Resilient Garden Design
Planning for a More Resilient Future in Our Gardens
The scale of the October 2017 wildfires in Sonoma County was unprecedented. According to the County of Sonoma Watershed Emergency Response Team report published in November 2017, the series of wildfires that started in Sonoma, Napa, Lake, Solano, and Mendocino counties is one of the most deadly and costly wildfires in California history. The Tubbs Fire alone burned a total of 36,807 acres in Sonoma and Napa counties and was part of the complex of fires that destroyed 7,010 structures and damaged an additional 487 structures. Given the scale of structure loss in Sonoma County, there is a significant opportunity to educate our community with firewise, sustainable and water-wise landscape examples.
The City of Santa Rosa, Santa Rosa Junior College (SRJC), Sonoma County Water Agency (SCWA), Habitat Corridor Project (HCP), California Native Plant Society (CNPS) – Milo Baker Chapter and the UC Master Gardener Program of Sonoma County (UCMGSC) collaborated to develop a series of eight front yard landscape templates that demonstrate firewise and sustainable landscape practices, while also meeting the State of California Model Water Efficiency Landscape Ordinance (MWELO) requirements. These design templates will be made available as open source documents for use by the community in rebuilding new landscapes for those homes lost in the fires or to anyone who is interested in modifying their existing landscapes. Post-wildfires there is an unprecedented opportunity to help our rebuilding community with usable landscape designs to implement in their own homes.
The eight existing landscapes used for these plans were based on front and backyard spaces on the Santa Rosa Junior College campus. It is the intent of the project team to install these designs in the spaces as demonstration gardens for the community. The existing gardens on the SRJC campus require high water use and maintenance and do not meet sustainable landscape design principles in providing water capture and storage, native ecosystems and habitat support, or a space people can get outside and enjoy. Throughout the sites it is estimated that 890 thousand gallons of water are used for irrigation every year and with the installation of the new landscape the annual water usage would be brought down to 185 thousand gallons, resulting in an annual water savings of 705 thousand gallons of potable water. Through the use of swales and rainwater harvesting, the designs are also making the most of the 188 thousand gallons of rainwater that hits the roofs annually.
Residential landscapes use an estimated 50% of potable water in California. There is a 40 to 50% savings in irrigating drought adapted plants versus lawn. This SRJC demonstration garden project and its associated free downloadable plans and educational materials will help residential homeowners adapt their landscapes to save water, replace turf, encourage wildlife in their gardens and be firewise and California friendly to local pollinators. In addition, more sustainable landscape design and maintenance practices coupled with climate appropriate low water use plant selection can contribute to decreased carbon emissions and increased carbon sequestration in home gardens. The landscape plans are being finalized and when completed will be found on the Sonoma-Marin Water Saving Partnership web site. The project team is currently pursuing grant funding to install the demonstration gardens.