A beauty contest with brains

Posted on | May 2, 2010 | 3 Comments

IN the name of water conservation and reducing storm-water pollution, the city of Santa Monica has embarked on a demonstration project that not only shows what a sustainable garden looks like, but also offers design schematics, expert referrals and assurance that nurseries will make the plants available.

The latest move builds on the success of the 2004 demonstration project titled “garden/garden” at Santa Monica City College. It provided a side-by-side comparison of a water-saving landscape with a conventional one.

The new project, to be built on city-owned property at 3200 Airport Ave., will involve construction of three sustainable gardens side by side. According to a statement released by the city, among the design criteria were incorporation of “outdoor living room features, elements from Mediterranean and shade gardens, climate appropriate plants, permeable paving, veggie gardens, play areas, drip irrigation and lawn alternatives.”

What will the three gardens look like? That’s up to the public. After putting out a call to interested landscapers for prospective designs in February, then whittling down 27 entries to a short list of nine plans, the city is asking the public to vote on which three gardens to build.

Illustrations: Three of the nine schematics shortlisted by the City of Santa Monica. Click here to keep reading about the contest in the Los Angeles Times.


3 Responses to “A beauty contest with brains”

  1. David Zetland
    May 3rd, 2010 @ 12:05 pm

    Beautiful, but I bet that they cost more than a lawn to install and maybe to maintain. Gotta keep that in mind before “requiring” folks to do these…

  2. EmilyGreen
    May 3rd, 2010 @ 12:21 pm

    Hi David. I’m glad you brought up cost. The cost of the various types of gardens was systematically tested by the City of Santa Monica. Click on the link in the post for garden/garden to be taken to the PDF with the breakdown. In this experiment, which has now run for six years, the sustainable (in this case, native) garden was more expensive to install $16K vs $12K for conventional lawn and hedges. That said, the prices for the gardens in the new trial should be cheaper to install because of improving nursery capacity with native and drought tolerant plants. Where the costs really become telling is in maintenance. The yearly maintenance bill for conventional was $800 for the sustainable and a whopping $3,000 for the conventional. Lawn is the “cheap” landscape that just keeps on taking. Moreover, water use was 14,000 gallons for the sustainable versus 76,700 gallons for lawn. Maintenance dealing with biomass was monthly for the native/sustainable garden, compared to weekly for the conventional. And that doesn’t add in costs of greenwaste haulage or composting, or the incredible carbon load, air pollution and noise from lawn machinery in Los Angeles.

    The Garden/garden trial was for front gardens, so much of the planting is display. The three new demonstration gardens are clearly for back gardens. They involve food and outdoor living spaces, so they will have higher water uses, but not necessarily higher maintenance. There is also the very important function of trapping run-off for a bay city.

    Nobody is “requiring” folks to do these. In fact, the default “requirement” given available plant stock and cultural attitudes is that we use lawn, which has proved a disaster in terms of our resources, quality of living, air quality, and an estimated 100m gallons of polluted garden run-off into the Pacific every day from sprinklers.

  3. Ita Vanderbrook
    May 15th, 2010 @ 6:55 pm

    Emily, you rock!

    Love all your articles in the LA Times.

    I’m in the process of scoping out costs to replace my lawn and developing a design. It is pricey, but I plan to do it a little at a time so it doesn’t hurt my pocketbook as much. I don’t mind if the yard looks a little bare for a while.

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