With the results cast in stone, Jim and Tanya Taylor’s front yard now proudly displays a monument declaring them the winners of the Carpinteria Valley Water District 2014 WaterWise Garden Recognition Contest.
WaterWise in Santa Barbara County sponsored the inaugural garden contest last year highlighting the water-saving efforts of local gardeners. This year’s contest focused on homes in Carpinteria.
Rhonda Gutierrez, a water conservation specialist for CVWD and contest coordinator, said all of the applicants were excited to participate and hopeful that they would take top honors.
“The judges got to see some very creative landscaping, unique designs and several different ways to maintain a beautiful yard while saving water,” Gutierrez said. “It was hard to decide, but the innovative ideas at the Taylors’ home put them over the top.”
The Taylors moved into the 1950s-era fixer-upper near the beach in the Concha Loma neighborhood of Carpinteria three years ago. During the renovation, the Bermuda grass lawn was destroyed, giving the couple a fresh canvas to design their winning garden.
“As we finished the remodel, we wanted landscaping that would be low maintenance and low on water use," Jim Taylor said. “We used a hose to set up boundaries, deciding that we were not going to install sprinklers. Initially, we didn’t even plan on a drip system. We figured we would plant what we liked and it would be survival of the fittest."
While workers did some of the digging and heavy lifting, Taylor said that he and Tanya laid out the plans. It took two months to design and one month to complete.
“We’re not landscape designers, but we know what we like,” he said. “As we were planting, we had a lot of encouragement from people who would come by, neighbors and people walking their dogs would ask ‘What’s that?’ and tell us the garden was coming along nicely.”
Soon the former expansive lawn was replaced by gravel paths and hillocks, planted with a casual mix of grasses, succulents, bushes and fruit trees. Chip gravel for paths was placed directly on the ground, without using fabric. Topsoil was brought in to make the hillocks. The property, which is only 900 feet from the ocean, has very sandy soil, which Taylor described as “hydrophobic,” explaining that water poured on the soil just balls up and rolls off.
The Taylors knew that trees would establish deep roots and planted several fruit trees, such as cherimoya, fig, lime, banana and avocado. They also planted fruitless olive, which they trim into a hedge at the front of the house.
Every morning, Taylor carries out a bucket full of water — about two gallons — collected as the shower warms up. He pours this into a ceramic pot system he rigged with a drip line and not a drop is wasted. Discharge water from a reverse osmosis system in the kitchen also pipes out to the shrubs and groundcover. For the rest of the gardens, a conservative hand-watering once a week allows them to thrive.
Along with the trees, plants in the award-winning garden include burgundy and cherry cabbage tree, red apple, foxtail agave, succulent ground covers blue fingers and silver carpet, “after dark” peppermint willow, pink muhly grass, rock purslane, New Zealand flax, yucca rostrata, Mexican grass tree and fireworks fountain grass.
Jim Taylor also serves on the board of the Carpinteria Valley Association, a group of concerned environmentalists who advocate for protection of natural resources. He sees their garden on the beach path as a way to educate passerby about the plants and their care.
“Our water bills are pretty low,” he said. “A garden like this is easy. I’m constantly telling people not to put in sod. And the garden is a great way to break up my day, coming out here to pull a weed or two or water, or just appreciate the outdoors.”
Participants were judged in four categories: overall appearance, water-wise plant selection, design and efficient methods of irrigation. Bonus points were given for innovative water saving features, wildlife habitat and permeable hardscape.
Carpinteria Valley Water District’s WaterWise Garden Recognition contest is just one of many programs available to Santa Barbara County residents to help them conserve water.
— Stacy Miller is a publicist representing WaterWise.