We were pleasantly surprised to get a call from Christie Garrett, owner of the Californian a nursing home in Pasadena. She told us she wanted to remove the lawn in front of the building on Bellefontaine, which had marathon lawn for decades and install a native and Mediterranean drought-tolerant garden that would attract birds, butterflies other beneficial insects.
First we began with taking out the water hungry azaleas, camellias and removed the lawn, and covered the dirt with layers of cardboard, soil and mulch, to help suppress the growth of grass and weeds, without the use of chemicals. We created berms and swales and created a dry arroyo with local boulders to create a watershed friendly landscape. There is also a decomposed granite path with a broken concrete border and a variety of native and Mediterranean grasses perennials, and a lovely specimen Palo Verde (Cercidium microphyllum) tree.
Christie says it best when we asked her why she wanted to remove over 2,900 square feet of grass in her recent letter to us:
I have had a passion for wild gardens for quite awhile. And so the newest “experiment” in gardening may not make every neighbor happy. Some may cry out for the comfort of the ordinary, the smooth and green of Marathon lawn, a few seasonal flowers and ubiquitous Raphiolepsis shrub or ivy… but the look of a normal suburban front yard takes lots and lots of water. The upkeep also takes time, gas, fertilizer, and money to hire gardeners. The random use of water will be a memory in our near future. Water will become more and more precious.
Some people may quizzically ask whether our property is abandoned. It looks pretty “spotty” at the moment. However, I know that what happens when you plant natives and grasses, add some rocks, and a bit of water to a landscape can be absolute magic. Give it a season or two to grow roots into the ground, let the lizards sun on the rocks and butterflies make it home. A bird might fly over and decide to stop for a bite to eat.
Pretty soon you get people taking pictures, discussing the pros and cons of “to mow or not to mow”. Grandchildren get to run and hide in the grass, roll in the thyme, inspect the caterpillars and watch them grow. All this sort of thing is what the real world was like when I grew up. There were still vacant lots and whole fields to explore, bluebelly lizards to catch, wooly bear caterpillars to hold.
Our idea is that at the Californian, what we would like to see if we can’t bring a miniature version of that natural wildness back. Maybe one of the residents will look out the window and see a hummingbird sipping at a native fuscia. Another might want to spend and afternoon in the sun, watching a grandchild play on the rocks of the dry streambed.
I knew of La Loma Development Company from their beautiful display garden at the 2009 LA County Garden show. They met with me on the property to discuss what I wanted, then took my ideas and flew with them. Admittedly, I was worried when they first tore out the grass and started digging, and digging, and digging some more. In the end, the vision that was turned into a garden was even more than what I had imagined. They did a very professional job, from installing a new drip irrigation system to calming my fears (I tend to be a worrywort) about keeping the weeds in control while the garden matures. And… the dry streambed they created…has actually had rainwater running thru it from the recent rains!
I couldn’t be happier!
The Californian Convalescent Hospital
Pasadena, CA 91105