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My Ocean Friendly Garden

OFG on 4-11-09

4-11-09, Cleveland Sage in the foreground, White Sage to the left of yellow roses and poppies.

To get ideas for plants in my OFG I often visit nature centers, preserves or go hiking and find the plants growing in their native habitat.  A few suggested places to visit (best in Spring) Point Vicente Interpretive Center (old Marine Land entrance in Rancho Palos Verdes) has one of the best California Native gardens I've seen.  It's planted on the bluff side of the center.  Nice ocean views from the garden.  On 3-14-09 I took a few pictures, click here.  Throughout my site you will find pictures of native plants and wildflowers (labeled with their names for those I recognize) I've found while out hiking.  A good resource for identifying native flowers, plants and trees is Theodore Payne's Native Plant Library, which can be listed by common names, plant type, fragrance...to name a few. 

Some other good places to see native plants, Shipley Nature Center in Huntington Beach and Bolsa Chica Wetlands (take the path from Warner to the mesa).  Donna ONeill Land Conservancy has some good guided native plant walks.

Spring 2009 California Poppies kind of took over my OFG, I'll try to avoid that mistake next spring.  I've recently added a few more native plants in both the front yard and backyard (nodding purple needle grass, blue fescue, creeping red fescue, white sage, California buckwheat, goldfields and a native to the Southwest--autumn sage).  Finally the bunch grass "lawn" recently added is taking off, bunch grass takes a little longer than non-native grasses to sprout it seems. 
Fall/Winter 2009

December, 2009 (click pictures to enlarge)
Notice all the non-native white flowers in the Spring pics have now been removed

December 09, the annual wildflowers and are now gone.  The bare areas around the creek have been sown with Idaho Fescue, Common Yarrow and Bladderpod seeds.  I tried seeding in late Spring but the weather was too hot and most of the seedlings died.  Trying fall/winter this time.  It's been about two weeks and many of the yarrow and fescue seeds have sprouted.  Most of what I'm adding this year will be grown from seed (purchased from Theodore Payne). 

Ocean Friendly Gardens is a Surfrider Foundation program promoting a method of drought tolerant gardening that also prevents landscape water run-off, a source of pollution in our storm drains causing harm to our watersheds which eventually ends up in our oceans.  It's a California native plant garden or water conservation garden but better.  The idea is to sink water into the ground instead of letting it wash down the gutters.  Using drought tolerant California native plants requiring very little water not only saves $ on your water bill but benefits the environment as well.  California native plant gardens are not only beautiful but have great wildlife value too.  Once your native garden is well established you will find there really is no need for pesticides or commercial fertilizers.

My backyard had a huge water run-off problem and I was tired of paying high water bills so I thought I would give this a try.  The back of the property is about 2' higher than next to the house (it was sloping downward toward the house), impossible to level because of a surface root problem from a nice Silver Maple tree planted on the back of the lot.  During a heavy rain this slope toward the house would cause flooding through my backdoor and through the garage, down the driveway and into the street.  Rather than sacrifice the Silver Maple Tree I worked the surface root problem into an Ocean Friendly landscape instead. 

This page describes the steps I took in planting my Ocean Friendly Garden.  If you have any questions please contact webmaster@caopenspace.org.

9-7-08, building a dry creek bed to "hide" the Maple Tree's large surface roots

My Ocean Friendly Garden (aka OFG) did solve the flooding problem.  It's 90% drought tolerant plants or California native plants and wildflowers.  I'm continously removing the non-natives and replacing with natives instead.  Some of the non-natives are still "habitat" for butterflies and birds so I just keep them trimmed and under control until I have a native replacement.  OFG saves a lot of $ on water, not to mention the time I used to spend watering every day.  Now that many of the native plants are well established I only water them about once a month during hot weather, rare that I water anything in the winter.  I'm always adding or changing something (it's fun) so I'll update this page occasionally.  I'm also working on the front yard slowly changing over to natives, so far the neighbors have loved it.  Click here for my front yard page. 

4-11-09, view from my patio bench.

Spring 2009

4-11-09, new OFG residents in the tangerine tree. This is one of 3 new nests.

4-11-09, Lupines have finally started blooming.

4-11-09, starting to replace the non-native white flowers with red fescue bunch grasses.

California Poppies - Garden3-22-09b-014.jpg
My OFG today (3/22/09), click picture to enlarge.

My OFG today (3/22/09), click picture to enlarge.

3/22/09, view from the patio. The "dirt" is work in process, growing more creeping red fescue.


How we did it...



When I moved into this house the backyard was not really landscaped, just weeds and dirt and an extremely unlevel yard.  Several attempts to "fix" this failed, weeds just overtook everything again, plants would not grow well, the slope was a problem.  So this is what we are starting with.  First all weeds and grasses were removed with the help of my teenage son and his friends, we took the entire backyard down to nothing but dirt only leaving a few non-native bushes and plants.  Since we are starting from scratch this could be costly to fix, so we will do this over time.  We really started clearing out the entire yard around January or February '08.

This area is just below the patio level and has 8 "french drains" to sink the water into the ground.

What to do about the flooding problem and a yard we can't level...

Studying different methods of drainage systems I went with a simple solution.  First we dug out an area about 1/3 of the length of our house from the garage to the back door, taking it down about 1" lower than the patio along the backdoor and garage and dipping away from the house, creating kind of a "water retention basin".  The dirt I removed from this area was used to build up "hills" along the tree roots traveling along the surface of the ground and we used some of this extra dirt to level off the other 2/3rds of the yard the best we could, changing the direction of the slope toward the back of the lot instead.

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Drawing of "french drain" (did it myself), click to enlarge.


Next I add "french drains" in the area level just below patio level shown above to help the water that will accumulate here to sink into the ground.  I dug a hole 4' deep added 30 lbs of pea gravel to the bottom of the hole, stuck a 4" PVC pipe into it.  I filled 2/3rds of the PVC pipe with pea gravel, filled in the hole about 5" from the top of the PVC, put a cap on it and then covered the top of the PVC with pea gravel.  I put in 8 of these drains, 4 along the edge of the patio and four on the back of this area at the bottom of the "hills".  I made the ground slope slightly towards the drains.  I tested that water would go in the direction I intended by pouring a little water on the ground to see which way it would go.  Next I covered this entire "low area" with cedar bark...excellent natural flea repellent, took care of that problem with no poisons needed.

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Before hills. Click picture to enlarge.


Along the back fence and tree roots I molded hills along the entire width of the backyard.  This hides the tree roots and provides enough dirt cover to grow plants.  I also molded a hill around the ponds which I use later to build a rock waterfall.  I'll also add a dry creek bed the full width of the yard following along the side of some of the largest roots, maybe by sinking water next to the roots they will start growing deeper into the ground.  This will also help catch some of the water runoff before it gets to the low area of the yard (covered with cedar bark) in front of the patio.  The hills kind of give the landscape a more "natural" look, natural California landscape is not really level.

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Before hills, these large roots travel at ground surface the full width of the yard.

Hills, click picture to enlarge.

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I've lined out the dry creek bed following a large root, now buried (on the left side of the creek).

Dry Creek Beds

Now I start "lining out" the dry creek beds and adding a few rocks and drought tolerant plants, building a "biological catch basin" from one end of the yard to the other following the large roots of the Silver Maple Tree.  This is one of many techniques you can use to retain water in your landscape (see Surfrider's OFG page at http://www.surfrider.org/ofg_cpr.asp under "Retention" for more info) .  Next I add California native plants purchased from Tree of Life Nursery in San Juan Capistrano on Ortega Highway...bit of a drive but they have a large selection of very healthy plants.  Plus it's nearby a few good hiking spots and not too far from San Clemente State Beach or Trestles :)

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Creek bed extending in front of pond...in case of pond overflow the water will catch here.

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Beginning of dry creek bed in corner opposite of ponds.

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Now I begin adding a few rocks and drought tolerant plants (until I can get out to Tree of Life).

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Finishing the creek beds, rock waterfall and adding California native plants

These are pictures before I seeded California Poppies, you can actually see the California Native Plants.  I've found poppy seed does not necessarily stay where you put it and once they sprout you should probably thin them. 

The creek beds are just simple trenches or depressions in the dirt, packed down and then filled with gravel.  The rock waterfall is just flagstones and rocks laid down on a piece of pond liner...I should have anchored them better, a few months later a small earthquake shifted it causing pond water to leak everywhere so I shut off the waterfall until I could repair it of course. 

In the next section below are up close pictures and descriptions of the California Native Plants.




backyard ponds, waterfall and dry creekbed -ofg8-2-08-032.jpg





California Native Plants -- I purchased all the plants below from Tree of Life Nursey with the exception of the Coffee Berry (purchased from Shipley Nature Center) and the Bladderpod (which I grew myself from seed).  I dug holes twice the diameter of the plant, mixed some "organic" mulch in the bottom of the hole and dirt backfill, molded a "bowl" around the plant and covered with a good thick layer of mulch.  Many of these I planted in summer when you are not supposed to plant natives and all but 3 survived--the secret is the mulch around the plant base.  The fuschia dies off naturally and I'm hoping it will grow back, but the Blue Eyed Grass and Monkey Flower didn't make it, everything else lived although you can't see most in the current 3/22/09 pictures as they are hidden behind California Poppies.  Click any picture below to enlarge.

White Sage

California Fuschia

Monkey Flower

Giant Chain Fern

Coyote Mint (Monardella), purple flowers, attracts butterflies/bees/hummingbirds

Creeping Barberry (Mahonia), edible berries, attracts birds

Blue Fescue (or Idaho Fescue)

California Lilac (Ceanothus), low growing variety, attracts birds & butterflies

Blue Eyed Grass

Beach Strawberry, edible berries

Cleveland Sage (Salvia clevelandii), provides wildlife cover, attracts hummingbirds/butterflies/bees

Bladderpod (Isomeris arborea), attracts butterflies, bees, hummingbirds

Chaparral Current (Ribes malvaceum), pink flowers, edible fruit, attracts bird & butterflies

Native berry, edible, similar to raspberry (lost the name, it's salmonberry I believe)

Coffee Berry

Nodding Needle Grass, Purple (Nassella Cernua)

'Blue Glow' Fescue (Festuca glauca) purchased from Tree of Life (native?) it is drought tolerant

California Buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum), host for caterpillars, attracts butterflies, birds

California Poppy (Eschscholzia californica) attracts butterflies, birds like the seeds

Autumn Sage (red flowers), drought tolerant Southwest native, attracts butterflies

Blue Lupine

Below, a few pics of the California native plants above 6 months to a year later...

Cleveland Sage, 6/1/09

Autumn Sage, 8/26/09

California Buckwheat, 8/26/09

Idaho (Blue) Fescue, 8/26/09

White Sage, 8/26/09

Creeping Red Fescue (grown as a bunch grass)

2 fully grown Bladderpods, 12/6/09

Nodding Purple Needlegrass, 6/1/09 (bottom center)

Deerweed, 6/1/09 (bottom center)

Drought tolerant grass, sloped away from the house. Click picture to enlarge.

Red fescue starts I grew in containers from seed are planted in front of the white flowers.

Drought tolerant grass...mix of drought tolerant dwarf fescue and creeping red fescue (festuca ruba molate), a type of bunch grass you can mow to 3" high).

The creeping red fescue seed (festuca rubra molate) I purchased from Theodore Payne.  Some I mixed with the drought tolerant dwarf fescue seed and some I grew in containers.  I sloped the grassy side of the yard away from the house, taking a slight dip in the middle to catch and sink water into the grass, kind of a grass swale, shown in the picture on the left, click to enlarge.  See links at the end of this page for more info on "swales".  Water also puddles up in the area circled in blue shown in the pic on the left--this has been recently re-contoured to hold more run off water and planted with creeping red fescue starts grown in containers. 

The side of the yard in front of the patio with the stepping stone pathway is newly planted in both pure red fescue seed in the low traffic areas and in the high traffic areas a mix of the dwarf fescue and creeping red fescue.  Creeping red fescue won't tolerant high traffic.  The very high traffic areas will remain covered with bark. 

The newly seeded side of the yard with the stepping stone pathway is sloped in both directions toward the stepping stone path to catch and sink rainwater into the ground.  Creeping red fescue starts grown in containers have been planted in front of the white flowers and continuing up the slope below the dry creekbed which will help keep the slope from eroding away.  Creeping red fescue is a very deep rooting bunch grass which will eventually spread about 2' around the original plant.

Creeping red fescue starts, grown from seed purchased from Theodore Payne.

Older creeping red fescue grown in a large pot.

Grass seed I used. I mixed this seed with creeping red fescue seed.


Modification of low side of yard in front of patio

I had to re-do the stepping stone walkway from the patio to the ponds and waterfall in the back corner of the yard, over the winter it was covered by mud.  I took the dirt down about another inch or two and sloped this small section of the yard toward the stepping stone path.  Cedar bark and a little regular landscaping bark was added around the stepping stones.  I seeded a little creeping red fescue and dwarf fescue on each side of the pathway which hopefully will prevent it from getting covered by mud and next rainy season.  If I find too much rain water puddles up along the path I'll pull up a few stepping stones and add "french drains" here.

The raised dirt between the dry creekbed (partially covered by white flowers now) and the lowest level of the yard eroded a little during the winter storms, re-shapped it a little and planted plugs of creeping red fescue to hopefully help hold it into place next winter. 

Completed stepping stone path, 3/22/09

I dug the area for the path down another 1"-2" diagonally toward the waterfall.
The excess dirt was used to slightly slope the yard down toward the path on both sides for drainage.
Stepping stones were placed down and cedar bark was used to fill around the stepping stones.

Repair of dry creekbed and creekbed bank erosion

Along the dry creekbed toward the side of the yard opposite the ponds and waterfall I also had some erosion problems.  Between the grass and the creekbed I took the dirt down a couple more inches, using the excess dirt to build up the creek banks again.  I planted creeping red fescue starts along the banks to help prevent erosion next time.  The creekbed was cleared of leaves and debris and filled with a little more gravel. 

Before repair, dirt forming creekbed banks and covering tree roots eroded away.


Completed repair

Future plans and things that did not work or could have been done better...

Erosion around the creekbeds has been a problem.  I've planted native California bunch grasses (blue fescue and creeping red fescue) from both seed and by dividing up and transplanting already established clumps along the creekbed.  I scattered common yarrow seed and miniture blue lupine seeds around the bunch grasses.  Toward the back of the garden I'll scatter more poppy seeds keeping any poppies toward the front of the garden to a minimum to avoid choking out other natives.

I've added more rock and DG sand to the dry creekbeds in places, I tend to lose material clearing the dead leaves from the maple tree which is a problem every fall.  I've added "french drains" in several places right in the creekbed, really helps water to sink in preventing the creekbed from becoming a muddy mess during heavy rain.

"French drains" will be added in a few places where the flagstone pathway running diagonally to the pond used to be.  First week of rain this season (Dec 09) I can tell I'll have too much puddling.  The flagstone pathway I've relocated to my front yard where it does more good and eliminated more lawn.

Eventually some of the grassy areas will be reduced...too many non-native weeds and grasses keep taking over, difficult to keep up.  I hope to replace more lawn with decomposed granite walkways (simple DG "sand" over dirt, no additives).

I'll be adding more California native plants...Coffee Berry, Cleveland Sage, Chaparral Current, Bladderpod, Coyote Mint, Mahonia, Beach Strawberries all have done very well in my yard and have made a good bird and butterfly garden, so I think I'll expand on that.  I hope to add some "understory" bushes for the birds soon, such as Mexican Elderberry and Toyon.  

Winter '09 I hope to get at least a few rain gutters on the house and hook up the downspouts to one or more rain barrels to save water for later use.  See the "Rain Barrels" section under "External Links" at the end of this page for links to other sites with more info on rain barrels, looks interesting.

Planted yarrow & Idaho Fescuse seeds along the creekbed (in the damp spots)

Removed over 1/2 the non-natives in this corner, added more Calif. Buckwheat & bunch grass starts

This bank had non-native white flowers, now replaced with Red Fescue & Idaho Fescue bunch grasses



Books I found helpful...
I purchased these from
Theodore Payne's website.  (Check out their online store.)

"Designing California Native Gardens" and "California Native Plants for the Garden"

Surfrider has just published an Ocean Friendly Gardens book which I'd like to buy.  Here is the link:


Non-native drought tolerant plants found in my yard:
Star Clusters, Moss Rose, Lavendar, Rosemary, Mexican Heather, Coreopsis (also a Calfornia wildflower), Baby Blue Eyes (also a California wildflower).  I planted a few non-natives during the off planting season for natives--California native plants are only supposed to be planted in the cooler months, fall is best.  Most of non-native stuff dies off and gets replaced with California native plants later.  I've found the non-native drought tolerant plants cannot compare to California native plants, much less water needed for natives.  You may also find a plant in your local garden shop that may have the same common name and even look like a California native plant or wildflower but they are not the same thing you buy in the California native plant nursery, no water they die.  If it is not really drought tolerant it won't live in my yard (I'm horrible at watering). 

List of "drought tolerant" annuals:  http://www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/hort/consumer/quickref/flowers/annuals-drought.html

Except for the lavendar, I've now replaced all other plants in this pic with natives.

The "organic mulch" shown in this picture...don't buy it.  I noticed some little objects in the mulch, put on my glasses and I find this mulch is full of little tiny plastic pieces...nerdles!  Since I had already opened the bag I figured I couldn't return it.  So I sifted it and found a large amount of plastic pieces, some colored white, some blue, red, yellow.  I went to a couple of stores and since it is always easy to find a broken bag, I checked to see if this was just one bag or all of this mulch.  Sure enough no matter what store I looked this mulch had plastics in it.  Disgusting.  Since I can't trust "organic mulch" not to have inorganic materials in it I have since invested in a compost bin to make my own!

A few things I've noticed...this has turned out to be a great hummingbird and butterfly garden too!

Since planting my yard with California native plants I've noticed a number of butterflies and hummingbirds plus many other birds I haven't seen in my yard before.  Birds I've identified so far: house finches, goldfinch (appears to be lessers & Americans), hooded oriole, scrub jays, acorn woodpecker, black phoebes, says phoebes, junko, morning dove, mocking bird.  I've seen an owl perched in the Silver Maple tree and a Red Tailed Hawk often hunts here.  A Blue Heron and a green night heron has been caught fishing in my ponds more than once!  I've noticed many of the same birds you find hidding in coastal scrub such as white crowned sparrow, red winged blackbirds and some others.  A few critters have been around too, squirrels, racoons (recently caught 2 fishing in the pond...again) and possums.  Possums are great for the garden, they eat snails.  Possums are always around but usually they are just passing through, running across the fence, same with the squirrels.  Now they come down into the yard and it appears a possum dug a small den hidden behind plants.  Granted, all this wildlife is found nearby as I live in the San Gabriel Watershed nearby Los Cerritos Wetlands, so all this wildlife is common to my area but prior to planting my native garden it was rare to find all this hanging around my backyard. 

More lady bugs than usual are in the yard Spring 2009, no problems with aphids so far this year.  White flies have also been a year round problem but those seem to have disappeared.  I've noticed what appears to be beneficial insects, doing some research I've found many of both the non-native and California native plants do attract bugs that are good for the garden.  The use of shredded Cedar bark mulch has worked very well at keeping away fleas, I have not used Advantage on my pets a single time this year.  Very cool!  And no more pesticides needed!

If you are looking to grow a California native plant garden specifically to attract birds and butterflies, Theodore Payne's website has a few good plant lists (along with other very good info on their home page under "Native Gardening").

Plants for butterflies:  http://www.theodorepayne.org/plants/plants_for_butterflies.htm
Plants for hummingbirds:  http://www.theodorepayne.org/plants/plants4hummers.htm
Plants for birds:  http://www.theodorepayne.org/plants/plants4birds.htm
Notice I have some of the plants described in the lists above in my yard...it works!

External Links/other websites you may find helpful:

French drains:

Decomposed Granite used for walkways
Similar to permeable pavers (same material) and DG let water sink through.  I plan to add DG walkways to my landscaping later.  Here's a few links to save you the search trouble:
This page has DG walkway pics: 
Cost effective "how to": 
Description of DG materials: 
A very artistic pathway design:

I've used this concept in my OFG design for my "hills", dry creek beds and sloping the grass to hold water.
Grassed swales, I used this concept in sloping and planting my grass:  http://www.duluthstreams.org/stormwater/toolkit/swales.html
Technology fact sheet from EPA: 

Rain Barrels, Storm Water Runoff, Prevention:

Rain Barrel article on howstuffworks.com:

Examples of Rain Barrels you can buy (I am not familar with these companies, just including this as examples of types of rain barrels, that's all):
Nice 60 gallon rain barrel you can purchase online, has rain gutter downspout attachments, safety screen top, hand pump, and more...made from recycled food grade materials:
Decorative Rain Barrel that looks like a potted plant:

Interesting article about just how much water runs off your roof in a rainstorm and how to make your own rain barrel, from WashingtonPost.com:

Storm water pollution prevention, strategies article from Natural Resources Defense Council:  http://www.nrdc.org/water/pollution/storm/stoinx.asp

About storm water runoff from City of Bremerton, includes many facts about pavers, native plants, rain barrels, etc. as solutions:

California Native Plant Sources:

Tree of Life Nursery

California native plants, seeds and native plant workshops (including how to "lose your lawn").

Theodore Payne
California native plants, seeds, online California native plant library, California native plant gardening workshops, native plant garden tours

Environmental Effects of Commercial Fertilizers
a few articles I found helpful in understanding this issue:

"Reducing Environmental Impacts: Lawn and Garden Care - Case Study": 

"Pesticide and fertilizer use"  article on detrimental environmental and health effects: 

"150 'dead zones' counted in oceans U.N. report warns of nitrogen runoff killing fisheries":