The Coastal Gardner: Hear my story of going California friendly

I'm convinced gardeners love the outdoors, nature and the Earth more than most people. That's why they garden, to be closer to nature.

So when it's time to make decisions about the plants to place into their gardens, these folks are increasingly weighing things like water needs and climate suitability. Gardeners are asking good questions and they're reading the fine print on fertilizer labels, soil amendments and pest controls. Indeed, gardeners are in touch with nature and they want their gardens to contribute to the health of the planet, purifying our air and water, supporting pollinators, birds and wildlife, and cooling the environment.

When it comes to being a good citizen of this planet, gardeners really do want to do the right thing. But often, gardening can become complicated and confusing. So many plants, so many technical details. Gardeners sometimes just don't know what the right thing is.

On Feb. 5, join me at the Newport Coast Community Center for a one-hour presentation, "Creating a California Friendly Garden." During the program, I will use my own home garden as a way to illustrate a variety of California Friendly techniques and design ideas. This illustrated presentation will review the steps that I took in my small suburban garden, from removing the lawn, changing the irrigation and preparing the soil, to the design, the plant communities created and my planting techniques.

If you're not sure what a California-friendly garden is, it is a garden that fits Southern California. It is a garden that does not rely on excessive artificial support, like copious amounts of water, nutrition or even a gardener's time and energy. In turn, a California-friendly garden is one that works with the environment around it; it is not polluting, contributing excessive waste or spreading invasive plants.

The story of the transformation of my typical suburban garden into a California-friendly version is one that I hope will inspire you in your own garden and perhaps give you some ideas toward what the right thing might be.

In most ways, my story may be similar to your own. Three years ago I moved to a new house with a landscape already in place. The house was 30 years old, and the landscape was typical — one that you'll see in almost any suburban neighborhood, one that you may even have yourself. It was a collection of lawns, shrubs, trees and a few flowers and potted plants. The standard irrigation system was run by a timer and, of course, a gardener visited once each week for a rather predictable routine.

Having just bought the house, I was out of money. Because I work 60 hours a week and am seldom home, even on my non-work days, I was also out of time.

No money and no time. Sound familiar?

During the presentation, I'll share my story of how I went about installing a low-water, low-maintenance and low-resource garden. I dealt with the lawn, the irrigation, the soil, the green waste, the runoff, the boring plants and lots more. There were some successes and a few failures. I ended up with a garden of diversity, filled with interesting plants, succulents, native plants, tropicals, potted plants, lots of birds and butterflies — even vegetables and fruits. It's now a California-friendly garden of modest water use. It is resource-efficient, light-maintenance and inexpensive.

Join horticulturist Wendy Proud and myself at the Newport Coast Community Center, 6401 San Joaquin Hills Drive, at the intersection of Newport Coast Drive. The event is free, open to the public and part of our year-long California-friendly gardening program that in future will include visits to local home gardens, environmental nature centers, native plant gardens and even a University of California horticultural research facility here in Orange County.

If you already have a California-friendly garden, you should enter it in the California Friendly Gardening Contest, now in its fifth year. The contest recognizes and rewards those Orange County gardens that are not only beautiful, but sustainable, resource-efficient and appropriate for our climate. Entry is simple and free and winners receive cash prizes. The contest is organized and supported by a coalition of public agencies, environmental groups and green industry businesses in an effort to encourage beautiful, but low resource and sustainable gardens. To enter or learn more, visit

RON VANDERHOFF is the Nursery Manager at Roger's Gardens, Corona del Mar.

Ask Ron

Question: One of my small-potted bougainvilleas lost all of its leaves recently, while two others not far away still have theirs. They're watered the same and get the same care. What's up?

— Sheryl, Fountain Valley

Answer: Bougainvilleas are tropical plants and have a low tolerance to cold weather. The cold nights of December have caused it to defoliate, a fairly common occurrence with bougainvillea. Individual plants will react differently, sometimes due to slight difference in the microclimates around the plants. Just be patient, don't overwater and it will leaf back out in a month or two.

ASK RON your toughest gardening questions, and the expert nursery staff at Roger's Gardens will come up with an answer. Please include your name, phone number and city, and limit queries to 30 words or fewer. E-mail, or write to Plant Talk at Roger's Gardens, 2301 San Joaquin Hills Road, Corona del Mar, CA 92625.

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