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Case Study: Virtual LA Garden Tour

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On June 15, 2006, Mike and Debbie Evans visited a demonstration garden in Santa Monica called the Garden/garden. In 2004, two gardens were planted side by side by the City of Santa Monica and MWD on the campus of Santa Monica City College. One of the gardens, landscaped entirely with California native plants and designed to capitalize on water retention and run-off reduction, demonstrates how attractive and efficient native plants can be in a landscaped setting. Next to it is a ‘traditional’ garden, planted with a standard lawn and some shrubs. This garden illustrates, by comparison, how inefficient water use can be in a traditional garden setting. After seeing those two, we found a couple of other native gardens in the area. See what we saw that day: View our slideshow (virtual tour) of the gardens!

More about the gardens

The native portion of the Garden/garden provides the landscape for the School Relations Outreach Office at SMCC. Beautifully landscaped and designed with many ‘under the surface’ features that capture and use rainwater, the native garden is vibrant and colorful with long-lived shrubs that truly use a fraction of the water used by the conventional garden next to it, (they have a posted comparative water use chart that is jaw dropping.) The traditional garden provides the landscape for the Campus Police Department. It is (surprise!) sterile and rather boring, compared to the colors, dynamic shapes, and striking plants featured in the native garden. Both offices are converted from homes, so the gardens resemble residential front yards.

Other Gardens

While visiting the Garden/garden, we discovered that the nearby Office for Environmental Studies is also landscaped entirely with native plants. Not planted solely for education, (as no signage or information is posted), this garden appears to have been planted as matter of practicality. No irrigation system could be found in this garden and pruning appears to be limited. Even with low maintenance requirements, the plants in the garden are colorful and healthy. Creating a garden that takes care of itself seems to be the guiding principle for the design of this garden, and as far as we could tell, the plants are doing well.

Since we were in the area of Santa Monica for the day, we were invited by one of our Tree of Life amigos to visit the O’Neill residence in Brentwood. The front yard of this lovely Spanish-style home (who’s famous guest house was featured in the LA Times that very day!), is also landscaped with native plants. Planted in phases about ten years ago, all of the plants are fully grown and established today. As a garden featuring many natives, this garden uses less water and requires less maintenance than traditional gardens. However, unlike the Environmental Studies garden, this garden is diligently maintained. The maintenance practices for the O’Neill garden shows off the beauty of each individual native plant as well as allowing one to appreciate how the plants together compose a beautiful image. The O’Neill garden looks extremely attractive and blends in nicely with the other more traditional Brentwood gardens surrounding it.

We had a lot of fun that day – taking pictures, seeing native plants in the urban setting, and simply enjoying some time outdoors. As always, we would like to encourage you to do the same. Get out and see some gardens, get inspired by what other people are doing and never stop learning!

Some thoughts on the Garden/garden

Having these gardens planted next to each other certainly offers a unique opportunity to compare a native garden to a traditional garden on many levels.

Aesthetics. The native garden offers many authentic colors, shapes, levels, textures, and smells that work together to create an attractive site. While the traditional garden does have ‘color’ (the border of impatiens), the color it offers appears plastic and inauthentic – it stands out like a bad note in a song.

Design. The design of the traditional garden here reflects an absolute lack of imagination and innovation. This lack of creativity has become such a regular part of our lives the landscape becomes invisible. As a result, a native garden not only offers an opportunity for creativity, but compared to the alternative, it becomes a showcase worth raving about!

Habitat. The constant mowing, watering and trimming in a traditional garden greatly discourages any wildlife from actually dwelling in the landscape. A bird or two may flit by in the traditional garden, but in the native garden, birds, butterflies and lizards find the plants they desire to dwell with and the limited maintenance offers the protection they need.

Maintenance. For this native garden, maintenance is particularly low. The whole garden is designed for water saving. While the native plants chosen are efficient because they require little water, this garden also has built in percolation bins and storm water caches, which retain and use natural rainfall most efficiently. The only maintenance required is maintaining the look of the plants, through pruning a few times a year and a limited amount of supplemental water. In the traditional garden, we know what to expect. Watering once or every other day, mowing a couple of times a month, and constant pruning and hedging.

Pollution. Given that native plants survive on less water and are less prone to disease, they require less, (if any), fertilizers and pesticides. Lawns often do benefit from fertilizers and some traditional shrubs are more prone to disease. In requiring extra water, which allows water to run-off, traditional gardens can leach all of those nasty chemicals into our waterways and, straight to our beaches.