We’ve always loved our front yard – two patches of green lawn embracing a front walkway, shaded by a purple Jacaranda tree. We sit out on the sunny front porch on weekend mornings with coffee and chat with neighbors strolling by, our dog lying on the grass, king of his turf. Often we’d pop poles into umbrella stands on the front walkway and roll out a net, drawing family and friends into the front yard to play badminton. We’ve used our front lawn.
But, given we’re in the fourth year of drought, my husband and I debated. We’d like to do reduce our water use and get the city’s turf removal rebate, but we’d miss using the front yard as our badminton playground. I knew I wanted to plant native California flora that could serve as habitat and food for birds, bees and butterflies, but also knew that most plants wouldn’t survive the trampling of badminton. Then my husband came up with a brilliant plan – we could kill two bird(ies!) with one stone – we’d build a bocce ball court surrounded by native pollinator-friendly plants.
The turf removal rebate guidelines allow for a portion of the surface to be ‘hardscaped” with a permeable surface, so our planned 12 foot wide by 45 foot long bocce ball court could be framed in timber and rolled with decomposed granite. Spanning the six foot concrete walkway makes for more interesting, but not impossible, play.
Working with landscape designer Sloan Foxe Ashley of Wormwood Designs we starting drawing up a plant list and sketching out the design. Our aim was to attract birds, bees and butterflies, with a special focus on providing the habitat and the nutrition for butterflies, particularly the Monarch. Narrow leaf milkweed (Asclepias Fascicularis) indigenous to California was a must for the Monarch, and we fleshed out the rest of the garden with colorful ‘summer dry’ plantings, many of them California natives including ceanothus (wild lilac), echinacea (coneflower), a variety of salvias, yarrows, penstemons and buckwheats, native pelargonium (geranium), catmint, rock purslane, and coyote mint.
Much to my delight, the garden has already drawn a plentitude of small native bees (not bothered by our playing and weeding alongside them – they are busy at work) and a variety of butterflies, including the Monarch which has seen a dramatic decline in population across the U.S. We’ve even hosted a number of Monarch caterpillars, though I fear most have been devoured by a couple of large praying mantids who also love the garden.
A drip line irrigation system that lies below the mulch and atop the soil, now drips water to the garden twice a week. Once the plants are firmly established water use will be very minimal. The plants are thriving in the hot sunny eastern exposure and many neighbors nearby have reported seeing many more butterflies in their own gardens. The catmint is abuzz with bees, the birds drink and bathe in the small fountain nearby, and our dog even chomps on the echinacea when his stomach doesn’t feel quite right.
No longer needing the quickie mow-and-blow service, we are working with our gardener on weeding, trimming and mulching a bit each week. I do a lot more work on the garden myself, but have thoroughly enjoyed the time “out front” connecting with people who walk by. The yard evolves with the season – currently there are far fewer bright blooms but some subtle fall flowers are emerging. The plants seem to begging for some winter shaping and clipping, while their root systems do most of the growing.
Best of all – I’m perfecting my bocce ball game. I am currently holding the record number of wins on the block, even though I’m often distracted by the flapping of wings on the sidelines. Game anyone?