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The Dry Garden: Long Beach's free makeovers

August 13, 2009 |  9:00 am

BLBLCollage

Some acronyms exist merely to make us sound drunk. The city of Long Beach’s BLBL is one. But what the Beautiful Long Beach Landscapes program lacks in mellifluousness, it makes up for in success. BLBL is a key part of a drive that has cut Long Beach water use by 16.5% since fall 2007. The long-term plan is to convert as many of the city’s 60,000 homes as possible from turf to native and drought-tolerant landscapes.

“Forty-nine percent of the water used in Long Beach is used for landscaping, mainly grass lawns,” said Matt Lyons, director of planning and conservation. “So we’re looking for landscapes that require very little water.”

Toward that end, in December the Long Beach City Council offered residents the chance to enter a lottery to win a garden makeover. Nine homes were selected from 2,500 entries. (Those are before-and-after photos from one of the winners above.)

The first step was killing the grass. “You really want to make sure the grass is dead, dead, dead,” Lyons said.

After the coup de grass, landscapers from H&H Nursery worked with the city and residents on replacement plans. The cost was roughly $10 a square foot, though Lyons reckons that the figure drops dramatically when homeowners do the work themselves, a little bit at a time.

The rewards will come in gardens that are high beauty and low maintenance, Lyons said. “If a drought-tolerant garden is done correctly, it’s 5% of the work and 25% of the science of a conventional garden,” he said. “Grass lawn irrigation systems are so complicated. But with a native one, if you just put a lot of mulch on there, it needs so little water, a couple of weeks in the summer and not at all in the winter will do it.”

The conversions were completed between April and July. As Lyons and city water conservation specialist Joyce Barkley plan to unveil the winning gardens later this year, they’ve been struck by the response from two of their most enthusiastic homeowners.

“Neither one of them mentioned the fact that it saves water,” he said. “They like it because it’s beautiful and they spend more time in their front gardens meeting their neighbors.”

BLBL indeed.

-- Emily Green's column on drought-tolerant gardening appears weekly. She also blogs on water issues at chanceofrain.com.

Photos: Long Beach Water Department

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