A lawn gets replaced with something beautiful, sustainable, and beneficial.

Front Yard Native Garden
Hugh Garvey

After 20 years of having a lawn that took, I wanted a yard that contributed: to the planet, to local animals, to biodiversity, to my neighbors, to my mental health. With the sage (native plant pun intended) design work, counsel, and collaboration of David Godshall of Terremoto and David Newsom of Wild Yards Project—and a plant-friendly paint palette from color consultant Teresa Grow—another little garden that gives was born.

David Newsom and David Godshall
David Newsom (left) and David Godshall (right). 

Thomas J. Story

Just one hour per weekend on average is all that this densely planted front yard requires of its human custodians. But what it returns is infinite: the subtle gradations of blue-green going to dusty sage as the sun bakes a maturing canyon prince that rightly gets its name from its original habitat and its coronal structure; the aromatic fronds of Artemisia californica, a.k.a. cowboy cologne, reaching skyward; copper-hued clarkia stalks going dry at the end of summer and the attendant pleasure of snipping them on-site into mulch for the oak tree that will shade them when they return next spring; prolific swaggering poppies asserting their status as the California state flower, stopping kids and neighbors in their tracks with their blaze-orange petals; native bees sweetly napping in the chill of the morning, waiting for the sun to warm them enough to fly; blue-eyed grass and its purple and yellow flower sprays swaying in the shade of the oak. This lovely ex-lawn shelters and feeds hundreds of local insects, birds, and rare bees, requires very little water, and sequesters multiples of carbon over a standard lawn. Here’s how it came together. 

5,000 Pounds of Local Boulders and Gravel 

Moving Boulders Using a Skateboard

Thomas J. Story

Instead of a cinderblock and stucco retaining wall that will inevitably crack, an organic tumble of boulders from a dig 30 miles away provides nooks for wildflowers to grow and shelter for lizards and native bee populations. Permeable gravel allows water to seep through and restore the soil beneath. 

20+ Low-Water Native Plants

Native Plant with Purple Flowers

Thomas J. Story

Native habitat evangelist David Newsom chose sages, buckwheats, a manzanita, cowboy cologne, bunchgrasses, mallows, monkey flower, blue-eyed grass, and wildflowers to provide harbor and food for critters and to bloom successionally season to season, so there are always flowers providing color while other plants go dormant. Godshall advocated for an equally supportive and majestic mature coast live oak. 

9 Fruit Trees

Joanna Glovinsky Plants Fruit Trees

Thomas J. Story

Joanna Glovinsky (center) runs Fruitstitute, L.A.’s only fruit-tree service company. She transformed the parkway between the house and street into a mini-orchard of tangerines, lemons, limes, and kumquats that only require once-a-week hand-watering to produce robust crops in the winter. 

7 Timber Steps

Hugh Garvey's Front Yard with 7 Timber Steps

Hugh Garvey

This ubiquitous landscaping material is used in nearly every project, but in gestural and inventive ways. Here it serves as an L.A.-style version of the New York stoop, offering impromptu seating for bird and bee watching—and an invitation to walk through the garden. 

2 Botanically Friendly Paint Colors

Native Garden Paint Colors

Thomas J. Story

Paint specialist and wallpaper designer Teresa Grow of Madison and Grow devised an organic and recessive paint scheme of Benjamin Moore Deep Creek and Cromwell Gray that allows the muted hues of the native plants to pop and the successional blossoms to shine as they shift from violet to sherbet and blaze orange. 

2 Movable Lounge Chairs

Lounge Chairs

Hugh Garvey

Lightweight but sturdy Fermob Luxembourg garden chairs (the same model used in the Tuileries in Paris) match the native succulents and can be placed in the shade or sun as desired. 

1 Garden Hose

Garden Hose

Thomas J. Story

That’s right, no sprinklers, no drip lines, no mechanical irrigation whatsoever. After a year or so of weekly hand watering, with additional soaking during super-dry periods, the plants will be established and need very little extra water for much of the year.

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