This grass is “Greener”


By Maryann Ridini Spencer

Photography by Laura Bauer,

When most people think of the dream lawn they’d like for their home, they often think “sprawling green” and “park-like.”  However, according to Landscape Designer Laura Bauer, that’s not really practical living in Southern California.  Furthermore, there are many beautiful grasses native to Ventura’s climate that make a gorgeous “green” lawn and that utilize half the resources required of a traditional lawn.

“There’s a lot of experimentation going on with low-water, low-care grass substitutes,” said Bauer. “Right now these options are more expensive compared to standard sod grass, however, these lawns require less maintenance (mowing), less water and less fertilizers and pesticides.  It’s been documented that 40-70% of a person’s water bill goes to taking care of outside landscape, so over time, homeowners can see a significant savings.”

Bauer knows of what she speaks. She ran a garden maintenance company for 10 years in Pasadena and also taught and gave workshops for the non-profit Theodore Payne Foundation for Wildflowers and Native Plants, Inc. ( Last year, Bauer moved back to Ventura to provide consultation and design services through her company, Bauer Fine Gardening, using California native and drought-tolerant plants.

Great Grass Alternatives

Bauer recommends Field Sedge (Botanical name:  Carex praegracilis), a low-growing, bright green creeper that grows into a dense lawn.  It can be mowed, or left to grow as long as you see fit.

“Creeping Red Fescue (Botanical name:  Festuca rubra ‘Molate’) which is dark green with very fine blades, also makes a great lawn, especially for shadier areas,” adds Bauer.  “It can be mowed or left natural.”

California Bentgrass (Botanical name: Agrostis pallens) and Blue Gramma Grass (Botanical name:  Bouteloua gracilis) are also alternatives.  These grasses produce fine, short blades and are available only in seed form.

“Buffalo Grass (Botanical name:  Bouteloua dactyloides), although not native to California, has been bred to create a hybrid variety, ‘UC Verde,’ which has been developed for the California market,” said Bauer.

When choosing plants and shrubs for your landscape, Bauer suggests the best plant selections will depend on the features of your landscape.  For example, is your property coastal or inland?  Is the area primarily sunny or shady?  Is your soil sand or heavy clay?

“There are many closely related native California plants that have different needs and require different types of exposure and soil,” said Bauer.  “The best thing a person can do is to consult with a landscape or nursery professional and read up on native plants by visiting such online websites as:,, and

“Often times,” continued Bauer, “I’ll meet with homeowners to do just do a consultation. I’ll evaluate their soil and property and make some recommendations on what will work best for them.  I’ll give them a short list that serves as a basis and blueprint for everything else to follow.”

Background Plants for Attractiveness, Stability and Color

Bauer suggests including solid background plants in your landscape that are evergreen and attractive year-round, blooming in season. Samplings of these plants include:  California Lilac or California Blueblossom (Botanical name: Ceanothus).  These gorgeous plants have dark green leaves and dazzling blue and white flowers in early spring.  Different species also serve as ground covers, shrubs or small trees.

Another large group is the Manzanitas (Botanical name: Arctostaphylos). They have waxy green leaves and sculptural red bark as well as small white, or pink flowers in mid-winter.  These plants also serve as an important winter source of nectar for hummingbirds and bees. Again, different species can also be used as ground covers, shrubs or small trees.
Sagebrush (Botanical name: Artemisia) has delicate, aromatic silver foliage that presents well against green plants.  Straight species of California Sagebrush are large shrubs; but there are several low-growing varieties that are better for gardens such as ‘Montara,’ ‘Canyon Gray’ and ‘David’s Choice.’

California Buckwheats (Botanical name: Eriogonum): Buckwheats range from small to large shrubs and produce showy flowers from summer to fall.  They are also considered an important nectar source for insects and bees.

California Sage (Botanical name: Salvia) are the plants that smell so delicious and fragrant after a spring rain.  The more common native sages (Black, Purple, or White) have lavender or white flowers in spring and thick, sticky leaves. They are dormant in summer.
Toyon (Botanical name: Heteromeles arbutifolia), a large shrub or small multi-trunk tree has fragrant white flowers in summer and bright red berries in winter.

Splashy Color

Some of the more dramatic natives for spring color according to Bauer include the Monkeyflower (Botanical name: Mimulus). Monkeyflower stays green all year on the coast and will bloom with a variety of colors – orange, yellow, white or red.

Some other plants that live well with California natives include many varieties of succulents, Mediterranean herbs like rosemary and lavender and other Mediterranean-climate plants that grow in South Africa, Chile, Peru and Australia.

“I work with clients of all income levels and budgets,” said Bauer.  “The main focus is to have a healthy, thriving landscape that requires low maintenance and that is in tune with the natural environment so as to save resources and promote the natural habitat.”


Contact Laura at: 626-437-9459
PHOTO CREDITS: Photography by Laura Bauer,