The media is overflowing with drought doom articles. With an ongoing drought crisis a daily reality, is this the future of California lawns? I'm sure the neighbors love this...not.
I have spent a lot of time over the years mowing and caring for lawns and now think they are a bad idea. This, however, is an ugly alternative. That's an understatement.
This could be a front yard of beauty without grass. Terraced permeable paving with sub-irrigated planters (SIPs) would be an environmentally positive alternative. Living ground cover is unnecessary. I like brick but there is a wide variety of permeable paving options available these days.
All permeable paving options would prevent run-off into the surrounding environment while the SIPs are saving water. There should be a taxpayer saving for those who install this type of landscaping.
The SIPs could be a combination of composite wood planter boxes along with terracotta and resin in a variety of shapes and sizes.
Most Americans, including landscapers, are unaware that all watertight planters or other types of containers are easily converted to SIPs. Sub-irrigation is a simple system not a planter product. Water-wasting drain holes are yesterday! There is no horticultural necessity for them with the use of SIPs.
Why not also include some umbrella or arbor shaded neighborly seating? Plants should be both edible and decorative drought tolerant plants, including some SIP irrigated fruit trees. This front yard could be a neighborhood oasis instead of an eyesore.
All photos by Greenscaper a short distance from home
The entrance to the house next door is full of not very tidy water-wasting pots in the tie-dye style so popular in Southern California. Drought? What, me worry? Bong!
This is a water-conserving test garden I installed at a bed and breakfast property nearby. It is six months old in this photo. The garden was installed in August last year not long after arriving in San Diego in May. Click to view the full album on Flickr.
It was bloody hot and a tough chore to do it by myself. Given adequate time and more comfortable weather it would be a significantly more interesting design. I threw it together rather extemporaneously.
I have been maintaining this garden monthly during the winter when the sun is low in the sky. The spring sun has been slowly reaching the plants on the left. The plants on the right are shade tolerant. A two story structure to the right prevents full sun even in mid-summer.
The planters are all from big box stores. All of them have concealed sub-irrigation plumbing. They are not special so-called "self-watering" planters. This would be an easy project in cooler weather. It is well within the DIY capability of most people.
The two factors holding us back from widespread use of productive, water-saving SIPs is leadership and a lack of 21st century gardening education.
Our politicians at all levels, even the White House, do not understand that our current horticultural education is attuned to our agrarian society from long ago. Dirt and drain holes were modern in the time of the ancient Egyptians.
This is the very simple plumbing (picture below) used in all of the SIPs in the patio garden. The plumbing costs next to nothing. A fill tube is connected to the water and oxygen reservoir that is connected to the overflow drain valve.
Light weight soil mix (peat/coir, bark, perlite types - no top soil or yard dirt!) tamped down around the reservoir acts as the capillary wicking. I call it a "bubble SIP". The plants are growing on a "cushion" of air and water. They love it!
Larger planters such as planter boxes and raised beds would use the same basic elements arranged in different ways. See more about SIPs here.
Watch a video by Elisa Bernick, former editor of Family Handyman, demonstrating a how-to about SIP planter boxes. Note the credit to this blog at the end.
It seems like only yesterday that Frieda Lim and I made the first prototype of planters like this back in June, 2010. Unfortunately we did not videotape the event.
The location was Liberty Sunset Garden Center in Red Hook, Brooklyn (no longer in business). It may have been the first sub-irrigated raised bed in the U.S. Thank you Elisa for making the video. You did a great job! I am most grateful for you having done it.