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  • Jacky Surber

Lawn Be Gone


A traditional front yard with an expansive lawn was reimagined as a wildlife habitat garden that now attracts birds, conserves water and adds curb appeal.

This project was completed in the fall of 2015, with supplemental funds from the SoCal Water$mart, Turf Removal Program of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. Over 3,100 square feet of turf was mechanically removed, without the use of any chemicals.

The soil was carefully cultivated and prepared with organic compost, worm castings and compost tea.

Then it was shaped into gently sloping berms which help keep rainwater on site. A small swale was created to capture overflow from downspouts and was planted with Juncus patens, a native grass like plant that tolerates periods of flooding and drought. A generous layer of natural mulch helps to retain water in the soil, which acts as a sponge, capturing all of the rain water that falls on the garden, releasing that moisture to the plants as they need it.

A recirculating water feature from Garden Temple was installed, creating a very soothing atmosphere; the sound of water helps birds to locate the garden since they can hear the sound from a far. Several bird feeders from Wild Wings Backyard Nature Store insure the garden is constantly filled with the movement of birds, making it an exciting garden to spend time in. Please note that the tropical milkweed in the photos of the swale has been replaced with our local native Milkweed, Asclepias fascicularis, aka Narrowleaf Milkweed, which is much healthier for Monarch butterflies.

In order to give the illusion of a lawn, a low growing Australian ground cover, Myoporum parvifolium ‘White’, was planted in the center of the garden along the entry path. Myoporum was chosen for its bright green color and low water needs; it stays 3-6” high with out mowing, thrives in the partial shade of the Sycamore trees and tolerates light foot traffic.

A new brick pathway to the front door ties in with the existing porch, so that guests can walk through the new garden rather than the driveway entry, which was previously the only entry point.

In order for the homeowners to sit and enjoy the space with their small dogs, a white wood picket fence was constructed, which ties in perfectly to the architecture of this old home. Brick pilasters topped with lights complement the existing brick work on the facade of the home, tying in seamlessly with the architecture, they create a strong visual focal point for the main pedestrian entry.

Ceanothus 'Concha', a dark blue flowered variety of our native California Lilac was established to create a an informal screen that adds a layer of privacy to the once open front yard. In the spring it's powdery blossoms scent the air with a light honey fragrance. These shrubs are green year round, providing larval food for many species of butterflies. According to San Marcos Growers website, "Established plants need no summer water but will tolerate it; this attribute and its abundant flowering account for Concha’s reputation as one of the best, most reliable ceanothus cultivars."

Below the taller Ceanothus shrubs, Ceanothus 'Yankee Point', a lower growing variety of California Lilac, was planted as a middle ground between the screen and the very low growing ground cover Myoporum. This popular cultivar features larger leaves and pale blue blossoms, and does best with some shad in the valley.

Many other California native plants were brought in to help support wildlife; Achillea, Carpinteria, Ceanothus, Fragaria, Heteromeles, Heuchera, Leymus, Juncus, Ribes, and Sisyrinchium. Other climate appropriate plants were added for additional color such as Leonotis, Salvia, and Correa. The goal is to replace all non-native plants with native plants over time.

Thank you for reading this post. Please get in touch with us if you would like to create a similar garden for your home.


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