See how to ditch thirsty turf grass in favor of beautiful, easy-care gardens
Shady patio garden
A sycamore takes center stage in this lawnless California yard. Shade created by the tree keeps the patio cool while permeable paving, potted plants, and other design details keep watering to a minimum.
More: Country cool gravel patio
"When your home and office are the same place, it's harder to stop working," says Ian Kimbrey, who works in an office above
his garage, as does his wife, Joanne Forchas-Kimbrey. "You need a separate area for recreation that tells the brain it's time
to switch gears."
So the couple (he's a photo editor, she works for a design firm) asked landscape designer Jay Griffith to help them turn a small lawn between their house and the garage into a transitional area, a "decompression chamber" where they can relax after work.
See more before and after photos
The owners of this Phoenix home replaced their lawn with drought-tolerant grasses, then added young trees and a paved area
beside the front door.
More: Fresh front yard facelift
A variety of plants with low water requirements replaced the former sterile expanse of rocks covering the front yard of this
Oregon home. They are all heat-tolerant and were chosen to provide year-round interest. Pavers take up most of the space where
thirsty grass might grow instead.
Read more about this front yard makeover
A tapestry of succulents replaced the lawn in this San Diego, CA, front yard.
Designer Kendra Berger of Revive Landscape Design used 5 kinds of aloes, two types of aeonium, Bulbine frutescens, Agave attenuata, and lots of blue Senecio mandraliscae to play off the Moroccan blue of the pots.
She added a new set of pilasters along the stairs—perfect perches for more pots—and faced the risers with blue and white Spanish tiles.
More on this makeover in our garden blog
Easy-care plants and materials create a low-maintenance garden that can fend for itself for weeks at a stretch. See how durable
furnishings, bulletproof plants, no-fuss flooring, and clever details make it work.
More: Care-free garden design
Bridges, islands, and a shaded fireplace add plenty of whimsical details to this Albuquerque backyard—no water necessary.
And a smattering of carefully chosen drought-resistant plants offer just enough no-fuss greenery to create a lush feel.
More: Southwestern garden escape
Two great ideas from this garden
Grassy screen Tall Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’ grass screens the sitting area from the street.
“Character” plants From fluffy mounds to floppy giants: Rusty-hued Carex testacea softens the front path, while green kniphofia, plum Heuchera ‘Obsidian’, Libertia peregrinans ‘Bronze Sword’, and euphorbia surround the ‘Karl Foerster’ grass. Across the path, drifts of Picea sitchensis ‘Papoose’, variegated iris, and Phormium ‘Dusky Chief’ encircle a ginkgo tree.
Design/Build Rebecca Sams and Buell Steelman, Mosaic Gardens, Eugene, OR
A low retaining wall of stacked flagstone has the effect of setting this San Diego house and garden on a pedestal. The wide
pathway, also of flagstone, adds importance, too.
Dymondia margaretae, a gray-leafed South African ground cover, has replaced the lawn, and a range of drought-tolerant plants, including New Zealand flax (Phormium), kangaroo paws (Anigozanthos), Leucadendron, and Lomandra add further interest.
More on this front yard makeover in the blogs
Flagstone paths curve through a low-water front yard. A low berm of soil on either side of the walk adds interest, and weed
cloth topped with permeable pea gravel allows excess water to soak into the earth rather than run off into the street.
More lessons from this front yard
Rocks covered the front yard when Ken and Beverly Behymer bought this house in Grants Pass, Oregon. But summers here are hot,
and the couple yearned for a more inviting garden, one that wouldn't bake in the sun or raise their water bill by much.
Landscape architect Jim Love's solution: Add mostly low-water plants that give the yard all-season appeal.
Learn more about this low-water makeover
Three great ideas from this garden
1. Use permeable paving It helps rainfall percolate easily into the soil. The paths in the Zinners' garden are covered with gravel, and a small square patio in the front yard is of decomposed granite.
2. Extend the season Since most California natives bloom in spring, combine them with plants that flower at other times. Blanc added butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa), coral fountain (Russelia equisetiformis), and Mexican lobelia (Lobelia laxiflora) for summer color.
3. Go on sustainable-garden tours You'll find ideas as well as designers who can help you realize them. The Zinners discovered garden designer Stephanie Blanc on such a tour.
Learn more about this yard
Water-conserving gardens can be as colorful as any other. The front yard of Rick Cole, Ventura's city manager, is blooming
Get planting ideas from this Southern California garden
Instead of expanding their 1,250-square-foot Spanish colonial revival home ― even though there was ample room on the lot to
do so ― Gabe Gelbart and landscape designer Paul Rhoadzhagen decided to keep the house compact and let the garden shine, providing
plenty of outdoor living nooks, colorful plantings that require little water, and lessons on incorporating environmentally
sound materials and practices into the landscape.
Get Gelbart and Rhoadzhagen's low-water secrets
Lawns demand about an inch of water each week during the growing season. That was too much for Seattle-based landscape designer
Stacie Crooks of Crooks Garden Design. She knew she could create a traffic-stopping tapestry of plants that would survive
on half the water.
So one spring, she ripped out much of her lawn and replaced it with a mixture of perennials and shrubs.
Get Crooks's plant palette
Some grasses can live on rainfall alone in their native Western ranges, and they need mowing just once or twice a year to
Get details and sources
Plant natives, and birds will follow. That's what Mary and Joe Bochiechio found when they installed their garden in San Marcos.
After removing the lawn, designer and contractor Greg Rubin ― who specializes in California natives ― installed a meandering path bordered by fragrant 'Bee's Bliss' salvia, wild lilacs, and an existing non-native purple tree mallow ― all pretty, low-water plants.
Get more planting ideas from this yard
Landscape designer Shirley Watts is on a mission to green up her gardens. That doesn't mean she packs them with foliage. Watts
is committed to green solutions that benefit the environment by preserving resources and by recycling materials.
Find out more about this tiny backyard
Multitiered raised beds and house walls protect this courtyard from breezes. The fountain in the center provides butterflies
with a necessary supply of water. (After spilling down the column, it moistens the rocks below before disappearing underground;
siphoning water from a puddle beneath wet rocks is a butterfly's preferred way to drink.)
Get three great ideas from this garden
When Claudia Armann and her husband, Kurt, moved in, the first-time homeowners faced a boring patch of lawn and little else.
Two years later, they enjoy a vibrant landscape composed of succulents and drought-tolerant perennials that win admiring looks
Get Armann's makeover basics
Style and practicality determined the design of this water-conserving garden in Clovis, California. For owner Claudia Kus,
the distinctively Southwestern house style suggested a less thirsty garden to match. But the real issues ― a costly water
supply, serious soil problems, and the hot, dry summers of the San Joaquin Valley ― were the clinchers.
As in many areas of the West, water is precious ― a limited commodity. Kus needed to manage carefully the available water.
Get water management tips from this yard