Plants that can be found in a California Hybrid Garden

One of the joys of being a garden designer is that, you can conceptualize any environment and with some know-how and creativity. From there, you can translate that world into reality. Here in southern California, we have a unique set of circumstances that have left many homeowners (and designers!) baffled as to where to begin.

Our severe drought means water-thirsty plants are out of the question. However, many people still think a low-water garden is going to look the Flintstones’ front yard. Secondly, our regional focus on sustainability and eating local means that many homeowners would like to grow some of their own food, but they have no idea where to begin.

At Farmista LA, I’ve turned a design problem into an opportunity, creating a new garden style that accommodates my clients’ desire for environmental responsibility while fulfilling the very “California” lifestyle of growing veggies and herbs. I call it the California Hybrid Garden and it is the “sweet spot” between a lack of water and a desire for a lush, inviting and edible garden.

Pro tip: Contrary to what you might expect, native plants transplant best in winter and spring.

Let’s first dispel the belief that native or “low-water” gardens look barren and unwelcoming. It’s all in plant selection and design. There are many specimens that have lush leaf patterns and bright foliage, including salvias, lavender and poppies. With the right color palate and planting plan, you can even create the feel of an abundant cottage garden. Many of the native plants pair well with modern gardens.

Pro tip: “Fruiting” veggies prefer more sun (about 8 hours per day), while greens and herbs can thrive with a bit less.

After you have a foundation of low-water plants in place, add the edible element with some raised veggie boxes. Build your own or start with a kit — just be sure to use food-safe materials and fill it with organic soil. Before you choose what to grow, consider what you like to cook. Add color and beauty with edibles like purple basil, red chard and nasturtiums.

Of course, you can enjoy this kind of hybrid garden anywhere, even if you aren’t facing environmental restrictions. One of the many pleasures of gardening is expressing your style — and even mixing different looks within the same yard. It’s ok to mix plaids and stripes — go for it! Have fun, be open to unusual combinations and don’t be afraid to fail once in awhile. Happy planting!

Jill Volat

wp-jill-volatJill Volat is owner of Farmista LA, Edible Gardens and Low-Water Landscapes, and is founding executive director of The Edible Apartment, a nonprofit that builds community-style urban farms underserved neighborhoods. She lives in her hometown of Los Angeles and has been gardening since she was 6 years old.