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Ocean-Friendly Gardens

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Re-directing water run-off into the garden to reduce ocean and watershed pollution and retain water resources on the property.

Whether you live inland, such as Thousand Oaks or Ojai, or in a beach community, such as Oxnard or Ventura, we all live near a watershed — an area of land where all of the water that is underneath us or that drains off of our property and into the streets flows to the same lowest point, namely our rivers, lakes and ultimately the ocean. Keeping our watersheds clean is not only important to maintaining healthy ecosystems for species and habitat, it is also important to our personal health which is impacted when we eat contaminated fish or swim and surf in polluted ocean water. 

The fact is, local businesses are not always the primary culprit when it comes to polluting our watersheds. Homeowners play a huge role as major contributors to water pollution. The water we allow to run-off into local streets and sewers is the primary problem. This is particularly evident after storms when we all too often hear that local beaches are closed due to contaminated run-off.

"Water running into the ocean is not inherently harmful," Douglas Kent writes in his book Ocean Friendly Gardens (published by Surfrider Foundation). "It is the stuff attached to it and the stuff it picks up on the way to the ocean that is. Fertilizers, pesticides, oils, cleaning solutions and organic debris [such as pet waste] all run off a landscape."

When we look at traditional landscapes what do we see? Too often, our neighborhoods were specifically designed to remove as much water from our properties as possible. Downspouts from roofs are directed to impermeable surfaces such as driveways or flow directly into pipes that lead to the curb. Inefficient irrigation systems over-spray onto sidewalks and the street. Inappropriate, water-thirsty plants and lawns use too much of our water resources and chemical fertilizers.

Fortunately, the trend is shifting to creating “ocean-friendly gardens” which not only recognize the benefits of retaining as much water on the property as possible for our drought-prone gardens, but also promote sustainable landscaping. And artistically created bioswales and dry stream beds that capture the water and allow it to percolate into the soil are beautiful design elements for any garden. 

Nature by Design has been creating ocean-friendly, sustainable garden landscapes for our clients since 2001 and are thrilled that the concept is rapidly going mainstream. We are finally experiencing greater acceptance of replacing lawns and impermeable hardscapes with softer, wilder, climate-appropriate Mediterranean and native plant gardens that protect our watersheds, conserve water, support our local wildlife, and don’t require chemical fertilizers or pesticides. 

© Lisa Burton • Nature by Design 2016