Half a century ago, enterprising owners terraced our hillside. They built a home on level land with brick stairs down to a 42′ x 140′ plane cut into the slope for lawn. Fast forward to 2014 – year 3 of the drought and year 1 of our sustainability transformation – and this turf became a prime target.
Reinventing an area of this size, geography, and prominence proved challenging. We rejected artificial grass as environmentally unsound, and dismissed native grass as too thirsty and seasonally unappealing. Instead we imagined ways to: 1) use minimal irrigation, 2) feature the rare flatness, and 3) converge to ocean and Channel Island views over the live oak canopies.
Having loved our Vermont parterre of crabapples, yews, and hardy geraniums, I conceived a knot garden of succulents to achieve our objectives for this area. Boosted by Google Maps research that revealed nearby parterres such as Il Brolino designed by Francis Yoch in 1922, we transformed all lawn shown in these before photos to the garden detailed below.
- Two 18′ x 20′ rectangles, each with Myrsine Africana borders, Teucreum charmaedrys diagonals, and Westringia ‘smokey’ in one corner
- Unique succulents in each triangle: Aeonium ‘Berry Nice’, Aloe ‘Coral Fire’, A. greenii, A. ‘Jenny Lind’, A. ‘Tropic World’, Crasula ‘Bluebird’, Dudleya brittonii, and Echeveria ‘lipstick’
- Sculptural Acer palmate ‘Sango Kaku’ on parallel axis from brick steps
- Bed of Aloe Hercules and A. rubroviolacea for funky stone bench
- Chondropetalum tectorum and Furcraea macdougallii scattered at outer edges
We met our objectives and then some. The 5,000-square-foot area now consumes 85% less water, needs a fraction of the maintenance, and gives us more joy and satisfaction than the large lawn ever did.