Here at Califia ECOdesigns we believe in creating gardens that are functional AND fashionable (preferably exceptionally beautiful). What do I mean by functional?
In this design for a large front yard in Altadena we have a mix of edible and useful plants as well as conventional ornamental landscape accents. Western sword fern and Chinese Mahogany (fragrant spring tree) provide edible shoots in the spring. Sedum ground cover makes a striking accent and also offers an emergency forage crop. Little river wattle (acacia cognata) and again sword fern serve to improve the soil by acting as dynamic accumulators of nutrients. Strawberry tree, blueberry and strawberry plants provide berries in the summer. The smaller more sensitive plants are located under heavy shade to reduce their water needs.
Finally we planted striking Japanese maples right in the foreground in the understory of larger trees to bring the garden's asian-inspired design to life.
This type of landscaping was inspired by extensive training in Permaculture and food forestry. We've developed a long list of native and beneficial plants for usage in Southern California to help convert landscapes into settings that are productive as well as ornamental. Hopefully their ecologically balanced too! For example the heavy usage of ornamental grasses in this design helps to provide habitat for beneficial insects. There are so many great ways we can re-imagine drought tolerant landscapes.
Growing vegetables in a hot climate (like our Los Angeles summer) is no small feat! Raising seedlings in extreme heat requires some strategy and forethought not required in moister or more Northerly climates.
How to be successful farming in the desert?
Here's a few tricks to help your harvest boom in a hot dry climate:
1. Garden in the Shade
While it may sound counter-intuitive, planting your vegetables in partial or dappled shade significantly improves their ability to retain moisture and handle intense sunlight. The power of a 100 degree sun rapidly evaporates and wilts most plants, but with the help of a supple tree canopy the heat becomes much more bearable. Gary Paul Nabhan, author of Growing Food in a Hotter, Drier Climate routinely has success with this method in the deserts of Arizona. As you will see in our Youtube video, here in Los Angeles we are also seeing remarkable results!
2. Water from Below
Watering from beneath may sound unusual but it is one of the most effective methods for conserving water when growing food. A variety of companies are now producing "self-watering pots" or raised beds but having your water source elevated can also cause rapid evaporation in hot climates. Our solution? We built a sunken reservoir (using poly, landscape fabric and gravel) beneath our vegetable garden that we water through a french drain or weeping tile above. A thorough tutorial on this project is in the works.
Whatever your resources, adding a water basin below your vegetable garden is a surefire way to save on water and ensure your success. We only have to fill our reservoir about once a week, even in 100+ degree weather!
I've said it before and I'll say it again, MULCH MULCH MULCH!! The top layer of soil is some of the most crucial for plant root development. Mulching the surface of your soil with straw, wood chip, leaves, shredded paper, rocks or any other organic material is a must in hot climates. Especially if you are overhead watering.
Here's a quick video of our companion-planted vegetable garden:
Hi! I'm Briana, Lead Designer and Founder of Califia ECOdesigns in Pasadena, CA. I've organic farmed all over Western North & Central America and love designing drought tolerant and sustainable landscapes. I earned my Permaculture Design Certification in 2011 from engineer Rob Avis.