now, before the heat of spring and summer arrives. Your garden can look spectacular no matter what Mother Nature sends your way. Yes, cactus gardens are a good solution and can be designed to look great. But if that isn’t your style, there are other alternatives. Here are some approaches you can use to turn your outdoor space into something you’ll love that won’t drain the precious water supply – and will still look wonderful should the rains come.
Give up the lawn! Lawns were never native to California and there are many other options that will be ornamental and/or productive. Replace them with artistic patterns of colored gravel, brick, stone, decomposed granite or even tumbled glass. Or use artificial grass where you really want an area of lawn. Synthetic lawns are safer and more realistic than ever before. There are also ground cover plants like Dymondia and some of the eco-lawn seed mixtures that will be less thirsty for areas that must be green.
Slab rocks and cactus plants gives a contemporary look to this Southern California garden that will easily survive the California drought.
Plant California drought-tolerant plants or plants from other parts of the world with a similar climate. Group plantings to create lush effects and surround them with non-living materials.
Build raised garden beds for edibles so the water is focused where you need it and not spilled away elsewhere. These beds can be defended from hungry wildlife with fencing and wire.
Raised vegetable gardens can look lovely and be productive. This yard is grown by Rosalind Creasy
Carve out useful spaces like entertainment patios, seating and dining areas, sport courts, outdoor rooms, child or pet play areas or decorative dry river beds. They use no water and expand living space.
Make your garden magical with art. Add sculptures, build colorful shade structures or pop in a small fountain of recycled water to calm the mind with the illusion of bountiful moisture (while using very little).
Provide deep watering for your trees since these are the hardest to replace if you lose living material in your landscape. Dig in deep tube feeders and line moats with slow-delivery soaker hoses.
‘Redesign’, ‘prioritize’, and ‘get creative’ are the catch-words that will help you create an artistic and low-water garden.
Saving water in a California drought will not only make your garden withstand dry years but it will save you maintenance labor and money. Using wisely chosen plants where they will have the greatest visual impact, surrounding them with non-living materials and adding interesting décor will make your property safer from wildfires and less dusty from winds while creating a three-dimensional artistic landscape.
This is the real point of “sustainable” gardening. The extreme drought gives us an excuse to try out real water-wise gardening and allows us to flex our creative thinking muscles. If even half of the California residential homes converted their gardens to this kind of redesign, even our severely reduced water supply would be a much smaller threat to the population. According to the Association of California Water Agencies, 50% of residential water use goes to outdoor landscapes. The percentage increases with the drier inland communities. We can make a difference in our personal lives and the welfare of the whole state during this extreme drought – and even after – by designing our gardens wisely.
So take a moment: what improvements can you make in your own garden for the California drought? How can you make your property more spectacular, less water-dependent, easier to care for, and more sustainable? Why not take the first steps now, while the temperatures are cool and comfortable so you will be ready to sit back and enjoy your smart but beautiful garden when the heat sets in? You can grow that, enjoy it and reap the benefits. As the gardens of your neighbors succumb to dry and heat, yours can remain beautiful and you can be the envy of the neighborhood!
Pimp My Ride's Slice and Urban Farming's Taja Sevelle attends Triscuit and Urban Farming Community-Based Home Farm Groundbreaking on March 11, 2010 in Los Angeles, CA. (Casey Rodgers / AP Images for Triscuit)
March 11th marked the Los Angeles ground-breaking ceremony for the first of fifty community-based urban farms slated to be developed across the country in 2010. The event was hosted by HGTV’s “The Gardener Guy” Paul James along with Taja Sevelle, founder and executive director of Urban Farming Founder, and Jim Low – Director of Wheat Snack Crackers at Kraft Foods.
The program’s goal is to introduce community gardens into local, urban neighborhoods so people can learn to enjoy growing their own healthy food. Chances are that once people start getting their fingernails dirty, they’ll discover just how many benefits there are in gardening — physically and emotionally — as well as all that fresh, tasty food for the kitchen.
Design your garden for the look and the upkeep that will fit well into your life.
If you want a good looking landscape, be advised that there is no such thing as a no-maintenance garden any more than there is a permanently picture-perfect landscape. All gardens need regular care. They are constantly in a state of change. Plants are living things and continually grow so there is nothing that looks good and stays the same short of plastic or silk – and even artificial plants tend to fade over time! The most successful gardens are designed with forethought and planning. Take into consideration your budget, your lifestyle and be realistic about not only what you want your landscape to look like, but how much time you are willing to devote to caring for your garden.
Good design involves laying out the right plants in the right place so they not only look good, but grow easily without a lot of fussing. You are setting up a living system that needs to function well and in harmony with itself, your environment and your lifestyle. That’s why just picking out some nice plants and plunking them down will never work for long. Putting together the permanent features of a garden with the plant material is a complicated project. This is one reason it is often a good idea to hire a knowledgeable garden designer or garden coach for professional landscape help.
Part of a good consultation should involve talking about what solutions will give you the closest fit possible. If you decide to work with a professional, make sure you make your views known. You don’t want someone who will tell you what you are getting without your input. And you want your garden to be designed to your tastes and lifestyle, not someone else’s.
Sadly, there is no such thing as a no-maintenance garden. But there are interesting alternatives. By using a combination of living and non-living materials an artistic eye can create a perfectly lovely landscape that will require minimum garden maintenance while providing maximum beauty and utility. Using local native plants – or at least plants from similar ecologies – is one way to make upkeep easier since these plants will be naturally adapted to your conditions. But a garden is a man-made creation and if you want your garden to be a successful landscape that is controlled to fit your vision, expect there will be weeding, pruning, occasional replacements and other work involved in even a low-maintenance garden.
Part one: Trex® and the raised garden bed
This recycled form of compressed plastic and wood handles heat, cold, wet and other weather conditions without damage.
Raised bed gardening has become popular, and rightly so. By building elevated garden beds you can avoid dealing with imperfect local soil, help protect your plants from invading pests (and even your over-enthusiastic pets), and allow you to concentrate water and plant food where it is most needed. Raised beds are helpful for the handicapped and, because they relieve much of the bending and stress of ground-level gardening, can keep the rest of us from injuring ourselves, too
One problem with building raised garden beds can be the toll that outdoor weather can take on the container materials. Wood can rot or be invaded by termites. Cedar and redwood are the two most commonly resistant woods, but they eventually break down too, and still need regular applications of oil, paint or waterproofing. Treated wood like railroad ties and possibly ‘green wood’ can potentially leach chemicals into the soil so should be used with caution, especially around edibles. Vinyl can be a good solution but may be too flimsy for most uses unless it has a hard core added. Stone is another good choice, but needs to be lined or sealed so water and soil don’t filter out. Cement blocks can work well, but they can harbor pests in the holes, add lime to the soil and may not look very attractive. One more alternative as a building material is to use Trex®
Trex® is not the least expensive of materials since it is fabricated and requires more money to produce than something that is simply ‘harvested’. But it is made from recycled wood and plastic that would otherwise be filling up our landfills. It also is highly durable so the initial expense will be recouped in the first few years by savings in labor, repair, preservation treatments and overall maintenance. It makes an excellent material to build low maintenance raised garden beds.
One historical note about the company which carries the name of its product, Trex, is that it was formed as a division of the oil giant, Mobil Corporation. Organic chemist Roger Wittenberg independently discovered that compressing shredded waste plastic with sawdust could produce a superior building material. Mobil, being the country’s biggest producer of disposable plastic products was attracted to Wittenberg’s concept and worked up the timber application which was called Timbrex, later shortened to Trex®.
Using Trex® is Eco-friendly saving non-renewable or slow-growing resources and helping to reclaim waste. For the homeowner, using it will require little maintenance since it doesn’t need to be painted – ever – and will not split, warp or rot. On the downside, it is more costly than wood, but will make up the difference over time with its lack of care. It is also heavier than wood, and it is not structural. It was formulated for walking surfaces, railings and trim rather than for supporting beams. This means that if lengths are too long on the sides of your raised garden bed and lack enough supporting posts, they may curve or bulge slightly.
Use Trex® for a long-lasting, easy care material that is safe for using in vegetable gardens and for use with children and even mouthy pets. Unlike other materials that will require painting, washing, replacement and other maintenance, once your garden is built you can focus on growing your plants rather than caring for the container.
Check out the second part of this article, Part Two: How to build a Trex® raised garden bed, for directions on constructing the elevated garden.
How to build a Trex raised garden: the posts have been cut and filled with concrete, the bottom lined and this planter is ready to be filled with planting soil.
Photo courtesy of Shirley Bovshow
Shirley Bovshow’s hit Internet TV show “Garden World Report” just launched its new season on March 10th with a handsome make-over. The new show seamlessly offers current events and landscape and gardening information from all over the country. Check in weekly to find out the latest developments in the world of gardening. Now you can keep abreast with garden experts worldwide from your phone, laptop or hand-held without being tethered to your television set at home.
The launch of "Hollywood Garden Design Magazine" at Rolling Greens. Photo Courtesy Jennifer Kelley Lublin Photography: www.JKLphotos.com
The highly respected “Garden Design Magazine” held a gala party at Rolling Green’s on Beverly Boulevard in Los Angeles to roll out the Hollywood issue of their magazine. The event was held on March 4th and hosted celebrities like Oscar winner Jon Voight ( and father to Angelina Jolie ), actor Bryan Cranston, and award-winning producer R.J. Cuttler. Also on hand was the talented staff of “Garden Design Magazine” – flown in from Florida, top landscape designers, garden writers, photographers and other garden experts. Rolling Greens offered the perfect backdrop to the event with its ornamental surroundings of pots, décor, showy plants and colorful, artistic home and garden supplies.