California Native Plants, Fall Color, Low Maintenance Plants, Low Water Plants, Naturalistic Gardens

Lawns Converted to Naturalized Living Space


In this landscape design, I encouraged my clients to take advantage of a lawn landscape rebate program and the result was an extra living room in the front yard! The lawn made way for a meandering path and seating area beneath some mature trees.

Although the landscape rebate program has been suspended due to the funding cap being reached, many incentives to replace lawn with less water-thirsty alternatives remain, including the satisfaction of knowing you are doing your part to reduce water usage and the consequentially making it easier to meet your state mandated water reduction target each month.

Below is a photograph of the yard shortly after installation.

Dwarf plumbago groundover

The primary plant used to replace the lawn and create a similar low-level visual plane is drought-tolerant groundcover is Dwarf Plumbago (Cerastostigma plumbaginoides) which is filling in nicely approximately a year later (below). We created a cozy reading alcove for two under an existing red maple.

Outdoor living room replaces lawn in naturalized setting

Dwarf Plumbago offers seasonal color in the fall and lovely blue flowers (close-up below).

Ceratostigma plumbaginoides (Dwarf Plumbago) Drought-Tolerant Groundcover

Other drought-tolerant plants added included Lamb’s Ears (Stachys byzantina) and Blue Lavandin ‘Provence’ (Lavandula x intermedia ‘Provence’) seen below nestled into the client’s existing David Austin Rose ‘Lady Emma Hamilton.’

David Austin Rose 'Lady Emma Hamilton'; Blue Lavandin 'Provence' (Lavandula x intermedia 'Provence'); Stachys byzantina (Lamb's Ears)

Below, Vitis californica ‘Roger’s Red (Wild California Grape Hybrid), to be trained along an existing fence, provides fall color and has already provided some tasty treats.

Vitis californica 'Roger's Red (Wild California Grape Hybrid)

An existing Mexican Feather Grass (Stipa tenuissima), although lovely, is considered invasive (UC Master Gardener Program Statewide Blog), so it was replaced with Lamb’s Ears for a completely different contrast with the existing Japanese Maple (L-R: before and after seen below).

Rosa Cl. Cecille Brunner (Sweetheart’s Rose, Climbing Cecille Brunner), which is actually a low-water user once established, compliments the existing Lady Emma Hamilton rose and brings a similar color to another part of the yard’s side fence (close-up below).

Rosa Cl. Cecille Brunner (Sweetheart's Rose, Climbing Cecille Brunner)

The client’s previous back lawn area is now a naturalistic and fragrant plant palette including Salvia officinalis (Garden Sage), Erigeron karvinskianus (Fleabane), Eriogonum gigantum var giganteum (St. Catherine’s Lace), Dymondia margaretae (Dymondia), Achillea millefolium californica (California Yarrow), Arbutus unedo (Strawberry Tree), Cistus Grayswood Pink (Grayswood Pink Rock Rose), and Salvia clevelandii ‘Winnifred Gilman’ (Winnifred Gilman Cleveland Sage).

White-flowered Erigeron karvinskianus (Fleabane) and Cistus 'Grayswood Pink' (Grayswood Pink Rock Rose)
White-flowered Erigeron karvinskianus (Fleabane) and Cistus ‘Grayswood pink’ (Grayswood Pink Rock Rose)


Salvia clevelandii 'Winnifred Gilman' (Winnifred Gilman Cleveland Sage) blooming in foreground and Eriogonum gigantum var giganteum (St. Catherine's Lace) blooming in background
Salvia clevelandii ‘Winnifred Gilman’ (Winnifred Gilman Cleveland Sage) blooming in foreground and Eriogonum gigantum var giganteum (St. Catherine’s Lace) blooming in background.

The fragrance from the salvias in this part of the garden can be enjoyed through the kitchen and dining windows, as well as from within the garden itself.

The added fragrance and seating areas entice the client out to the garden. In addition to using much less water than before, both the front and back yard have increased visual interest now that the lawn is gone. The client is out there more and enjoying their new living space!

Blooms, California Native Plants, Fall Color, Low Water Plants, Native Gardens, Pollinators

California Native Garden Plants – Fall Color


Tired of planting the “same-o, same-o flowers” for fall color? Mums are wonderful, it’s true, but how about a less thirsty change of pace? Try these California Native plants needing less water:

Helianthus annuus (Delta Sunflower or Common Sunflower)

Helianthus annuus (Delta Sunflower or Common Sunflower)

St. Catherine's Lace or Saint Catherine's Lace

Eriogonum giganteum (St. Catherine’s Lace) in the spring with a happy bee! And, below in the fall, a close-up of this buckwheat’s back side and rusty fall color. It turns pinkish in-between! I’ll have to remember to add that photo next year.

St. Catherine's Lace or Saint Catherine's Lace

Eriogonum giganteum (St. Catherine's Lace) fall color

Lollipop Flower

Helenium puberulum (Autumn Lollipop or Lollipop)* *Warning – Poisonous if ingested*

Bees flock to any of the above bloomers. Here is one now:

What are your favorite fall-blooming natives (California or otherwise)?

Blooms, Hummingbird Plants, Low Maintenance Plants, Low Water Plants, Succulents

Now Blooming in My Back Yard

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Echeveria 'Encantada' in Bloom

Stuffed in a wood planter box and blooming for weeks now on very little water just once a week, is succulent Echeveria ‘Encantada’. A show-stopper, measuring 21″ across at the base of the rosette! USDA Zone 9b.

Here is the “Before” pic taken months ago:

Echeveria 'Encantada'

“Encantada’s” name (in Spanish) fits. Are you as “delighted” and “enchanted” as I am with this beauty? Bonus: This is a hummingbird magnet and takes little maintenance. Gotta have it? You can order through your local nursery or online here:

Succulent Gardens

Altman Plants

Oasis Water Efficient Gardens

L, L

Garden Maintenance, Native Gardens, Naturalistic Gardens

Maintaining Native Gardens – Keeping Your Native Garden Enjoyable for All


butterfly-17057_1280 monarch

High expectations ~ instantly set while being bombarded by hundreds of picture-perfect garden images on media sites, when browsing through brilliant garden magazine photo shoots, and while watching gardens pop up in the blink of an eye on garden DIY shows. The realities, of course, are different. Gardens don’t have to be highly manicured or flawless to be successful and gratifying! Benjamin Vogt, owner of Monarch Gardens, explores ways to change our perspectives on maintaining naturalistic native gardens. Check out his article (in which I’m proud to be featured!) on here.


BEE Entertained!

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Bee Gardens are easily designed as water-wise gardens and are a great way to help support the dwindling bee populations. Read this wonderful article about our buzzing buddies, featured on the front page by fellow California Native Garden fan, Debbie Ballantine. Spoiler alert: The last photo features one of my native garden designs!

Garden Centers | Nurseries

8 Design Take-Aways | A Visit to Flora Grubb Gardens


Really great garden centers are designed to inspire our desire. Some are so thoughtfully planned out we enjoy visiting them over and over regardless of whether we have a shopping list in hand.  It makes sense to look at why we find them appealing places to linger. We’d like our own garden to be just as enticing, right?

I recently had the pleasure of visiting one such nursery, Flora Grubb Gardens of San Francisco, with my daughter and her camera. Following are just some of the design tips you can take away with you from a visit to a well-loved gardening mecca like Flora Grubb.

BOLD COLOR  |  The succulent wall hanging below is one of Flora Grubb Gardens’ visitors’ favorite focal points. I suspect its popularity has just as much to do with the vivid chartreuse paint on the corrugated metal wall it hangs on as it does with its well-designed succulent plantings. The wall color in the background serves as a matte to frame the succulent artwork. Painting a garden wall is an easy way to pump up the garden volume at home.


Colorful pot, colorful shelving, colorful leaves—a sure-fire recipe for constant color in the garden.


Color created with foliage rather than flowers is a design technique that is durable and dependable. Generally speaking, it’s also less effort to maintain compared to the continual chore of dead-heading spent blooms.


The bright bench below is heated—perfect for cat-napping!  Note how stunning the greenery is in contrast to the bench’s modern lines and saturated color—no flowers necessary to complete this scene.


Scroll through the above photos again and if you hadn’t already done so, you’ll notice a theme to the color scheme throughout.  Orange, rusty reds, and chartreuse work well with the rustic flavor at Flora Grubb and also tie the different rooms together, adding continuity to the design.

TAKE A SEAT | Another view of the succulent wall-hanging includes more colorful elements, this time in the form of movable seating.  As opposed to fixed or built-in seating, movable seating is affordable, flexibly functional and can move with you to your next home.  One famous study suggests visitors prefer seating they can move to fixed seating, so if you select movable seating for your garden, you have the added benefit of making your guests feel more relaxed and comfortable in your garden.


GARDEN LARGE | Flora Grubbs Garden Center feels and appears much larger than it is because its footprint isn’t revealed all at once. Garden rooms are slowly revealed sections at a time as one meanders through the available space.  Areas just beyond are partially visible through taller plantings, creating intrigue, and encouraging the visitor to move forward, yet at the same time, the twisting and turning paths slow the guests down enough to “stop and smell the roses.”  This can be achieved in a smaller garden by using something as affordable as a folding screen to divide up space and create two separate garden rooms.


This garden “room” has a colorful truck that functions as both a garden wall divider and a patio. If you look closely you can see the flatbed holds a table set for tea! One could use the design of the slatted wood side panels on this truck to create a garden room divider, hanging plants on both sides, doubling its functionality and increasing gardening space.


PUMP UP THE VOLUME | Use garden room walls to draw the eye upward and increase the feeling of spaciousness.  Height creates volume. Here, a highly-textured wall hanging and colorful chairs hung on the wall draw the eye upward. The wall doubles as storage, the chairs double as artwork!


TEXTURE and FORM | In addition to the lovely color scheme and varied plant heights in the amazing container garden below, the different textures and forms add great contrast and interest. The same design principles hold true for any size garden!


A miniature case study in design, full of different forms, from short and round to vase-like, to upright  and columnar; while at the same time full of different textures, from smooth to bumpy to downright prickly and even fuzzy in appearance!


Note the varied gravel size and color. Even this container garden has meandering paths!


An appealing display of succulents contrasts different leaf forms, textures, and colors, including lighter shades and darker colors, creating drama.  The color scheme below could be applied on a larger scale.


WHIMSY | Doesn’t have to be as obvious as a garden gnome, although gnomes are cute.  Charm can be subtle, too, as seen here in this table that holds a garden which is also its permanent centerpiece.


A close-up elevation view of the table’s succulent centerpiece.


SURPRISE! | You won’t see this coming. It’s interesting to watch people turn a corner at Flora Grubb and get their first look at this ever-changing design. Surprises make for memorable gardens. Plan a surprise in yours and enjoy your guests’ reactions.


Of course, many of us don’t have space to park a car in our garden, but you can get a similar effect by using smaller parts.  A hubcap or grill could be mounted on a fence or wall and planted.


MAKE THAT CHANGE | Plan something new for guests to admire. Great gardens are always changing and never finished. Here’s a peak at the treasures I couldn’t leave without to add to my own garden.

Below is Graptoveria Debbie x Between Graptopetalum and Echeveria.


Here is Opuntia microdasys albaspina (Angelwings).  These appear soft to the touch, but resist the urge to do so or you may need your credit card to remove the needles.


The little guy below in the bottom left corner is Sedum hispanicum v. purpureum (Blue Carpet).  It works well between pavers.


It’s important to note the majority of plants featured in this post (with the exception of some annuals), are low-water users, fitting in nicely with low-water use garden designs here in drought-stricken Cali.

Next time you visit your favorite nursery center and find yourself not wanting to leave, make note of your surroundings as a take-away plan—you’ll increase the value of your time and money, both well spent!

Photos by Melanie R. Peluso | Copyright 2014



Changing Expectations…

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“Changing Expectations for Life in the California Garden,” is about the new aesthetic in California gardens in response to environmental concerns.

Here you’ll find gardening tips, landscape design news, info on upcoming industry events, current projects, new plant selections, and more!