The Coastal Gardener: A garden can be both beautiful, sustainable

One doesn’t have to be a great gardener to have a great garden.

In your wandering and observations all of you have come upon great gardens.

I divide great gardens into two groups; those that were bought and those that were built. Make no mistake, a great garden can be bought. There are a handful of truly amazing landscape designers and contractors here in Southern California who, with the proper amount of resources, can serve up not just a good garden, but a world-class garden.

Likewise, all of you have seen great gardens that were more labors of love than the product of a hefty checkbook, these were created by a rare devotion to the garden combined with almost constant adjustments and tinkering.


Lots of money certainly doesn’t equate to a great garden any more than lots of love and tinkering does. But occasionally, truly superb gardens can arise from either approach.

When I look at a garden I now look more deeply into it than I did in the past. I enjoy the present, but I also linger for a moment upon its origins. I especially ponder its future. Building a great garden for the moment is a nice achievement, but a garden that will endure is an extraordinary achievement.

How will the garden be maintained? What will be the cost of this maintenance, both in terms of time, money and the impact upon our natural resources?

These are questions that must now be included when assessing a great garden. A sustainable garden minimizes negative impacts and maximizes positive ones. It might thrive on rainwater and it might keep plant clippings and green waste on site. It likely celebrates its location on the planet. It certainly operates in harmony with both the seasons and the climate in which it grows. It should require a minimum amount of outside products and resources to sustain it.


The conventional, suburban landscape, much like those up and down your street, almost always equates to “work” because it is inherently unmaintainable, whereas a sustainable California Friendly garden is just the opposite. Stability, or I’ll call it “maintainability” can be built into the design of the garden, but it requires some out of-the-box thinking.

In fact, most of what the landscape industry and homeowners call “maintenance” is unnecessary, a by-product of poor design.

Consider most lawns; a green area that is fertilized and watered incessantly — to make it grow. When it does, we pay people to come cut it off, then fertilize it so it will grow again, and come back and cut it again. Lots of “work.”

Consider plant size. All plants grow every day of their lives — there are no exceptions. Plants don’t grow for a while, like children, then one year just stop. Planting shrubs that are genetically programmed to become ten feet, but planted in a four-foot space creates “work,” an ultimately unmaintainable situation. More “work.”

Why do we bring our green clippings to the curb every week, then buy bags of amendment to bring back into the garden? Why do we spray herbicides on weeds when a layer of mulch would be more effective? Why do we work so hard?

Several area gardeners have taken the challenge to create a great garden, a garden that is not only beautiful, but sustainable and connected to our natural resources, especially water. Some of these homeowners have entered their gardens into this year’s California Friendly Garden Contest.

I encourage each of you to consider gardening in a similar manner and to take a closer look at some of the exceptional gardens in this year’s contest.

By visiting you can see each of this year’s entries into the competition. While looking through the pictures you will become inspired and you will have the opportunity to cast a vote for your favorite garden.


Judges will visit the top ten vote getters, leading up to next month’s announcement of the best garden in Orange County. Voting closes this Sunday, so don’t delay.

If you want to experience a sustainable garden up close, you are invited to join myself, Wendy Proud and others on Saturday, May 28, as we visit a couple of these progressive gardens. We will drive/carpool to a couple of these California Friendly gardens and experience first-hand some of the concepts of a sustainable, resource efficient garden. We will begin at 9 a.m. from Corona del Mar, and more details can be found at the same website.

You don’t have to be a great gardener, just a smart one, to have a California Friendly Garden.

RON VANDERHOFF is the nursery manager at Roger’s Gardens, Corona del Mar.

Ask Ron

Question: I have children and pets and I want to garden with safe products that won’t add poisons around the house. Is Roundup organic and safe to use as a weed spray?

—Florence, Costa Mesa


Answer: Roundup is not an organic product.

For the past 30 years Roundup (glyphosate) has been wildly popular both with home gardeners and in commercial agriculture.

Long thought to be safe both to humans and the environment there are now growing concerns among some leading scientists about Roundup, including such wide ranging issues as crop nutrient deficiencies, cattle infertility and recently the spread of a new plant pathogen.

Every gardener will need to make their own decision about their use of Roundup, Florence.

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.