Nearly 10 years ago, El Niño storms prompted Andrew Epstein to begin the process of converting his English garden in Studio City into a drought-tolerant landscape.
After El Niño wiped out all of the mature trees on the property, Epstein decided to remove his expansive lawn manually with a shovel. “When the drought followed, we decided to do it out of practicality,” Epstein says.
Epstein installed new trees — mesquite on the south side of the property and three palo verde trees in front. “They shower the frontyard with yellow leaves,” he says. “And once they are established, they don’t need water.”
Working over several years, Epstein transformed his English garden in sections. “In the beginning it was about moving things around,” he says.
He installed California Gold crushed gravel, river rock and decomposed granite paths and added drought-tolerant plants.
He scoured Craigslist for plants. “There were a lot of people who had plant material they didn’t want,” he says.
He planted six kinds of aloes, four types of agaves and salvia waverly, a hardy shrub that grows to 6 feet. Succulents, cactus, Mexican bird of paradise and lion’s tail round out the mix along with some remnants from the English garden such as nasturtiums.
Epstein advises homeowners to experiment with a variety of plants and not get boxed in to a desert mind-set. He also likes to add a large quantity of mulch, which helps with water and weeds.
“There’s a misconception that the Valley is the desert,” he says. “It is truly Mediterranean, which opens up the palette.You can go with lavenders and salvias and plants that flower and get big and don’t need much water.”
The diversity of drought-tolerant plants has its benefits. Epstein says his garden is in bloom all year and saves him a lot on water bills. Epstein recalls having a “massive” DWP bill before he removed his lawn. Today, he’s watering only twice a week for five minutes. “You can save water and still have a lush garden,” he says.
The garden has also affected him personally. When he began the lawn makeover, Epstein was a television producer and writer. Today, he is a landscape designer who specializes in drought-tolerant gardens.
“I like this kind of dirt rather than the other kind of dirt I used to cover,” he says with a laugh. “This is a lot more karmically satisfying.”
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