Drought-tolerant landscapes earn honors for homeowners
When Laura Wyatt turned 50, she decided to do things that would make her uncomfortable. Among them was a fear of bees.
“I balked when a friend suggested I raise them, but then I started a mentoring program called Host a Hive with the Santa Barbara Beekeepers Association and fell in love with them,” said Mrs. Wyatt.
In fact, she and her husband, Geof Wyatt, have removed the lawn at their home in Montecito and replanted it with a drought-resistant landscape that attracts bees, butterflies and hummingbirds.
It has also been named one of the winners in the 2020 WaterWise Garden Recognition Contest that was launched in the spring to recognize beautiful, water-efficient residential gardens throughout Santa Barbara County.
Other finalists were Bob and Pat Wingate of Carpinteria, Linda Jay-Zivich of Vandenberg Village and Stephanie Poole and her husband Brian Hickey of Santa Barbara.
The Poole-Hickey household won the grand prize and were featured in a Sept. 6 News-Press article that revealed their garden’s selection as America’s Best Front Yard by Better Homes and Gardens.
Each winner received an engraved sandstone sign to display in their garden, which displayed a variety of themes, plant palettes and high-efficiency irrigation methods. They also demonstrate that water-wise gardens can be lush and colorful, attract wildlife and are low maintenance in addition to lowering water bills.
The local contest was sponsored by the Santa Barbara County Water Agency and participating water providers, which included the city of Santa Barbara, Montecito Water District, Carpinteria Valley Water District and Vandenberg Village Community Services District.
The Wyatts, who share their home with Jackson, a Labradoodle, have lived in their home on one acre for 25 years. They began replacing their lawn areas with natives after the drought hit and they realized how much water and maintenance the grass required.
“It was a long process to let the grass die. We began six years ago and finished last year. There was a lot of grass. It looked bad for three years,” said Mrs. Wyatt. “We originally focused on designing our garden with non-pollinating plants because of my fear of bees, but now we have added citrus and stone fruit trees as well as pollinating grasses.”
Chuckling as she referred to herself and her husband as backyard farmers, Mrs. Wyatt said, “I also enjoy making homemade jams – plum, peach, pluot, apricot, raspberry and blackberry – and ice cream – peach, plum and lemon and lime sorbet – from the fruit trees.”
The Wingates were also motivated by the California drought to redo their lawn at their home near Heath Ranch Park In Carpinteria. They were participants in the Carpinteria Valley Water District’s WaterWise Landscape Rebate Program in 2017 and completed all of the work on the garden themselves.
“It was quite a process to let the grass turn brown, but we did it because we’re very conscious of the environment, and we saved a lot of money,” said Mr. Wingate, who is retired after 45 years in the grocery business with Safeway, Vons and Albertsons. His wife worked for the Carpinteria School District before her retirement.
Among the drought-tolerant plants in their garden are Indian paintbrush, Santa Barbara daisies, kangaroo paws, sages and salvias.
In addition to native vegetation, they also utilize rain barrels to capture water on site and rarely need to irrigate.
“We particularly enjoy the wildlife that our garden attracts, like the Monarch butterflies that flock to the milkweed plant,” said Mr. Wingate.
Ms. Jay-Zivich, who moved into her home at Vandenberg Village nine years ago, designed and maintains the garden by herself.
“I’ve always had a fondness for nature. As a child, my days were spent outdoors in friends’ gardens or hiking and camping in the wilderness, everywhere from high desert to pines and creeks with lush vegetation,” she said. “After moving to Lompoc, I discovered Vandenberg Village where the soil is sandy. It took a bit of experimenting since we do get some hard frost and rough wind now and then.
“Low water plants are a must. We have soft breezes most of the year round. The flax grass is constantly swaying in the wind. It adds movement and life to the garden.”
One of her favorite shrubs is Nandina Gulfstream because “the leaves are a variety of colors ranging from a yellow green to red and dark green. They stay small and are neat and clean.”
Breath of Heaven shrub is another favorite.
“You can purchase them with chartreuse or dark green branches. I have kept some short to create a groundcover, and others are trimmed like bonsai trees. The tender branches smell a lot like heather when crushed,” said Ms. Jay-Zivich, who enjoys designing her friends’ gardens to be more water-wise and has helped several of them win garden contests of their own.