Water-wise garden grows in popularity

Westlake Village home leads the way

BILL SPARKESAcorn NewspapersGARDEN OF DELIGHT—Philippa Klessig displays some of the plants growing in the water-efficientgarden at her home in Westlake Village. Klessig estimates that she’s reduced watering costs byone-quarter to one-third, without sacrificing lushness. Klessig’s native California garden has been afive-year work in progress. Below right, an attractive succulent thrives in the sun.

BILL SPARKESAcorn NewspapersGARDEN OF DELIGHT—Philippa Klessig displays some of the plants growing in the water-efficientgarden at her home in Westlake Village. Klessig estimates that she’s reduced watering costs byone-quarter to one-third, without sacrificing lushness. Klessig’s native California garden has been afive-year work in progress. Below right, an attractive succulent thrives in the sun.


By Stephanie Bertholdo

bertholdo@theacorn.com

Water-wise landscaping has moved far beyond the barren, drought-resistant desert gardens where cactus and other succulents previously reigned supreme.

Philippa Klessig, a landscape designer and Westlake Village City Council member, should know. Her stunning Three Springs home sits on a sprawling one-acre lot and is a testament to xeriscaping, a method of gardening that involves choosing drought-tolerant plants appropriate to the site. A xeriscaped garden needs little water.

Klessig estimates that her drought-conscious garden saves about $150 to $200 a month on her water bill.

Klessig’s garden is more eclectic than the typical xeriscape. The landscaping at the Klessig’s home explodes in a variety of colors, textures and fragrances depending upon the season.

What was once a blanket of green grassy lawn fronting Klessig’s home has developed into a mother of thyme carpet with light purple flowers and a rich, wild texture. The perennial creeping plant is reported to possess properties used in decongestants, antiseptics, cough remedies and digestive aids. Thyme is also great for cooking.

“It’s fabulous,” said Klessig. “Walk out into the front yard and get your herbs for dinner.”

Klessig also grows her own oregano and rosemary, but her basil died when a broken sprinkler head went unnoticed. She said her herbal lawn can be walked upon and needs between one-quarter and one-third less water than a typical grass lawn.

Also in front, bundles of Russian sage cast a beautiful shade of purple, while the Mexican sage, said Klessig, turns an “incredible” blue when in bloom.

As for maintenance, Mexican sage needs trimming just once a year.

Carex frosty curls add movement to the Klessig garden. The silvery green grass sways with the slightest breeze and adds a contrasting texture to the sweeping thyme lawn.

“The problem with (frosty curls) is that the bunnies love them, too,” she said.

While the Japanese silver grass is not considered a waterwise plant, Klessig’s placement of the plant in a hollow under the shade helps it retain water longer.

Passion in bloom

Klessig said her love of gardening was born when she was eight years old and received her first rose from her mother. But, it would be decades before Klessig turned her passion into a career.

She had previously worked as a production manager for an advertising firm and helped her husband, Karl, also a gardening buff, operate several software companies.

In 2000, however, Klessig went back to school to earn a degree in landscape design.

“I thought (landscape design) would be a lot less stress,” she said.

In 2003 Klessig was elected to the Westlake Village City Council where she currently serves.

The fire wheel tree on the Klessigs’ property is another specimen that is not particularly frugal with water, but its placement in the garden has helped. The tree, which blooms giant red blossoms, is surrounded by ground cover to maintain a higher level of moisture for a longer period of time, said Klessig.

Other plants need significantly less water, from the day lilies and the artemesias to the vincas that are prolific growers in the summer heat and produce delicate flowers.

Since Klessig’s garden is a work in progress, mistakes are inevitable. Klessig experimented with a flax plant, but the generally hearty plant with stalks that blend colors of red, cream and green became sun-scorched and turned brown. Klessig has other flax plants that fared better in the shade.

On the side of Klessig’s home is another garden that contains edibles. The plum, peach and nectarine trees are on sprinkler “bubblers” that place water more directly at the roots of the trees. A variety of tomato plants also thrive.

The light green powis castle artemesias that she’s planted are native California species and very drought-tolerant.

“It’s incongruous to have a bright green lawn and golden hills behind it,” Klessig pointed out.

Those same golden hills provide a stunning backdrop to Klessig’s garden. She said that in the spring the hills erupt in wildflowers and wild sage. The back section of Klessig’s garden appears wild, but every plant has been painstakingly chosen and cultivated to blend with the rugged mountains behind her home. The autumn sage offers a rainbow of colors—red, purple, blue and orange.

The mix also includes red fountain grass, Mexican feather grass and tall verbena bonariensas, which Klessig says grows like a weed but produces lovely purple blooms. More Russian sage is found in the backyard and its blue spires mingle well with the orange California lion’s tail plants. The flowers attract bumblebees, which in turn pollinate the fruit trees.

“When the sun sets back there, it’s back-lit and it just shimmers,” Klessig said.

The regal coral tree is from South America. It sits at the base of a slope where water collects. Klessig said the tree blooms in early spring with brilliant red flowers. There are also California poppies, sticky monkey flowers and another variety of wild sage that sprouts vibrant blue flowers.

The Klessig’s property is so expansive that she and Karl still have room for a traditional lawn. But when a patch of grass dies, Klessig plants a mini-garden rather than reseeding the lawn.

“The brown spots become floating islands,” Klessig said.

There’s even room for a succulent garden, home to more typical drought-resistant plants. The plants didn’t do well in clay, so Klessig built mounds of more porous soil for better drainage.

Another tip for saving water is to place rocks and boulders in the garden, Klessig said. The crevices allow water to gather and keep plants well-irrigated.

Wild animals seem to love the garden as much as the Klessigs. Families of quail enjoy dining in the natural garden and the bird feeder must be constantly filled. A roadrunner periodically stops by and many kinds of bird and butterfly have made their homes in the gardens.

Elsewhere on the grounds, citrus trees and roses share an arbor. Klessig also is training an apple tree to grow against one of her walls. The fuji apples are sharing space with some oregano plants.

Outside the Klessig’s dining room, jasmine grows. The fragrant plant adds to the ambience of dinner parties, said Klessig. In the same area are plants that require more water, including camellias, coleus, begonias, and New Guinea impatiens with spectacular blooms and leaves.

“Each area has a different season,” said Klessig, who looks forward to experimenting with a new line of Australian plants.

Ironically, an Australian pincushion bush from a neighbor’s yard is now creeping onto the Klessig property.

The plant has turned its spiky orange blossoms toward the Klessig home as if it knows it will be welcome.

 

 

 

 

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