By Jeannine Romero.
Despite the many recent rains in San Diego County, residents should not consider our long-standing drought to be over. In fact, horticulturist Scott Kleinrock notes that drought is actually a permanent feature of our landscape. So, for homeowners contemplating landscape choices in this semi-arid and Mediterranean climate, he encourages “more acceptance of nontraditional landscapes.”
Kleinrock, who specializes in California natives, regionally adapted, and edible landscapes, told SDHS members at the April monthly meeting that, “Evolving to low water landscapes is not a compromise.” He discouraged the notion of replacing home gardens with rocks and weed barriers as these create spaces where nobody wants to be. Instead, low water gardens do not have to be a sacrifice. They can produce many benefits, including human comfort, beauty, scent, food, and wildlife habitat. Native plants also build soil health and provide a sense of place, restoration, and inspiration.
Kleinrock, a designer and educator, recently completed the Blair California Garden at the Huntington Library in San Marino. The 6.5-acre garden includes 50,000 native and Mediterranean plants. Currently, he is the Conservation Programs Manager at the Chino Basin Water Conservation District in San Bernardino County.
Kleinrock observed that gardens are based on the larger world of natural science. They “are living systems, not just a collection of plants.” He suggested that homeowners designing their gardens should first determine features they want, and then utilize those goals to create an adaptive plant community and viable ecosystems. Assemble plants by common needs of sun or shade, soil type and drainage, irrigation frequency, growth habit, and growth rate. Drought tolerant plants typically want little water, no fertilizer, and no compost, he added.
Kleinrock’s slideshow included a variety of grassland plants, Mexican and native sages, California buckwheat, native salvias, acacias, and aloes. He encouraged gardeners to visit native plant communities, such as the San Diego Natural Wildlife Refuge or the Santa Rosa Plateau, and note what looks good as well as important patterns of plant density and structural inspiration. He described both locations as examples of relatively lush growth of trees, shrubs, and ground covers that thrive. Such native and adaptive plant communities have worked out their survival over thousands of years and using them as models will speed up our own timelines for success.
He recommends that gardeners plant the entire garden space to avoid space for weeds, and also suggests that a lot of plant variety is not necessary. Even a simple plan, with as few as three plant species, works well. If there is space to do so, Kleinrock likes mixing simplicity next to complexity. The garden designer admits that he also likes “some chaos” in the garden.
Kleinrock suggested planting one-gallon plants and plugs to allow plants to grow into the space, while saving money. He recommends adding benches or chairs, as well as a water feature, rocks, and branches to bring in the birds, lizards, and pollinators. According to Kleinrock, “If you build it, they will come.” He also discouraged vigilant deadheading in the garden to encourage seeds to form and drop for birds to feed on. He said he enjoys seeing the forms of native plants at different times of the year and allowing blooms to fade away more naturally.
Kleinrock said the garden space will define the irrigation system, and noted that he uses a mix of drip, overhead, and high efficiency sprays depending on need. Irrigation for low water gardens may only be necessary once or twice per month.
Gardeners should also keep in mind that a garden is a process that is never finished and always in motion. He suggested having fun with the process and learning from what goes wrong.