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GARDEN STYLE : The Lawn Goodbye

March 22, 1992|ROBERT SMAUS

The drought did it. After five dry years, many Southern Californians have been rethinking the garden and the kinds of plants they put in it. They've discarded the notion that the only appealing landscape design is a lush lawn and thirsty flowers. Now, in spite of recent heavy rains, interesting new drought-tolerant plants are changing the look of gardens from bright green to soft gray-green, like our natural vegetation. These gardens can't do without water, of course, but snowfall in the Sierra can come up short and the yard will still look fine.

hen Santa Monica landscape architect Raymond Hansen planned this water-wise garden in Pacific Palisades, he bravely eliminated the lawn. Instead of turf, he used gravel to provide the sense of a clearing and ornamental grasses to create the feeling of a peaceful meadow. The result is a garden with pleasing colors and textures that echo those of the hillside behind the house.

Like a natural landscape, the design is free-flowing. Plants drift through the garden, serving not as background or filler but as architectural elements. Most are newly imported from other Mediterranean climates, so they are not leafy and green but muted and spare. Foliage is more important than flowers, and ornamental grasses and grasslike plants steal the show. Hansen has planted two kinds of Festuca, 'Blausilber' and 'April Gruen'; a tall, toast-brown grass, Carex buchananii , and grasslike dietes; dwarf horsetail and the dwarf red flax, 'Jack Spratt.' Nearby, the gray leaves of the cabbage tree Cussonia paniculata stand like sculpture.

Water conservation is important here, but there is more: This garden speaks of wildness and nature and what gardens should look like in this sunny, dry climate.

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