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When a couple wanted to reduce the water consumption in their Southern Califoria garden, they turned to landscape designer Judy M. Horton. Here she shares the best practices for creating a beautiful, water-wise garden, wherever you live.
In its need for water, a lawn is similar to a gas-guzzling car. Horton removed most of it here, leaving only a portion in the backyard. In its place she expanded the planting beds, and she gave the remaining lawn a new shape by adding trees and low-water plants, such as Rosmarinus officinalis prostratus ‘Boule.’ The fuchsia-flowering succulent Calandrinia spectabilis grows beneath a fruitless olive tree (Olea europaea ‘Majestic Beauty’).
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2. Create a Low-Water Tapestry
Horton knew she wanted to keep the area that was once lawn low and flat, so she planned a tapestry garden of low-growing water-wise plants, including thyme, Santa Barbara daisies, and Echeveria ‘Hens and Chicks,’ that will weave together as they mature in gravel. She also threw in a handful of taller “wildcard plants,” scattering poppy and cardoon seeds “for drama.”
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3. Be Climate-Conscious
Horton recommends growing regionally appropriate plants: those that are native to your area or have similar growing requirements to those of natives, and that will thrive on natural rainfall. At the Nashes’, she planted the drought-tolerant succulent Calandrinia spectabilis, which can bloom profusely from spring through fall, alongside a low, wide clipped hedge of the Australian native Westringia fruticosa.
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4. Consider Gravel
A classic design element in France and Italy, gravel occurs naturally and provides good drainage for plants while suppressing weeds. Horton used pea gravel as the base for a formal grid of four olive trees. As a focal point, she placed an armillary sphere in the middle and surrounded it with springblooming bearded irises. In the foreground, Spanish lavender complements them; a hedge of westringia provides a clean backdrop.
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“While trees need regular water initially, they are far less thirsty than a lawn and don’t need much water once established,” says Horton. Plus, they create cool, shady areas, which helps with water needs in the long term. Horton added more than 20 trees to the Nashes’ garden, including California sycamores, olives, and birch trees, shown here. To complement the white bark of the birches, she underplanted them with the Japanese anemone ‘Honorine Jobert,’ which blooms in fall.
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