DLANDstudio Launches Phase 1 Design for Rails-to-Trails QueensWay – The Architect’s Newspaper, 6/2/16
“After years of debate over what to do with the 60-year old abandoned Rockaway Long Island Railroad (LIRR), the coalition has been moving toward the goal of converting 3.5 miles of the railroad—which extends from Rego Park to Ozone Park—into a park similar to the High Line.”
Design Team Led by Mia Lehrer Picked for New Downtown L.A. Park– The Los Angeles Times, 6/9/16
“A group led by landscape architecture firm Mia Lehrer & Associates has won a design competition for the 2-acre park, on the site of a former state office building adjacent to Grand Park at the foot of City Hall, city officials announced Thursday.”
This is the question landscape architect Shane Coen, ASLA, founder of Coen + Partners, asked as he began his lecture at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Design. For him, the answer is his father, the painter Don Coen. He emphasized the importance of teaching sight, saying “it’s our job to get people to see. It’s our job to inspire spaces that inspire people.”
Coen’s lecture showcased a selection of projects Coen + Partners have completed since its unlikely beginning 25 years ago. Shortly after graduation, Coen was asked suddenly to co-start a landscape practice by the son of the creator of Herman Miller’s famous Aeron chair. The practice began with “no money and no experience, but the unbelievable opportunity” of a five-year, rent-free space. With time and a stable foundation, he applied his “ability to see” to the mid-Western countryside surrounding their Minneapolis-based office.
Coen made clear his work does not replicate nature but rather works in contrast to it. Emphasizing the importance of working with collaborative architects, Coen’s work is in many ways itself architectural, capitalizing on “the simplicity of form and color sitting in a landscape.”
His firm’s guiding principles are manifested in Jackson Meadow, his first project, which was designed in collaboration with architect David Salmela. The award-winning 1999 planned residential community features 64 uniquely-designed but all-while pitched-roof homes, carefully placed in a rolling woodland, with porches precisely oriented toward the community’s 5-mile nature trail.
Awarded a 2015 National Design Award from Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, Coen + Partners’ projects cover a range of types and scales, each aesthetically adjusted to their particular context. Despite its expansion, however, the firm’s work remains 40 percent residential, with Coen noting the importance of these projects as educational and exploratory projects for the firm. Yet it is his series of award-winning public and institutional projects have led him to his latest and perhaps most challenging work in Saudi Arabia.
Coen received a sealed letter inviting the firm to interview to design the master plan and open spaces for the lands surrounding the skyscrapers of Riyadh’s King Abdullah Financial District. Coen soon found himself in the driver seat behind a 1,220-acre project, with a need to “create a vision and build a team” — a role he sees as critical for landscape architects going forward.
Drawing on the star dunes and wadi streams of the Saudi Arabian desert, renderings of the project reveal large star-shaped sun shades and water-centric linear park space.
Considered the first inclusive public space in Riyadh, the project was recently approved by Saudi Arabia’s High Commission. With Coen + Partners ”design vision and aesthetic leadership” on the project, it will be interesting to see the firm’s minimalist design approach at this new scale.
This guest post is by Nate Wooten, Student ASLA, master’s of landscape architecture candidate, University of Pennsylvania School of Design.
Can a Professionally Designed Garden Add Value to Your Home?– The Huffington Post, 1/4/15
“This year marks the 300th anniversary of the birth of Capability Brown – the landscape architect renowned for designing over 170 country house estates and gardens during the 18th century. His elegant style of undulating parkland and serpentine lakes can still be seen at dozens of locations, including Blenheim Palace and Stowe.”
See a Rooftop Garden in Brooklyn Inspired by the High Line– Architectural Digest, 1/6/15
“Few cities in the world have real estate as expensive as New York’s. For its millions of residents, the idea of certain amenities, such as a private garden—must be quickly abandoned. Yet one apartment building in Brooklyn’s trendy Dumbo neighborhood is creatively changing all of that.”
The New Dolores Park Will Be Pristine—But Can It Last?– Curbed, 1/7/15
“It was another beautiful morning in Dolores Park, accompanied by the soothing sound of jackhammers. City officials—including Mayor Ed Lee, Supervisor Scott Wiener, and Dolores Park’s Project Manager Jacob Gilchrist—went along on a preview hard hat tour (sans hard hats—it’s mostly just grass out there, after all) of the park’s south end to show off the final phase of the park’s $20.5 million renovation.”
To Preserve and Protect: Working with Arborists – Metropolis, 1/7/15
“As landscape architects we love trees! Be they pre-existing or newly planted, trees are often the backbone to a site design. Mature, statuesque trees add invaluable character to a place and are often a site’s greatest asset or attraction.”
Field Mighty Real– The Architect’s Newspaper, 1/11/15
“Once a quarry, then a landfill, the property at Circle Acres Nature Preserve in the Montopolis neighborhood of Austin was purchased by Ecology Action of Texas with the goal of transforming the site into a nature preserve and park.”
Let’s Talk Water– Planetizen, 1/12/15
“It is important to note that landscape architects have been leaders in sustainable design since long before it became a hot topic. Environmental stewardship is a core value of the profession, and designing with water in a responsible and beautiful manner is what we do.”
Texas seems to be just coming out of a severe four-year drought. What has the drought taught Texas about water management?
The drought has taught Texas they don’t have enough water for all the people and for growing agriculture. Texas wants to attract more people and industry. But if you attract more people, you’ve got to have water. Texas’s solution is to fund more infrastructure projects that bring water to the people — the Texas Rainy Day Fund, which has $2 billion for water management projects. They will give low interest rate loans to towns or cities to bring water or improve their water supply.
By the way, I don’t think we’re over the drought, even though El Nino has definitely hit.
As you just mentioned, Texas has passed this fund with $2 billion for water management. Is it enough? As a landscape architect, what does it mean for you?
No, I don’t think it’s enough.
I’ve always thought water is precious. In our projects, we make people aware of the path of water. We feel this is important anywhere, but especially in the arid Southwest where people long for a connection with water. Our projects have been a source of inspiration, not only for residential homeowners but also cities and college campuses. That’s the role we play. We can make communities aware that water is a precious resource and that they need to take care of water, not waste it on lawns. Our projects have to be beautiful and sustainable.
I usually work on sites that have immediate concerns with either no water or in a year like this with flooding water rushing off existing transportation systems into these last little shreds of remaining nature, and so we try to improve these systems, just one project at a time.
Significant amounts of groundwater have been used during the drought. Landscape architects are coming up with ways to recharge groundwater, even in urban areas. What will work in Texas? How can groundwater recharge be made more visible or even beautiful?
In Texas, if you own a property, you own the water rights to anything underneath your property. The rivers and streams are owned by the state of Texas. You have to get special permits to use that water. But, basically, in Texas you can still drill a well. There’s not a ton of regulation.
On my own street in Austin, I know of five homeowners who have dug wells. They’ll put signs out in their front yard that, “we’re watering with well water, so we’re okay. We can use as much water as much as we want.” This is just bizarre to me. We’ve still got lots of people with great big lawns. Now that we’re getting all this rain they think it’s perfectly okay to keep them. It’s just going to be a long, hard process.
In all of our projects, we try to slow water down and let it percolate down. I do this even in my own yard and garden. The whole front yard, which is good-sized, is designed to be a sponge to take it down. The more of these sponge gardens that get published, the more projects people see, it will help.
We’re also trying to get people to appreciate the beauty of drought and appreciate brown. It’s a gorgeous color. Golden colors. We just appreciate that there are seasons when things look a little haggard, just like me. It’s just like part of life. We need to come up with a new kind of beauty that people can have — a resilient, tough landscape that has a harsh beauty unique to its region.
In a number of communities in Texas with severe water challenges, it came down to providing water for endangered species or humans. Where do you see the balance?
What can I say? People are having too many children. I hate to sound so rude, but there’s too many people. We’ve got to be satisfied with one or two. Of course I’m the oldest of five, so I love a big family, don’t get me wrong. It’s just there are just so many people, and they use too many resources.
Balance between the wildlife and the humans? Seems like the government is going to probably pick humans. There needs to be a balance, but I couldn’t begin to tell you how we’re going to figure that out.
In Texas, we have humidity and also have tons of air conditioning. The air conditioning coils create this condensation, a byproduct of a building that typically goes into the sewer. Because of my experience in Arizona, I’ve learned to appreciate every drop of water and look for every little way to honor that memory of water in the landscape.
We made the whole Belo Center garden about the path of water. We were able to convince the Belo Center for New Media to harvest that the condensate along with the stormwater that hit the roof. The condensate and the stormwater go into these three cisterns for irrigation, but when those are full, a valve shuts, and the water then goes through our water fountain, a linear biofilter runnel, where we have native Juncus growing. It’s a great element in the plaza, but it also tells an interesting story about reusing the water that a building produces.
Now, water departments will tell you, “we could have used that water to dissolve the solvents and things in our sewer system and all that.” So, again, is it really an end-all solution? No, it isn’t. It’s a way to use water that isn’t processed by the city and it calls attention to forgotten water.
As you’ve described, your projects make water flow visible in the landscape. For example, your landscape at the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) campus has this series of vegetated arroyos or rivers. Why is making water visible so important?
Our project at UTEP, a campus that was defined by its architecture and abundance of asphalt, is set in a little mountain hillside in the Chihuahuan Desert. They had lost all connection with their fantastic place. The Chihuahuan Desert is a beautiful desert. It was more about really connecting the campus to their place, and creating a sense of pride of their unique spot in the world.
We looked at historic photos of the campus. When it was first built, there were many arroyos, but the campus evolved to become a car-centric campus, with acres of asphalt. We were lucky enough to peel all that off, reshape the land, and carve some of those arroyos back in, in order to slow that water down as it traverses through campus. When they do get rain, as little as they get, it comes in major, epic storms, so the new arroyos and acequias help to absorb and slow the water down.
UTEP has the largest Hispanic student population of any university in the country. They’re just the greatest kids. It was just a blast to give them a heart to their campus, embraced by these arroyos and this central gathering space. The new landscape just celebrates them. It celebrates where they’re from, where their ancestors are from.
We used all the native andesite rock from regrading and native Chihuahuan plants to create these arroyos and, now, you can’t believe the birds and butterflies on this campus.
People’s first impression of El Paso is typically the uninspiring view of industry as they drive I-10. Except for the mountain views, it’s not flattering or reflective of this amazing city. We’re showing the beauty of this place and hopefully instilling pride. It’s had a great impact so far, so that’s exciting. And it’s all working.
As malls die off around the country, and more people shop online, new shopping center models are desperately needed. In Silicon Valley, the source of so much game-changing innovation, the mall appears to be the next format to get a reboot. “Starchitect” Rafael Viñoly and landscape architects at OLIN are transforming Cupertino’s struggling mall into the 50-acre Hills at Vallco, a hybrid retail, commercial, and residential hub, all covered in what they promise will be the “world’s largest green roof.” The 30-acre green roof, which will function as both community park and nature preserve, will offer 3.8 miles of “walking and jogging trails, meadows, vineyards, orchards and organic gardens, children’s play areas and a refuge for native species of plants and birds,” writes the Sand Hill Property company, the developers of the $3 billion project.
The Silicon Valley Business Journal says the unique design came out of extensive community engagement, as developers hosted 20 public meetings and received more than 3,000 ideas through their web site. Reed Moulds, Sand Hill managing director, told The San Jose Mercury News: “There will be nothing like it when we are done. We believe its community focus will make this a remarkable place to live, work, dine, play, learn and recreate.”
At ground level, the developers aim to create from scratch an “entertainment-driven downtown,” writes the Silicon Valley Business Journal. A 15-block street grid will carve out spaces for two new 3-acre “town squares,” which will offer outdoor movie nights and farmers markets, surrounded by a mix of stores and restaurants selling “local and organic food.”
Surrounding these squares will be 625,000 square feet of entertainment and retail space, as well as 2 million square feet of office space, reports The San Jose Mercury News. There will also be 680 apartments at market rate, with 120 set aside as affordable housing or apartments for seniors. The idea behind the mix is that the office space will bring in traffic during the daytime, while those living in the apartments will be active there on weekends.
The $300-million-dollar green roof will be accessed via a set of slopes and bridges that will take residents and visitors up to the expanse covered in trails, farms, and playgrounds. According to The San Jose Mercury News, OLIN will use recycled water to irrigate the landscape, which will feature native and drought-tolerant plants.
The developers are aiming for LEED Platinum for the entire development. A mix of sidewalks, bike lanes, and trails may help to reduce car use in the development, probably to the extent other dense mixed-use developments in suburbia have. It will be up to the city of Cupertino, with its lame walk score of 45, to extend the pedestrian infrastructure into a real network.
To sweeten the deal, the developers will build a new $40-million-dollar elementary school as well as an innovation center, an “incubator,” for high school students.
The Hills at Vallco will still have to compete with the nearby Stanford Shopping Center in Palo Alto and Westfield Valley Fair in San Jose, which is perhaps why there are so many extraordinary features. But with Google’s new Mountain View headquarters, with its massive glass dome that will result in its own temperature-controlled climate, and Apple’s giant ring-shaped headquarters, with its ten thousand parking spaces, in development just a few miles away, the developers are betting they can make the Hills at Vallco a magnet for decades to come.
Lafayette Landscaping Inspired by Natives – The San Francisco Chronicle, 7/2/15
“The drought has many home gardeners pushing the pause button on major projects and plantings, but we can still garden vicariously through social sites and “pin” (and pine over) gardens that have inspiring ideas.”
Fernando Caruncho’s Shock Waves– The New York Times, 7/7/2015
“Instead of planting in a traditional, rigorous grid, Fernando Caruncho, the celebrated Madrid-based minimalist landscape architect, conceptualized the 250 acres as a green sea of voluptuous, undulating waves that ‘traverse the landscape of this ancient place.’”
District Government Gives Green Light to Parks in Parking Spaces – The Washington Post, 7/11/15
“In the past week, carpenters screwed 10 banana-and-mustard-colored triangular planters, a bench and a table to a plywood platform taking up two parking spaces on K Street NW. Then they came back and touched up the paint and put up reflective safety posts. On Sunday, ferns and lavender are set to go in.”
Outdoor Rooms with Not-So-Secret Gardens – The Houston Chronicle, 7/13/15
“Christopher D. Ritzert’s quarter-acre garden behind his 1930s stone Colonial in Washington started out as an unremarkable backyard with a jumble of weeds. To fix that, Ritzert worked with a landscape artist to design a series of outdoor rooms that ascend the hill behind the house.”
Since 1987, the biennial award has recognized “urban places distinguished by quality design and contributions to the social, economic, and communal vitality of our nation’s cities.” The 2013 gold medal was awarded to Inspiration Kitchens in Garfield Park, Chicago.
This year’s winning project, Miller’s Court, is a “renovation of a vacant historic tin can manufacturing building, into an affordable and supportive living and working environment for school teachers and education-focused non-profits.” Located in an economically and culturally diverse neighborhood near Johns Hopkins University’s Homewood campus, the project, which was conceived and developed by Seawall Development Company with Mark, Thomas Architects, was completed in 2009.
The LEED Gold-certified complex includes “40 rental apartments and 30,000 square feet of office space and shared meeting rooms with contemporary, loft-like interiors.” Other features include a teacher resource center and a cooperatively owned independent café, which has become a popular meeting place for teachers, tenants and even President Obama, who visited in January.
One of the project’s crowning achievements is generating additional investment in the surrounding community. At the urging of several building residents, Seawall purchased and renovated 30 vacant neighboring houses to create Miller’s Square. Baltimore public school teachers and police officers are eligible for $25,000 grants toward homes there. Read more about the project in Metropolis.
Four other projects were recognized with silver medals and $10,000 each:
Located in the center of downtown Greenville, South Carolina, Falls Park on the Reedy is an urban oasis thanks to the transformation of a forgotten 40-foot tall waterfall and overgrown river valley into a 26-acre park. Development of the park, which opened in 2006, included replacing a four-lane vehicular bridge built directly over the falls with a pedestrian suspension bridge designed by Rosales+Partners. The bridge appears to float above the river, offering a dramatic overlook of the falls. Learn more about this project at Metropolis.
Grand Rapids Downtown Market is a new public space in one of West Michigan’s most challenged neighborhoods. The market “promotes local food producers, entrepreneurship, and education about nutrition and healthy lifestyles” by linking urban communities with the 13,000 farms in 11 surrounding counties and attracting a diversity of customers to the southern edge of downtown Grand Rapids. The state-of-the-art facility, designed by Hugh A. Boyd Architects, is the first LEED Gold–certified public market in the country. Learn more about the market at Metropolis.
Quixote Village, in Olympia, Washington, is a two-acre community of tiny houses that provides “permanent, supportive housing for homeless adults, including people suffering from mental illness and physical disabilities and recovering from addiction.” Since its completion in December 2013, Quixote Village has attracted the attention of many interested in tiny houses including nonprofits and private developers, as well as The New York Times.Learn more about the project at Metropolis.
Located three miles south of downtown Cleveland, Uptown District is the “redevelopment of a corridor that links surrounding neighborhoods with art, educational, and healthcare institutions, producing outdoor gathering spaces, retail shops and restaurants, student and market-rate housing, and public transit connections in the process.” The development has transformed two previously underused city blocks between two of the city’s most iconic cultural institutions into a “community gateway.” Learn more about the project at Metropolis.
The 2015 RBA selection committee included: Mayor Mark Stodola, Little Rock, Arkansas; Rebecca L. Flora, Sustainable Practices Leader, Ecology & Environment, Inc.; Larry Kearns, Principal, Wheeler Kearns Architects; India Pierce Lee, Program Director, Cleveland Foundation; Mia Lehrer, FASLA, President, Mia Lehrer + Associates; James Stockard, Lecturer in Housing, Harvard Graduate School of Design.
Learn more: A blog series on Metropolis’web siteis chronicling the 2015 RBA process and case studies of the winning projects.
For the past century, much of California has relied on an inherently fragile and unreliable imported water infrastructure. While the current crisis attracts the attention of the media and public, the environmental community and government have been actively pursuing solutions for decades. These efforts have resulted in long-term water conservation. For example, Los Angeles has seen a dramatic increase in population since the 1970’s, but water use has actually declined, with the largest drops in use during periods of drought and recession. Efforts are now focused on decreasing demand for imported water by increasing local supplies. A few weeks ago, we wrote about ways each of us as individuals can conserve water in our landscapes by copying nature and making choices appropriate to our local micro-climates and water availability. In addition to the smaller-scale decisions we make in our own landscapes, progressive state and local policies are helping California to better conserve its limited water resources.
Here are a few across the state:
Water Conservation in Landscaping Act of 2006 (AB 1881)
This Assembly Bill spurred the creation of the Model Water Efficient Landscape Ordinance, which established maximum allowed landscape water budgets and mandated low water-use plants and efficient irrigation strategies. AB 1881 encourages us to capture and retain on site stormwater and use recycled water. The ordinance also requires soil assessments, soil management plans, and landscape maintenance plans to accompany landscape plans submitted through municipal permit processes.
Urban Agriculture Incentive Zones (AB 551, in progress)
If passed, Assembly Bill 551 will incentivize the use of currently-vacant private land for urban agriculture. Private landowners could have their property assessed at a lower property tax rate — based on agricultural use rather than its market value — in exchange for ensuring its use for urban agriculture for 10 years. Increasing local agricultural production where recycled water is readily available can reduce water and energy use in food production and increase our cities’ self-sufficiency and resilience in the face of potential natural disasters.
In Southern California:
The Los Angeles County Bureau of Sanitation and Orange County Water District (OCWD) began recycling water in the 1960s and 1970s, respectively, for groundwater recharge and non-potable uses — or uses other than for drinking, such as irrigation or industry. In 2008, the OCWD district began recharging its groundwater supplies with water treated to levels above drinking water standards for reuse as potable water. A big push to educate the public about the process and its benefits smoothed the transition. The district is now expanding production from 70 to 100 million gallons per day, or enough to supply nearly one-third of Orange County’s 3.1 million people. Los Angeles, which delayed their water recycling efforts for drinking water after negative PR alarmed the public, is now planning to expand their recycled water program, including groundwater recharge, by 2035.
In Los Angeles:
Proposition O (2004)
Los Angeles voters overwhelmingly passed Prop O to use $500 million to fund projects to:
• Protect rivers, lakes, beaches, and the ocean;
• Conserve and protect drinking water and other water sources;
• Reduce flooding and use neighborhood parks to decrease polluted runoff;
• Capture, clean up, and reuse stormwater.
Low Impact Development Ordinance (2012)
Los Angeles’ LID Ordinance ensures that new and redevelopment projects recharge groundwater aquifers to increase future water supply; protect water quality downstream; reduce flood risk by keeping rainwater on site; remove nutrients, bacteria, and metals from stormwater runoff; and reduce and slow water that runs off of properties during storms.
But there is still much more we can do. Caroline Mini, who wrote her PhD dissertation at the University of California last year, shows how urban residential water use in Los Angeles is largely determined by income. Wealthier neighborhoods on average use three times more water than poorer neighborhoods. This is despite the fact that most wealthier neighborhoods inhabit tree-covered hillsides with ample available soil moisture, while less fortunate residents occupy dryer, flatter, and less shaded areas. Better-off communities have the opportunity to use their wealth to establish well-designed, resource-efficient, and beautiful landscapes that will become models in water conservation. And cities and counties have the opportunity to create green infrastructure projects that add tree canopy and increase permeability to regain the sponge quality of soil in those low-land neighborhoods that will benefit most.
Agriculture accounts for 80 percent water of the used by people in our state. The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Pacific Institute published an issue brief last year illustrating the massive water conservation potential that could come from more efficient agricultural practices. Just using the most up-to-date irrigation technologies and applying only the amount of water crops need could reduce agricultural water use by 17-22 percent. In 1975, Masanobu Fukuoka wrote The One-Straw Revolution: An Introduction to Natural Farming, describing dry rice farming techniques that matched or out-produced his most productive neighbors. This poetic story about working with nature instead of against it to grow successive crops with little effort is more relevant than ever today.
More thoughtful planning for both rural agricultural and urban water use is needed. We can determine which crops and farming methods best serve our regional and exported food needs while further conserving water. We can advance urban water efficiency plans, which could generate savings that can negate the current deficit, while creating greener, more resilient and self-reliant cities.
This guest post is by Mia Lehrer, FASLA, founder of Mia Lehrer + Associates, and Claire Latané, ASLA, senior associate, Mia Lehrer + Associates.
Council OKs Plan to Reimagine City’s Marquee Green Space – The Houston Chronicle, 4/1/15
“The joggers, hikers, cyclists, equestrians and ballplayers who use Memorial Park will see the city’s marquee green space reborn over the next two decades, a process furthered with the Houston City Council’s unanimous approval Wednesday of a new master plan for the park.”
Beijing to Upgrade Green Belts to Combat PM2.5 – People’s Daily, China, 4/2/15
“This year, Beijing plans to upgrade some of the city’s green belts with plants that have strong dust retention ability, in an effort to combat PM2.5 and improve air quality. Eighteen types of plants have been selected for the trial program.”
In Chicago, Parks Are on the Upswing– Grist, 4/8/15
“For three decades, residents begged for a verdant space where their children might play or where they could sit for a brief reprieve. Finally, weary of waiting for the Chicago Park District to cobble together such a site, they chose to do it themselves.”
California is Naturally Brown and Beautiful. Why Are Our Yards Green?– The Los Angeles Times, 4/9/15
“A few years ago, my wife and I decided to replace the mangy bit of lawn in front of our house with drought-tolerant dymondia, which was supposed to spread into an interconnected ground cover. Less water, no mowing, I thought. Easy call. But the dymondia struggled, and seemed to ebb in the hot summer and flow in the cooler, wetter winter.”
Hargreaves Presents Four “Approaches” to Downtown East Commons– The Star Tribune, 4/9/15
“Landscape architecture firm Hargreaves Associates for the first time revealed images for The Commons, a future park in downtown Minneapolis shouldering high expectations from the public for recreation and commercial growth in the area.”
Water Management Key for Urban Planning– The Korea Herald, 4/10/15
“As water, life’s most critical resource, becomes scarce, strategic and advanced water management is emerging as a key policy task for cities. Cities in Denmark are spearheading the best practices in prioritizing water management in their urban planning policy development.”
California is a big state. To offer water saving techniques, we first need to understand the state’s unique climates and ecosystems. In broad terms, we have South Coast, South Inland, North Coast, Central Coast, Central Valley, mountain and desert climates. The Sunset Western Garden Book divides our state into 17 planting zones according to factors such as elevation, temperatures, and coastal influence. In Southern California alone, we have the Mediterranean South Coast region, the semi-arid Inland Empire, and the dry Mohave and Sonora Deserts. In our mild climates where almost anything grows if you just add water, we have spoiled ourselves into depending on imported water with an uncertain future. Now we have to adapt to rely on locally-available sources.
This is tough but doable in Los Angeles when we get an average 14 inches of rain a year. It’s tougher during the current drought when it can rain an average of just 5 inches per year. While many areas rely on harvested rainwater, we have only one rainy season in Los Angeles and it falls in the winter. That means any rainwater we store needs to last through seven months of hotter and hotter temperatures.
In addition to our climate challenges, urban Los Angeles is covered by impervious surfaces that create heat islands and interrupt groundwater recharge. But in a state where residences use nearly half of urban water — and landscapes consume over half of single-family home water use — there is a lot we can still do to save water through residential landscape design:
Copy nature: In nature, creeks and streams collect rain that falls on the mountains and hillsides. Trees and vegetation soak up the water, shade the soil, and drop leaves that decompose to become habitat, a protective layer of mulch, and eventually soil. The soil acts like a sponge, holding water for long enough periods of time for native plants to make it through the summer. You can mimic nature at home by reducing impermeable surfaces, grading to keep rainwater on site, planting climate-appropriate shade trees and plants, and adding a thick layer of mulch to conserve soil moisture.
Choose beneficial plants: Plant things that feed you or provide habitat for birds and beneficial insects, especially pollinators. Our food crops, whether at home or in the Central Valley, depend on bees to bear food. Choose plants that are adapted to your area’s climatic conditions. Check out the principles of permaculture and companion planting to encourage a healthy garden ecology. Test plants and look around your neighborhood to see what works with little care before planning your entire garden.
Check your technology: If you have an irrigation system, check it for leaks and for overwatering. Look for rebates to convert older systems to more efficient drip irrigation or microspray systems. Install a rain gauge to stop the system when it rains. Research your plants’ water needs and check your timer or controller to make sure you aren’t over watering, which is shockingly common. If you are, wean your plants down to a less frequent watering schedule. Reuse your greywater in the landscape. Water from the washing machine or shower is a great way to irrigate fruit trees, water-loving shade trees, and small lawn areas for children and pets. Experts can install systems that direct the water from your shower or laundry through a filter and into the garden. Hire an expert or understand the requirements for managing greywater safely.
To sum up, here are our recommendations:
Work your soil for porosity.
Grade your garden to hold water.
Plant shade trees. Choose trees wisely.
Source local materials.
Incorporate regionally-appropriate vegetation.
Include edibles and plants for pollinators.
Check your pipes for leaks.
Employ state-of-the-art technology and irrigation products.
Investigate rain barrels, greywater re-use, and old methods of irrigation, like clay pots or “ollas.”
Minimize lawn to areas that are really used for play.
Think long-term. Know a plant’s mature size and make sure it won’t outgrow the space.
Garden without chemicals to preserve water quality.
Design matters. Use an expert or research design strategies to delineate space.