CA Friendly Gardening Solutions | California Friendly Garden Winners Start a Trend

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CA Friendly Gardening Solutions | California Friendly Garden Winners Start a Trend

About a year ago, the Freemon’s decided they wanted a fresh look for their 28-year-old Huntington Beach garden. Their main motivation was the unattractive lawn that required constant watering.

“I was so tired of mowing it,” said Patrick Freemon, a retired environmental engineer. “And as someone who worked for a public agency in waste water and related issues regarding irrigation and run-off, I’m very sensitive to water conservation.”

When the Freemon family decided to update their yard and replace the front lawn with a colorful, water-wise garden, they had no idea they would be neighborhood trendsetters.

Before Patrick and Sandee Freemon finished their six-week renovation—which later won first place in Roger’s Gardens 2012 California Friendly Garden Contest—the neighbor across the street was inspired to start plans for a similar make-over. Within a few months, the couple had learned of two other neighbors who were also eager to replace their lawns with California Friendly gardens.

“We were told this was the whole reason for the contest. It actually worked on our street,” said Patrick Freemon.

One of Sandee Freemon’s friends recommended her daughter, landscape designer Sarah Robinson, to help with the project. The couple was pleased to learn that Robinson, who now works for The Plant Nerd, Inc., in Huntington Beach, shared their concerns and values and had ideas and training on how to create a beautiful garden that required little maintenance or water.

“It was a good marrying of ideas,” said Patrick Freemon. “I think the fact that we live in Southern California and it’s a sunny, arid region; drought-tolerant plants are more appropriate.”

After agreeing on a garden design, Sarah accompanied Sandee to pick out a mix of drought-tolerant and California native plants and flowers that provided year-round color. They selected a variety of salvias, yarrow, fuchsia, kangaroo paw, yucca and flax to line the new walkway that meanders up to their front door.

To save water, the Freemon’s installed a drip irrigation system, which is more efficient than above-ground spay systems, as well as French drains and a dry stream using decorative rocks encouraging run-off to seep back into the ground rather than drain into the ocean.

To their delight, the garden not only is fragrant and in constant bloom, but has attracted hummingbirds and butterflies. So far, they have not needed to fertilize, and maintenance is quick and easy.

“All you need is a good pair of pruning shears, and we just cut back some of the plants every couple of weeks. We added ground cover to help keep down the weeds,” Sandee said.

When Sarah Robinson told the Freemon’s that Roger’s Gardens was holding a contest about the most earth-friendly garden in Orange County, they felt they had a good chance at winning and entered photos of their landscape.

“When we looked at the contest criteria, it seemed like we did everything they were looking for,” Patrick Freemon said.

The California Friendly Garden Contest was the culmination of years of planning by Roger’s Gardens, local, state and regional water agencies, the City of Newport Beach, environmental groups and The Orange County Register.

“From the beginning, the goal of the contest was to get the message out about how gardens impact our environment, positively or negatively, and especially to encourage change,” said Ron Vanderhoff, General Manager at Roger’s Gardens. “After long meetings at Roger’s Gardens, all the experts were convinced that home gardeners, being naturally connected to nature, really did want to do the right thing. But when it came to gardening, they just didn’t always know what ‘the right thing’ was.”

The goal of the contest was to incentivize homeowners to change their gardening habits by finding and rewarding homeowners, like the Freemon’s who had sustainable gardens.

“So the contest is really an excuse for something much larger–to encourage gardeners to conserve and protect our natural resources,” Vanderhoff said. “The Freemon’s garden is a perfect poster child for California Friendly gardening. Just over a year ago, their garden was essentially a big, thirsty, polluting and rather sterile lawn. Now, it’s alive with birds and insect life, only occasionally irrigated, doesn’t pollute the watershed and even replenishes our underground aquifer. It’s exactly what we had in mind.”

In May, the Freemon’s learned they were among the 10 finalists, and after a panel of judges toured their property, they heard the good news: Their garden won first place, which included a $1,500 cash prize.

“We were thrilled,” Patrick Freemon said. “I don’t ever remember getting a compliment on our lawn. Now, virtually everyone who sees our property thinks it’s beautiful.”

About the Author:

Ron Vanderhoff is a lifelong Southern California gardener and the General Manager and Vice President of Roger’s Gardens. He is a local director of the California Native Plant Society and serves on a number of state and local advisory committees involving horticultural education and natural resource protection. He was a principal contributor to The Butterflies of Orange County and The Wildflowers of Orange County and the Santa Ana Mountains, as well as a special contributor to The Sunset Western Garden Book.


  1. gs April 11, 2015 at 11:05 pm - Reply

    Wow! This garden is so colorful against my notion of native gardens can bring dullness to the landscaping being either monotonous or monochromatic! I am so drawn to these colors that it prompted me to write this compliment to the home owners and the designer. I really would love to get a list of plants you have planted to help me convert the lawns in our yards. We would greatly appreciate it if you could share some individual plant pictures to help us choose right. Once again, this garden is spectacularly beautiful! Thanks for sharing and a well deserved award!!

    • Roger's Gardens April 13, 2015 at 1:01 pm - Reply

      Thanks for the compliments. The garden pictured are all prior winners of our Orange County California Friendly Garden Contest. These are home gardens from throughout Orange County. We have been spearheading this program for nine years now. The gardens were judged by an independent panel of water, landscape and design experts and are not Roger’s Gardens designs; they are a combination of homeowner designs and other independent designers.

      I should point out that the designs you are referring to are not exclusively California native plants, although they do include some native plants as well as Mediterranean climate specialties. If you are looking to know which plants are water-efficient, we can help you on that. For over a year know, ALL of our low-water plants are labelled with this graphic:

      California Friendly Plant

      – Ron

  2. Julia Stevens May 10, 2015 at 10:56 pm - Reply

    Is it possible to get a list of the plants used in this landscape? I would love my yard to look exactly like it.

    • Roger's Gardens May 14, 2015 at 4:11 pm - Reply

      Hello Julia,

      That was a fabulous garden and a worthy winner of our California Friendly Garden Contest. However, we do not have a list of the plant materials used in this gardens,since it was not a garden that Roger’s Gardens designed. Our contest is a public competition, most entries coming in from many different homeowners and designers.

      Sorry we could not help you out on this one.

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