Pro Portfolio: Lawn swap for low-water landscape in Sherman Oaks

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Every Monday we post a recently built, remodeled or redecorated home with commentary from the designer. This week we look at a landscaping project in Sherman Oaks, where lawn was replaced with drought-tolerant plants.

Design: Maggie Lobl, Echo Landscape Design


Installation: Arrow Sprinkler & Landscape

Designer’s description: This is one of many recent projects where I replaced turf grass with something interesting and less thirsty.

Grass is often the default choice for builders and homeowners for a few reasons: It is easy and relatively inexpensive to install, and it looks familiar and safe. If you have kids, it’s nice to have lawn for them to play on; when they’re older, they can run around on it. But how often do you see that? If the answer is almost never, then it’s time to rethink the grass.

A lawn can be seriously boring. My clients are creative people who are attracted to the variety of forms, textures and colors found in a range of plants, especially succulents and grasses. It was fun putting together a broad plant palette for them. Different plants always provide something new to see, and the garden is constantly in flux. Aloe and sedum bloom at different times. Red fountain grass that is cut back in the winter erupts into cascades of waving seed heads by summer. Milkweed and lavender cotton attract butterflies, while creeping rosemary and mallow attract pollinators such as bees. Instead of a static mat of grass with a few generic shrubs, this dynamic garden is evolving and changing with the seasons. And it does all this while sipping water from a drip irrigation system.

The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power offers a rebate to customers who replace lawn with drought-tolerant landscaping. My clients took advantage of this offer and received about $1,600 for their front and backyards.

To see more comparisons of before and after, keep reading ...

Above: View of the south lawn before it was torn out.

In that corner once covered with grass, seen above in the distance, we placed a bench and a small flagstone patio as a resting spot for family or visitors who are always coming and going from the busy home. Plants are layers of green with a few pops of color. That part of the garden is a bit shadier and quieter in mood compared with ...

North of the driveway, the garden is much hotter and sunnier. An interesting boulder provides a contrast in texture to new plantings. Here we put sturdy succulents and grasses that won’t wilt in the harsh conditions of a San Fernando Valley summer. The reds and oranges of the succulents don’t fade away in the intense glare of an August afternoon.

Eventually small sedum groundcovers in different colors will spread out and form a mat. The tall, green and plum-colored plant in the foreground is the sedum Autumn Joy; to the right, the stalks with the dark purple foliage is the Aeonium arboreum called Zwartkop.

Above, clockwise from foreground: Pennisetum rubrum, or red fountain grass; the coral-colored branches of a type of Euphorbia tirucalli called Sticks on Fire; the spiky agave called Blue Glow; and the muted green foliage of a type of artemisia called Powis Castle.

The green and silver Dymondia margaretae grows between the flagstone pavers.

A flowering crape myrtle tree anchors the parkway strip by the street. Creeping thyme and Santa Barbara daisies are good alternatives to grass in a parkway.

A gate opens to a flagstone path that leads to the backyard. The same plants are used on both sides of the garden to achieve a sense of unity, but different proportions create a slightly different affect. Cool greens give the eyes a rest. Dodonaea viscosa, commonly known as hop bush or hopseed bush, was planted against the wall before I worked on the property. Usually they are denser. It’s a plant I like a lot, but these are not the best-looking specimens. The camellia and a type of Pittosporum tenuifolium called Silver Sheen on the right side of the frame also were existing elements of the landscape.

Above: The back lawn before it was torn out.

Today: A flagstone path leads to a new bench.

-- Compiled by Lisa Boone

Photo credits: Maggie Lobl

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