L.A.’s Drought: Favorite Low-Water Plants Recommended By A-List Landscape Designers

As Los Angeles enters the dog days of summer, lawns and greenery are looking a little less green amid the city’s drought-induced water restrictions, which allow for outdoor watering only two days a week — in early mornings and nights, at eight minutes per station.

In an effort to avoid having a brown front yard while still conserving water, more and more residents are turning to drought-tolerant landscaping.

Variegated ‘Arctic Frost’ Lomandra, a grass-like perennial from Australia, grown by Monrovia.

Monrovia Nursery Co, by Brandon Friend-Solis

While there have been requests for low-water gardens for years, “with the new water restrictions, we are getting ‘take out my lawn’ calls and emails every day,” says Grow Outdoor Design’s Joel Lichtenwalter, whose clients have included Naomi Watts and Chelsea Handler. In place of lawns, he turns to such low-water current faves as grassy Lomandra “Breeze,” Whale’s Tongue Agave, purple Penstemon “Margarita B.O.P.” and evergreen shrub Mahonia “Soft Caress.”

Advises Lichtenwalter, “If you’re willing to take the chance, see what plants make it this summer in your garden when you follow the restrictions.”

Kate Anne Gross of Kate Anne Designs says she’s also seeing “homeowners race to swap out [what’s in] their gardens this year” and recommends plants like dwarf olive shrubs, rosemary, kangaroo paws, lavender, echeveria succulents and westringia shrubs (sometimes called coast rosemary because of the similarity between the two plants). She also is a fan of faux lawns (though some designers don’t like fake turf because it can get hot and it’s made of non-biodegradable plastic).

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“During our design phase, we start with mapping out the ‘rooms’ within the yard, and then we sprinkle in the drought-tolerant plants throughout to soften the feel,” Gross says. She likes synthetic turf to add in “a lush green look while creating a great place to play and hang.”

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Left: A border by Kate Ann Designs includes kangaroo paw and westringia. Right: “Landscape Lilac,” a new variety of kangaroo paw, at San Marcos Growers wholesale nursery.

Courtesy of Subject; San Marcos Growers

Judy Kameon of Elysian Landscapes says that along with choosing low-water-use plants like variegated “Meerlo” lavender, Skyscraper Senecio (an upright blue-leaved succulent) and cream-and-green-striped Lomandra “Platinum Beauty,” first steps can include planting trees to create more shade and using drip irrigation. She also says gravel is not a universal solution despite its popularity. “I think a lot of people thought ripping out plants and putting in gravel was a great idea, but it actually creates a lot of heat,” Kameon says. If it’s used, she recommends placement “under the canopy of a tree in part or in an area where you naturally get some shade from your house.”

Water-saving measures across L.A. appear to be helping. In June, H20 use fell 9 percent compared with the same month a year before, according to L.A. Department of Water and Power statistics. But as the climate crisis continues, designers stress an importance to investing long-term in drought-tolerant landscapes.

“Be creative with permeable surfaces and low-water plant materials; if not, your option will become artificial turf and plastic plants,” says Lichtenwalter. “Embrace the yearly cycles of our seasons and learn to change the paradigm of what you consider beautiful.”

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This story first appeared in the July 20 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.