Home & Garden

From boring lawn to water-wise yard, step by step

Roberta Walker, an authority on drought-proof gardens who has a new DVD out, transformed this Land Park front yard into a water-wise oasis.
Roberta Walker, an authority on drought-proof gardens who has a new DVD out, transformed this Land Park front yard into a water-wise oasis. rpench@sacbee.com

Landscape designer Roberta Walker has helped change the look of the streets where we live.

Gone are constant green strips of lawn, running nonstop from home to home. Now, little winding rivers of stone and bright splashes of flowers break up many of our neighborhoods.

Boring pancake-flat grass has made way for undulating mounds, covered with blooming bushes in neon hues of yellow, orange and pink. Butterflies and bees enjoy the vibrant lantana, bottlebrush and other shrubs as much as the people walking by do.

Glancing down a block in this Land Park neighborhood, Walker noted front yard after front yard that she had a hand in transforming.

“Homeowners usually find me because of the work I’ve done,” she said. “When I started doing this, I was one of the few people around here who was creating water-saving landscapes. That was back in 2008-09 – when we were in another drought.”

Since then, Walker has designed more than 1,000 water-wise landscapes, mostly in the greater Sacramento area. Her work has been featured in Sunset magazine and on HGTV’s “Gardening by the Yard.”

Working with hundreds of homeowners and all sorts of landscape issues, Walker has learned a lot about how to transform traditional lawn-based gardens into water-saving oases that don’t look like deserts. She’s distilled her best advice into a new DVD, “Before & After: Lose Your Lawn & Create a New Drought Tolerant Landscape,” available now on her website.

“This is an educational tool for do-it-yourselfers,” she said. “If you’re going to do this, you need to follow the steps.”

The first hurdle often is visualization. Lawn is easy to picture, but what will its replacement look like?

“That’s why people love ‘before and after’ pictures,” Walker said. “It shows potential. The DVD is not only about how to do it right, but the potential in drought-tolerant gardens.

“These are not about cactus and tumbleweeds; we aren’t making desert gardens,” she added. “In our climate, drought-tolerant is all about color. This DVD is all about possibilities.”

Some sites may look familiar to Sacramento residents. Walker used several clients as before-and-after examples.

Among them is the Land Park corner lot owned by Cathy Peterson and Richard Tucker. The yellow house has a 1920s Florida vibe with streamlined curves and accents. But the former front yard did little to attract attention, Walker noted. It was a plain flat lawn with a straight walkway and a lonely palm tree.

Five years ago, Walker and her crew dug up the lawn and reshaped the landscape. Now mature and established, the water-wise garden vibrates with color and has an almost tropical feel, complementing the sunny yellow house. Besides the front yard, a plain grass side yard became a sidewalk gallery with a brick-trimmed privacy wall next to kangaroo paws and sedums.

“It was a transformation, to put it mildly!” Tucker said. “We absolutely love it. I think that what we like the most are the colors that we have year-round. Roberta did a great job picking out plants with flowers that bloom at different times of the year. We also like that the yard requires very little maintenance.”

The neighbors like it, too.

“This looks beautiful,” said Josh Jurgensen. “People are always stopping by to look. When it went in, they could tell it was a drought-tolerant design. The best part – I didn’t anticipate – was the growth. It’s voluminous and beautiful.”

Walker also worked on the front yard next door. Hand-placed river rock continues the water-wise theme from one garden to the next. So does the choice of plants and eye-catching summer flowers.

“This young lady is a genius,” said homeowner Rufus Chalmers. “This garden is a colorful thing.”

Debbie Arrington: 916-321-1075, @debarrington

Before & After

▪ “Before & After: Lose Your Lawn & Create a New Drought Tolerant Landscape” ($34.95 plus $4.75 shipping and handling) is available from Roberta Walker’s website, www.robertawalker.com. Her site also includes a gallery of other water-wise makeovers by the Sacramento-based landscape designer.

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