No Lawn in California Landscaping? Change is Good

Lose the lawn? No problem. More and more people are getting on board with lawn-less gardens in California. Of course, historically low rainfall and state mandated water conservation are the reason for the change of heart for many people. But losing the lawn can make room for re-thinking what you want in your landscape to begin with.

One of my favorite no-lawn front yards was designed for a client who lives in a typical suburban house,  in Santa Cruz County, California. She felt very exposed from multiple angles due to her corner lot and wanted some privacy in the front yard, while creating a space for flowers and seasonal interest and a habitat for birds.


water wise lavender

California’s current drought creates a good reason to re-think the front yard. (Albright-Souza Garden Design)


She wanted my help with the design, but she already had a very long wish list of plants and a very specific preference for colors. There needed to be the perfect shade of not-quite-blue-not-quite-lavender, combined with a very specific shade of peach that was not-too-pink-and-not-too-orange. Luckily…I knew just what she meant and I was up for the challenge.


water wise morning glory

There are many beautiful plants to choose from that can survive on low water. (Albright-SouzaGarden Design)


The  concept design began the process of thinking about where plantings would be. A good design is really as much about composition and use of space as it is about specific plants or materials. Those specifics come second in the process.  After measuring her site I created a concept drawing that called for a center island-bed within a simple clearing. This would provide a beautiful view from the front window but be screened from the street with taller mixed shrubs. Additional paths were added to create access from the front walk as well as a side gate. The key was to be a low seating wall that curved around the courtyard and defined the space while bringing a sense of order to the other-wise wild-looking plantings that she had requested.


Albright-Souza water wise design

A landscape design begins with a concept and adapts to reality as needed. (Albright-Souza Garden Design)


As sometimes happens, the budget ended up nixing the wall and paver surface for the paths. No problem. The composition would still work with a very simple budget-friendly decomposed granite surface for the courtyard and instead of the wall, we substituted an arc of dwarf Myrtle that would get pruned tighter than the other plants and create a frame and contrast for the softer plantings.


water wise new planting

The newly planted design shows the line of dwarf Myrtle that replaces the original seating wall idea. The chartreuse Coleonema is young and small. (Albright-Souza Garden Design)


The garden has been in the ground now for 6 years. There has probably been more pruning than she expected, due to the exuberance of certain plants and the density of the combinations. As with every garden, there have been surprising successes and some plants that didn’t meet expectations. Seasonal editing is always useful and some plants fill in quickly, then go on their way after serving their purpose for a few years.


water wise landscape

As the landscape matures, the myrtle fills out and contrasts with the line of lavender. You barely miss the wall idea. The Coleonema fills in the island area along with the weeping Cherry tree. (Albright-Souza Garden Design)


While she didn’t originally create the garden for low-water use, the choices of most plants, and the early good care, have given her a garden that should weather the drought quite successfully. Even roses, when chosen well and settled in, can get by on very little water, while the back-bone of myrtle and lavender are excellent choices for drought tolerance in many situations. This garden will certainly evolve, as time and need dictate, but continue to provide beauty throughout the seasons.

– As with all gardens, and life in general, the only constant is change-


water wise lavender hedge

Lavender, in full bloom, fills this no-lawn garden with fragrance and color. ‘Sally Holmes’ roses create a lovely background. Design and photo by Albright-Souza Garden Design.


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Categories: Landscape Design


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4 Comments on “No Lawn in California Landscaping? Change is Good”

  1. May 25, 2015 at 1:29 am #

    Bare feet on soft grass–I always thought it a fundamental joy of gardens. Let me have a few square feet of lawn please. 🙂

    • May 30, 2015 at 1:51 am #

      It is a classic of English-style gardening…but sometimes it’s good to think “outside the lawn”. Thanks for your perspective Ed.

      • May 30, 2015 at 6:36 am #

        Myself, I’ve seen families all over the world along the Tropic of Cancer seek out that soft grass and the shade–all part of a family day outdoors–my two cents. 🙂

  2. July 12, 2015 at 9:00 am #

    Joy I so enjoyed your blog, the project in Santa Cruz on your blog was laid out in color sketch and presented artfully and professionally. Form and with function. Your ultimate completed project is just lovely great to see especially over a span of time a beautiful and successful landscape. Its a rare situation when a client keeps up a yard in a professional manor.
    Espalier part is very interesting to me I always hope for a perfect world where I actually get to that summer pruning accomplished and with espaliers as you so eloquently explain it makes a huge difference to future growth habit.

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