The Dry Garden: ‘Ocean Friendly Gardens’ <br> is a guide to reining in runoff


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Last week I said Bob Perry’s book ‘Landscape Plants for California Gardens’ was ‘all the book you will need if you live in the Golden State.’ In a case of floored admiration for a book dedicated to California plants, I may have exaggerated because I now find myself recommending another book aimed specifically at gardeners here. This one addresses how to lay out your landscape. It is ‘Ocean Friendly Gardens’ by Douglas Kent.

Some of you may be familiar with Kent’s work as an Orange County landscape designer, or his 2003 contribution to The Times’ Home section on fire-resistant flora, or his all-too-timely 2005 book ‘Firescaping.’


His new volume, a slender 105 pages published by the Surfrider Foundation, turns from fire to water. What, you might ask, does the ocean have to do with gardening? In California, Kent would reply: Everything. All the rain that we don’t catch during the winter and all of the irrigation spilled into the streets from our sprinklers in the warm months end up as storm water. ‘Water running into the ocean is not inherently harmful,’ Kent writes. ‘It is the stuff attached to it and the stuff it picks up on the way to the ocean that is. Fertilizers, pesticides, oils, cleaning solutions and organic debris all run off a landscape.’

In many ways, this is less a book than a manual on how to design and manage a garden that captures and keeps the water that it gets, either from rain or irrigation. Its design principles of conservation, permeability and retention are a lifeguard, argues Kent -- one that protects the ocean from us.

Starting with a simple diagram of a standard suburban home, Kent breaks down a yard by how it will be used. In a simple drawing, patches of lawn immediately by the entrance and back door are designated ‘high use.’ Perimeters become ‘low use,’ and side gardens are deemed ‘medium use.’

From there he helps to calculate how much rain a homeowner can expect to run off the roof. Next, he shows us how to identify areas where it can drain and infiltrate.

For those who don’t like fine print, there are diagrams for just about every step from diffusion devices, debris catchments and then full-on planting schemes. This book is particularly helpful for those working on sloped sites. Those on flat ones may find themselves shopping for a bulldozer to create some topography that can double up as bioswales, dry creek beds and vernal ponds.

There is even a chart breaking down the pros and cons of different erosion controls for sloped sites. (Kent’s favorite appears to be terracing.)

Finally, there are chapters on fertilizers, lawn care and weeding. This part of the book is clearly not aimed at the driest of us dry gardeners. Yet ‘Ocean Friendly Gardens’ shares a water-wise ethos with the native and Mediterranean gardening movements. This book strives to keep the things that we may apply to our yards where they belong and out of the ocean. Above all, it strives to protect the wild environment that drew so many of us to California in the first place.

-- Emily Green

Green’s column on low-water gardening appears here weekly. Join the club: Become a fan of our Facebook garden page and get a steady stream of garden advice, inspiration and photos all tailored for Californians.