The Coastal Gardener: A garden can be both beautiful, sustainable

May 13, 2011|By Ron Vanderhoff
  • The Yunker Garden, an award-winning California Friendly garden in Huntington Beach.
The Yunker Garden, an award-winning California Friendly… (Ron Vanderhoff,…)

One doesn't have to be a great gardener to have a great garden.

In your wandering and observations all of you have come upon great gardens.

I divide great gardens into two groups; those that were bought and those that were built. Make no mistake, a great garden can be bought. There are a handful of truly amazing landscape designers and contractors here in Southern California who, with the proper amount of resources, can serve up not just a good garden, but a world-class garden.

Likewise, all of you have seen great gardens that were more labors of love than the product of a hefty checkbook, these were created by a rare devotion to the garden combined with almost constant adjustments and tinkering.

Lots of money certainly doesn't equate to a great garden any more than lots of love and tinkering does. But occasionally, truly superb gardens can arise from either approach.


When I look at a garden I now look more deeply into it than I did in the past. I enjoy the present, but I also linger for a moment upon its origins. I especially ponder its future. Building a great garden for the moment is a nice achievement, but a garden that will endure is an extraordinary achievement.

How will the garden be maintained? What will be the cost of this maintenance, both in terms of time, money and the impact upon our natural resources?

These are questions that must now be included when assessing a great garden. A sustainable garden minimizes negative impacts and maximizes positive ones. It might thrive on rainwater and it might keep plant clippings and green waste on site. It likely celebrates its location on the planet. It certainly operates in harmony with both the seasons and the climate in which it grows. It should require a minimum amount of outside products and resources to sustain it.

The conventional, suburban landscape, much like those up and down your street, almost always equates to "work" because it is inherently unmaintainable, whereas a sustainable California Friendly garden is just the opposite. Stability, or I'll call it "maintainability" can be built into the design of the garden, but it requires some out of-the-box thinking.

In fact, most of what the landscape industry and homeowners call "maintenance" is unnecessary, a by-product of poor design.

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