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Home highlight: great color is key

In an effort to destroy the misconception that all drought tolerant gardens have to be “deserty”, colorless, and full of tacky 1970’s lava rock, I am going to start a home highlight series showing off great local drought tolerant gardens. I’ll try to pack the series full of photos and great ideas for personalizing your xeriscape garden.The first in the series is a wonderful front garden in Northpark.

This garden is artful for so many reasons that it is difficult to find one to point out, so I’ll chose color. Many of the plantings were chosen for unusual foliage color: burgundy, ice blue, variegated, orange. The right and left sides of the yard are carefully balanced so that the burgundy/purple from the smoke tree on the right shows up in the colorful prickly pear cactus on the left. It is repeated again in the purple hopseed bush and the Tradescantia.

Another wonderful element in this garden is the use of detail: note how one stone in the dry streambed has the word “imagine” carved into it.

Sage Outdoor Designs is a San Diego landscape design firm. Kate
Wiseman, the Principal, has been a San Diego landscape designer
for the past ten years. Find out more at

Small fountains for dry gardens

Lately fountains have been getting a bad reputation as water guzzlers, but a small fountain can add life, sound, and movement to a garden while losing very little water to evaporation. This is especially true if the recirculation basin is underground as the exposed surface area of the water is quite small. Here are a few small fountains we love:

We love this small precast concrete fountain by Charles Swanson Fountains because of its clean lines, vibrant color and modern aesthetic.

These natural carved granite fountains by Stone Forest are carved locally in a large variety of shapes and sizes. They come in a range of very rustic to very contemporary designs.

Sage Outdoor Designs is a San Diego landscape design firm. Kate
Wiseman, the Principal, has been a San Diego landscape designer
for the past ten years. Find out more at

What to replace your lawn with

We liked this article from Earth Easy so much, we wanted to publish it in its entirety:

What to replace the lawn with

A good place to start is with foundation plantings. They can be expanded in width and include ground covers, xeriscape plantings, perennial flower beds, and tiered shrub plantings. Soil depth of 12 – 18″ is best for larger shrub plantings.

ground covers
These are plants which spread across the ground but do not grow tall, so no cutting is required. Areas planted in groundcover need little to no maintenance. Ground covers are usually chosen for texture, density and how well they spread and choke out the weeds. They enhance the soil by acting as a mulch, and some groundcovers are nitrogen-fixing.
– many varieties are available, including flowering groundcovers which offer color and add emphasis to the seasons.
– although groundcovers are usually perennials and evergreens, annuals make excellent groundcovers as well, but do require more work each spring.
– during the first year, new plantings of groundcover will require weeding and mulching, but once established, little care is needed.
– groundcovers usually need an edge barrier to contain them.
– not as durable as grass for high traffic areas.
– your garden center can recommend local groundcover varieties and their characteristics.
– visit Eartheasy’s page for more information about the use of ground covers.

deciduous shrubs
The most common method for reducing lawn size is to replace the turf with beds of perennial shrubs, often bordered with flowers. Shrubs can be expensive, but using local varieties can be very inexpensive (or free), and local species will be easiest to grow and encounter fewer disease problems. Local species also provide food, in many cases, for local wildlife species. Deciduous shrubs:
– give seasonal color and texture to the landscape.
have few serious insect or disease problems.
– tolerate difficult growing conditions better than most ornamentals.
– many grow rapidly and may require some yearly pruning. Pruning is done just after the shrub flowers, regardless of the time of year.
– tiered plantings may allow passive cooling in summer while letting in light in winter.
– visit Eartheasy’s page for more information about planting with shrubs.

The term ‘xeriscape’ refers to drought-tolerant landscaping. Originally developed for areas with severe water restrictions, this method of landscaping is becoming widely popular because water conservation has become more of an issue for homeowners in many parts of the country. Xeriscapes do not have a single look – almost any landscaping style can be achieved. Visit Eartheasy’s page on Xeriscaping to learn more about how this method can benefit your landscape.

Permanent mulches, such as bark chips and gravel, can be used to replace lawn under trees and areas not to be planted in shrubs. (Mulches which biodegrade quickly, such as leaves, sawdust, seaweed, grass clippings are not suited for this purpose.) Mulches such as bark chips and gravel:
– require landscaping cloth to be placed on the bare soil; the mulch is then added on top.
– may require some weeding. Weeds can sprout from small pockets of soil which accumulate on the mulch. If the weed root goes through the groundcloth, be sure to water the weed before pulling. This makes it easier to pull and reduces the damage to the groundcloth. Some people use hot water to killl weeds which poke through gravel mulch, however this should not be done if tree roots are directly below the groundcloth.

* photo is of the Freymiller garden in Rancho Santa Fe (It was not designed by Sage Outdoor Designs but we highly encourage this method of drought tolerant design)

Sage Outdoor Designs is a San Diego landscape design firm. Kate
Wiseman, the Principal, has been a San Diego landscape designer
for the past ten years. Find out more at

Mandatory water cuts make xeriscaping more appealing

The City of San Diego will begin enforcing its new water conservation policy today. The policy has left a lot of people either confused or completely in the dark so here is the cliffs notes version:

  • residents in odd-numbered houses can water their lawns on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays
  • Even-numbered houses would be permitted to irrigate Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays
  • Businesses, condos, apartments and homeowners associations would be allowed to water on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

On your designated day, spray irrigation systems can be on for 10 minutes before 10 am or after 6pm (at Kate Presents, we like 6-8am waterings because it cuts down on evaporation but also reduces the mildew and fungus problems you can get watering at night).

But the good news is: low water use irrigation systems like soaker hoses and drip irrigation are exempt! That means all of us who are already saving water will not be punished for being ahead of the curve.

And yes, the City does plan to enforce the new regulations. They have hired 10 water enforcement agents to patrol the city looking for water hogs. 30 minutes a week will push many lawns right to edge, so if you are in a hot or dry area, consider taking out your lawn (yep, we do have a previous posting about how to go about doing just that).

Sage Outdoor Designs is a San Diego landscape design firm. Kate
Wiseman, the Principal, has been a San Diego landscape designer
for the past ten years. Find out more at

What makes a good dry streambed?

Dry riverbeds can be a very ornamental addition to a low water use garden, or they can be horribly ugly! Here are a few things to think about when planning a dry riverbed:

This first image is an actual dry stream. Instinctively, we know when we are looking at something designed by nature, but what are we actually seeing here? Paying attention to nature can make all the difference between a dry streambed that looks awful and one that increases the curb appeal of your home.

1) Streams happen at low spots because that is how water flows. Because of this, your streambed needs to be carved out in a gentle “u” shape. This sounds obvious but is the most overlooked element of a well designed dry riverbed.

2) Water sculpts real streams. In times when the stream is high, it carves away at the streambank, leaving behind larger boulders that are carved into the banks, not placed next to them!

3) As the water flow lessens through the spring, the heavier cobbles fall out of the flow, getting deposited towards the outside of the streambed while the middle of the stream is still flowing. As this continues, the middle of the stream becomes a pattern of smaller cobbles and gravel. A common mistake is only using one size of smaller material for the center of the stream.

Here are a few examples, some better than others:

This is a pretty high quality artificial streambed. The side boulders are fairly artistically arranged and they have used varying sizes of cobbles in the stream. It has the “u” shape and this allows for the small bridge.

This one is what the industry referrs to as a necklace because the boulders are strung along the edges without any breaks. Natural streams do not do this. Also, the coble in the center is all large an the same size.

This stream is not bad but a few small changes would have made it significantly more natural: a deeper dug out “u” shape and more rounded boulders. Boulders along a stream have been eroded by the water so they have sinuous soft shapes, not hard edges.

This dry river does a few odd things. It is not dug out at all so it looks like the gravel is scattered on the ground like a pathway. The boulders are quite angular and they have created little dams using ledgestones, which don’t look at all like something a stream would naturally do since ledgestones are very angular and not at all weathered looking. At least it isn’t a necklace, and the accompanying plantings are quite nice.

Sage Outdoor Designs is a San Diego landscape design firm. Kate
Wiseman, the Principal, has been a San Diego landscape designer
for the past ten years. Find out more at