water-conserving gardens

Every year the water districts in San Diego county sponsor a contest to recognize gardens that use low amounts of water. The California-Friendly Landscape Contest has winners for each water district, and then overall winners in three major categories: best do-it-yourself, best professionally designed, and best native plantings.

Here are a few images of the prize winners this season. I think they show that you can have a lively yard without using swimming pools-full of water to keep things green. Some of the winners feature cactus and succulents, but you can see below that you don’t have to do the desert-thing to use less water.

Best California-native. Winner: Gidlund. Our native flora has plenty of choices that should be used more frequently. Flowering selections in this garden feature sages (salvias), asters (erigeron), and monkey flowers (mimus or diplacus, depending on which authority you side with).

Best in City of San Diego. Winner: Johnson. Succulents with contrasting leaf colors and forms star in this garden. This image features agaves, euphorbias and senecios among the assortment.

Best do-it-yourself. Winners: Mendell, Kirk (sorry, they only listed the last names…). This entry was another of the succulent-intensive ones, but this shows a portion of the garden with mounds of low plants with contrasting foliage, as well as plants in the distance in bloom. Most of us like flowers, don’t we?

Best professionally-designed. Winner: Whitney. A number of broad-leaved plants with beautifully contrasting foliage feature in this landscape. I think the contrasts are absolutely gorgeous!

Many of the photos show landscapes that aren’t 100% mature, but you can get a sense of what the gardens will look like in a few years. Also, as in many landscaping contests, the hardscape seems to get a lot of the attention. I’m of two minds on that issue. For a landscaper, a large portion of the profit resides in the hardscape details, with markup on a gazebo being way more than on a few shrubs. So some of the landscapes seem to push the human features rather than natural ones. But in the case of a well-placed garden path: what better way to imagine yourself in the new landscape than by “walking” through the space with your eyes, following a gentle meander through your beautiful new garden?

Check out all the winners. The deadline to enter next year’s competition is April 6, 2009, so that gives us all a few months to do a little replanting. In the end, any garden that helps save water can be declared a winner.

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