Califonia Bountiful

Making the switch

May/June 2009 California Country magazine

Couple swaps grassy lawn for low-maintenance landscape.

Drought-tolerant and low-maintenance: When my wife and I decided to re-landscape our front yard last spring, both those terms appealed to us.

Our reasons were both civic-minded and self-interested.

We know that as California grows, all of us need to do our part to use water as efficiently as we can, and drought-tolerant landscaping plays a part in that. And, as our in-house lawn-mowing specialist left to join the Marines, we wanted to make our landscaping easier to manage.

Now, as our new front yard nears its first birthday, we’re pleased with our decision for both those reasons and for another: The yard we have now is more attractive than the one we replaced.

For many Californians, the term “drought-tolerant landscaping” brings to mind a desert-scape of cactus, rocks and sand. That’s one alternative, of course, but we found a surprising variety of colorful plants that fit the “drought-tolerant” profile.

I was particularly interested in aromatic herbs, so our yard features plenty of rosemary, lavender, sage and, for ground cover, creeping thyme. By poring through several books and Web sites devoted to native and drought-tolerant plants, my wife discovered plants that were unfamiliar to us but became highlights of our landscape, such as California fuschia, trailing lantana, penstemon and California lilac.

We also consulted the PlantRight Web site (, to make certain that we weren’t unwittingly introducing any invasive plants into our neighborhood. The PlantRight site provides recommendations for California landowners about good plant choices for five distinct regions.

Many local water agencies and gardening organizations also provide advice on installing drought-tolerant yards. If you’re considering it, take some time to walk around your neighborhood and check out other, drought-tolerant landscapes. You’ll find, as we did, that more of your neighbors are making the switch as well.

Dave Kranz is a reporter for the California Farm Bureau Federation. He can be reached at 800-698-FARM or

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