When John and Marcia Lenser moved to San Pedro Cove in San Rafael — “the closest-knit community in Marin,” he says — 29 years ago, their property came with lovely lawns in both the front and back of the house.
However, the drought, along with its attendant water restrictions and high water cost, compelled the couple to rethink their gardens.
They reduced the lawn in their back garden by expanding the flower beds, adding a large stone fire pit area, hardscape and a freshwater lily pond, but it’s their front that gets all the attention.
In June 2021, they replaced the entire front lawn, about 520 square feet, with drought-resistant plants that are minimally watered by drip and bubbler irrigation. The goal was “to create a beautiful appearance at the front of our house that would enhance its value. I wanted to reduce water usage and avoid installing artificial turf that was an approach used by several neighbors,” he says.
“The effort was highly successful. The garden that is the envy of the neighborhood, given the number of positive comments we receive from neighbors.”
Lenser, who grew up in Southern California, had some previous experience with gardens. His mother always had one, and paid him a penny for every snail he found in it. He is partial to gardening with annuals and flowering perennials that provide him with a profusion of seasonal color.
So, when it came to redoing his front garden, he jumped right in.
Photo by John Lenser
John and Marcia Lenser’s front garden is eye-catching.
“I personally designed the garden and hardscape with an approach that was harmonious with Cove landscaping,” he says.
Under his direction, he had a local gardener remove the old lawn and add soil, but other than that, he says he did most of the work himself, including installing the irrigation, hardscape and plants.
The front garden is composed of three planting areas divided by walkways and the driveway, and planted with the same plants. They include a backdrop of Mexican bush sage and bugleweed in the center island; in the perimeter beds are autumn sage, garden speedwell, spiked speedwell, bacopa, garden petunia and seaside petunia.
He kept to a color palette of purple, pink and white tones.
He also added a flagstone walkway to an area that had previously been grass and placed small colored pebble rocks around the islands.
Within six weeks, the front garden makeover was complete.
In retrospect, he says, it is “heavy work and took longer than I expected to complete.”
He also learned that “any plant that was labeled ‘partial sun’ quickly died and needed to be replaced,” he says. “Even with full sun plants, I regularly need to replace some.”
Now, though, his water usage has been reduced by 70%, and instead of mowing and watering his old lawn, the hardest part of maintaining his new garden is weeding and replacing dead plants.
Th best part? “The compliments I receive from my neighbors,” he says.
Native plant sale
Are you thinking of adding some California native plants to your landscape this autumn? Then this is the perfect time to shop and plant. The Marin chapter of the California Native Plant Society has some pretty perfect natives ready to transplant into your garden and support Marin’s pollinators.
The CPNS offers its Fall Native Plant Sale online from 6 p.m. Oct. 6 to 6 p.m. Oct. 10. Purchased plants will be available for pickup from 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Oct. 15 at the Bon Air shopping center in Greenbrae.
According to the Marin chapter of the CNPS, some of the species offered will be elderberry; coffeeberry; hollyleaf cherry; gooseberries; currants; snowberry; lemonadeberry; tree mallow; Pacific ninebark; coyote brush; spicebush; milkweed; buckwheat; Douglas iris; beach aster; wild honeysuckle; monkeyflower; blue flax; foothill penstemon; California bee plant; checkerblooms; fringe cups; gumplant; datura; ceanothus and salvias.
Some of these plants may also make good fire-safe choices if you are removing existing fire-prone species.
Check here for replacement plant options at cnpsmarin.org/native-plants/fire-smart-landscaping.
• Details: Order online for the Fall Native Plant Sale from 6 p.m. Oct. 6 to 6 p.m. Oct. 10 at cnpsmarin.org. Pick up purchased plants from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Oct. 15 at the Bon Air shopping center in Greenbrae. Prices vary. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you have a beautiful or interesting Marin garden or a newly designed Marin home, I’d love to know about it.
Please send an email describing either one (or both), what you love most about it, and a photograph or two. I will post the best ones in upcoming columns. Your name will be published and you must be over 18 years old and a Marin resident.
• “Mostly Natives” is an exhibition presented by the Bolinas School of Botanical Art in September at the Bear Valley Visitor Center at 1 Bear Valley Road in Point Reyes Station. On display will be the botanical artwork of local artists Anna Glade, Bobbi Likover, Celeste Woo, Cher Stone, Dana O’Connor, Judy Stemen, Martha Proctor, Meg Simonds, Sandy Thomas and Sara Bettini. The center’s hours are 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Call 415-464-5100.
PJ Bremier writes on home, garden, design and entertaining topics every Saturday. She may be contacted at P.O. Box 412, Kentfield 94914, or at email@example.com.