Removing her Southern California lawn was therapy

Even here, in the scorching heat of summer in Altadena, Seriina Covarrubias’ front yard feels cool and inviting under the shade of a magnificent elm tree.

“I think it will take longer for the natural habitat to become a reality,” says Covarrubias of her two-year-old garden, which is filled with fragrant coastal date palms.

“The birds feel very comfortable when they nest on the ground,” she adds, reaching down to reveal a nest of black phoebe beneath a sloping sedge (Carex tumulicola).

The garden under the elm tree

The sages and gods thrived under the elm trees.

(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

More thirsty birds have flocked to her garden since she demolished her lawn and replaced it with drought-tolerant plants mostly native to Southern California. Other wildlife has returned, including lizards, ladybugs, praying mantises, bees and caterpillars.

So are her neighbors. While any visitor can appreciate the ecosystem that thrives from the sidewalk, many visitors often go one step further. As Covarrubias’ husband Kevin Rowles, a film editor, put it, “When people walk or drive by, they stop and take pictures of our yard.”

The couple, both 40 years old, have long wanted a garden instead of a lawn. A death benefit after Covarrubias’ father, Robert, in June 2020, supported by a lawn mowing rebate from the state, provided the couple with enough money to get rid of the thirsty Bermuda grass. and start over. (The couple estimate they paid about $10,000 for the conversion, which includes weeding, design, irrigation and planting, and received $3,000 from the state to remove 1,500 square feet of grass.)

Two years before the Metropolitan Water District in Southern California declared an emergency water shortage and ordered a two-day-a-week limit to outdoor watering, this couple knew they wanted to install plants that could withstand Hot weather with little watering. However, there were other motivating factors: The front lawn was “eye-popping,” meaning they never used the yard.

“It doesn’t serve a purpose,” said Covarrubias, project manager for an internet development company. “We wanted something that we would use and enjoy.”

Zen rock garden

A Japanese style Zen rock garden.

(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

A bee on a purple flower

A bee eats Penstemon Margarita.

(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

For Covarrubias, who has mast cell activation syndrome (MCAS), an autoimmune disorder that causes her to have severe allergic reactions to things like dirt, dusty makeup will need to be quick. to help ease her allergies. So the couple hired Asarel Garcia to clean up their lawn and landscape designer Julie Deamer at Yard Queen to help design the garden and select plants.

Going in, Covarrubias knew she wanted a permeable riverbed, a Japanese-style Zen rock garden, and a variety of plants for sentimental reasons – a selection of roses in honor of her father, the wisteria bear. Heat will hang from the canopy and greet visitors as they enter the garden, and white sage pays tribute to Sage, the couple’s Australian shepherd. Many plants, which she had never considered, were a welcome surprise: the ‘Mystic Spiers Blue’ salvia, the purple fairy fan flower, Scaevola albida ‘Mauve Cluster’ and native shrub toyon, or California holly.

Working with Garcia, the couple removed the street-facing boxwood fence and installed new potted plants, which Covarrubias planted filled with sun-loving California buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum). New concrete walkways have been built to allow access to the front door and driveway, so the couple and their roommate, Mike Jimenez, can reach their car.

Working with Deamer’s original layout, the couple preferred to plant more trees as the season changed, taking care to install less drought-tolerant varieties safely under the elm canopy. In spring, the garden’s honeysuckle, salvia, and California honeysuckle add pops of color to the garden’s silver palette.

Rain water tank in front of the house

A rain barrel is required to receive the lawn mowing discount.

(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

To receive a rebate on grass removal, a sprinkler system was exchanged for a drip irrigation system, and a 650-gallon rain barrel that runs down the permeable river bed for groundwater, was added to the front of the house. .

The couple say they now water the trees in their front yard twice a week and the irrigation system has helped revive the elm trees. Covarrubias said: “The elm is very happy now. “It got sick and was attacked by scarab beetles. One grower told us that the water from the sprinkler made the plants sick. I let it overgrow to the point of sinking, and it felt like an indoor treehouse.”

“My garden is worth more than a flower or a season of blooms. Its everyday existence is what gives it value. The birds and butterflies knew it before I did. ”

– Seriina Covarrubias

Covarrubias says working in the garden has become a way for her to deal with the loss of her “best friend” father, who lived with the couple before he passed away. “It gives me something to take care of that isn’t myself so I can focus on that when I’m so grieving and don’t want to take care of myself,” she says. Her father always wanted her to put money in the house. Now, she honors his memory by planting fragrant roses that he treasures.

Oakfield Hyderea factory

Oakfield Hyderea, Hydrangea quercifolia.

(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

A pink rose

Seriina Covarrubias planted Burgundy Iceberg roses in memory of her late father Robert.

(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

As a chronically ill, Covarrubias often doesn’t have the energy to work in the garden, but that doesn’t stop her from experiencing the thriving ecosystem from within. “On days when I can’t go out because my illness is so intense, I will look out the window and notice how much the birds and insects enjoy the garden,” she says. “Its ever-changing landscape has brought me peace because it means nothing stays the same, not even this miserable disease.”

After a few rough years, Covarrubias is still pulling the Bermuda grass among the ceanothuses and the sages, but she doesn’t mind. Looking back, she appreciates what the garden has done for her and her mental health. “When things get tough, I will go out and sit in the garden and just be there with the plants and the birds,” she said. “There is always something new to see or something that has evolved from the day before. Plants die and live. It’s a never-ending cycle of time that has helped me see my life and my father’s life from the perspective of not a linear beginning or end but an eternal loop. “

Two photos showing a lawn with native grass and trees

Front yard, front lawn, back lawn.

(Photo by Seriina Covarrubias; Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

The garden has inspired the Covarrubias to look beyond their property, and she hopes to add more native plants to their vicinity. “The joy I get from my garden motivates me to do more,” she says. “Just walking down the street in my neighborhood, I realize there is so much neglected green space. There is a lot of unused space because of public amenities. “

Clearly, the garden of Covarrubias is more than just a collection of plants.

She adds about her health: “We have always been taught that our bodies are all the same, but good health is appropriate and not a measure of our worth,” she says. “My garden is worth more than a flower or a season of blooms. Its everyday existence is what gives it value. The birds and butterflies knew it before I did. “

A woman in her garden with her dogs.

Seriina Covarrubias in her front yard with her dogs, Sage and Dusty.

(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Plants used in this garden

Mexican Green Sage

Mexican green sage.

(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Alkali sucrose, Sporobolus airoides

Bouteloua gracilis ‘Blonde Ambition’

blue hibiscus flowers, Alyogyne huegelii ‘Santa Cruz’

Burgundy Iceberg rose

California bluebell, Little Phacelia

California Buckwheat, Eriogonum fasciculatum

Canyon Prince wild rye, Leymus condensatus ‘Canyon Prince’

Cleveland Sage, Salvia clevelandii

Common Exam Grass, Achillea millefolium

Concha ceanothus, Ceanothus ‘Concha’

Flower behind death, Wisteria sinensis

Rose night

Dusty Miller, Centaurea cineraria

Dwarf apricot tree, Myrtus communis ‘Compacta’

Ebb Tide rose

flower fairy, Scaevola albida ‘Mauve Cluster’

Slope sedge, Carex tumulicola

globe gilia, Gilia capitata

French Lavender Grosso, Lavandula ‘Grosso’

hairy honeysuckle, Lonicera hispidula

lavender trumpet grape plant, Clytostoma callistegioides

Margarita pentemon, Penstemon ‘Margarita’

Mexican Green Sage, Salvia chamaedryoides

Mexican sage tree, Salvia leucantha

Montara sagebrush, Artemisia californica ‘Montara’

Mystic Spiers Blue Salvia

Narrow-leaved milkweed, Asclepias fascicularis

Nuccio’s Gem Camellia, Camellia japonica ‘Nuccio’s Gem’

Nuccio’s Voodoo Rhododendron

Pincushion, Scabiosa

purple sage, Salvia leucophylla

Tiger purple rose

colorful milk cotton, Asclepias speciosa

Spanish Lavender Anouk Silver, Lavandula stechas ‘Silver Anouk’

star jasmine, Trachelospermum jasminoides

Teucrium cossonii (Majorricum)

Toyon, Heteromeles arbutifolia

Rose Variegata Di Bologna

Patchy mint dust, Prostanthera ovalifolia ‘Variegata’

Violet’s Pride Rose

Western Redbud, Cercis Occidentalis

white sage, Salvia apiana

Yesterday Today Tomorrow, Brunfelsia pauciflora

A family and their dog in their garden

Seriina Covarrubias, center, husband Kevin Rowles, front, roommates Mike Jimenez and Dusty, their golden retriever.

(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Useful resources for water gardening Removing her Southern California lawn was therapy

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