If you are contemplating removing lawn and replacing it with something that needs less water, the good news is there are lots of drought tolerant landscape design ideas to choose from and it is a chance to have some fun. Though some may insist on installing plastic, artificial turf, there are loads of more creative design ideas. Rather than thinking of a “substitute” consider it an opportunity for creativity and new design.

Here are my Top Five landscape design ideas.

1. Shade gardens and meandering paths

Hammock, Decomposed Granite Pathway, drought tolerant and native planting, Quercus agrifolia (Coast live oak), native ferns, Begonia Richmondensis, shady nook

Relax in the shade of an Oak

Have you ever walked through a forest? The earth is soft beneath your feet, springy to the step, the air fragrant and cool. A shade garden can be a great lawn replacement. The careful selection of trees and shrubs and meandering pathways leading one to destinations like a secret garden,    a hammock or a tree house make the perfect venue for kids and dogs to romp and play. And who doesn’t love a good game of “Hide and Seek”?

2. Say it with succulents

Debra Lee Baldwin, Succulents Simplified, Drought Tolerant, succulent garden

Debra Lee Baldwin’s Succulent Lily Pond

If you’ve ever had any doubts about the ability to create a beautiful, green oasis, without lawn, succulent expert Debra Lee Baldwin will convince you otherwise. In her own garden she created the illusion of water complete with succulent “lily pads” (photos here). Debra’s most recent book “Succulents Simplified” is all you will need to create your own lush paradise.

3. Courtyards and Fountains

French Stone Fountain, Eye of the Day GDC, sage blue spires, flagstone, boulders, dymondia, agave

French Stone fountain makes the perfect focal point in this colorful low water garden


When your lawn disappears, create more space for outdoor entertaining by constructing pathways, courtyards or terraces using stone, or gravel. Add a fountain, pots or sculpture as a focal point then soften the area with low-water plantings (Lavender, Thyme, Santa Barbara Daisy, Yarrow, Mexican Sage just to name a few) and you have a lovely, fragrant, easy-to-care-for and low-water garden everyone will enjoy for years to come.

4. Herbs, Flowers and Edible Gardens

Sunflowers, drought tolerant plants, Montecito, Landscape design ideas

Sunflowers are a wonderful addition to any garden

Herbs, edibles and flowers are another excellent choice for drought-tolerant gardens. Yes, you can have Roses in a drought-tolerant garden, with good, living soil and lots of mulch, they don’t need as much water as you might think. Cutting flowers such as Sunflower, Dahlia, Shasta Daisy and Alstroemeria all do very well in our climate and give endless bouquets of color. Perennial herbs, vegetables, fruit and nut trees come in many shapes, sizes and add a variety of textures and colors. Imagine all the fun stuff you can make when you create your very own Eden. Pickles, Jams and Marmalades, herbal salts (if you need recipes email me).

 5. Walk on (or not) groundcovers

Ceanothus, myoporum groundcover, agave attenuata, California live Oak, Boulder birdbath

Boulder birdbath, Ceanothus and myoporum groundcovers

If you aren’t inspired by now to rip our your lawn and get planting there’s always, groundcover. Try Dymondia or Wooly Yarrow which will tolerate traffic once established. Other ground covers that give a feeling of lawn without the water or the mowing are Sedum, Santa Barbara Daisy, Snow in Summer, Geranium incanum and Creeping Thyme. There are a myriad of grasses that need little care and very little water. Some drought-tolerant grasses (such as Carex) can be mowed like lawn but need much less water.

These are just a few of the ideas to get you started toward a “greener” garden. If this doesn’t inspire you, call me; I have even more ideas if you need them.

Until next time, fill your garden with joy! (not water)