California drought inspires playful small space garden

California drought inspires playful small space garden
In Sierra Madre, artificial turf is mixed with concrete pavers for a checkerboard design that cuts water use. (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

Peg Rahn loves her Sierra Madre garden but is taking the drought — and the city's mandate to reduce water consumption by 30% — seriously.

So when it came time to update her side yard, she decided to do what made sense given California's crippling lack of water.


"I installed a fake lawn," Rahn said.

She did not, however, put in dull house-to-fence artificial turf.

The food writer chose instead to pair 2-inch-high artificial turf by Global Syn-Turf with concrete pavers from Home Depot.

"I liked the idea of a checkerboard pattern," Rahn said. "Peppered with a Moroccan theme, I thought it made it more interesting. I love it because I can see it from my living room."

Indeed, the newly outfitted patio has the playful, exotic feel of Moroccan design with a graphic pattern and bold splashes of color. In addition, Rahn said the turf is pet-friendly for her dog, Mickie, and can handle the harsh heat and full sun — something that had previously made sustaining plants difficult.

After the yard was leveled, Rahn reused the existing rocks from what had been a riverbed feature to create a 3-foot wall that  "helps to delineate things," she said. The wall is framed by a "borrowed landscape" composed of a neighbor's citrus trees.

Sun Valley landscape design firm Pacific Outdoor Living installed the turf and pavers over two days at a price of $2,950.

Rahn then added colorful umbrellas for shade, oversized pots filled with citrus plants, drought-tolerant succulents and a circulating wall fountain for auditory pleasure.

The side yard now feels like a separate garden room with comfortable seating on opposite ends.  "You can sit at either end depending on where the sun is shining," Rahn said.

And while she still keeps a "brownish" patch of lawn for her grandchildren, Rahn said she is committed to using less water.

"I'm trying to have a drought-tolerant landscape. This garden seemed like a good thing to do."

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