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Just Add (Less) Water

When a couple wanted to reduce the water consumption in their Southern California 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.

Features Editor
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Photography by: Lisa Romerein

Faced with skyrocketing water bills, Donivee and Merrill Nash were forced to rethink their home’s plantings—and Donivee couldn’t have been happier. “I had been waiting for years for an excuse to put in a garden,” she says. “We had a nice yard, but it wasn’t a real garden.” So they hired Judy M. Horton (jmhgardendesign.com), a Los Angeles–based landscape designer and a fellow board trustee at the Los Angeles Arboretum Foundation, to create a beautiful but more climate-appropriate (read: water-wise) landscape.

 

Horton reduced the footprint of the thirstiest plants growing on the property—in other words, the lawn and the roses. Removing more than 10,000 square feet of lawn was “a no-brainer,” she said. But Donivee also had a rose collection that she was quite fond of. “I thought it was a brave move to say, ‘Okay, you can take out most of the roses in the back,’” Horton recalls. She then set about designing a garden that celebrated the landscaping advantages the Nashes already had—an existing hardscape and a great selection of mature trees—and presented the couple with a new, more unified vision. Horton chose purple, pink, white, gray, and silver lowwater Mediterranean-climate plants, including lavender, rosemary, germander, and olive. She also planted more than 20 new trees, including a grove of native California sycamores underplanted with spring-flowering heuchera, and added hundreds of white-blooming anemones, resplendent in autumn, to the existing birch grove. To replace the panels of lawn she had removed by the house, she laid down pea gravel as a mulch and created a romantic tapestry garden in one area and a formal olive-tree terrace by the master bedroom.

 

Six years after Horton’s plan was put into place, the water bills have indeed been reduced. “Installing a water-saving garden is a long-term project,” Donivee says. (New plants, even low-water ones, can require some supplemental watering until established.) In addition to reducing their water consumption, the couple has also gone organic. “One of the exciting rewards is the natural life that has come into the garden,” says Horton. In summer, monarch butterflies arrive in full force to feast on milkweed. “You can’t go a day without seeing one,” says Donivee. And while the Nashes entertain outdoors frequently—hosting cocktail parties and garden tours—Donivee’s favorite time “is just sitting in the garden,” she says. “It is one of my greatest pleasures.”

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