streetside; your own personal prairie

When my job canceled today, I knew exactly where I wanted to go before breakfast, before even the first cup of coffee. The local neighborhood prairie.

It’s something you don’t see everyday in my coastal neighborhood in Los Angeles County, where a mix of succulents are usually the first landscape choice for stylishly beating the drought. This is a very new, waterwise, lawn-to-garden conversion built around a matrix of grasses, with the eyebrow grass, Bouteloua gracilis, predominating. There are zero succulents included. The folksy, barn-red color of the bungalow and wood-and-cattle-panel fence reinforce the expression of pioneer spirit reflected in their choice of landscape.

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This is prairie Southern California style. The blue against the pillars is from plumbago trained on cattle panel.

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A native cypress, Cupressus macrocarpa ‘Citriodora’

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Easy to tell that the house faces east.

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On the south side, Pittosporum is planted along the outside of the fence near the sidewalk. The dark leaves are a Euphorbia cotinifolia. White roses are most likely ‘Iceberg.’

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Young cypresses behind the fence. So this open, inviting view is only temporary until the privacy screens mature.

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There’s some sort of mesh shade cloth hanging behind the bell.

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The climber Solanum jasminoides will fill in here too.

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Detail of cattle panel fence, last night’s party lights still lit. Paper bags as shades for battery-powered votives maybe?

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I should have waited for sunrise before taking this photo, but it shows how the fence fits into the side entrance. From this side I could hear sounds in the kitchen of the household waking, so it seemed impolite to linger.

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Unlike my admittedly superficial trial of the eyebrow grass, these are proving that it will thrive in Southern California. Bouteloua gracilis is the smallest of the prairie grasses. Their size sets the scale for the rest of the garden, with plants in bloom just grazing above the knee on a walk from the front door to the mailbox.

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Informal paths of decomposed granite wind through the plantings. We’re often warned against using d.g. where it might be tracked indoors onto wooden floors. Maybe a shoes-off policy is a house rule here. I like that the porch paint is in the same color range as the d.g.

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Among the big sweeps of eyebrow grass are also carex, phormium, lavender, caryopteris, gaura, Salvia greggii, yarrow.

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And a couple clumps of the ruby grass, Melinus nerviglumis

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How much “down” time a prairie-style landscape imposes is a key issue in a climate that handles dormancy almost imperceptibly. There are many plant choices that will see a zone 10 landscape through the year without any bare soil visible at any time or need for radical haircuts. Roughly calculating, if the grasses are cut back, say, before Christmas, they’ll be making growth again in February. On the other hand, many succulents also have periods where they’re not at their best, high summer for example. Knowing the trade-offs when choosing how and with what plants to replace the front lawn is a crucial consideration. What I like about this house and garden is that it seems to know exactly what it wants.

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16 Responses to streetside; your own personal prairie

  1. Scott Weber says:

    I love it! I just wish my own Bouteloua looked so nice…I can’t figure out why it’s so sad…too much shade…or too much dog pee 🙁

  2. ks says:

    How nicely done this is ! I’m a bit sad about the eventual size of the Pittosporums and Cypress, but I understand the need for screening in an urban environment.Bouteloua will be featured prominently in my hellstrip re-do. Lovely photos–hope you can take us for another visit here in spring.Wonder what the back looks like ?

  3. Kris P says:

    I’ve been fascinated with Bouteloua ‘Blond Ambition’ ever since I saw it in Santa Monica’s Tongva Park. Maybe I can find some room for it soon…thanks for sharing your early morning ramble.

  4. Mark and Gaz says:

    It’s another good alternative for succulent planting indeed that is also as waterwise perhaps. The airy, light, yet beautiful feel to this planting is undeniable.

  5. rusty duck says:

    That is beautiful. I love the Bouteloua gracilis. In trying to track it down it looks like the variety ‘Blonde Ambition’, which I can’t seem to get here. I shall keep looking. Good that it stays short too.

  6. Peter/Outlaw says:

    What a great house and garden! The consistency and discipline (not buying one of anything that strikes one’s fancy) of the landscape really make this place sing!

  7. Denise says:

    @Scott, I was shocked how well the eyebrow grass is doing here. Lots of air circulation maybe?
    @Kathy, I know that fence line is densely planted. There is an inner side garden off that side entrance that will be very, very shaded.
    @Kris, maybe a candidate for your new project?
    @M&G, the only other grass that’s about this scale is the dreaded feather grass, a real pest here, so I’m glad they went with this one.
    @RD, maybe a seed source then? The Blonde Ambition has bigger flowers but in a pinch maybe the species will do.

  8. Denise says:

    Peter, doesn’t that discipline stuff bring amazing results?

  9. Bob says:

    There are probably lots of places to get seed of Bouteloua gracilis. Plants of the Southwest sells packets of 500 seeds for $3.25. Comes up very quickly when the soil is 60 degrees or so.
    My “lawns”, front and back, are mostly this grass.
    PSW sells “native” seed, origin Colorado, but there are named varieties like ‘Hachita’ and ‘Lovington’ from New Mexico, and ‘Bad River’ for more northern states (Idaho, Montana). (Western Native Seed for those.) There seems to be some difference in performance between these ecotypes, so maybe a selection native to California would be best. I find seed to work a lot better than plants.

    But ….”eyebrow grass”? Blue grama. State grass of both Colorado and New Mexico.

  10. hb says:

    you found another gem!

  11. Nice garden, and I really enjoy the layout with the house and cattle panel fence. Not getting that grama’s popularity except it’s “cute” name – all blue grama I’ve seen for hundreds of miles and 3 decades is beautiful! Good point on dormancy or lack thereof in your area…how about local selections of Aristida purpurea, which are tuned into your climate? And with all that oak savannah in areas, there must be some treasures already available.

    (I need to post on my winter visit to Tree of Life Nursery above San Clemente sometime…interesting, not what I expected)

  12. Pam/Digging says:

    I’m planning to do more with Blonde Ambition grama in my garden too — set up against a rusty red wall, I think. It does well here in Austin, but it wants full sun and excellent drainage. Perhaps that’s Scott’s problem: not enough sun, drainage, or heat?

    Thanks for sharing this garden. I really like it.

  13. Shirley F. says:

    It all works together for a well-done and relaxing space. The Blonde Ambition looks so much better there than in my garden. I think it’s the larger clumps so I’m making notes to beef them up.

  14. Denise says:

    @Bob, thanks for setting me straight on the name and seed source for this noble grass.
    @Hoov, they really did a nice job on their front garden. Once again, one-and-done landscape is best done by the non-plant collectors. But who has more fun? 😉
    @David, I’m trying out aristida this year. Yes, please post! Sounds intriguing.
    @Pam, I need to give it a another try too, and not overcrowd it this time. It needs space to shine.
    @Shirley, what’s more relaxing than watching grass blow in the wind? Maybe watching dogs play…or a campfire…or ocean waves, but that’s about all I can think of.

  15. Les says:

    I remember visiting NYC when I was a teen and coming across a small fenced off area that had been planted to resemble pre-Columbian Manhattan island. It fascinated me. Your post makes me wonder what kind of plants may have been present before folksy bungalow were built in California.

  16. Chuck Barrick says:

    Happy and proud to say that this is my house and the amazing woman who designed this garden is my (not only talented but beautiful) wife. These beautiful photos and wonderfully written post were done shortly (as within 3-6 months) of planting and just after our wedding that we held here. A lot has changed, much has grown and been planted and some things were lost. One thing I’m learning is that a garden, like life, is filled with change. I’m so proud, happy, and blessed to have a beautiful life and garden–thanks to my beautiful wife and gardener 🙂

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