Garden Sense Waterwise Garden

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Garden Features

1

Drought Tolerant

2

Edible Garden

3

California Natives

4

Deer Resistant

5

Drip Irrigation

6

Pesticide Free

7

Rainwater Harvesting System

8

Rain Garden

9

Reclaimed/Recycled Materials

10

Sheet Mulching

11

Lawn Conversion

12

Lawn-Free Landscaping

13

Permeable Surfaces

14

Wildlife Habitat

Partner: Garden Sense

Lawn conversion on a major scale! From wasteful lawn to a model ecological efficiency.

For 20 years our property had a 1/4 acre of irrigated lawn that extended around the entire outside of our home. When I became a Sonoma County Master Gardener in 2018, I decided to take a much closer look at sustainability practices on our property. Was I doing my part to create a sustainable landscape? Our lawn would surely need to go. I also wanted to welcome insects and wildlife back onto our land. Armed with my newfound knowledge from my trainings as a Master Gardener and inspiration from the book Bringing Nature Home, by Douglas Tallamy. In Tallamy’s book, he writes about restoring habitats in our own backyards by using plantings native to your area.

I sought to replace many plants in my lush garden with drought tolerant natives. Not knowing quite where to begin, I soon enrolled in further Master Gardener trainings to become a Garden Sense consultant. The Garden Sense program was created to help homeowners evaluate their water needs and practices, provide useful information about lawn removal and water-wise plants. They are sponsored by University of California and the Sonoma County Water Agency. The phrase “Slow it, Spread it, Sink it” became my goal. The idea being to catch the water, hold it on site and get the water back into the ground.

We live on a hill so water would cascade down the hillside during the rainy season, causing ruts and bogs as it passed through our property and into pastures. To address our challenges with excess water coming through our property we dug a “dry creek bed” into the wettest area near the top of our property. Digging down three feet deep and four to five feet wide in places. We back filled the entire 30′ length with gravel then river rocks. All of our materials and rocks were salvaged over the course of three years. The basin that was formed at the end of the creek bed is a rain garden. There are layers of compost, rock and loamy garden soil in the basin held in place by a berm of rock and clay built up at the end. The plants in the rain garden can withstand extended periods of soggy conditions in the winter. An “overflow” drain was built into the berm. If needed, the water will pass into another bed connected by an underground drainage pipe that will allow the water to slowly dispense onto the surface of the adjacent bed. We then decided to tackle the removal of the entire lawn. Using sheet mulching methods and a small tractor we first removed or suffocated all of the lawn with large sheets of cardboard. Then, using irrigation conversion kits, we transformed our seven-station system into a drip system to water our new plantings.

Flanking the dry creek beds are our pollinator gardens. Salvias, Lavender, Ceanothus and Mallows are abuzz from sun up to sundown with bees, hummingbirds and other insects. For our walkways we wanted a permeable surface to connect the planting areas that would be easy to maintain and still be able to push a garden cart on. We chose compacted decomposed granite bordered by Sonoma field stone. Other areas of the garden include raised vegetable beds, a small fruit orchard of apples, pear and plums. A native wildflower meadow which includes native grasses and wildflowers grown from seed collected by the Theodore Payne Native Plant society graces the slope that leads to the compost heaps. All plant matter, kitchen scraps, chicken and horse manures are added to our compost heaps and turned with the tractor regularly to create compost for feeding the gardens several times a year.

For our walkways we wanted a permeable surface to connect the planting areas that would be easy to maintain and still be able to push a garden cart on. We settled on compacted decomposed granite bordered by Sonoma field stone.

To address our challenges with excess water coming through our property we dug a “dry creek bed” into the wettest area near the top of our yard. Digging down three feet deep and four to five feet wide in places. We back filled the entire 30′ length with gravel then river rocks. All of our materials and rocks were salvaged over the course of three years.

There is an “overflow” drain built into the berm. If needed, the water will pass into another bed connected by an underground drainage pipe that will allow the water to slowly dispense onto the surface of the next bed.

Day of the Tour:

Garden Sense will be hosting a table at this garden. The friendly Garden Sense consultants have advanced training in water management, irrigation systems, site assessment, low-water use plants, and sustainable garden practices. They can show you how to easily conserve water (and save money) by creating a climate-appropriate garden that is healthy, environmentally sound, and most of all – beautiful! Stop by their table to get more information! And did we mention the program is free for Sonoma County residents?

Also, there will be a Garden Scavenger Hunt on the day of the tour, where visitors can search for specific native plants throughout the garden to win special prizes!

Choosing Plants

1

Using Reference Lists

We chose plants from those recommended by the Sonoma County Master Gardeners Water Wise Plant guide and those recommended by the WUCOLS plant list. Many are California Natives or suited to our Mediterranean climate, characterized by wet winters and long, dry summers with little rainfall.

2

Pollinators

Flanking the dry creek beds are our pollinator gardens. Buddlea, Gaura, Salvia, Cuphea, Abelia, Abutilon, Lavender, Ceanothus and Digitalis are abuzz from sun up to sundown with bees, hummingbirds and other insects.

3

Edibles

Other areas of the garden include raised vegetable beds, a small fruit orchard of apples, pear and plums.

4

Native Wildflowers

A native wildflower meadow which includes native grasses and wildflowers grown from seed collected by the Theodore Payne Native Plant society graces the slope that leads to the compost heaps.

Special Events
Garden Sense Information Table
Garden Scavenger Hunt

Plants in this Garden

Arbutus spp & hybrids

Arbutus, Strawberry Tree
Organization

Group of evergreen trees and large shrubs with attractive foliage and bark, small urn-shaped flowers, and reddish fruit. Prefer sunny locations and well-drained soil. A. ‘Marina’ (20-30’ – 15-30’) and A. unedo (strawberry tree, 15-30’ x 15-30’) are most commonly planted in California landscapes, either as multi-stemmed or single-stemmed, large shrubs or trees. While the two trees are similar in appearance, A. ‘Marina’ has cinnamon-brown shedding bark, whereas the bark of A. unedo is more brown. A. menziesii (madrone, 20-100’) is native to the west coast of North America, including the foothills of Sonoma and Marin counties. A. menziesii is less common in landscapes as it is notoriously difficult to establish.

  • Water: Low
  • Light: Full SunPartial Shade
  • Soil: Well Drained
  • Foliage: Evergreen
  • Leaf Color: GreenGreen - Dark
  • Flower Color: White
  • Blooming Season (s): FallWinter
  • Fruit Color: OrangeRed
  • Bark Color: Cinnamon-Brown

Bouteloua gracilis

Blue Grama Grass
Organization

North American native, warm-season bunchgrass with narrow, grayish green leaves. Ornamental flowers like small brushes form at right angles to slender stems during the summer and persist for many months. Blue grama is adapted to heat, drought, cold, and foot traffic. It does not thrive in shade or wet soils. Blue grama can be used in small clumps among other plants, in a mass as part of a meadow, or even as a lawn substitute. B. g. ‘Blonde Ambition’ is a popular and robust cultivar.

  • Water: Low
  • Light: Full Sun
  • Soil: Well Drained
  • Foliage: Evergreen
  • Leaf Color: Green
  • Flower Color: Yellow
  • Blooming Season (s): Summer

Carex spp

Sedge
Organization

Large group of grass-like, clumping plants with low or moderate water needs that are native to many parts of the world and offer a variety of shapes, sizes, and foliage characteristics. Some sedges are ideal for use in rain gardens and swales, for stabilizing slopes, as a mass groundcover, or as part of a meadow planting. Two low-water examples that prefer some shade are Catlin sedge (C. texensis, 4-6” x 6-8”), a small, mat-like sedge native to central and southwestern North America, and Berkeley sedge (C. tumulicola, 1-2’ x 1-2’), a larger species native to western North America that tends to self-sow. Other species require more water and may be less suited to dry inland conditions. Some species can be invasive and difficult to control.

  • Water: Low
  • Light: Full SunPartial Shade
  • Soil: Most Soils
  • Foliage: Evergreen
  • Leaf Color: Yellow
  • Blooming Season (s): SpringSummer

Verbena spp

Verbena
Organization

Fast-growing perennials that thrive in hot locations and produce clusters of small, showy flowers in summer.

Examples:

  • V. bonariensis (3-6’ x 2-3’) is an upright perennial from South America with long, airy flower stalks. Reseeds readily and should not be planted near riparian areas where it can be invasive.
  • Garden verbena (V. x hybrida, 6-12” x 2-3’) is a popular and showy groundcover available in many colors.
  • Cedros Island verbena (V. lilacina ‘De La Mina’, 1-2’ x 2-3’) from the Cedros Island off the coast of Baja California is a popular native for its deep purple flower color and uniform growth habit.
  • Water: Very LowLow
  • Light: Full Sun
  • Soil: Well Drained
  • Foliage: Herbaceous
  • Leaf Color: Green
  • Flower Color: PinkPurpleRedWhite
  • Blooming Season (s): SpringSummerFall

Quercus agrifolia

Coast Live Oak
Organization

Woody perennial, evergreen tree. Large, dense and broadly rounded with green, spiny margin leaves. Native along coast and coastal mountains from Northern California. One of the best local natives for large properties. Susceptible to Sudden Oak Death.

  • Water: Very Low
  • Light: Full Sun
  • Soil: Well Drained
  • Foliage: Evergreen
  • Leaf Color: Green - Dark

Muhlenbergia spp

Muhly Grass, Deer Grass
Organization

Large, showy, clumping, warm-season grasses native to the Southern United States, Mexico, and Central and South America. Can be grown in masses but require sufficient space for the mature size and form to develop. Arching plumes of flowers on long stalks provide significant ornamental value to these low-maintenance and drought-tolerant grasses.

Examples:  Pink muhly (M. capillaris, 2-3′ x 2-3’) with feathery pink flowers; pine muhly (M. dubia, 2-3’ x 2-3’) with light purple flowers; Lindheimer muhly (M. lindheimeri, 3-5’ x 4-5’) with creamy yellow flowers that provide a pronounced display; and the California native deer grass (M. rigens, 3’ x 3-4’).

  • Water: Low
  • Light: Full SunPartial Shade
  • Soil: Well Drained
  • Foliage: Herbaceous
  • Leaf Color: Green
  • Flower Color: CreamPink
  • Blooming Season (s): SummerFall

Favorite Plants

1

Arctostaphylos spp & cvs

‘Pajaroensis’, ‘Sentinel’, A. uva-ursi ‘Radiant’

2

Ceanothus cvs

‘Skylark’, ‘Julia Phelps’, ‘Dark Star’, ‘Diamond Heights’

3

Calycanthus occidentalis

Western Spice Bush

4

Quercus agrifolia

Coast Live Oak

5

Rhamnus [Frangula] californica

‘Mound San Bruno’, ‘Eve Case’

Recommended Resources