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MMWD Blog: Think Blue Marin

Welcome to our blog! Written by staff at MMWD, “Think Blue Marin” explores all things water in south and central Marin—water supplies, conservation, new projects, watershed management, and more.

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Jun 13

Rethinking the Landscape

Posted on June 13, 2018 at 3:16 PM by Ann Vallee

by Charlene Burgi

There are moments when the perfect, well-thought-out design for landscaping just doesn’t fit into the picture anymore. Have you ever had those ponderings, or are you having them now? I know I am.

I had always intended to put in a no-mow/low-water-use lawn in the back of the house so the dogs could rollick in the lush green grass. Last year I went so far as to outline the area and flag where the MP rotators would be placed. But winter crept in before the trenches could be dug, and the project was put on hold.

What a blessing! The thought of adding lawn maintenance—even for a no-mow lawn—to the ongoing list of things to do this spring stopped me cold from proceeding. Why not install a natural meadow instead? Wildflowers, sedges, grasses, native plants, clovers and bulbs would be perfect. The meadow would need mowing just twice a year. It would require very little water compared to a formally trimmed lawn. With the right mix of plants, flowers could be enjoyed for months at a time. And the dogs would be just as happy lying in the cool meadow as on a lawn. Why didn’t I think of this before?

Our thought processes tend to hold onto old fashioned ideas. For example, would you consider planting lettuce in with your annual color during the summer months? Some lettuce leaves have amazingly beautiful bronze foliage. Or what about planting basil near a pathway so the fragrance wafts up to greet you as you brush by it? It’s odd that we don’t have a problem intermixing marigolds and other flowers in our veggie gardens to attract beneficial insects, but we shy away from adding edibles to other parts of the garden. 

creeping thyme
 Creeping thyme
Thinking outside of the proverbial box in the garden can open up new worlds including low-maintenance and low-water-use garden concepts, not to mention repurposed materials. I have seen rubble walls constructed out of broken concrete with empty wine bottles tucked into the crevices for added interest. Garden art can come in the form of an old door securely placed with a vine clambering upon it. I’ve seen stunning arbors constructed out of tree limbs from recent cuttings. (Be wary of using willow as they can and will sprout new trees!) Dry creek beds can give the illusion of flowing water when planted with various shades of blue low-water-using flowers such as Veronica liwanensis, Campanula portenschlagiana or Linum usitatissimum. Tuck in herbs such as woolly thyme or trailing rosemary for some added height and texture. A vertical garden of succulents of various shades and shapes can also capture your attention on a drab fence or wall. You will find many of these ideas are water-wise, but still add amazing color and delight the eye while reducing maintenance.

If this idea sounds intriguing but perhaps too much too soon, start with a very small corner of the garden to gain confidence with adding a bit of quirkiness to the landscape and venture out from there. Have some fun. Start a new trend! And a special happy Father’s Day to all those hardworking dads out there.


Anonymous User
June 15, 2018 at 1:27 PM
Hi, Charlene. I hope you have had second thoughts about a meadow. From my experience and that of others I've talked to, meadows are very high maintenance. David Long, who has a CA native garden in Mill Valley, tells visitors that he spends the vast majority of his gardening time, maintaining the meadow section of his garden. I attempted prairie plantings in my former Chicago garden and was very disappointed. After the first season, the lovely spring ephemerals and other carefully chosen prairie plants were outcompeted by goldenrod, black-eyed susans and echinachea--the thugs of the garden. Would love to hear your experience with a meadow if you do one. Cheers. Faith Brown , Tiburon
Anonymous User
June 22, 2018 at 10:43 AM
Oh my! Well,My ranch requires a lot of my attention in what feels like the need to be in 30 directions at one time. A manicured lawn seemed as if I was adding more to the management fray! It seemed like an easy transition from flower garden to pasture that the horses and donkeys manage! Thank you for the "heads up". Plan B to be "rethought out!". Perhaps to shrub fillers!

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