They ripped out their 3,500-square-foot lawn and created a magical ‘Rancho Relaxo’


In our latest lawn-to-drought-garden makeover submission from readers, two gardening novices in Santa Ana share how they transformed 3,500 square feet of grass into what they now call “Rancho Relaxo”:

Chela Bañuelos acknowledges that if not for the SoCal WaterSmart Turf Removal Program rebate program, she and husband Joseph might not have been motivated to re-landscape their Santa Ana property.

It’s understandable.

“We had 3,500 square feet of solid grass front to back,” Chela says.


Summers are hot in Santa Ana – it hit 107 degrees there recently – so the couple wanted to put in a drought-tolerant landscape that could survive the heat and require little water.

Both artists, the couple had little gardening experience when they started the project last June.

“Now I look back and think, ‘What were we thinking?’” Chela says with a laugh. “We lost a third of our plants we planted in August and the trees were planted too deep.”

The couple first hired a landscape contractor to remove the lawn with a skip loader. They weeded what was left and added amendments to the existing soil, which Chela says is good quality. They next hired a landscaper to help them choose drought-tolerant plants and install the hardscape, which includes flagstone, decomposed granite and gravel.


The couple consulted Pinterest for ideas for a new fence. “We wanted to create modern ranch style,” Chela explains. “We didn’t want it to be desert or Midcentury Modern but modern and fun.”

They also kept a book of ideas, measured everything out (Joseph is a graphic designer), took pictures and drew on the dirt.

They kept the two crepe myrtles (Lagerstroemia indica) that were already in place and added trees that do well in the heat: two palo verdes, a manzanita, strawberry (Arbutus unedo) and a fruitless olive tree.

They planted grasses that are native to Santa Ana that they purchased at the Back to Natives nursery, a variety of succulents and slipper plants (Pedilanthus macrocarpus). Scattered boulders help to create privacy, and black mulch adds further interest and helps retain soil moisture.

In back, the re-landscaped yard contains a covered patio for dining, barbecue area, meditation zone, seating area and a lush plant palette. The couple spent $10,000 on irrigation and plants after the rebate.

“We went crazy in a good way,” Chela says of the money spent on drought-tolerant plants.

The design was influenced by their desire to live outdoors.

“We created areas that we wanted to congregate in,” says Chela of the circular seating area and fire pit in front. “We made places to hang out in the front and did the same thing in the back.”

The new landscape has prompted them to keep going: They repainted the house a dark turquoise color and added a new modern fence. “We even stained the cement so it looks like flagstone and it isn’t so hot,” says Chela.

“We love our place. It’s magical. We call it “Rancho Relaxo.”

If you’d like to submit photos of your drought garden makeover, please do so at Bonus points if you include a “before” image as well.

Follow @lisaboone19 for design news

Follow our gardening board on Pinterest:


A thirsty Pasadena lawn morphs into a stunning, drought-tolerant habitat for hummingbirds

This drought-friendly yard is a tropical oasis — in the middle of Burbank

Before and after: A Tustin garden goes from thirsty lawn to drought-tolerant oasis

Photos: 11 inspiring water-wise landscapes