Landscaping in Times of Drought

I remember when I was a kid in the 70s. There was an oil embargo that I don’t really remember. Then there was a second oil crisis in the late 70’s that had cars lining up for gas for miles. My dad hated Jimmy Carter. And California was in an extreme drought. The drought of the century. There was water rationing – and lawns were on the chopping block. It’s funny how history repeats itself. Today, we’re fighting wars for oil. My dad hates Obama. And California is in the drought of the century.

Back then our neighbor, Mr. Heron, was the first to take charge of the drought situation. He tore out the front lawn and put in that quintessentially 70s granite pebble. The front path dissected the front yard perfectly, and he planted a brick encircled mulberry tree in the center of each of the squares that were once lawn. When he was done, all of the neighbors gathered in front of his house to admire his handywork and water-wise efforts. But maybe not the overall aesthetic of his creation. As we walked back to our house, my dad shook his head. Forget simply keeping up with the Joneses – or Herons in this case. He new he could do better than that.

My dad was a firefighter, and there are two things you should know about firefighters. They are heroes, it’s true, but they also have a lot of freaking time off! One of his fellow firefighters designed gardens on the side. So he and my dad got together and designed our front yard. They put in walls and a courtyard with an arbor, that in my now professional opinion, should have been much bigger to make use of much needed shade, as well as further reducing the area dedicated to lawn. They widened the entry path in a very 1970s staggered aggregate and regular concrete pattern, and created deeper planting beds to reduce the size of the lawn. Even as a little kid, I was fascinated by the process, and in love with the transformation the landscape made to an otherwise plain ranch house. I think this is where I first got my love for landscape design that would lead me to where I am now.

Our front yard was the talk of the suburb. People would drive by – even stop – to admire the beautifully landscaped garden. They’d ask questions about the raphiolepis and agapanthus that bloomed beautifully but required very little water.  Of course these plants were destined to become parking lot plants because of their reliability. My dad’s alternative to lawn was a revolutionary groundcover called Dichondra! It promised to be dark green, low water and no maintenance. What it also meant for us was that we could no longer play in the front yard. Every step on the cushiony clovery mat of dichondra left a footprint – evidence for my dad to know exactly who walked on his low-water alternative to that hideous granite cobble in Mr. Heron’s yard. It also didn’t fare as well as promised in our hot valley sun. He converted the area back to lawn when the drought crisis ended…

While history has a habit of repeating itself, it behooves us to build on what we’ve learned, and not return to our old ways. We Californians live in a drought-prone land. Our population is growing. Water is our most precious resource – and there will be times when its more scarce than others. We believe our job here at Lazar Landscape is to take the “I can do better than that” approach to designing and building outdoor living spaces – gardens and landscapes – and make them water wise. Stay tuned for future posts from us where we explore residential landscapes without lawns, lawn alternatives, beautiful drought-tolerant plants, implementing smarter irrigation systems, and even ideas for responsible sod lawns.