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Privacy and Water Use in LA Gardens: Part 2


Houses on hilly sites have extra challenges for the gardener (not to mention the builder), but they also make it easy to achieve privacy by putting in masses of plants which obscure the view upward. I particularly liked this crazy-quilt of plants on a corner house, using wild fennel, madia, and what looks like a cycad. (Any identifications or corrections welcome.) There were also nasturtiums and other plants with varying textures, colors, and shapes.


This house combined a water-hungry lawn with drought-tolerant native ceanothus, so it might be called a kind of halfway-house xeriscaping. (Ceanothus comes in a bajillion varieties and tends to hybridize in the wild, so I’m unsure if this is wild or a cultivar.)


A  water-wise variation on the double-hedge theme was this  salvia with what looks like a bronze yucca behind it. I liked the contrast of shapes and colors with the house behind. A small rise adds extra privacy.


Another house protected its privacy with a courtyard entrance, but flanked it with water-saving plants that make it attractive to passers-by.


I wish I knew this embers-of-orange plant’s identity; it’s a surreal kind of plant. It’s on one side of the garage door.

On the other side of the garage door, near the gateway to the courtyard, is this grapevine. I don’t know if they get any grapes off this vine, but it’s a refreshing change from the ornamentals you often see, and a hardy, low-care vine. While grapes take a fair amount of water if you want fruit (wild grapes grow near creeks and in damp hollows), the vine can get along without copious watering once it’s established, as I can personally testify.


I especially liked this tiny withy-bed of succulents, on the other side of the garage. It was maybe six inches by a foot and a half, a beautiful use of miniscule space.

There’s still plenty of evidence that a lot of people in LA neither know nor care where their water comes from, but I was happy to see a lot more water-saving plants than I have in the past.

This house is fortunate in its privacy: it can combine the double-hedge technique with the plants-on-a-hill technique. They’ve also got enough room to squeeze a tree in there, using three of the privacy techniques I saw on this walk.


OK, bougainvillea may be a cliché in frost-free areas, but I still love it. No matter how many times I see it, I still enjoy all its variations of red against this privacy fence, and the white wall beneath it.


This older-planting tree is probably left over from a time when the neighborhood was a collection of modest working-class houses. I liked the way grass had taken residence in one of its many knotholes. It was limbed up high, so it was hard to get close to the leaves to see what kind it was. The leaves are hard and shiny, almost like some kind of live oak, but not like any kind I know. Can anyone identify it?


This green-on-green combination is a refreshing privacy hedge in the LA glare, but definitely not xeriscaping. It could be worse: ivy, azaleas, and what looks like agapanthus aren’t huge water hogs.


None of the plants surrounding this shady staircase is unusual, but they’re combined in a way that creates a satisfying sense of protection. As you walk under the big tree that overhangs it all, you get a momentary sensation of being secluded in a woods, or maybe a back lot, before you’re back out on the bright sidewalk again.





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.)


{ 19 comments… add one }

  • Helen at Toronto Gardens June 4, 2009, 3:31 pm

    Pomona, the bronze plant with the salvia might be Phormium aka New Zealand flax (why it’s called flax, I don’t know — perhaps it was used in textiles?). I only know it as a container plant.

  • Pomona Belvedere June 4, 2009, 4:26 pm

    I don’t know much about grasses, but that bronze plant is several feet tall and a few feet wide, and the leaves are stiff and a few inches across – do phormiums get that size? I’ve always wondered why they call it New Zealand flax, too. Sure doesn’t look like flax, your textile idea might be it.

  • Susie June 4, 2009, 8:32 pm

    It’s definately a Phormium…there are so many cultivars, from 1′ tall to about 9 ‘ tall. I think this one is ‘Monrovia Red’ or ‘Atropurpureum Compactum’ they get about 5 feet tall. Nice variety of photos.

  • Monica the Garden Faerie June 5, 2009, 3:15 am

    I never water my lawn (seriously; it’s mostly weeds and those stay green and look fine mowed) and I only water when planting/transplanting (and veggies). I have a bucket in my bathttub where i catch wtaer as it warms up. This then goes into the garden (or washing machine in winter). If you’re interested, I created a water-smart plant list here: http://thegardenfaerie.com/WaterSmartPlants.pdf.

  • Helen at Toronto Gardens June 5, 2009, 8:36 am

    I should modify my comment: I *grow* it only as a container plant. Last summer on a trip to UK, however, I saw phormium growing in a garden in Wales, and it was at least 5′ tall.

  • Pomona Belvedere June 5, 2009, 9:04 am

    Well, I’ve certainly learned a lot about phormium – thanks for enlightening me! I can see it’s a plant I should study more, and which has more variety than I thought.

    Monica, I think your link is a great idea, but it’s not working either by clicking or cutting and pasting. Can you re-do it?

  • Monica the Garden Faerie June 5, 2009, 12:53 pm

    The link is correct,the browser is just incorporating the perion into the URL:


    That should work!

  • susan (garden-chick) June 5, 2009, 5:23 pm

    Water rationing is becoming a serious reality for most of Southern California. I suspect the planting of low water gardens in place of lawn will start to increase considerably.

    I use phormiums in almost every design – they are the ultimate for foliage color and structure, although many of the most interesting new cultivars are prone to reversion AND becoming 8 feet tall instead of the 3 or 4 promised. But I thought the plant you were interested in identifying was the freaky orange one. I think it is Euphorbia tirucalli ‘Sticks on Fire’.

  • Pomona Belvedere June 5, 2009, 7:23 pm

    Yes! Thank you, I think Euphorbia tirucalli ‘Sticks on Fire’ is the name I remember from the one time I saw it identified, which was, oddly, at IKEA. (IKEA has powers to overwhelm me, so though I wrote it down, I was never able to find the piece of paper.)

    I’m also getting increasingly interested in phormiums, though; I’m getting an education through taking their pictures and having my blog readers tell me what they are! And since I’m taking the pictures because I think they look cool, I’m glad to have the info, and will start looking for more.

  • Gail June 6, 2009, 7:36 pm

    Even in states like TN which have enough water ~~right now~~gardeners need to be water wise! A very interesting tour, btw! Thanks, gail

  • tina June 6, 2009, 9:33 pm

    Well I sure need to learn to use less water. I think I baby my plants too much and this year I resolve not to. It is tough though.

    You mention grape vines. My husband really wants one and I may be ripping out a rose to put in a grape. The rose is too aggressive. But I really wanted to say I saw some beautiful grapevines in Iraq. Yup, you’d never expect it. The airport where we stayed had a huge arbor about 20 feet long, 12 feet wide and about as high. The grapes covered it. And yes, clusters of grapes hung down. No one ate them and I am sure they shriveled up once summer came as this was in May. A beautiful month in the area of Iraq where I was located. I sure wish I had had a digital camera when I was there. There wasn’t much in the way of gardening but by golly there were sunflowers, roses, and grapes:)

  • Pomona Belvedere June 7, 2009, 9:22 am

    Gail, it’s nice to hear that other areas are catching on to water-consciousness, too; you’re right, it’s something we all need to pay attention to.

    Tina, that airport grape arbor sounds beautiful, I would love it if airports here would do something like that; they’re always pretty sterile-looking to me. You do know grape vines are pretty aggressive too, right? Beautiful, but at least in our climate they take no prisoners.

  • Town Mouse June 7, 2009, 2:30 pm

    What an interesting post! I’m glad to see LA is catching on, though I must admit that for me, the front garden is public space, the back garden is for privacy. I used to have a front garden with lots of tall, tropical-looking things but much prefer the leaner native garden.
    I’ll be curious what plants you’ll nominate ;->

  • catmint June 10, 2009, 5:49 am

    What I like about all these gardens in their individuality, they were obviously created by people interested if not passionate about their gardens. Many gardens round here are formulaic, you can just tell that they were designed by someone who took what they learned at college as rules rather than guidelines. But other gardens are like beacons of inspiration.
    Re the water thing: the message is spreading – so many beautiful plants don’t need water, and as you point out, ordinary plants can be combined in stunning and orginal ways. Wonderful and interesting posts and photos.
    Cheers from your onetime transhemispheric collaborator. (I have finally managed to write about this – in my latest post)

  • Steve June 13, 2009, 9:40 am

    Waterwise gardening is making headway. Drip irrigation, of course, is a leader in extending the proper application of water without wasting it. I recently saw it referred to as “The Gold Standard” of irrigation. I guess that’s probably accurate, too.

    Mz. Belvedere, that house with the killer stone work was my favorite picture! Isn’t it wild what a guy or gal with a little mortar, some beer and a license to create can do?

  • BeWaterWise Rep September 9, 2009, 2:00 am

    Good to see your interest in water-saving plants! Gardening is fun and we must water wisely. I would like to share with you some tit-bits on how to start water-wise gardening. Visit http://bit.ly/4olL0B and continue to enjoy gardening!

  • Taylor October 24, 2015, 11:37 am

    I’m not super familiar with that area , but it looks to me like the celsost location listed on the chart is Farmington, with a date of May 1. If you tend to have similar weather to Farmington, I would use that date. You’re right on the edge of the two groups. If it is a mild winter/spring and you are excited, I would follow the yellow schedule. If it is a cold winter-spring and you are more relaxed, I would use the green schedule.

  • Sabrina October 24, 2015, 11:54 am

    Emily I am in the green group right? I have two emails busaece when I first registered I picked the wrong one blue . I visited Sam’s sight seriously you two are so amazing. I can’t wait to have my printer working so I can print off some worsheets. love shelby

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