Is There Room for Ornamentals in the Gardens of “New” California? | The Nature of Cities

California has long been a center of gardening culture. With a mild climate and a history of agricultural expansion followed by rapid urbanization, California’s ornamental gardens are populated by plant species and cultivars imported from all over the world. Many of these exotic species have become iconic, such as the palm trees, figs, and citrus of southern California. However, the current drought has brought wide recognition of the fact that most of these ornamental plants, from the palm trees of Rodeo Drive to Santa Barbara’s landmark Moreton Bay Fig, are supported by irrigation that is rapidly becoming a scarce commodity. So, is there a place for ornamental gardens in the new California? We’ve been studying this question for a number of years in Los Angeles and its surrounding municipalities, and fortunately, the answers are not as alarming as most people seem to assume.

Water conservation in irrigated gardens generally has three components: watering less; employing more efficient irrigation technologies; and changing the composition of garden plants (by removing lawns and non-waterwise species, for example). Many Californians have concerns about the costs of these measures and their implications for the aesthetic and recreational quality of urban parks and gardens. Just as “xeriscaping” became associated with mental images of sparsely planted cacti and succulents that were unappealing to most people, the new language of water conservation is “mandatory watering restrictions,” which brings to mind brown lawns and withered flowers. Is that the future of California’s cities?

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California  largely has a Mediterranean climate with winter rain and summer drought much like the Western Cape and Cape Town in particular and like South Africa is short of potable water, especially for its lush gardens and leafy suburbs. This article is relevant given the emphasis on indigenous (native) planting and of South Africa’s version of Xeriscaping- Water-wise gardening and how dependant these lush gardens are  on exotic trees and large expanses of lawns.

Seems there can be both sustainable use of water and a balanced use of water for shade and greenery.

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