In our latest lawn-to-drought-garden makeover submitted by readers, a Cheviot Hills lawn is removed and replaced with native grasses such as Carex pansa and Carex tumulicola to create a low-water urban meadow.
Inspired by Dutch garden designer Piet Oudolf, a leading proponent of choosing perennials more for shape and texture than for color, landscape designer Jonathan Harnish created the no-mow meadow that provides year-round interest.
The homeowners wanted to remove their barren lawn and replace it with a more naturalistic, meadow-like garden.
“They wanted something a little more innovative but also low-water and ultimately low-maintenance,” Harnish said.
They also wanted subtle color.
To create the meadow-like garden, Harnish dug up the lawn and rototilled the soil in April.
As at Oudolf’s landscape at the High Line in New York City, Harnish proceeded to plant a limited mix of perennials, grasses and shrubs.
Drought-tolerant plants include fountain grasses, white yarrow, salvia, verbena, sage and an assortment of lavenders. The salvia and verbena will bloom year-round, providing continuous color each month.
The garden faces north but receives plenty of sun, which suits the garden. “This would not work in a shady space,” Harnish explained. It also requires a drip irrigation system. “It is completely necessary for this type of garden,” Harnish added. “If you use sprinklers, it won’t work.”
The grasses are extremely resilient and need little maintenance. Harnish said they need a hard cutback every February but little else. “You can mow them and cut them down,” he said. “The pennisetum can be cut down to 4 inches. The lavenders need selective pruning, and the salvias need to be cut way back.”
Harnish, a recent graduate of the Cal Poly Pomona Masters of Landscape Architecture program, is particularly pleased that the garden — with little carbon emissions from gas mowers — is a sustainable option to the previous lawn.
“I’m trying to do all I can to help ecology,” he said. “Meadow gardens use very few chemicals. They don’t need rich soil, so you don’t have to fertilize them. They tend not to have a lot of pests. With this type of garden, the idea is to leave it alone and let it grow and develop.”
Although Harnish declined to discuss the garden’s cost, he stressed that a meadow garden can save money in the long run.
“It can add value to your home and pay for itself,” he said. “You end up spending less money on a garden like this than some sort of succulent garden. You can buy grasses that will grow 4-by-4 feet for $2.50 at a wholesale nursery. Very rarely do they not make it. Also, there is a certain value in watching your garden mature.”
For Harnish, change begins on a residential scale by creating gardens that nourish ecology.
“I suspect the movement towards gravel is going to be redirected towards more ecologically friendly approaches once homeowners get tired of looking at their sparsely planted, mulch- and gravel-dominated front yards,” he said.
Carex pansa, California Field Sedge; Carex tumulicola, Berkeley Sedge; Pennisetum,Little Bunny, Little Bunny Dwarf Fountain Grass; Pennisetum Fairy Tales, Fairy Tales Fountain Grass
Cerastium tomentosum, Snow in Summer; Nepeta faassenii, Walker's Low Catmint
Achillea millefolium, White Yarrow; Verbena de la Mina, Cedros Island Verbena; Salvia “Mystic Spires,” Compact Indigo Spires Sage; Lavandula “Munstead,” Munstead Lavender; Lavandula “Goodwin Creek,” Goodwin Creek Lavender; Lavandula “Otto Quast,” Spanish Lavender
If you'd like to submit photos of your drought garden makeover, please do so at email@example.com. Bonus points if you include a "before" image as well.
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