La Cañada's greener green thumbs
Proponents of native plant gardens say water isn't ours to waste.
Lisa Novick stands at the upper-most point in her backyard in La Canada Flintridge on Monday, March 28, 2011. Novick, and her husband Nick Warner, have landscaped their backyard almost entirely with California native plants which require very little water in the summer, and most of their water needs are collected in rain barrels in the winter. (Tim Berger/Staff Photographer)
In a city known for expansive and obsessively uniform golf-course green lawns, it’s also an anomaly. You might even call it a protest.
Novick, who has installed a rainwater catchment system to reduce her reliance on imported water, believes Foothills residents — who collectively use 1 billion gallons of water or more each year for irrigation purposes alone — would benefit from growing stronger ties to the natural world.
“In my yard, the whole attitude is if I’m going to use water, it should be feeding the ecosystem — the native plants and animals we have left in La Cañada. It’s unethical to drain the Sacramento Delta and use all the energy it takes to bring that water here just to grow ornamentals,” said Novick, an outreach and education coordinator for the Theodore Payne Foundation, which on April 10 will feature her Uintah Street yard as part of its annual Native Plant Garden Tour.
Saving money is always a plus, too.
Since converting her back lawn into a native plant showcase sustained largely by rain barrels, Novick, a Valley Water Company customer, has reduced her four-person household’s average water consumption from more than 17,000 gallons per month to less than12,000 gallons.
That reduction has spared Novick the brunt of increasing costs of imported water, which according to Novick’s billing records have increased the price of water
The Valley Water Company imports as much as 75% of its water, and 60% to 80% of all water consumed by Valley Water users goes toward irrigation, according to General Manager Bob Fan.
Novick’s rain barrels, fed by runoff from the house’s roof, cost about $1,700 to install and can hold a combined 1,540 gallons at any given time.
Despite the staggering amount of water dedicated to local lawn care, area residents have made great strides toward conservation.
In 2007, Foothills residents consumed more than 12,000 acre feet (one acre foot is just over 325,000 gallons) of imported water. Last year, water imports for the area dropped to just under 9,200 acre feet (close to three billion gallons), according to Foothill Municipal Water District General Manager Nina Jazmadarian.
The FMWD provides water imported from the Colorado River and Sacramento Delta to Valley Water and other area water agencies, including the La Cañada Irrigation District, Crescenta Valley Water District and Mesa Crest Water Company.
While the Crescenta Valley Water District imports only 40% of its water, the La Cañada Irrigation District relies on imports for up to 95% of its supply. Mesa Crest relies entirely on FMWD imports.
“We need an aesthetic that appreciates our natural interface,” said Novick, who grows wild seeds, berries and flowers that feed a variety of birds and insects, including caterpillars that grow into butterflies. “The abundance of life is what tipped it for me. Having a native plant garden is an attempt at restoration. If every yard had just a corner of it dedicated to native plants, we could support a natural ecosystem.”
Novick and husband Nicholas Warner hope to convert their traditional-style front lawn to a native plant garden in the coming years.
“We want to show people this is not elitist. It’s something you can do,” said Warner.
The Theodore Payne Foundation’s annual Native Plant Garden Tour runs from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. April 10 (following a tour of West Los Angeles gardens on April 9). Tickets are $20 and can be purchased by calling (818) 769-1802 or going online to theodorepayne.org.
This year’s tour also returns to the previously featured La Cañada Flintridge gardens of Eric and Elisa Callow. The Callows have converted the landscaping around their home (designed by architect Lloyd Wright Jr.) into a native plant garden fed by a specially designed high-tech, low-flow irrigation system.