Are we in a drought? Is the drought over? Is less rain the new normal?
We used to be able to rely on somewhat predictable seasonal weather patterns. Now, the confusion many of us feel about the climate is reflected in the spectrum of landscape styles one sees when strolling down most any residential street — green lawns, brown lawns; colorful, low-water, pollinator-attracting gardens; or a combination of all of the above.
These days we have, somewhat suddenly — and for better or worse — been granted so many options that the number of choices can be paralyzing.
But what if you could see more of what the options were in your own area? Could learning more about the stories of landscape transformations from neighbors help? Representatives from the UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden and the city of Davis Public Works Department think they could.
To help, these partners in water conservation have started documenting stories behind a few local landscape transformations with the plan of adding more throughout the year.
“Many people are baffled, I hear about it from residents at our water conservation workshops,” says Dawn Calciano, conservation coordinator for the city’s Public Works Department. “They wonder about removing their lawns, but then aren’t sure what to do next, or even if it’s a project they can do themselves … it’s overwhelming.”
Adds Ellen Zagory, director of public horticulture for the UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden, “There’s no one right answer, but we thought it could at least be helpful to find out what some of our neighbors have done and why. I even volunteered to be one of the case studies!”
Zagory’s goal in her lawn-free landscape is to attract beneficial pollinators. Experience has taught her, “plant it and they (the pollinators) will come.”
To create this pollinator paradise, she uses Frikart’s aster, Cascade Creek California goldenrod and purple oregano. Not only do their blooms provide summer color, they attract a mix of white, yellow and orange butterflies. Next, her goal is to add more larval food plants for caterpillars like passion flower and pipevine.
In West Davis, Ria de Grassi’s front yard features a mix of sun and shade. She wanted to incorporate plants that were attractive, easy-to-maintain and keep neat. Her favorites include low-maintenance, low-water UCD Arboretum All Stars like Cooper’s ice plant, a hardy, flowering succulent; dwarf oregano with its ground-hugging dark-green leaves and pale-pink summer flowers; and California fuchsia.
The Kiers family’s newly planted, full sun, mid-century-modern makeover incorporates graphic mixes of succulents and flowering perennials that provide seasonal color, divided by steel terracing and a path of repeating concrete pads. After their landscape was installed, the Kiers family was thrilled to receive their first “smiley-faced” water bill.
Lastly, Stacey Parker, an East Davis homeowner whose sheet-mulching lawn removal process was documented in previous news articles, reveals the current status of her yard as it matures and continues to thrive.
“When I started, I took any shade-appropriate plants I could get for free or cheap,” Parker noted. “The little I got I would try to spread out.
“What I like is that my plants are happy, my lawn is gone, and the outrageous water bill I inherited from the previous owner is no longer. Now, I need to edit and start thinking about structure and design. I’m close, but it is still a work in progress.”
If you, like many of the featured homeowners above, were once in limbo but are now ready to make a
change, your timing is perfect. Autumn, with its shorter days and cooler temperatures, is the best time of year to plant, whether you’re renovating a lawn area or adding new plants to a mature landscape.
“Many people think of spring for planting — it’s good, but fall is better,” Zagory advises. “Thanks to Mother Nature and her winter rains (fingers crossed), soil moisture can be kept constant with less irrigation, weeds are not as prolific, and cooler temperatures put less stress on new plants.
“Most importantly, when the air temperatures are cooler than the soil temperatures, plants get more root growth without new top growth, which results in heartier root systems and stronger plants overall.”
Interested in learning more? Go to the UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden’s Life After Lawn web page to learn more about these yards, get advice, consider plant choices and find out more about the unique set of circumstances each homeowner needed to consider before embarking on their personal landscape conversion journey.
More homes will be featured here throughout the year.
Gardeners and newbie landscapers alike are also encouraged to attend the Friends of the Arboretum and Public Garden’s fall plant sale fundraisers Saturdays, October 1, October 22 and November 5 and choose from tens of thousands of attractive, low-water, region-appropriate plant selections, 80 percent of which are propagated on site.