In March of 2017, California American Water announced its new Sustainable Landscapes Program in which it encouraged customers of California American Water who are residents of the San Diego region to “take a watershed approach to landscaping their yards.” Partnering with the San Diego County Water Authority, the City of San Diego, County of San Diego, Surfrider Foundation, and the Association of Compost Producers, the mission of the new program set out to be “the go-to resource to assist San Diego County residents in adopting sustainable landscaping best practices through education and training, technical assistance, landscaping materials and financial incentives.”
One such incentive included the WaterSmart Landscape Contest. Priscilla Jones, who was raised in Coronado and graduated from Coronado High School, and her husband Jeffery Rudd, were thrilled when it was announced that their home, located at 729 A Avenue, was selected as the winner of their water district. Ten water districts were part of the contest, with just one winner for each district. The award ceremony took place on Sunday, May 21, 2017 in El Cajon, and besides earning bragging rights, an award sign for their front yard, and a certificate, Priscilla and Jeff were presented with a $250 gift card to Home Depot.
Jeff learned of the contest after opening his California American Water bill one month, and said to Priscilla, “Why don’t we apply?” The couple, who had gone through the process of redesigning their landscape back in 2015, had already taken the steps to install sustainable landscaping at their home. To enter the contest, Priscilla and Jeff had to fill out an application, which included submitting up to twenty photographs of their yard. (The photographs they submitted are included in this article.) They were required to submit at least one before photo of their yard prior to the installation of the WaterSmart landscape as well as include after photos, showing the yard from various angles and up close shots of their plants and landscape features.
Additionally, to apply for the contest, the couple was required to write a short essay in which they had to explain why they elected to install a WaterSmart landscape, how they went about the design and installation process, and list any unexpected benefits of their WaterSmart landscape. In another component of the application process, Priscilla and Jeff had to list all the water-wise plants they used in their landscape, including grasses, sedum, jade trees, bougainvillea, an olive tree, hibiscus, plumeria, and lavender, and then they had to list the other elements of their landscaping, such as river rock in the dry river bed, mulched beds, a new parkway which included decomposed granite instead of grass, flagstone pathways, artificial turf, and the installation of LED lighting to bring another perspective to their landscaping at night.
The homeowners didn’t set out to win any awards when they decided to redesign their landscape in September of 2015. Their home, which originally belonged to Priscilla’s late parents, Warren and Dorothy Jones, has benefited from “going green” for decades now, and when Priscilla and Jeff made the decision to redesign the front yard, they did so in a manner that was consistent with the spirit her parents embodied. Priscilla shares, “My parents were avid gardeners, and they were recycling water to use in the garden many years ago, long before mandatory water use restrictions were put into place and long before drought tolerant landscape became a part of San Diego County landscaping design. They were very interested in trying to conserve water, and it all goes back to them. That’s why, in large part, we wanted to redesign the front landscape.”
Priscilla’s parents moved to Coronado in 1957, and purchased their home at 729 A Avenue in 1967. When the home was entrusted to Priscilla after her parents passed away, she and Jeff set out to complete the landscaping vision her parents had in mind. She says, “They had wanted to replace the lawn in the front, and put in more water conscious landscaping. Unfortunately they did not live to see the new landscaping.” Priscilla takes great joy in a cactus planted by her father, who passed away in 2001. The cactus continues to bloom with beautiful yellow flowers, reminding her of father’s dedication to his beloved yard. Of his father-in-law, Jeff remarks, “He had a very green thumb.”
While winning any award is always significant, this WaterSmart Landscape award is even more meaningful to Priscilla and Jeff because their hard work was done as a way to honor Priscilla’s parents, and a wonderful friend of theirs helped bring their vision to reality. “One of the great things about this project was that it was undertaken with our longtime friend, Bob Koch. He really came up with some great design ideas,” Priscilla shares. “He and David Reicks had installed drought tolerant landscape at their home in San Diego, and we had seen what they had done with their yard.” As Bob helped Priscilla and Jeff redesign their yard, they kept some of her parents’ landscaping legacy in tact as they thoughtfully incorporated new elements while at the same time replacing other elements such as the grass.
Priscilla reflects on the significance of the WaterSmart Landscape award by saying, “We were surprised and thrilled that we won. The award was wonderful in the sense that we felt we were contributing and helping the state with its terrible drought issues.” Jeff adds, “It looks great, it saves money, and, most importantly, it saves water.” Besides the award, another bonus of the redesign, according to Priscilla, is that it accentuates the architecture of the home, which was built in 1910.
Jeff explains that redesigning their front yard wasn’t as simple as having someone come up with a new design. “We worked with the city for the permitting,” Jeff explains, giving kudos to Dave Johnson (Encroachment Permits) and Sam Katzenstein (Assistant Engineer Right-of-Way Permits) of the Coronado Public Services and Engineering Department for reviewing their plans and working with them to ensure everything was up to Coronado’s municipal codes, especially the addition of artificial grass. Jeff compliments Johnson and Katzenstein by saying, “They were incredibly helpful from start to finish.” Working with the city, the couple made sure that the parkway (the area between the sidewalk and the street) was landscaped in accordance to the City of Coronado’s Tree Master Plan.
Once the design was completed and approved by the City of Coronado, the real work began. At Bob Koch’s suggestion, Jeff and Priscilla hired the landscaping company Grass Doctor to do the removal and installation. Besides removing the grass, a bulldozer was brought in to remove the sprinkler system, which was no small task. Of the owner of Grass Doctor, Randy Rivers, Jeff sings his praises, saying Randy and his team made the transformation of their front yard “such a smooth process.” After listening to Jeff and Priscilla’s ideas about the dry river bed, Randy drew some designs, which, according to Jeff, “turned our general ideas into a well-designed reality.”
For those people who have considered altering their own landscape to make it more sustainable, Priscilla offers, “It’s a chance to really feel like you’re contributing to our community and state. This is the climate we live in, and using native plants, you create an infinite variety of wonderful and creative designs that will thrive here. Everyone’s projects can be different and beautiful in their own way.”
Jeff encourages people to embrace the natural beauty of this region. He says, “Sustainable landscaping looks good here because this is Southern California, it’s not England, where you can have lots of grass and English gardens because there’s a lot of rain.” While Jeff certainly appreciates the landscaping features found in other areas, he understands that not all landscaping designs “fit here” because this area doesn’t get nearly the same amount of rain as places where gardeners don’t have to worry about droughts. “It’s getting back to basics, and appreciating the indigenous plants and flowers that grow here,” he says.
Priscilla is quick to point out, “We’re not crusaders by any means. It was something that suited our home. Everyone needs to make their own decisions about what they feel works best and looks best in their yards. All gardens are beautiful. This is just an alternative, and if people are thinking about doing something along these lines, this is just another in the whole spectrum of things.” Jeff adds, “This was the perfect decision for us, and everything just seemed to come together. There were so many reasons to do it, and there really weren’t any reasons not to do it. The state encourages this with rebates so what’s not to like? ”
For people interested in the installation of drip-irrigation and sustainable landscaping, Priscilla suggests going to their water district’s website first, where there’s a wealth of information, and Jeff advocates, “Speak with the engineering department with the city about permits and approvals. They have more experience with this, and can help people get started.” Jeff also offers, “Talk to your neighbors. There are a lot of people in the community with great ideas. You don’t have to do this alone. Trust me, we didn’t know what we were doing at the beginning, and we were grateful for all the guidance and advice that people like Bob Koch, Dave Johnson, Sam Katzenstein, and Randy Rivers gave us.”
The WaterSmart Landscape contest was not the only award Priscilla and Jeff received this year as they were also awarded a blue ribbon for the Home Front Judging portion of the annual Coronado Flower Show. “It was such an honor. Coronado has so many master gardeners here, and the yards here are so beautiful. I just wish my parents were here to enjoy it,” Priscilla reflected.
Jeff and Priscilla say that if they are allowed to apply again for next year’s WaterSmart Landscaping Contest, that they will gladly do so. Priscilla concludes, “I think what California American Water has done to encourage homeowners to think about their gardening and their water use is wonderful.”
Additional Information: Entry form for the 2017 WaterSmart Landscape Contest