Photo: Laure Joliet for Sunset

Photo: Laure Joliet for Sunset

In 2010, I began to think about my front yard again. I decided that I wanted to convert the space into an edible garden, thinking it would be cool to grow strawberries similar to what I grew up enjoying throughout my childhood growing up on a farm in Sacramento. However, this idea wasn’t the first attempt to re-think my garden.

Photo: Laure Joliet for Sunset

Photo: Laure Joliet for Sunset

When I moved into my home in 1991, the front yard was your basic Bermuda grass lawn, similar to practically everyone else’s front yard in the neighborhood. Over the last twenty-five years, I redesigned my front yard four times. Each new attempt was an exploration of a different design idea that was of interest to me.

Photo: Laure Joliet for Sunset

Photo: Laure Joliet for Sunset

The fruits of a gardener's labor can last well beyond the season of fruits and vegetables with a little preservation.

The fruits of a gardener’s labor can last well beyond the season of fruits and vegetables with a little preservation. Photo: Laure Joliet

If you were in Los Angeles in the early 1990’s, you will remember that we were experiencing another drought, one which was viewed then as an “irritant” to our everyday lives. As a Landscape Architect, I was interested in adaptable landscape design, but most of my clients were very resistant to an aesthetic that wasn’t green and tropical. We often used the term “xeriscape” to describe this landscape typology, which never really caught on because many people thought only nature lovers would appreciate it.

Photo: Calvin Abe

US Borax Headquarters in Valencia, California – Photo: AHBE Landscape Architects

In 1992, I remember working on a landscape concept for the US Borax Headquarters in Valencia, California. The corporate President at that time was British and he was very interested in the corporate gardens. Because of the drought, I discussed with him this question: What would a landscape that didn’t require water or energy look like? This piqued his interest and the resulting design was our first corporate garden that truly expressed an environmentally sensitive concept, which I called “The Garden of 20”. The project was also our first large scale landscape that used California native grasses. I loved it, and our client really appreciated the aesthetics and what it represented.

About a year later, I received an apologetic call from the US Borax President who told me that the native grasses were being replaced with a traditional lawn. He was given a petition, signed by 500 employees, indicating the headquarters staff no longer wanted the native grass look, voting it be replaced with a lawn. He felt he had no choice. This story does not have a happy ending, but it does convey a larger cultural story of our relationship to the land.

Well, I’ve talked about this cultural narrative for the last 25 years. Today, I think it is almost second nature to prepare a landscape design that is more in tune with our natural rainfall, especially with today’s new drought situation. When I look at the images of my front yard strawberry patch, I see a culmination of many changing cultural attitudes. After five years in the making, last weekend marked that last phase of my strawberry patch. To continue the edible garden idea, I have planted my front yard as a vegetable garden with tomatoes, squash, green peppers, eggplant and others varieties. This time, however, I am finding my neighborhood changing as well. New lawn replacement projects are happening everywhere, on almost every street in Westchester.

What is next?


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