Category Archives: Lawn Substitute

Transitioning from Lawn to Forest…..

April 8, 2015

Think of this drought as an opportunity to redecorate your yard into a garden.  Where to start…. well, in this post I want to encourgae you to strategically plant trees in your “yard” transforming it into areas to be admired, enjoyed, and that provide a sustainable addition to your property.  With the drought it is not the time to plant a garden of shrubs. Yes, they may be native and/or drought tolerant, but they must be established before they can survive with little or no water.

Typically, when we design a garden with trees, we plan short lived plants under new trees since with the canopy growth, the amount of sun will be reduced.  This is just common sense, remember gardening is a process.  This Great Drought offers a perfect opportunity to plant those trees, using a fraction of the water required to maintain your lawn.  By the way, the County of Los Angeles has sanctioned watering of our trees, because they are a real asset.   There is no irrigation required for trees, although during the drought young and old specimens need to be deep watered. (just use the water hose and let water drip out for 8 hours or so, once a month)  Let’s use this drought to change the nature of Los Angeles from millions of lawns to millions of trees!  The greatest Urban Forest in the country.

Here’s why.  Trees have amazing sustainable benefits!  Each variety has specialized growth attributes, these different aspects can be used to solve issues in your garden.  Did you know a home with mature trees has more real estate value than a home without?    Neighbohoods with trees have a lower crime rate…. isn’t that interesting.  Trees also improve our air quality by absorbing dust and carbon dioxide, replacing it with oxygen.  OK, I’m sold already.  But……

….Let’s talk about harnessing the visual aspects of trees to define your property.   A list will work best….

  1. Thoughtfully placed trees will frame your home, creating punctuated architecture.
  2. Trees surounding a house will reduce the need for airconditioning by 30% in the summer; the opposite in the winter.
  3. Trees retain massive amounts of water, so they help prevent runoff during heavy rains and help replenish ground water.
  4. Evergreen trees could block cold winter winds from the NorthWest in the Winter which will help keep your home warmer and use less electricity.
  5. Trees absorb and reduce noise pollution.
  6. Fruit trees provide food for you and wildlife.
  7. Trees can add sculpture to your garden simply by the way they grow naturally.
  8. Trees provide seasonal change from flowers to Fall color.
  9. Trees create their own mulch, let the leaves fall and be natural
  10. Trees can be used to create depth.  Planting larger leafed trees closer to the street, smaller leafed trees closer to the house for the illusion of a larger propery.
  11. Trees have a calming effect.  Think about that next time you are in an area with trees…. how does it make you feel.  Let that feeling inspire you.

There is a difference in Hard Wood Trees and Soft Wood Trees.  Hardwood tend to live longer and grow more slowly.  Plant hardwoods away from the foundation of your home, give them plenty of room to grow.  Know your trees, plant them knowing how large they will become and what you can look forward to seeing seasonally.

Goodness, I could go on and on about my love of trees and the oppotunity we have to transform Southern California from a sea of lawns to an Urban Forest, but I will end it here.   Think of the name “forest” …for rest.

Stephen Swafford, landscape architect



How We Can Grow During a Drought…..

April 7, 2015

During any kind of adversity we tend to grow with leaps and bounds.  It may be slowly, but it is surely.  Being in a severe drought offers this same opportunity to grow.  How do we grow when we have less?  Well, we can look at what we have that needs excessive water and make separate those things that have no real value in our lives.  I have said in other posts that if the only person who walks on your grass is your gardener, then it’s time to let the grass / lawn go.  This frees us, as Californians, to create a landscape that is sustainable and uniquely ours.

We must reduce our water usage by 25%.  Why not make it 50%?  There is nothing wrong with using water, we do not need guilt as we create something beautiful.  By using water wisely we rid ourselves of that guilt…. and become part of a community of thinkers.

So,  how do we create a replacement for grass?  Can we rethink a false status symbol? YES!!! There are countless “soulutions”, but typically the front garden is part of the street-scape, an unused asset by the homeowner.  Let’s talk about what grass does for a landscape.  It is a mass of green, typically a fine texture that conjures a feeling of park like relaxation.  This is an opportunity to redefine how our homes look and feel.  Why not play up that park feel and create spaces for neighbors to want to congregate… build community through gardens.  This can be done with thoughtful design.

During the drought we must protect our trees by deep watering them.  This is a solution to a problem we all know we have—-tree roots that stay close to the surface.  The trees tend to fall over during Santa Ana Winds…. or heavy rains.  Trees planted in grass become use to irrigation, they spread their roots at the surface because that is where the water is.   By eliminating grass and having to water it, we have found a solution to those shallow roots.  Look around, look for trees planted in grass, and look for trees planted in a field.   You find that there is no bulk of surface roots in nature.

Another way we can grow during a drought is by changing our home climate.  Plant groves of trees.  Create shade!  And, by not having surface water your trees will develop proper roots.  If selected properly, trees can provide shade in the summer, warmth in the winter, seasonal color, flowers, attract wildlife and evoke that park like feeling we all love.

Finally, we can create community  gardens if we plant stone fruits, citrus and other trees with edible fruits.   If your neighbor has a lemon, then perhaps you plant a lime tree, an avocado tree, grapefruit, fig, pomegranate…..   this is an opportunity to build relationships who also want to conserve water and have a sustainable, beautiful garden.

Stephen Swafford

Landscape Architect, Indah Bulan

Lawn Substitutes…..

April  7, 2015

The whole great State of California has a mandate to reduce water use by 25%.  Although it is going to be diffuclt, we can easily achieve this–stop watering our lawns.   This will be a massive savings of water since about 9 out of 10 homeowners have lawn.

The design aspect of having a lawn, may seem simple, but that is because it is over used.   The real issue is complex.  First of all, lawns are a necesary evil, especially if you have children, pets or enjoy outdoor activities.  There is nothing like grass to take foot traffic.  So, not all lawns are objectable.   The issue is how we have all used grass as a ground cover, millions and millions of  Californians.   I say, if the only person who walks on your lawn is the gardener, then let that lawn go!  A lawn should be no more than 30% of your total gardening space.  As we are in a dought I would reduce that number by half.  We must sacrifice, there is no choice.  I also object to municipal medians and parkways that use grass as a ground cover.  Again, if the only person who walks on it is the gardener—-let it go!

At Indah Bulan, we tend to always remove lawns except where useful .  Here are some alternatives to having a lawn or lawn substitutes.

  1. Red Fescue (Festuca rubrum) This is a California native grass that grows well with little water.
  2. Mulch…. until you can figure out what to do, simply much the dead lawn.
  3. For areas to be used for entertaining, use pavers set in gravel.  This will allow the water to percolate back into the ground, create a pattern and most importantly define an area with style.
  4. Succulents, these can be planted year round and enjoy being dry.  Most tend to be more colorful with dry heat.
  5. Plant a Grove of Trees… fill your old lawn area with trees, turn it into a woodland.
  6. Create a path and planting areas.   This creates a garden that has visual interest and practicality if the paths are well thought out.
  7. Evergreen Ground Covers.  There are hundreds of choices.  If you want a look to replicate grass, choose a plant with small leaves.  A really good choice is Achillea milliafolium.  It is a low growning yarrow, that can take some foot traffic, being mowed, and has a flower.
  8. Create a riparian area with native rocks, trees, shrubs and design.
  9. Create a planting design that uses mass plantings of a single variety of low shrub(s).
  10. Do nothing until you have a plan.  Mow the grass down as low to the ground as possble, stop watering and take time to dream.  Use the drought to solve a problem thoughtfully.

There really are so many wonderful options.  When we design a garden for clients, we choose what is best for them, the architecture of their home and how they want to use it.  This is a great opportunity to create something that is special, practical, sustainable and gorgeous.

Stephen Swafford, Landscape Architect