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When we moved to our current home, there was a broad swath of green lawn across the front and, to keep it that bright green color, a sprinkler system that evoked visions of the Las Vegas Bellagio fountains. Even though we were not in a drought at the time, I knew this was completely wrong for this area.

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So out came most of the lawn and in went roses and other plants that did well enough for a few years but were beginning to suffer in the current drought.

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 Once established, the garden looked lovely for a few months in the moist winter and spring, but under our harsh summer sun, it became more like potpourri on sticks than the lush paradise I saw in my mind.

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We did have some struggling turf that remained, a favored lounge and play area for our canine companions.

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But bit by bit we had been removing it (and the dogs really didn’t mind), most notably by replacing part of it with a rain garden showcasing California native plants. This project whetted my appetite for more natives and California-friendly plantings.

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And when we heard about the generous rebates offered by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power for removing residential turf and replacing it with California-friendly plantings and permeable paving, well, that was just the push we needed.

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We measured the lawn and drew up a plan. Even though the maximum amount allowed for rebate was 2000 square feet, we wanted to remove about 3500 square feet of grass (not a problem to remove more, of course, but there’s no cash incentive after the limit).

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Next we picked California-friendly plants to cover 40 percent of the former lawn area and permeable paving materials to cover the rest. I was disappointed that no plants that formed anything like a turf were allowed, because there are appropriate plants that I would be happy to use (like dymondia or carex) but they do form a type of turf once established. Artificial grass is allowed, but because it heats up in direct sunlight and becomes extremely hot to the touch, and because it holds smells and needs to be washed down when cleaning up after dogs (and we have very large dogs), this wasn’t an option for us.

Approving the project

Besides, I’d rather have something real.

After completing the plan, we made sure all requirements were met: five or more color pictures of the existing grassy areas to be redone, with at least one of each specific location showing permanent fixtures (house, fence, street, etc.) as reference points, a planting list, a sketch of the area showing square footage, and a copy of a water bill.

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Sprinklers were to be removed and replaced with drip systems on timers, and a few other details. The requirements may have changed a bit since then. (For anyone interested in the details, the requirements are viewable after beginning the application process.)

We mailed in the application in early May (applicants can now apply online), hoping to hear good news soon. We couldn’t begin the project until it was approved, so we waited. And waited. I was concerned about the timing, with summer right around the corner—the worst possible time to plant in this area.

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I had already shopped around for someone who could do the work. There is a contractor-direct rebate option, but I couldn’t find one who would do the work for the amount of the rebate—most estimates came in at about three times that or, in a few cases, about ten times that amount. Although there are companies who will remove the lawn in exchange for the rebate, their cookie-cutter designs, sparse plantings and stark pavings didn’t match my lush Mediterranean visions. It seemed that those who understood the difference between “desert” and “Mediterranean” and who could make the landscape in my mind come to life simply could not make it happen within our budget.

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So on to plan B. I’ve always enjoyed DIY projects, so why not tackle one more? I shopped around for pricing on decomposed granite as the main paving material, started collecting “urbanite” (really just broken concrete) to use as paving stones, and began the hunt for someone who was really good with a Bobcat to remove our turf and artfully spread 24 tons of decomposed granite. Bobcat Mike came highly recommended, and he was on standby.

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In the meantime, we quit watering the lawn and summer’s heat took its toll. One day in late July I heard a knock at the door, and there on the crispy brown landscape stood a DWP representative. “I was nearby and thought I’d stop by for a pre-inspection.” Apparently they had been overwhelmed with requests and it was taking longer than expected to process applications. Anyway, I was very glad to see her. I showed her the now-dead grass, and we compared it with the photos of the verdant fields from a few months earlier. I explained that we had stopped watering, hoping that our water bill would drop (it didn’t, but that’s another story). We looked over the plan, which covered the entire property. She made sure I understood that we would only get a rebate for the maximum amount allowed by the program—which we did, but we wanted to remove the rest of the dying grass as well.

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I had to explain one area that I had listed as “edible garden.” A traditional vegetable garden was not allowed in this project, because they use too much water. (Water well-used, in my opinion, but I understand the intent of the program.) The edible garden I had planned, however, did fulfill the requirements.

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This one was bordered by established fig trees and grape vines one side, with new olive trees planned for the other, and included other unthirsty plants like California currant, artichokes, sage, thyme and rosemary, with an open rectangular area in the center where I imagined spending leisurely afternoons sipping Pastis and playing petanque.

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The LADWP representative and I discussed some of the existing plants as well as the ones I planned for the project.

Low-water-use succulents

I had been propagating some and sprouting others, and showed her pots of those that were waiting in the shade for their day in the sun.

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She seemed particularly intrigued by the euphorbia, the leucadendron and the more unusual succulents, then she was off to the next location. A letter of approval would be on its way, and we would have 120 days to complete the project.

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But by now it was the middle of summer—a very hot, dry summer. The absolute worst time to think about planting. How would we meet the deadline and keep the new plants alive?

~Until next time!

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