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Privacy and Water Use in LA Gardens: Part 1



I take a sort of peeping-Tom’s pleasure in seeing what other people do with their gardens.

City gardens fascinate me; I like to see how people create their own personal paradise in a tiny space. Here in California, our two major cities (San Francisco and Los Angeles) also have a tempting variety of semi-tropical and temperate plants to choose from. And since this was an upscale neighborhood, these private city gardens are probably maintained by professionals, which gives us some insight into what’s fashionable in the mainstream garden world.

On a visit to Los Angeles, I took a walk with this question in mind: how do people give themselves privacy on their tiny lots?  It’s one of those places where gardening meets architecture. But I’m always looking at water use, so I found myself also seeing who had the water-efficient gardens, as well as the private ones.

I noticed several examples of what I call the double-hedge technique; a low hedge, and a higher hedge behind it.


Roses behind rosemary: an interesting example of double-hedge technique

This house created the illusion of privacy by the shelter of a large old tree in front, circied by a low brick wall. A very friendly grey-and-white cat, with extra toes (which I find appealing) came up for some pets. An Irish setter/mutt-looking dog said hello as well, but he was sequestered behind the iron grillework of a gate.


Some people forgo the privacy notion and just have a straight-up entrance to their houses. But even these vary in character, from suburban-banal


to this minimalistic Zen approach.


Though this looks like xeriscaping, it isn’t quite, since equisetum (horsetail) is a water-hungry plant, living on the margins of streams and rivers, or in damp low boggy spots. The white-rock mulch, though, provides the double service of keeping moisture from evaporating out of the ground, and reflecting the heat of the sun.  I’m not sure what kind of upkeep this landscape demands, but watering would certainly be lessened by this, and care would be reduced to the bare minimum: horsetails don’t need pruning except for the occasional removal of a dead stem; they grow symmetrically all by themselves.

Here’s an example of true xeriscaping, using dark pebbles as a mulch. I liked this creative use of that strip between the sidewalk and the street, combining chamomile (probably a seasonal appearer) with more traditional dryland plants. While residents of rainier cities might have fewer concerns about water conservation, xeriscaping those strips might still be an excellent idea, since you can’t put in automatic watering systems without digging up the sidewalk, and hand-watering can be a chore. And a lot of times, people living in the houses don’t regularly see these strips, they just drive up to the house and enter through a door that is far from the sidewalk. Out of sight tends to be out of mind, so besides saving you water, xeriscaping your sidewalk-strip might save you time, dead plants, and the embarrassment of contributing an eyesore to the neighborhood.



Next post: more privacy and water-saving ideas



In a way, my whole blog is about low-water gardening; that’s the reason I got involved with tulips, and I already loved natives and Mediterranean herbs. During June, my posts will all be about conserving water in the garden. This gives me scope to cover everything from containers to cityscapes, soil to site to sprays, and of course portraits of more of those stellar plants that spread their glories with little or no watering. (Hint: the “Wild Plants” category will give you quite a few more; so will the “Bulbs” category.)

{ 9 comments… add one }

  • Helen at Toronto Gardens June 1, 2009, 8:07 pm

    What a great idea for a theme. I look forward to your posts.

  • Cyd June 2, 2009, 9:31 am

    What a variety to choose from in LA. I liked the rosemary hedge very much. Its an annual here and doesn’t like to overwinter in my library. Spokane is a water mad place I like the June conservation idea. Hard to do with our huge lawns. I usually give up by the end of summer, too much camping to worry about the dandelion yard!

  • Avis June 2, 2009, 6:40 pm

    I garden in containers on my city balcony and at the height of summer when Chicago is super hot, the watering is murder. I’ll be following your June posts carefully to pick up as many tips as possible for making this process easier. Cheers!

  • lostlandscape(James) June 3, 2009, 8:00 pm

    Pomona, next month we see the beginning of water restrictions in San Diego, so I’m appreciative of you and like-minded folks helping us all deal with a dryer approach to gardening. As you show in a couple of your LA gardens, reducing water can still let you live in a green paradise.

    The privacy thing is interesting. My street has everything from the zero plant barrier approach to high walls and thickets between the house and the street. I seem most drawn to the houses that interact with the street instead of trying to make the street go away entirely.

  • Pomona Belvedere June 4, 2009, 8:04 am

    Glad you’re up for this month’s theme (and I could easily do another month of it, there’s so much to cover). I’m also drawn to city yards that interact with the street more than those who close it off entirely; I think it’s interesting to see the different ways yards move along that spectrum.

  • wayne June 4, 2009, 5:19 pm

    water is to be honored and used wisely. However, I figure if the nuclear power plants can have water, my tomatoes and peppers can have water too.

  • catmint June 10, 2009, 5:39 am

    The privacy thing is interesting. I feel ambivalent, I love and value privacy but am aware that it takes away the feeling of community. I am sure there is a relationship between friendly communities and low or no fences. Our front fence is a comprimise, quite tall but with gaps between the palings. And it is funny, Pomona, how you started the post saying you took a peeping tom’s pleasure in seeing what people had, and how they managed their privacy!

  • Priya October 24, 2015, 11:50 am

    Wow, Rhonya your beautiful cmnmeot has just floored me. Thank you thank you for such exquisite words and love. It is an honour to have you visit and share in the journey with me. And these photos are gorgeous! I especially love the three in the second row of your collage with the chairs, table and plants. There’s something so inviting about a little corner with chairs and plants that makes you want to grab someone lovely and some food and drink and sit down for a long chat with no care for the time. I guess this is our virtual way of doing it here via our blogs, from different parts of the world. There’s something special about this too.

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