Guide for Not-So-Smart Gardeners Focuses on Conservation, Efficiency

United Press International

Your neighbors may be trying to outdo you with the perfect lawn, but landscape architect Lynn Capouya suggests that you can have the last laugh with efficiency.

Capouya, transplanted to Southern California from Alabama, has developed “Garden Guides,” a set of plant care and garden tips printed on a dozen plastic-coated cards that can be hung in the garage or tool shed for easy reference.

The instructions, formulated for the Southland’s dry climate and soil, are geared to the layman.


For the Unknowing

“This is designed for someone who knows absolutely nothing, who really doesn’t want to know very much, who wants to be able to look at a chart and go out in the yard and do something. It’s basically to generate ideas,” said Capouya, 32, who earned her degree in landscape architecture at the University of Arizona.

Capouya said with California in its third consecutive year of drought, gardeners, landscapers and developers need to be aware of the water-saving alternatives to traditional gardening methods.

“Everybody from the East Coast came out here and they wanted to bring their mulberry trees and Bermuda grass with them,” she said.

“There are hundreds of plants that grow and do very well that are native or have become indigenous that don’t require the water that a lot of the tropical and subtropical species do,” she added.

Look to the Past

One of Capouya’s goals is to bring back low-water plants that may have been popular in the past, but have fallen from favor.

“Plant materials are kind of like clothes; they go in and out of fashion,” she said. “If we don’t order it, nurseries don’t grow it. What has happened is we’ve stretched to incorporate other materials into our plant palate. We’ve lost a lot of our own native plant materials.”


One of her favorites is nandina, or “heavenly bamboo,” which was common in the 1960s but later lost favor. It has a nice color range--yellow and red--provides an oriental effect, and doesn’t need much water.

Capouya, whose firm does landscaping for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, the U.S. Postal Service, Sizzler restaurants on the West Coast, and numerous hotel and shopping center developers, said the idea for “Garden Guides” germinated with client demands for a maintenance manual.

A Professional Look

“We would scurry around and copy this and that and put parts together, but it never looked professional,” she said.

“Garden Guides” originated as something to be passed out to our clients. The final product was really much nicer than I intended to make it and the response has been great.”

It provides charts on when to plant, water, fertilize and spray nine categories of low-water, low-maintenance plants. It also diagrams how to plant, stake and space plants.

Capouya said she is putting together a “xeriscape,” or low-water landscape exhibit, with the Metropolitan Water District that will appear at Southern California shopping malls.


She insists that low-water, money-saving alternatives can be found for most thirsty plants. Instead of birch or willow trees, try bottlebrush or paperbark, she suggests. Instead of using grass for the whole yard, use it as an accent and landscape the rest with drought-tolerant ground cover such as flowering gazania or raked earth, sand or rock.

Don’t Need to Mow

“You can still have a pretty yard but you don’t have to use excessive water,” she said, pointing out the added benefit that “it doesn’t require mowing.”

If you must have a lawn, Capouya says that grass strains such as marathon fescue or Kentucky bluegrass have a deeper root system and thus use less water and are heartier than such varieties as Bermuda.

Other semi-arid favorites include conifers, bougainvillea, cassia, acacia, hopseed bush, California pepper trees and jacaranda, a lavender flowering tree native to Mexico.

She said water consumption--and water bills--can be cut 30% to 50% with the right plants and techniques.

Occasional deep soaking of trees and shrubs, which causes the roots to grow deeper, is preferable to frequent sprinkling. And, of course, watering in the early morning or at night reduces water lost through evaporation or plant transpiration.


Triangular Formation

Planting ground cover in a triangular rather than square formation requires fewer plants to cover the same area and thus less water.

Another of her pet peeves is people who plant plants that are not compatible together--such as grass and palm trees. The former requires a lot of water and the latter very little.

Capouya also recommends planting young plants rather than full-grown ones because their roots will more easily adapt to soil and water conditions and in the long run provide a healthier garden.

“In planting a garden what you want to focus on is variety to create a visual interest, and that has to do with combining color, texture, foliage and flower which can all be achieved with drought tolerant plants.”