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Drought-resistant gardens can be more than gravel

A vehicle enters a driveway at the end of a row of sprinklers watering plants and foliage in front of an apartment complex in South Pasadena, California on January 21, 2014. 

As the California drought continues, it’s hard to look at all the lush lawns without thinking about the water that goes into keeping them green. In Los Angeles, the city will actually pay you to rip up your grass.

But a gravel-covered yard isn’t that appealing, unless you are a toddler with a taste for rocks.

“I think that the biggest myth that should be dispelled is that native plant gardens are wild and ugly and look dead during part of the year,” said Lili Singer, with the Theodore Payne Foundation for Wild Flowers and Native Plants. With drought-resistant natives, you can have lush gardens with flowers.

But it takes time for them to grow in, and it takes some work. You can’t just pop a plant in the ground and walk away.

“When you first put in a drought-tolerant garden,” Singer said, “it isn’t drought tolerant the day you put it in. These are coming from a nursery, they’re little babies."

At Theodore Payne’s nursery, garden designer Wynne Wilson looks at buckwheat, sage, and heuchera, “I’m like a chocoholic in Candyland."

Low-impact gardens can be quite sophisticated.  You have to think about the soil, the sun, the plants, the texture, the time of year they’ll bloom, and how to get them water.

“It’s extremely important how we water these new gardens,” Wilson said.

Modern irrigation systems have moved well beyond sprinklers on timers. They waste less water and they have a lot of moving parts. There are computers, ground sensors, even a 6-inch satellite dish you put on your house that communicates with weather satellites about humidity and temperature.

“We just did a 2,000 square foot front garden, completely new, with the irrigation we did all of our beautiful systems, and that was approximately $3,500,” Wilson said. 

Of course, you don’t need a satellite or a $3,500 irrigation system to have a lovely drought-resistant garden.

Just some knowledge about plants, a $10 garden hose, and the time to water each plant one at at time. 

About the author

Adriene Hill is the senior multimedia reporter for LearningCurve.

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