There is a growing movement to replace traditional, thirsty, fertilizer-hungry lawns with native grasses, groundcovers, and 'meadow' mixes. Here we'll explore several options for replacing your lawn and making your garden more attractive and sustainable.
Note: All zones mentioned refer to Sunset Western Garden zones.
Meadow Mixes/Ecology Lawn
The right mixture of herbs and fine fescue makes a stunning display. The benefits of such a lawn is that it is beautiful, does not require mowing or only requires some mowing (once a month in summer), increases and enhances wildlife, it takes less water, it doesn't require fertilizer, and you and your family can still walk and play on it.
Yarrow (Alchillea millefolium) Lawn (All Zones)
Yarrow forms a beautiful green mat that looks and feels very soft. If you keep it mowed regularly, it won't be able to flower, but it does make a stunning, prairie-like display in the warmer months. It remains green and lush with low-moderate foot traffic and little watering. It is a tough, versatile plant that keeps out the weeds and endures the heat.
Carex Lawns (zones 4-9, 14-24)
These are drought tolerant grasses that can look splendid all year round. Some of the grasses might go dormant in the summer without some supplemental watering, but the good news is that these mixes take about 70% less water than traditional lawns.
Light Traffic Alternate Groundcovers
Or ditch a uniform cover and opt for a beautiful mix of drought tolerant grasses, shrubs, and trees like The Aldrich Company's design here. Click on the picture for more design ideas!
In Praise of Plants
Back by popular demand! Alida Aldrich will begin teaching again this fall! Turn Your Yard into a Garden: Essential Landscape Design starts October 9, 2021 and runs for 3 weeks online, two hours each week through SBCC Extended Learning.
Whether starting from scratch or renovating an existing garden, learn how to apply essential design principles from the initial daydreaming stage to the final garden installation.
Vitamin D. Wildlife keeps its watchful eyes on newborns; leaves appear on deciduous trees, absorbing the carbon dioxide; and flowers and bulbs start to bloom everywhere!
If you don’t already have one, it’s time to buy The Sunset Western Garden Book, the must-have reference book for Santa Barbara garden enthusiasts and professionals. After 25-plus years in the industry, I still refer to it for answers.
If you’re looking for a different, garden-related book, pick up The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson. This non-fiction murder mystery centers on the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago and goes into fascinating detail about how Frederick Law Olmsted helped engineer and supervise the plantings of some about 600 acres on the fairgrounds.
Today, Olmstead is recognized as the father of American landscape architecture, who not only laid out the World’s Fair but designed New York City’s Central Park.
I turn to his ideas and philosophies to guide me whenever I begin a new project.
Prepare for Drought
Summer will surely follow spring and bring its own seasonal offerings. Due to the small amounts of rain we experienced last fall and winter, experts predict that we’ll have a serious drought this summer. We need to prepare our garden now for the summer season. Accessing enough affordable water has become a problem in the region. In general, irrigating our landscapes and gardens is a major use of residential
water in Santa Barbara, with green lawns being the thirstiest plant of all.
I’d like to propose a soul-saving alternative to some of the lawns and planting beds in your garden: a pollinator garden! As you may have read, the populations of birds, bees, and butterflies have been nearly decimated by man’s use of chemical pesticides and the loss of natural habitats. There are specific plants that these delicate, winged creatures need and desire, plants that are drought-tolerant and well-suited to our Mediterranean climate zone. These three different species thrive on many of the same plants. Of course, milkweed is a favorite of the butterflies, while the bees and the birds (especially hummingbirds) like to visit and collect pollen from salvia, penstemon, cosmos, and lavender. There are a lot of other flowering plants they love, too. Just search on the web for “pollinator plants.”
If space is a concern, then pots are the answer. A pollinator garden can be a do-good family project that will pay you back with hours of viewing pleasure. You can find many other native, pollinator-friendly plants on a stroll through our esteemed Santa Barbara Botanic Garden In the past, the garden has held an annual Spring Native Plant Sale, but this year consider combining a nature walk there with a buying trip. For the adventurous, drive to Figueroa Mountain in Santa Ynez. You should find a spectacular display of wildflowers this spring.
There’s another concern looming this summer: the potential for fires. Those of you with properties on the hillsides can find excellent information about how to create defensible space zones around your home; choose fire-resistant plants; and ember-resistant building materials at www.montecitofire.com.
Doomsday tales aside, fate has brought us to this extraordinary spot on the planet. Treat yourself by getting outside and enjoying these glorious days.
– It’s time to fertilize the garden. I use a general-purpose fertilizer mix
10-10-10 (nitrogen-phosphorous-potassium). You may have plants that require a more complex mix;
– Plant your herbs and vegetables now for fresh, yummy, dishes in the summer;
– Update the times set on your automated irrigation system.
Later, I’ll write about how to tackle your garden maintenance patrol.
If you’re a garden hobbyist (or would like to be), I’ll be teaching a course on the Essential Principles of Landscape Design through SB City College (online via Zoom) beginning May 22 for five weeks. The classes are two hours each week. In early April, you can find out more specifics by clicking here.
In 1744, Englishman Tommy Thumb wrote Pretty Song Book, which included this charming nursery rhyme familiar to us all:
Mistress Mary, quite contrary,
How does your garden grow?
With Silver Bells, And Cockle Shells,
And so my garden grows.
If you’re wondering how the grounds around your home should grow, you can rely on Alida Aldrich for answers and action. She is your garden’s best friend! Working in unison with a dedicated team she calls her “family” -Montecito designer/builder Peer Knust and landscape contractor Wyatt Talley - she is successful in beautifying natural surroundings to help make a property look and feel like home. Photos of her
work speak to her extraordinary talent.
The Aldrich Company, her landscape design firm (aldrich-landscapes.com), is founded on her knowledge and application of essential principles: consideration for the existing landscape, adherence to the precedent set by a home’s architectural style, the concept that form follows function, a focus on highlighting the five senses and establishing sustainability, in terms of green practices as well as standing the test of time.
Raised in Hancock Park, one of Los Angeles’ old established neighborhoods, Alida grew up surrounded by large estates filled with majestic gardens not that different
from the properties she designs in our area. She says she developed her sense of art from her father, film director Robert Aldrich, whose studio was responsible for such classics as The Dirty Dozen and Whatever Happened to Baby Jane.
There is no doubt that these properties, known for their stunning gardens, inspired her to take on a project that set her on course to establish her landscape design practice. “I had a friend who bought Riven Rock’s original stonemason’s cottage. It was once part of the 87-acre McCormick Estate, located at the confluence of Cold Springs and Hot Springs creeks and featured a large, two-story Mission Revival-style house of stone. He asked me to help design the gardens, which were completely overgrown. We’d remove vegetation and come across beautiful stone sculpture works that were cast off as “seconds.” We re-purposed them as pieces of art throughout the gardens. The beauty of it was creating landscaping to incorporate the magnificent oak trees that Riven Rock is noted for and make it sought after real estate. The property went from abandoned acreage with a stone workshop to a showpiece; an elegant home that people raved about. Alida’s hard work paid off, earning her a coveted Montecito Beautification award that year. “At the time, I didn’t realize the importance of it and how it would shape the next phase of my career.”
These accomplishments led Alida to work on George Washington Smith’s self-designed residence, which also housed the office for his architecture practice. She was tasked with reinvigorating the grounds of “Casa Del Greco,” contributing to the property’s reputation as a shining example of Smith’s Spanish Colonial Revival style. Since the estate’s main house and guest house were circa 1924, Alida spent time doing research to understand the original “feel” and conceptual design for the estate. She studied archival photographs at UCSB and applied her findings into the landscape blueprints. When reflecting on the results, Alida says it was “Definitely one of my proudest feathers in my cap!”
While she has worked on a number of properties with Spanish Colonial homes, Alida points out that, “I don’t have a particular style that I stick with. I’ve done historical Montecito estates, traditional gardens Mediterranean gardens, seaside gardens, tropical gardens and contemporary gardens. I borrow shapes, colors and material used in the architecture of the home - they need to match - and apply them in the plant selections and hardscapes. I incorporate basic principles of landscape design: line, form, texture, color, visual weight, proportion - all to give the homeowner a sense of place.”
Alida says her vision and passion - the fruit of her labor - are landscape projects that represent a total portrait that embraces respect for the land, local environments, ecosystems and interactions between native flora and fauna. She points out that, “The plants, birds, animals and insects are not just there for our pleasure; we share the planet with them. The whole picture is important for a sustainable garden.” She carefully selects plantings and hardscapes based on timeless appeal and longevity. She recalls “A number of clients have kept me on for overseeing quality control maintenance by conducting monthly walk throughs with gardeners. This is key for protecting the look and feel of the design. Hands-on walk throughs on a regular basis are paramount for guaranteeing integrity and sustainability.
I hold them in high regard; I can’t ask for a better professional family with which to work.”
When it’s time to relax, Alida says, “Because of how I grew up, I know all about movies; I like them all and enjoy watching them. I’m a big walker. Where else can you go for a hike in the mountains in the AM and sit on the beach at lunch? Montecito is quite an extraordinary place. There is something unique about the Fung Shui between the peaks and the sea. I’ve lived in my cottage for nearly 20 years. I love the scale, the oaks, the creek, the frogs, the rural feeling. Every day I focus on how unusual and special Montecito is. It’s peaceful, alive and vibrant; it’s a blessing.”
Harvest your basil often - the best time to do so is in the early morning. Cut off the flowering stems to keep the plant bushy. Freeze or dry the basil leaves to preserve.
Many pests also love the taste of basil. Pick off pests, or use horticultural oil, insecticidal soap or neem oil to thwart hungry garden visitors.
Water the growing plants regularly to establish their root systems. Once plants are mature, moderate to light water will suffice. Mature plants will benefit from being pruned of heavy wood each spring. Harvest sparingly from immature plants and taper off harvesting as fall approaches. Freeze or air dry the leaves/sprigs for future use.