Water-wise garden makeover

Native plants and permeable paving are both Earth-friendly and attractive

Sharon Cohoon

Being eco-conscious doesn't have to mean giving up beauty. John Zinner, a consultant for LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Green Building Rating System, makes his living by proving just that. So when he approached garden designer Stephanie Blanc to create a landscape around the Santa Monica home he shares with his wife, Susan, he saw no reason why it couldn't incorporate environmentally friendly features that also happen to be beautiful.

Blanc chose mostly plants that tolerate drought and attract wildlife, the majority being California natives. (The few plants needing regular water, such as pindo palms in the front yard, are confined to containers.) The drip-irrigation system, managed by a satellite-driven controller, is admirably efficient; a front-yard irrigation pit, disguised as a dry creekbed, collects and filters roof and garden runoff to keep contaminants out of the nearby ocean.

The garden is richly textured, colorful, and as usable as the Zinners hoped it would be. To compensate for the modest size of the couple's 1936 Spanish colonial revival home, Blanc created new outdoor living areas, including a front-entry courtyard, a backyard deck, and a small raised patio and water feature off the side yard. The Zinners enjoy their new garden with a good conscience. Bees and butterflies loved the space from the start, and now that plants are maturing, birds have become regulars as well.


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 Blanc on such a tour.

Next: Resources for sustainable gardening



Santa Monica's Green Gardens Tour Committee suggests these helpful websites.

Water-conserving landscape tips from Southern California water agencies include a list of 1,200 plant species suitable for the region's gardens, water-conservation ideas, watering calculator, rebate offers, and more.

The California Native Plant Society site is useful for finding local chapters, workshops, plant sales, and more.

An eco-activist zine.

Berkeley author Louise Lacey covers the basics on growing native plants.

Inspiration to replace your turf includes a photo gallery of low-water front yards. It's sponsored by Middlebrook Gardens, a San Jose garden-design firm specializing in natives gardening and sustainable practices.

County of Los Angeles Department of Public Works' research tool for green homes and gardens.

Santa Monica's Sustainable Landscape Resources page.

A zine for environmental news and commentary.

The committee also recommends visiting Santa Monica's demonstration gardens (free; 1718 and 1724 Pearl St.), where California-native and traditional landscape designs are compared. The native garden uses 80 percent less water than the traditional garden, and cuts maintenance costs and green waste in half.

Design: Stephanie Wilson Blanc, Pacific Palisades (310/459-3131)

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