Exhibit shows gardeners how to be water wise

COSTA MESA — A butterfly fluttered briefly above a lush red bloom bursting from atop a thorny succulent, before flying off toward dozens of other blossoms hidden in a small corner of the Orange County Fair.

Various hummingbirds and bees were attracted to the red, yellow and orange flowering plants in the Water Wise Demonstration Garden, sponsored by the Mesa Consolidated Water District.

District officials said this type of garden uses three-fourths less water than a typical lawn in water-challenged Southern California.

"The most common misconception people have about water-wise gardens is that they think of them as rock or mulch," said Barry Carlson, Mesa Water conservation and resource efficiency expert and customer service manager.

"The key with getting color in a California-friendly garden is to plant seasonally," added Carlson, who tends his own 400-square-foot, water-wise garden at home.

The fair's 1,000-square-foot garden has 15 species of plants, such as autumn sage, butterfly weed, dwarf birds of paradise and other shrubs.

Carlson, who teaches free water conservation and California-friendly gardening classes at Mesa Water, designed the landscaped plot in part with local company Landscape Designs by Vivien to showcase elements such as which species thrive in local arid soils, planning for mature plant growth and efficient watering methods.

Demonstrations will be held at the Centennial Farm on Friday, Sunday and Aug. 10. Times are listed on the fair schedule of events at Mesa Water's website.

"Within Mesa Water's primary goal of providing safe and reliable water to our customers, water-use efficiency programs are one way to ensure perpetual water supply reliability," said Fred Bockmiller, president of Mesa Water's board of directors.

A typical local grass lawn uses about 30 gallons of water per square foot per year, but can use up to 60 gallons with an old or inefficient watering system, Carlson said.

A well-designed, water-wise landscape requires a little more than seven gallons per year, which brings about an annual savings of $85 for residents with an efficient watering system for a typical 1,000 square-foot lawn, he said.

The gardens also require very little tending, which cuts back on landscaping and gardening bills, he added.

But the real value of the gardens isn't measured in dollars.

"There's the aesthetics of it, of course, but it's mostly knowing that what I put in the ground has significantly reduced my own carbon footprint," Carlson said. "I know that a gardener does not need to come over with a gas-powered weed trimmer or lawn mower to tend it."

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