Sustainable Landscaping for Our Mediterranean Climate

Sustainable landscaping doesn’t mean ugly or neglected: Traditional gardens in areas with a Mediterranean climate (sustainable landscapes in California) use proven techniques to reduce water consumption and create a cool and comfortable retreat. We have often used the same techniques in our own gardens, but if we adjust our mindset slightly we can be more water and energy efficient and make beauty a top priority. Instead of wall-to-wall lawns or lush New England-style greenery, consider where to place:

  • Hardscape such as patios, seat walls, patios and paved pathways encourage outdoor living and reduce the watered garden area.
  • Shadow structures such as arbors, pergolas and pavilions offer comfort in summer heat and reduce heat absorption through hard surfaces.
  • Container gardens to create an oasis of lush plants while controlling water consumption.
  • Water features such as fountains and pools lower the ambient temperature, increase well-being and create a relaxing sound, while using less water than in a heavily watered garden.

A combination of elements: The front yard often has the best sun exposure. So why not add a terrace to enjoy the winter months? Carve out an area big enough to hold a few pieces of outdoor furniture, install hardscape, add bushes privacy screens, and muffle street noise with a small water feature. Voila! Fun place to have coffee and so much less lawn to water and mow!

Design adds to the drama: Planted areas don’t have to be large to create a dramatic effect. Start with the shape of the lawn and flower beds. Most of us have square or rectangular backyards with a concrete square patio and a cedar fence as a backdrop. Choose the best location for trees, shrubs, lawns, and flower beds, and make sure you create a focal point where the eye naturally wanders. Keep the lawn area small and design it away from the fence to avoid puddles of water on posts. Enlarge the flower beds to accommodate a variety of shrubs and perennials that use less summer water and increase the depth of view. Now give each planted area at least one gentle curve. When the lawn hits the concrete, keep that line straight and move the curve to another side. Make the front of the flower beds curved and let their backs follow the fence line.

Plant selection: Choose drought tolerant plants that look good in groups. Their shapes and colors can vary, but tie them together with mixed plants in neutral colors like silver and gray. Foliage color, texture, and general plant shape can be more important than flower color. Planting in groups at appropriate intervals creates waves of color and interest with less garden maintenance. Before you buy, create mini vignettes of your plants in the nursery, discuss your ideas or take a look at the magazines and books that are full of ideas.

Gardeners who plan outdoor living spaces with our Mediterranean climate in mind, and then choose plants that are adapted to our surroundings, can have a beautiful garden with less work. The use of regionally suitable gardening techniques saves time, energy and resources and reduces air and water pollution from garden chemicals and strength equipment. It’s time to move on to sustainable landscaping.

The master gardeners will answer your questions live at two upcoming events: March 6th, 11 am to 2 pm at Ace Hardware in Visalia; March 13th and 13th, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Luis Nursery in Visalia. Your phone lines are open at 559-684-3325. Or visit the website at

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