California is undergoing a landscape revolution.

Imagine that you travel back in time, before human settlement of California. You are there to investigate California’s native landscapes. What do you find? Lush green lawns? No. Tropical oases? No. A rich variety of plants surviving under the wide range of climate conditions without supplemental irrigation or chemical inputs from humans? Yes.

This California native landscape is long gone. The mere presence of urban population centers precludes a total return to landscapes of yore. We have drastically altered our soils, topographies, plant varieties and hydrologic systems. In doing so, we have created an urban landscape that thrives on the false reality of surplus synthetic nutrients, prescribed mechanical maintenance and ample water regardless of geography and season.

But, Californians are departing from this landscape illusion.

What comes naturally

A thirsty California uses over half of its urban water deliveries on landscape irrigation. Water shortages, among other economic and environmental catalysts, are pushing California away from conventional turfgrass landscapes, towards multi-benefit, sustainable landscaping.

"Use this drought crisis as a catalyst for a landscape upgrade that saves not only water, but also time, money and ultimately our urban environment."

This landscape transformation espouses a natural approach to site-specific landscape design, construction and maintenance that transcends water-use efficiency to capture the related benefits of rainwater retention and use: pollution, storm water runoff, green house gas, and green waste reduction; energy and cost savings; and human and wildlife habitat improvements.

Seeing green

Multi-benefit landscaping boils down to three actionable concepts: fostering permeable surfaces and healthy soils, conserving potable water, and choosing appropriate plant and landscape materials.

Consider a landscape that is drought resilient, yet vibrant and aesthetically pleasing. A landscape that takes less time and money to maintain than a lawn. A landscape that offers pollinators habitat and captures rainwater, lightening the storm water burden on local municipalities. Think not only of gravel and cacti, but also of vibrant flowering shrubs and fluttering butterflies that need little help from us to thrive. This is the direction California is headed.

Turfgrass still has purpose in athletic fields and gathering spaces—it will not be disappearing entirely from our lives. But as for non-functional lawns, turfgrass is becoming a landscaping relic reminiscent of gas-guzzling cars and eight-track tape players.

Leading by example

This California landscape metamorphosis is noticeable across all sectors. State landscape ordinances and building codes are integrating sustainable landscaping principles into the letter of the law. The marketplace is transitioning, as plant growers are propagating more climate appropriate and native plants. Rainwater capture and use and graywater recycling are increasing in popularity. Water providers are providing financial incentives for customers to upgrade irrigation system efficiency or convert their lawns to low water-using, sustainable landscapes. Large retail stores are working to meet growing customer demands for affordable and diverse climate-appropriate and native plants.

So what can you do to join the transformation?

Take simple steps like diverting your rain downspout into permeable ground and replacing grass in the strip of land between your sidewalk and the curb. Or, dive into the transformation and convert your under-utilized lawn into a beneficial and beautiful landscape, planting in the appropriate season of course.

Use this drought crisis as a catalyst for a landscape upgrade that saves not only water, but also time, money and ultimately our urban environment.