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A former lawn sets the stage for a wildflower super bloom in Woodland Hills

California’s super bloom hasn’t materialized the way it did last spring, but that hasn’t stopped Woodland Hills homeowners Ron Gales and Andrea Fields from enjoying a spectacular wildflower bloom of their own.

Walking up to the house in springtime, it’s hard to believe the landscape was “an ugly lawn filled with weeds” when they purchased the home in 2009.

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When the drought hit, the couple wanted to save water but was overwhelmed by the prospect of removing more than 6,000-square-feet of turf. When the Metropolitan Water District began offering turf removal rebates in 2015, the couple felt empowered to remove both lawns and start over.

They turned to landscape designer Marilee Kuhlmann of the Santa Monica-based Urban Water Group, who had transformed their neighbor’s yard with low-water, low-maintenance plants.

To create the meadow-like gardens, Kuhlmann first removed the lawns, which the couple had stopped watering. She then transformed the blank canvas with permeable pathways made from broken concrete to allow visitors to experience the garden firsthand — woolly grevillea, sun-loving purple celosia intenz, flowering desert willow and rock roses, prickly yucca and fragrant calamint and Russian sage, among others. With water conservation in mind, she also installed a drip irrigation system, added mulch to retain moisture and swales and rain barrels to collect rainwater.

Lupine and California poppies bloom in Woodland Hills.
Lupine and California poppies bloom in Woodland Hills. (Katie Falkenberg / Los Angeles Times)

Three years ago, Fields broadcast several packs of wildflowers, including California poppy, lupine and clarkia, in the gardens. From then on, the gardens have been inhabited with brightly colored wildflowers year-round, especially in the spring.

“We wanted color,” Fields says of the makeover. “We wanted it to look natural. We like the wild look.”

And while Fields admits that wildflower cleanup can be labor-intensive, she isn’t complaining.

“The backyard looks so amazing from our kitchen,” she says of the project which cost $15,000 after a turf removal rebate of $15,000. “It’s just spectacular. We sit and have dinner and look out over the backyard, and it makes us feel like we are living in a beautiful forest.”

The backyard, which was formerly a lawn, in bloom.
The backyard, which was formerly a lawn, in bloom. (Katie Falkenberg / Los Angeles Times)

A partial list of plants used in the Gales-Fields gardens:

Acacia farnesiana, or ‘Sierra Sweet’

Aloe ‘Fairy Pink’

Arctotis ‘Pumpkin Pie’

Celosia intenz and argentea

Cercis canadensis, or ‘Forest Pansy’

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Chilopsis linearis, or ‘Lucretia Hamilton’

Cistanthe grandiflora, or ‘Jazz Time’

Cistus x pulverulentus, or ‘Sunset’

Dasylirion wheeleri

Eremophila racemosa

Fuchsia thymifolia

Grevillea ‘Bonfire,’ ‘Moonlight’ and grevillea paniculata

Hakea nodosa

Helictotrichon semp., or ‘Sapphire’

Hesperaloe parviflora, ‘Breaklights;’ parviflora yellow, ‘Pink Parade’

Juncus phaeocephalus

Lavandula ‘Regal Splendor’

Leucadendron ‘Red Eye,’ Leucadendron salignum, ‘Silvan Red,’

Maytenus phyllanthoides

Melampodium leucanthum

Myoporum montanum

Penstemon ‘Garnet,’ Penstemon ambiguus, ‘Shadow Mountain’

Perovskia atriplicifolia ‘Little Spire,’

Pimelea ‘Snow Clouds’

Prosopis ‘Hybrid Phoenix’

Rhamnus californica ‘Mound San Bruno’

Rudbeckia ‘Black Eyed Susan’

Salvia chamaedryoides, Salvia greggii ‘Red,’ Salvia greggii ‘Sierra Linda,’ Salvia guarantica ‘Black & Blue’

Santolina neapolitana ‘Lemon Queen’

Verbena rigida

Show us your garden makeover

We're highlighting yards and gardens that go from heavy water users to thrifty water sippers. If you've given your yard a drought-tolerant makeover, send "before" and "after" pictures to home@latimes.com. We may include your yard in an upcoming Saturday section.

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