Bay-Friendly guidelines also discourage pruning and trimming, which generates yard waste — but that doesn’t mean
carefully designed gardens and landscapes must go feral.
Exemplary Bay-Friendly–certified gardens are available for
the public to view at Dixie Elementary in San Rafael, where a
3,800-square-foot native plant garden relies solely on rainwater
for irrigation, and an office park at 700 Larkspur Landing in
Larkspur, where 55,000 square feet of lawn and sheared shrubs
were converted to a neat meadow of native grasses and annuals.
Both appear natural, manicured and altogether beautiful.
Among the Bay-Friendly Coalition’s founding members
in 2009 was the Marin Municipal Water District, consistently one of the state’s most aggressive water agencies when
it comes to conservation policies and programs. “We strongly
subscribe to the principles there, which are about making
healthy, friendly landscapes from a water perspective and
from an ecological perspective,” says Dan Carney, the district’s conservation manager. “That’s really the philosophical
basis for all of our programs related to landscape.”
Water and Plant Alternatives
Even drought-tolerant gardens need water, particularly to
get them established during the first two or three years, so
it’s important to consider where that water is coming from.
The MM WD provides recycled water — treated sewage waste-water — through designated pipes for use at some parks,
businesses and municipal sites in the county, and encourages
homeowners to install rainwater and gray water systems.
Gray water refers to used water from dishwashers, washing
machines, showers and sinks that can be piped straight to the
landscape, saving clean water for where it’s needed most. The
county also offers financial incentives to homeowners who
install “smart” irrigation controllers that use weather and
humidity sensors to adjust drip-system flows.
Since launching his business 30 years ago, San Rafael
landscape architect Pete Pedersen has seen county guidelines
affecting residential landscape water use tighten considerably. But many homeowners remain uncertain how to achieve
the aesthetic they desire within the water limits they need to
follow. Select high-water-use favorites can be used sparingly
in prominent locations, but for everything else, it’s often a
matter of simple substitution.
“A lot of things grow in California. For high-water-use
When it comes to beautiful and water-wise landscape
plants, there are low-water-use plants that can satisfy a
lot of the aesthetic requirements,” he says. “For instance,
instead of English laurel, there are things that can be the
hedge that people want, like Grecian laurel, which is essen-
tial a bay tree, and Texas privet.”
Or, instead of classic hydrangea macrophylla, try querci-
folia, also known as oak leaf hydrangea, the only low-water
hydrangea well-suited to placement in sunny Bay Area gar-
dens alongside natives and drought-tolerant Mediterraneans.
design, Pedersen says, “it’s not just about rounding up
the usual suspects.” In ways both big and small, it’s about
rethinking the California garden. M
This page: The sunny
outdoor living space
features bay views.
clock wise from top
left: Aeonium green
platters; an original
the fourth bell tower
side; euphorbia; a