Samuel Taylor Coleridge, the famous English poet, once wrote, “Water, water every where [sic]/ Nor any drop to drink.”
Some things never change! However, other things do, and with laws quickly changing on the use of water, keeping up a beautiful landscape for your home can seem disparaging, at best. But fear not, oh residents of Bakersfield!
We took the guesswork out of these troubling issues and spoke with local landscaping professionals and their clients to see just what can be considered as alternatives to water features, how to use existing features smartly, and what types of plants and grasses you can use as alternatives that don’t need to “drink” more than the bare minimum.
In fact, grass is one thing that had Bryan Fahsbender yearning to do something different with his backyard when he made a recent move. “The builders were responsible for putting in the front yard and maintaining it, but the backyard was on the homeowner,” he began. “I had moved to the northeast from a much larger home in the Seven Oaks, so I wanted something that would be as minimal upkeep as possible.” The yard was smaller, but it was still important to Fahsbender to make the most of it, considering he spends a lot of time out there.
But minimal upkeep wasn’t all that he had in mind: minimal water usage was also of great importance. Fortunately for Fahsbender, he was familiar with the owner of Lesaca Landscape Company, Javier Lesaca, and had faith in his work. “I asked for his advice and he put me in touch with one of his landscape architects who designed everything while using a plant list that was approved by my development.” The design included bits of artificial turf placed in areas throughout the yard and where their dog run is by the house. “I love it,” he said. “All I have to do is take my battery powered blower and blow the leaves off once a week. The dogs even love it! They’re always lying around on it and seem to enjoy it.”
In addition to the artificial turf, there were other touches that fit their requirements of minimal work and minimal water. Lesaca’s staff were sure to use mulch and planter mix, which has helped the garden (which has boxed plants, like myrtle and strawberry trees) to thrive while working with the abundance of clay that is naturally in the soil there. He also had a drip system installed to water the plants, which ensures that there is minimal wasting of water, unlike sprinklers that can cause a lot of waste. “My water bill is extremely low,” he said.
Fittingly, Lesaca, himself, recommends that people use drip irrigation to water plants for just that reason, but he also maintains that whatever system you are using, you should be certain that it is all operating efficiently. Items like smart irrigation controllers can make all the difference in your journey to efficient water usage. The next item on his list is soil. “Make sure your soil is healthy,” Lesaca emphasized. “It is crucial that it is able to hold moisture, because if the conditions of the soil are poor, the plants will stress. Mulch is also very important, because a good layer over any area throughout your planters will keep the sun from hitting the soil and drying it out. It provides a sort of blanket of insulation. If it is wood mulch, it breaks down over time and adds organic material to the soil, which is always a good thing.”
There is also a lot to be said about water features, especially if you have one already in place in your home, but want to be certain you cause as little waste as possible. “If you have an existing system, then there is most likely a pump that is plugged in, and most people will run them continuously,” he stated. “But if you do that, the water will splash outside of it and evaporate when people aren’t even home to enjoy it. When the water is moving continuously, you will incur more loss.” Lesaca suggested that the pump be put on a timer that is connected to a switch inside of the home so that you can turn it on or off as needed. Some pumps even come with remotes that you can utilize so that you can take in your waterfall or fountain while you are actually home.
Other times, a little bit of invention can go a long way. With some creativity, you can turn a gardening tragedy into a watering miracle. “Rain water harvesting is very popular where there are heavy rains, but it has also been done in town,” Lesaca detailed. “I had a customer who noticed that, when it rained, the water would drain out into the street. He decided he wanted to make a dry creek bed in his garden to serve as reservoir where the water could collect and then be used in the soil.” Naturally, this would only work when it rained, but it did help to use something that was already present and would not have been used, otherwise.
There was one point that Lesaca really wanted to drive home, and that was to prioritize what plants you can let go and which ones you should save, if it gets down to that. “You can let your lawns go, but one thing that is more important than any other plant are the trees,” he asserted. “They are the true value of landscaping, because they take years to establish. You can sacrifice other things, but make sure that the trees are saved.”
But let’s say that you decided you wanted to have something spectacular in your garden that would serve as a focal point, and you want something that would either use minimal water, or no water at all. Not a problem; local landscapers can help you use your space creatively and efficiently.
Richard Allec, owner of Enchanted Gardens Nursery, has had his share of experience in bringing such ideas to life. “There is a lot of rock landscaping that have alternative features that get away from lawns and waterfalls and the like,” he started. “You can create something that looks like a waterfall, but is dry, or create a dry riverbed.” Allec maintained that it is similar to what you would see in the desert when the water isn’t flowing. The biggest objective is to make it look as natural as possible. “It is an art,” he emphasized.
For a waterfall effect, you can start with a mound of dirt with which you can create different levels that the “water” would naturally fall off of. “It would be made exactly as if there were water running in it, only there isn’t any,” Allec explained.
Whether you decide to do that or make a dry riverbed, you want to take different pieces of blue slate that will serve as the platform on which you can place the different river rocks on, which helps to create the illusion of flowing water. Many people seem to favor lining the riverbeds with plants or large rocks. Getting rocks of varying sizes will help to fill it up and make it look more natural. Long, skinny rocks placed the right way can even give the illusion of fast moving water! “The best thing you can do is be creative,” he said. “You have to be creative.”
When you have your feature figured out, consider adding fun additions, like a perennial garden with rock pathways or small benches. (Of course, you can add these without the waterless feature, as well!) Allec recommended a perennial garden, as the plants will last several years and are naturally hardier. However, to know what these plants look like when they are dormant and in order to figure out which plants grow well in our climate, he said a person would be well-advised to get a copy of The New Sunset Western Garden Book. As a final note, he cautioned readers, “People tend to rush into landscaping, but take your time. Read, study, search books and the internet. People are typically intelligent, so instead of having a bunch of people trying to tell you what to do, see what would be the best fit for you.”
Allec was also on deck with what Fahsbender and Lesaca had stated about drip systems, as well. “You save a lot of water with a drip irrigation system, because the water goes directly to the plant, not all over the place,” he confirmed. He also said that it is much easier to install than a traditional sprinkler system is. “All it is is tubing above ground,” he said, but also stated that if you choose to do it yourself, to consult some of the pros at Kern Turf Supply or Ewing Irrigation in Bakersfield to help guide you in the process.
As you can see, there are endless ways to create a beautiful a low water landscape. These alternatives can save you some trouble and—most importantly—a lot of water, all while maintaining a unique and upscale look. You’ve got nothing to lose and a whole new perspective to gain!