Palo Alto Weekly

Real Estate - June 27, 2014

Water-conscious landscaping

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

by Melissa Landeros

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: gardeningwithnatives.com

Editorial Intern Melissa Landeros can be emailed at mlanderos@paweekly.com.

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