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Water Savvy Garden Design: A Case Study in San Lorenzo

San Lorenzo High Students Review Water Savvy Designs from UC BerkeleySan Lorenzo High Students Review Water Savvy Designs from UC BerkeleyOn Friday, patient October 24th, viagra 100mg a group of slightly nervous graduate students from UC Berkeley revealed their draft water-savvy landscape design plans to an expert group of San Lorenzo community members: students from San Lorenzo High School.

2014 opened with mixed messages about the drought. At the same time that Governor Jerry Brown was declaring a drought emergency, many cities and homeowners’ associations in California were fining residents for failing to maintain a green lawn.

In Alameda County, the San Lorenzo Village Homeowners’ Association (one of the country’s first planned communities of the post WWII era) made the news for its heavy-handed enforcement of landscaping regulations.

Following the news coverage from San Lorenzo and around the state, California passed legislation restricting the ability to penalize home owners for reducing their water use on landscapes. The San Lorenzo Village Homeowners’ Association (SLVHA) also began work to expand their community’s vision of what a well-maintained lawn might be.

News coverage of San Lorenzo Village from KTVU

For assistance in re-thinking landscapes, the SLVHA contacted UC Berkeley where lecturer Dawn Kooyumjian took up the challenge and developed Landscape Architecture 254:5, “Water Savvy Garden Design: Case Study in San Lorenzo,” a graduate level course in the department of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning.

Extended Course Description

THE SUBURBAN LAWN + HOMEOWNERS’ ASSOCIATIONS + DROUGHT = An Opportunity for Design to Change the Look of the Suburbs in Drought-Challenged California

San Lorenzo, governed by the nation’s oldest homeowners’ association, seeks new designs as replacement for the typical suburban front yard. In this class, working with the community, we will develop four prototypes for water-savvy front gardens, embracing strong design, beauty, function, and accessibility to the homeowner. Complementing the designs, we will produce a handbook to guide homeowners through the process of transforming their yards, with information on plants, water needs, maintenance, and best practices for sustainability. The course content includes site and planting design, water-budgeting, public speaking, and producing a publication. The course offers an unequaled opportunity to be on the vanguard of the new look of water-savvy California design. • Open to both undergraduate and graduate students • Prerequisite: LD ARCH 112 or equivalent • Satisfies the Natural Factors requirement (MLA).


SLVHA then reached out to StopWaste and ultimately received a grant for $7,000 to fund the studio at UC Berkeley.  StopWaste was also able to provide technical assistance on sheet mulching, design review, and resources from their “Lose Your Lawn--Gain a Garden” program, including sources for plants and materials.

Kooyumjian notes, “With the drought, SLVHA realizes that the typical front lawn is not necessarily a viable option.  The designs developed by the UCB students show that residents can have a beautiful front garden with less water than a well-maintained lawn requires.  This is a significant project as SLVHA is the oldest homeowners’ association in the country.  Most HOAs require a certain percentage of turf.  However, does this make sense in a climate with little water? SLVHA is leading the charge in rethinking the suburban front lawn.“ 

Over the course of the semester, Berkeley’s students researched the history, aesthetic, and local micro-climate of San Lorenzo, then produced themed water-savvy design drafts for review and comment. 

According to Kooyumjian, “The idea of engaging high school students came from a class discussion.  Who after all is more in touch with the neighborhood than high school students?  High school students are also educators, taking home with them the lessons learned in school. That so many, 30-plus,  students were willing to stay after school on a Friday show that there is real interest in conservation and community participation.“

Teacher Alan Fishman invited students who regularly volunteer at the high school’s native plant nursery to participate in the event. “These students have shown a real dedication to gardening and improving our landscapes,” said Fishman.

First, student Han Zhen Li gave a short presentation about UC Berkeley and the Landscape Architecture program.  He gave an introduction to profession of Landscape Architecture, as well as explaining  what it is to be a landscape architecture student at Cal. Eli Bailey then talked about the drought, explaining the current situation, domestic water use and the need to conserve.  After these two introductions, each Cal student presented his/her designs, ranging from a California native woodland, to a sleek modern design to a Japanese-inspired design -- all beautiful, with minimal water.

Following the presentations, the class then broke into small discussion groups to review each design and learn how SLHS students perceive the neighborhood.  UCB students learned that shade trees, the use of front yard for recreation (soccer) and gathering (patios), as well as the need to minimize yard chores were all important to San Lorenzo youth.

On Thursday evening, October 30 the Cal students presented their designs at a San Lorenzo community meeting.  Both the SLVHA and the class were delighted by the turnout -- close to sixty people came to hear the presentations.  Along with the presentations, the attendees had the opportunity to speak one-on-one with students about the designs, providing invaluable feedback. 

The students are now refining the seven designs to four, incorporating the comments from the high school students and community.  Along with the designs, the students are also busy preparing the accompanying publication which will include information on how to adapt the designs to a particular situation (e.g. corner lot, cul-de-sac lot), with plants lists and general information about how to have a beautiful front garden with minimal water.

Even before the designs are finalized, the San Lorenzo Village Homeowners Association is starting to change its ideas of a vibrant front garden, as reflected in their periodic newsletter to residents. In January 2014, the featured front yard showed a lush, green lawn. By May and July the newsletter was featuring amazing yards with lower water demands.

As 2014’s water year comes to an end, it’s clear that it will go down as one of California’s driest years in history. It’s also clear that slow-moving systems and long standing traditions are able to adapt in response to a changing environment.