In “Water-Wise Gardens,” four Toluca Lake homeowners — Amber Denker, Nan Christian, Susanne and Ken Hayes — gave us a tour of their drought-tolerant yards. Here, they share further insights gained from their gardening experience.
The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power’s turf replacement program “totally” motivated Denker to pull out her lawn. The rebates of $2 per square foot are available only in certain parts of the county. Check the “Save the Drop” website for more information.
To figure out her landscape, “I would talk to people like Shelley Jennings at Worldwide Exotics who has a love of plants and a passion and I would ask her her opinion,” says Denker, who also ventured up to the Australian Native Planets nursery in Ventura County. “I would talk to the people who are plant lovers and get feedback and ask, ‘What works for you?’”
“Shelley, has traveled the world and brings back plants from South Africa, Australia, Mexico, etc. She chooses places that have the same climate as us and sells them at wholesale prices,” Denker says.
Denker also credits her gardener and mason with helping fulfill her vision:
- Jaime Dominguez, gardener (Valley Glen): (818) 267-9366
- Dino Herrera, mason (Monrovia): (626) 357-9521
Christian offers these suggestions to aspiring drought-tolerant gardeners:
- Do a lot of research.
- Get pictures. Drive around the neighborhood; see what others have done.
- Find somebody reliable.
- Go to gardening talks. The Toluca Lake Garden Club gets speakers, she says.
One of Christian’s favorite shops for pottery, cactuses and seminars is Jackalope Pottery & Plants in North Hollywood.
Susanne and Ken Hayes
If you’re trying to kill your grass so that you can start a drought-tolerant garden, Susanne Hayes says, don’t cover it with plastic.
Instead, use cardboard. It prevents the grass from getting any light but allows the soil to “still breathe and get moisture. After a while, the cardboard disintegrates and becomes part of the recycle stuff,” Susanne says. “This way you also avoid using Roundup [weed killer], which puts more chemicals into the ground and goes into the watershed.”
Susanne and her husband, Ken, took advantage of free mulch and wood chips offered by the city of Los Angeles at its Griffith Park composting facility. “They used to offer to bring it out to your house. But because of the [2017 Creek] Fire, they lost some mulching equipment and trucks,” she says.
The mulch is processed “with poop from the [Los Angeles] zoo. It’s very organic, and it stinks,” Susanne adds.
Still, “it’s a great value,” Ken says. The city processes what it gets from the green bins and from the trees they have to cut down from Griffith Park, he says. “They remove all the plastic bags. What you end up getting is pretty clean, ready to put on your garden. As much as you’re able to shovel and load up your car, you can take.”
Other locations for mulch are available throughout the county.
The Hayeses say they could have used some help with their yard. A professional gardener could have laid out the yard and given ideas as to how to plant certain plants and which should be in front of other plants, Susanne says. “That’s where I made a couple of mistakes. I tried to make sure the height of certain plants wouldn’t be hidden by others. A professional gardener could help with that and also create some centers of focus.”
“Get someone with expertise in drought tolerance,” Ken says. “That would be my best advice.” But, he adds, “Make sure they don’t oversell you on too many plants,” because they look sparse in the beginning but do grow out.
Also, try to measure your water usage before you start, he says. “Before we started all this, I went around the house and made sure everything was turned off. I ran our sprinklers like we normally do and then checked the meter, before and after, to see how much water we used in a typical watering cycle for our garden, so I had a sense of how much water we use.” The new yard has reduced their water usage by 20%.
One more tip from Susanne: Write down the names of the plants you put in, because you will forget!
Susanne bought some of her drought-tolerant plants at Sego Nursery in Valley Village. “It’s like a treasure trove. It has so many different plants that you don’t find at Lowe’s. I probably got a few plants at Lowe’s, too,” she says.
The Theodore Payne Foundation for Wild Flowers and Native Plants in Sun Valley is another great resource, with gardening classes and a full-service native plant nursery, seed room, bookstore, art gallery, demonstration gardens and hiking trails.