Real Estate

Water-conscious landscaping

Deva Luna offers alternatives that bring nature home, save time and money

Catherine Perman could only describe her lawn as "ugly," a dry yard full of dying shrubs. After trying a long time to keep her lawn somewhat alive, she finally decided to replace it.

"Now my lawn is a sanctuary for birds and insects," the Palo Alto resident said. "Nature has grown, it feels like a wild place."

Perman worked with Deva Luna, principal designer for EarthCare Landscaping in Cupertino. Luna's goal is to make landscapes sustainable, water efficient and low maintenance, all the while incorporating simple touches like plants, seeds and berries that create habitable oases for both clients and other critters.

Today shrubs and perennials replace Perman's lawn, which fits more closely in her eco-conscious lifestyle. She also said that her water bill has decreased by more than half since her work with Luna.

Luna, who has worked at EarthCare Landscaping for 12 years, will be giving a talk at the Los Altos Library in July focusing on what to do once your lawn is no longer thriving. She will give listeners tips on how to approach redesigning their lawn on their own and how to sustain a healthy lawn using minimal water.

Luna studied plants and art at the University of California, Davis, earned a teaching credential through San Jose State University and taught adult education classes through several districts.

She suggests adding more elements such as boulders, wood chips and plants that require little or no maintenance. She explained that the Santa Clara Valley Water District (SCVWD) provides a list of nurseries that offer "water-wise plants," which she often uses in her own work.

"I have always been a plant hound," Luna said. "I really like using manzanitas, buckwheat and sages; they work really well in lawn replacement."

As a designer, she hopes to engage people in the natural habitats around them. She explained lawns can be made interactive for children by adding private digging spaces to construct "forts" and play in. She also incorporates other plants and elements that welcome "feather friends" to the homeowners' lawns.

"I want to help people become more connected with the natural world," Luna said. "It's more fun that way."

At EarthCare Landscaping clients are able to choose between a traditional or natural front yard design. Traditional designs are based on a client's preferences and suit their lifestyle, but they can take months, several meetings and emails according to Luna. Instead the natural front-yard design is a quick removal process and inexpensive.

Both methods generate lower water bills and require little to no maintenance, which according to Luna is what more than 80 percent of her clients want.

Luna also educates her clients and others on available rebates for lawn replacement, which are the highest they've ever been, she said. Currently the SCVWD is offering a rebate to those taking measures to replace their lawns, amounting to $2 per square foot. The city of Palo Alto is matching that offer, up until Sept. 30.

Homeowners can apply for the Graywater Laundry to Landscape Rebate Program through the water district, upon agreeing to both pre- and post-installation inspections. Applicants must also get their lawns measured and calculate how much water they use. Then they hire a designer to begin the process of replacing their lawns within 90 days.

Once a lawn has been redesigned, documentation must be sent to the water district. Upon approval, they will give a rebate based on how much a lawn has been changed.

Luna said that adding small plants, removing the edges of a lawn and adding layers of paper and wood chips helps to create a more natural and sustainable setting and are measures that people can take themselves. The money saved and earned during this season of high water rates only serves to enhance the argument.

"Lawns use more than 60 percent of your water bill," Luna said. "Take out your lawn, shower with a friend."

What: "Your lawn is dead, now what?"

When: Wednesday, July 9, 7 to 8:30 p.m.

Where: Los Altos Library, 13 S. San Antonio Road, Los Altos

Cost: Free

Info: Gardening With Natives

Editorial Intern Melissa Landeros can be emailed at

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Like this comment
Posted by water police
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 28, 2014 at 10:11 pm

The City of Palo Alto if it wants to actually do something useful, needs
to restrict watering of lawns to certain hours and certain days and employ "water police" like in L.A. to give advice, warnings, and citations if necessary to repeated offenders.

Like this comment
Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 28, 2014 at 11:25 pm

I think the city needs to monitor homes that do not perform maintenance on leaf build up, tree overhang on the street, and general pick-up maintenance. The neighborhood is now starting to have a rat problem due to lack of maintenance. Time to start calling the city to come out and inspect properties to remove places where rats can nest.

One walked across the patio during the day to get a drink of water from a plant dish. Others are now digging under the fence. My property is kept very tidy and neat but some other neighbors are letting stuff die and pile up.

The city needs to clean up San Francisquito Creek to clear dry brush, dead tree limbs, and overgrowth of plants.

Like this comment
Posted by Question Authority
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 30, 2014 at 9:50 am

We have a so-called drought-resistant front yard and a flagstone back yard. We eat off paper plates to reduce dish washing and take most of our showers at the gym.

Yet we still get letters from the utility department saying that we are using too much water, far more than neighbors with similar sized households.

I call foul! How many household in Palo Alto pack seven residents into a 1600 sf house on a 5000 sf lot? How many ONLY use water to do laundry ( and then air-dry it)?

Like this comment
Posted by Razor of Occam
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 30, 2014 at 1:44 pm

Question Authority,
You should check to make sure you don't have a water leak somewhere. The letter we get from the utility department accurately describes our resource usage.

Like this comment
Posted by Margaret Pevec
a resident of another community
on Jul 1, 2014 at 6:59 am

I live in Colorado where people have been replacing their lawns for years. We must become conscious of our water use. The ground water in our aquifers is running out! I just heard an NPR story yesterday about the aquifer in Southern CA being reduced at an alarming rate due to the drought. Read "Ogallala Road" by Julene Bair, a memoir, to get an amazingly intimate perspective on this critical issue; read The Fifth Sacred Thing by Starhawk to imagine a world in which water is what people die to attain. Bravo to Deva Luna for becoming an expert in reducing water consumption!

Like this comment
Posted by Palo Alto resident
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 1, 2014 at 8:35 am

So if we are in a drought, why are builders still allowed to "dewater" new construction?

Like this comment
Posted by Missing my vegetable garden
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 7, 2014 at 11:42 pm

@Palo Alto resident,

"So if we are in a drought, why are builders still allowed to "dewater" new construction? "

Not to mention, why isn't City Council required to consider water resources and infrastructure when it comes to all the new residents and workers every overbuilt project they approve brings here? We're not in isolation, either, it's the whole region. Where is the point of saturation? How much more water will thousands of new people use than we existing residents will save? New construction is notoriously profligate with water use, how much water will all the new construction use?

I am not happy having my native fescue back lawn die and showering now only once a week, while around the corner, a new giant hotel (22,000 square feet of hotel replacing 3500 square feet of retail business space) on El Camino and Arastradero that dwarfs the surrounding neighborhood, will have guests using far more water than probably my whole neighborhood will be able to save.

Like this comment
Posted by And then...
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Jul 8, 2014 at 2:35 pm

A recent article in the Daily Post stated that the rainfall this year was only one inch below normal. The last two years were not far below normal, either . Nothing like the Great Drought of the nineties, where there was very little rainfall at all for seven long years, or the drought of 1976, when the rainfall was less than half of normal.

What has changed is all the businesses and new developments in Palo Alto--I.e., people who commute here to work and use up so much water while they are here. Not to mention the landscaping that gets daily watering while residents have forgone vegetable gardens and showers!

Like this comment
Posted by palo alto resident
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 8, 2014 at 8:53 pm

Very blunt comment - I would love to see a "water conscious landscape" that does not look like a field of weeds or pretend "streams" of rock. To those in the business of plants, if we had options that were green, bloomed for a significant period of time and did not only look good with very contemporary architecture, you would have more people on board.

With one or two exceptions, that are truly beautiful, water conscious landscaping equals a yard full of plants that look like weeds. And I have yet to see any traditionally styled home or any home with small children that has low water landscaping that is flattering and appropriate to traditional architecture and fun and/or welcoming to small kids.

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 8, 2014 at 9:46 pm

My green grass and green plants help to keep my home cool and is a pleasant place to sit in the shade as a result. I don't think sitting on a brown lawn surrounded by rocks and dry plants would be as cool as the rocks hold the heat and would make me feel more hot. Children can't play on rocks, they play on grass. Dogs like to romp on grass, not dirt.

Our streets are full of city owned trees that homeowners are expected to keep well watered.

California farmers grow rice, alfalfa and other high water use crops. Where are the farmers being told to reduce high water use crops? Why are the city parks saturated with water so that they could be described as waterlogged?

Why isn't California investing in desalination plants? Why isn't there a city wide gray water program? Why must it be homeowners who are expected to reduce water use when all around us there is flagrant water wastage?

I will do my part, but the real problem is that we have no innovative ways to reuse gray water or take water from the ocean that is right along the length of our State.

Like this comment
Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jul 14, 2014 at 10:51 am

I am concerned about homes that are de-watering new construction. That is the water table that is being drained which causes a sinking in land in the surrounding area. I live on fill. Fill is not the greatest soil for your garden. It is now turning into an adobe brick. And the water table is what is holding this all up.
No- it is not well water but is critical to maintain the ground level the houses were built on. The planning department should be recognizing that the ground water is critical for most of PA.

Like this comment
Posted by city street trees
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 14, 2014 at 1:05 pm

I am concerned because I have a recently planted city tree in my front yard and the city instructions are that I am responsible for watering this tree and keeping it going for several years. It takes quite a lot of water. Street trees are protected, by the way.
In addition, my property has lush landscaping which is beneficial to the city home values (along with many others' properties, of course!) Compare with some other cities and ponder this aspect of Palo Alto.
We need to store more water in California and not snap to insisting that all let their lawns and landscaping die. Those installing new landscaping, including commercial, should certainly research more drought tolerant ideas for planting. But forcing me to rip out two lawns would be a major loss to my property and the size of the space does not lead to easy replacement planting ideas.

Like this comment
Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jul 16, 2014 at 4:27 pm

I passed a new home construction at 1950 Newell Road. This has a very deep hole with a tractor still digging. The workmen were running water to get dirt off the street. They said it was "good water".
That is a topic for tomorrow night - residents are going to get penalized for watering their plants while the city is approving construction that requires much clearing of water in the ground table. This ground table water is what is watering the street trees. If you pull out the ground water then you will have collapsing land in the surrounding area.

Also - the dam next to HWY 156 to Los Banos is sending water to the southland, Los Angeles and the southland are exercising no restriction on water use.
There is much wrong here at both the city level, county level, and state level.
The papers are only talking about the immediate area but our water is coming from the other side of the state.

Like this comment
Posted by Make use of what we get ,
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jul 16, 2014 at 4:36 pm

What is needed are more dams in California. When was the last one built? Not anytime within memory.
We need to be able to store the water we do get, so we don't run out when we don't get enough.

Like this comment
Posted by palo alto resident
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 16, 2014 at 4:51 pm

@resident 1 - the house at 1950 Newell is also dewatering their basement area. You can't see the pipe well, it goes under the sidewalk right into the street drain. There is also a house on Barbara (a couple block east) that is dewatering their basement.

Like this comment
Posted by Missing my vegetable garden
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 16, 2014 at 5:08 pm

"I am concerned because I have a recently planted city tree in my front yard and the city instructions are that I am responsible for watering this tree and keeping it going for several years. It takes quite a lot of water. Street trees are protected, by the way."

In the meantime, the City could have saved the decades-old 100 established trees at Maybell orchard, that yet live without any watering, along with the dozen ancient native oaks on that property, as parkland, for little more than the cost of what they are spending to put in new drapes and unnecessary gizmos at City hall. This is what we get from a Council that has done nothing but let development interests pull our City around by the nose for far too long, considering nothing else but densifying our town, ignoring infrastructure, resources, and quality of life.

I just heard today on the news that despite calls for reducing water use 20%, overall use has gone up 1%. Surprise, surprise. Nowhere did they mention looking at how the new development fits in the picture. I don't want to be asked to sacrifice anymore until the Governor calls a moratorium on new development until the drought is over, and until Cities are given tools for assessing the infrastructure and resources impacts of state policies that promote overdevelopment, giving Cities choices when cumulative impacts go exponential.

Like this comment
Posted by Veggies are Pricey
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 16, 2014 at 6:28 pm

Given the price of produce, it is actually less expensive to pay the extra money to water a VERY small vegetable garden than to buy these veggies retail, even at a farmer's market. I have tomatoes, peppers, corn, peas, squash, basil and Rosemary from May to November, and don't have to worry about price or availability, pesticides, or hepatitis ( from organic produce).

Residential water use is not the problem--corporate agriculture uses over 60% of the water.

Like this comment
Posted by Veggies are Pricey
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 16, 2014 at 6:34 pm

Speaking of dewatering an aquifer, when Larry Page's house was being built at the end of Waverley Oaks ( on a one-acre lot, no less), draining the aquifer beneath the property in order to build a basement took TWO WHOLE YEARS! A long pipe went from the back of the property, down Bryant Ave, and into a storm drain next to the Baptist Church on the corner of Calif Ave and Bryant. Talk about a sick waste--but NO ONE said anything.

Like this comment
Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jul 17, 2014 at 9:18 am

I can see the impact of the water table being siphoned off on my property and those around me. The property is shifting in relation to where the underground water table is collapsing. Also, the trees are sending up the root systems above ground. I see a root sticking up - start to pull at it, and soon there is a whole network of roots coming up. I am not only in plant control - but also root excavation control. The amount of time devoted to this amazes me.
I now have cracks in the garage concrete and can see the slope.
I remember a house we had on Colorado Ave. - beautifully done inside and outside. A crack would open in the family room then close up again. We patched that and sold the house - this was a regular house on a wood frame - not an Eichler.
If the water table in north PA is being siphoned off for large home construction then large, expensive homes will have the same problem.

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