First, I must give my mentor and friend Marilee Kuhlman full credit for this one. I was meeting with her and brainstorming for a client and she mentioned how she tested out places on her property for future edible beds by using straw wattles. Wattles, what?! My ears perked up because I had just about thrown in the towel growing edibles in my parkway. I had serious compaction and heavy clay in my parkway but I didn’t want to build a rectilinear structure in my parkway in order to hold good soil. The wattle was the answer because I was able to tuck in two kidney shaped raised beds surrounding my roses and it actually looks pretty darn good. The wattles have become a neighborhood “icebreaker” as people walk by. Best of all straw wattles are inexpensive, about $24 for 25 feet of wattle. I stacked one atop the other and drove down rebar in a few places to secure it. The wattle will slowly drop in height as it decomposes. When it needs replacing simply cut the netting and compost the straw. Voila!
Last month I had the pleasure of hanging out with my fellow designers and visiting some inspirational gardens in Ojai. We also went to Jo O’Connell’s Australian Plant Nursery. We designers and plant lovers were like “fish in a barrel” as my dad would say. We were beyond tempted with all of the beautiful Australian natives for sale. These amazing, tough and somehow delicate-looking plants stole all of our hearts. I for one was looking for some specimens that would be smaller in stature as many Aussie natives get quite large. I was in luck…the four plants featured in the photo can all fit easily in containers or in a border. Notice how all of them have small needle like leaves, a definate water-saving feature shared by many Aussie natives. Another common feature is aromatic foliage. I also find Aussie natives to be very pest/disease resistant and minimal in their pruning needs. You honestly can’t beat these plants for their toughness, low maintenance or beauty. We saw them growing in the Taft Gardens surviving only on rainwater.
Yesterday morning, when I should’ve been working, I spent hours salivating over the high mowing seed offering of warm season vegetables. I was searching for tomatoes but I managed to also find some interesting cucumbers, beans and spinach. Seeds for Picolino (cucumber), Blue Lake (bean) and Ping Tung (eggplant) will now be arriving in a few days along with my Brandywine, Geen Zebra, Yellow Pear, Peachwine and Indigo Rose. I had a moment of panic after I confirmed my order because I’m still cloudy on when to plant certain vegetables. The soil temp, amount of sun light hours and of course temperature are the key factors. The challenge is keeping it all straight in Santa Monica where we’ve had 80 degree January days and we’ll likely
Recently there’s been much “ado” about the drought but if you’ve been a Californian all your life it can seem that we’ve been in a perpetual drought. We’ve been supporting a non-sustainable model for decades in Los Angeles by supporting our lush, water-hogging landscapes with water piped in from afar. They say about 1/2 of the water we use goes to the landscape so not only must we reduce the water we use, we then need to make every drop count by choosing the right plant material. Lawns are beloved for their cooling effect, their functionality as a place of play and transition and they provide a nice visual element. In terms of water savings, however, a critical eye must be taken to every lawn and the following questions should be asked….
1.) Do I use my lawn? If the answer is no then perhaps a native ground cover is a better choice or a mix of low water plants and permeable hardscape.
2.) If I indeed use my lawn do I really need all that I have? If the answer is no, why not reduce the lawn by widening other planting areas.
3.) Can I replace what lawn I have with a lawn that requires less water? I’m not going to call them lawn “alternatives” because they are lawns in their own right and they are much better adapted to our hot, dry climate. Below are the top contenders for lawns for our ever-parched climate…
UC VERDE BUFFALO GRASS: This light green, thinned bladed grass is very comfortable to sit or walk on. Left un-mowed the grass reaches 4-8″ but can be mowed to your desired height. It is sold in “plugs” which are typically planted anywhere from 8″ to 12″ apart. The plant spreads by stolons and prefers full sun. The best time to plant is during the active growth season which is spring and summer. From about December through March the grass will go dormant (less so in warm winters) and take on a tan color. Special attention must be made at planting time to remove all weeds and previous turf and to stay on top of weed removal as the grass fills in. Buffalo Grass is super thrifty on water saving about 75% of the water used on a traditional turf.
NATIVE BENTGRASS (Agrostis Palens): This emerald green, medium blade grass is also very soft. Bentgrass spreads by underground rhizomes and can withstand low mowing heights or be left to grow into more of a meadow look with mowing only every 3-4 weeks. This grass is happy in full sun but can take a little shade. It’s available in sod or seed and can be planted anytime during the year, however, it is easiest to establish if planted in the fall. Proper, deep watering is important to establish a deep root system during the first year and then the grass will only need about half the water of a traditional turf. This grass will go dormant in the summer unless water is provided.
There are other species being used as lawn replacements such as Carex pansa or Carex praegracilis. These lawns do save some water (about 25%) but they form tufts and are not as easy to walk on as the above options.
Lawn removal and replacement is a big investment so it’s important to get advice from a professional who focuses on sustainable landscapes as to what type of grass will work best in your situation. Besides saving water these lawns are pest and disease resistant (so no herbicides or pesticides), require only a minimum of fertilizer or compost tea and require less mowing. Everybody wins with these great grasses!
We all see the amazing gardens in the magazines where people have an acre or two to grow their own food. Yeah, that’s nice but what about the average person out there trying to grow things in a postage stamp garden. I say go FLAT with your fruit trees. Here’s a photo of my espaliered ‘Anna’ apple that takes up a measly 4′ wide by 18″ space. You can espalier almost any type of fruit tree with Apples, Pomegranates, Figs and Pears being the easiest because their branches are the most pliable. That being said, citrus and stone fruits are also good candidates for the technique.
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