Capture Every Raindrop In Your Garden

After a long dry winter rains finally came!  For three days the rains just came down heavily.  This garden was completed right before the rains. During the rain, raindrops can be seen coming down from the two down spouts, going right into the the soil of the garden.  The plants waved gently in the rain, as if saying: “Thank you!”

Water Efficient Garden in rain

downspout in rain

Before – brown lawns

The owner has been at this place for some time.  Ever since he moved here, he had not done anything to the front and back yards.  The lawns went brown during the drought, looking quite barren.   Even after the very wet year of 2017, they did not come back.  Finally, when the owner heard about the Santa Clara Landscape Rebate Program in his city, he decided it was the time to start doing something.

He wanted to build a garden that will meet all the requirements of the rebate program.  After he did some searches online, he found the website of Water Efficient Garden, where he got exactly the information he needed.

Brown Lawn

In the backyard  there is an olive tree.  It is a large tree with lots of black olives lying on the ground.

Olive tree

Designing the Garden

The owner wanted to have a simple and easy conversion which would meet all the requirements of the Rebate Program.  Luckily, there are  a large number of attractive drought tolerant plants to choose from.  When selected carefully, even just with a few, the plants can make an elegant and water efficient garden.

In Mediterranean areas like Spain where the olive trees originate from, the tree can be seen everywhere: in the open fields, at the hill tops, etc.  There, lavender, rosemary, and other Mediterranean natives also grow in abundance.  They are well adapted to the climate there, very drought tolerant, yet with attractive flowers and aroma.

California shares the same Mediterranean climate, so these plants also do well here.  For the backyard design, it was decided some of these plants will be used, keeping the Mediterranean vibe alive.

Olive tree in Spain
An olive tree on top of a hill at Barcelona
Capture every drop in the garden

The front yard sits next to the side of the house, with thick bushes almost completely blocking out the wall.  When the project started, the grasses were removed, the bushes cut, exposing the wall.   On it there are two down spouts, pointing to the yard below (only one is shown in this photo).  So, when it rains, all the rainwater from the roof will go into the yard, not driveway or other impervious surfaces, which is excellent.

After the historical drought that ended just last year,  people all realize now how valuable water really is.  With population increase and climate change, our demand for water will only increase.  On the other hand, as the Sierra Nevada snowpack will “very likely” shrink  by 30% in the next 20 years, the supply will decrease.  How can we have enough water to meet our demand?

A big chunk of water do come to us every year, but in the past we send a large part of it away right away – the rain water.  Rainwater is not a waste, but a very valuable resource of water.   Steven Moore, a member of the State Water Resources Control Board, said, “Stormwater could be a significant addition to California’s water supply. Los Angeles estimates that rainfall could provide nearly half a million acre-feet (620 million cubic meters) per year. Stormwater could make a difference, it could see us through seven years of drought instead of five.”

If the rain water is directed to impervious surfaces like driveway, the water will just become runoff and be sent right away, which is a waste for this valuable water resource.   In places with natural ground cover, 50% of the rain water can go back in the soil.  In urban areas where a big chunk of surfaces are impervious,  only about 15% of water goes back.  Specifically, only 5% of the water infiltrates deep down, versus 25% with natural ground cover, which seriously deprives the ground from water recharging that is badly needed.

So, when it rains, we should direct as much water as possible to our garden, let it water the plants, soak into the soil, and recharge the ground water.   By capturing every drop, we can make the best use of the water that fall on our roof every year.

After – drought tolerant landscape

The garden projects are done!  This is how the front yard looks now:

To further absorb the rainwater, a small ditch was made in the middle of the garden.  Filled with pebble stones, the “river” can take all the rain water coming down the two down sprouts when it rains.  In addition to capturing the rain water,  it adds a vivid element to the landscape, making it look more lively and appealing.   The rocks scattering across the garden add yet more textures and balance out the “river” in the middle.

All the plants are drought tolerant. They sport pink, purple, yellow and white blossoms, making the garden not just water efficient, but also cheerful.

For the backyard, in front of the Olive tree, another Mediterranean native  – the lavenders, add color and aroma.

a water efficient garden

Close to the patio, a native plant from California flank the pathway with their tiny blue blossom and dark green leaves.

California native plant

Irrigation controller and drip irrigation was done for all the plants.  In addition, a rain sensor was also installed, which is connected to the irrigation controller.  When it rains, the rain sensor will send signal to the controller, which will delay the irrigation scheduled until the rain stops.  A simple device can save even more water for the garden.

How does it do in the rain?

Right after the garden was installed, a much-waited-for rain came.  For 3 days rain kept pouring down.  How did the garden do?

Very well.  While the rain that fell on the driveway inevitably runs off,  every drop of the rain that fell on the roof all went into the garden from the two down spouts.  Plants love the rain water, which is not  treated with chemicals, as is the case for in-house water.  Plants grown up with rain water usually grow faster, stronger, and have better and larger blossom.

After the project was finished,  information such as garden photos were submitted to the Rebate Program, which issued a rebate promptly.

By converting a brown lawn into a water efficient garden, the space looks much more appealing.  In a dry place like California, it can save 30-60%  of water comparing with a lawn, saving cost and maintenance work.  On top of it, when it rains, it can absorb every drop of the rain water, feeding the plants, and saving even more water.  For all these these great benefits, you can receive a rebate of $1-$2 per square foot.

The owner was happy with the project.  “It looks very good.  We are really happy with the design. ”

We are not receiving the average level of rain this year;  it looks we are going to have another dry year.   We’ve got to be prepared for the dry time now.  Why wait?  Start today!

lawn to water efficient garden conversion









From Brown to Floral Dream

“I want to get rid of the brown lawn, like yesterday!  and I want a garden of flowers!  ” declared Sheena (not the real name), the owner of the house and a mom of young girls.



The brown lawn had been an eye sore to Sheena for a long time.  Like so many other Californians, she stopped watering the lawn when the state implemented the drought Emergency Regulation.  The lawn turned brown and did not look good.  Sheena wanted to do something about it, but had no clue where to start.  When she was told about the Santa Clara Landscape Conversion Rebate Program, she could not wait to get onboard.

Designing the Garden

Sheena wanted a garden of flowers boasting of strong, festival colors, like red, purple, and orange.  “It’s a garden for my princesses!”  She also likes different types of grasses as nice decorations.

Plants of Beautiful Flowers

It is a blessing that many drought tolerant plants do have very beautiful flowers.  It was quite easy to pick the plants that Sheena wanted from a big collection.

Mexican Bush Sage:  With its big volume of bright purple blossom (with some white blended in), it is the kind of plants that you will notice right away.   Drought tolerant once established, it blooms for a long time from summer to late fall, providing incessant color and beauty to your garden.


Lion’s Tail: brings a festival feel.


New Zealand Flax:


Red Hot Poker


Erigeron:  Tough, drought tolerant, pretty blossom.



Mulch is a must for any water efficient garden.   After all the plants are planted, a layer of mulch is placed on the surface to 1) keep the soil moist and 2)reduce evaporation.  Mulch can reduce evaporation by as much as 75%, so is a very important element for any garden that aims to conserve water.

Organic mulch such as chipped bark is a good choice.  In addition to keeping the water in soil, they can add to the soil’s richness once composed.  This is critical for the health of the soil and the growth of the plants.

There are different colors of mulch, and the choice was easy for Sheena. The garden is already filled with flowers of all pretty colors, with the mulch, it is further enhanced to this other level of prettiness and excitement.

Rain Sensor

A rain sensor and automatic controller were also installed with the garden. When it rains, the sensor can send the signal to the controller, which will delay the watering scheduled, saving irrigation water for the garden.  Rain sensor is another great way to make a garden water efficient.


The project was finished within a week, and the total cost was less than $3000.  The rebate made it substantially lower.

Sheena was very happy.  “My princesses like the garden!”  Sheena is glad now the brown lawn is gone, and she and her princesses have this big beautiful view to enjoy everyday.  In addition, “It saves me a lot of money. We use much less water now, and no longer need to hire hands for maintenance.”




From Brown to California Native Charm

The brown lawn has been an eye sore to the owner of the house for quite a while.  He had been wanting to replace it with something more beautiful, but did not know where to start.   Since California’s drought five years ago, he put in his effort to conserve water, turning off the sprinklers. Sure enough, the lawn went brown.  He heard about Landscape Conversion Rebate Program, but did not know how it worked.

Water Efficient Garden Conversion

When he had a chance to talk to the designer, he was happy to find out everything would be taken care of from end-to-end.  Not only will they design a water efficient garden to replace the lawn, but also take care of the program application paperwork.  Hassle free – that was exactly the way he wanted.

Designing the Garden

The owner favored a natural and easy look for the garden; he also had some pebble stones from his last project, which he would like to repurpose for the new garden.

The designer decided to do a “California Native” garden.  The selection of plants showed this focus.

California Native Plants

California has many native plants, which are great for gardening.  Adapted to California’s dry and windy environment, they are hardy, strong and can thrive without any care.  There are a lot of benefits gardening with native plants:

  • Water efficient:  they do not need that much water; compared to a lawn, a garden with mostly native plants can save a significant amount of water;
  • Low maintenance: they can thrive on their own; no or little care is needed.
  • Attracting pollinators:  the bees, birds and butterflies sure like the plants that they know well for tens of thousands of years.  Those bees and birds need more food, and this will provide them.

These California Native plants are picked for this garden.

Douglas Iris:  beautiful blue iris, native to areas along west coast.

Native Plants for a Water Efficient Garden

Buckwheat: pretty small pink flowers will bloom most of the year, its nectar is the favorite of butterflies.

Monkey Flower: The full yellow blossom can be seen everywhere along the coast in spring and summer.  Some cultivars have bright red flowers, which are equally pretty.

California Poppy: the golden state flower.

CA Golden Poppy

Matilija Poppy

Native Plants for a Water Efficient Garden

The designer included the design into application materials and submitted it.  2 weeks later they received the Notice to Proceed.

Installing the Garden

All the materials were purchased.


The brown grass was first removed.

Next was to create a miniature “nature”.  The curves for “mountains” were added, and a “river” was made with the cobble stones.

Then the piping was done, all the plants planted.  The whole area was covered with black mulch, which contrasts nicely with the river and the colors of the flowers.


The California native plants: Douglas Iris, Golden Poppy, and Monkey Flower


Irrigation Equipment Upgrade

Along with the lawn conversion approval, the garden also qualified for an upgrade with automatic irrigation controller and rain sensor.  Both were installed after the garden.

With the rain sensor, when it rains, it will detect and transfer the information to the controller, which will shut off the next watering scheduled.   This way the irrigation water can be saved.


It rained right after this was installed.  It worked!


Within a couple days, a brown lawn was successfully transformed to a beautiful water efficient garden.  The eye sore is gone, and the owner has something nice to enjoy and more to look forward to.

















Santa Clara Water District Rebate Program Second Step – Notice to Proceed



In the last post on this topic, we talked about the first step of the Santa Clara Water District Landscape Conversion Rebate Program: schedule and receive a Pre-Inspection.   At the inspection, someone from the Rebate Program will inspect the yard, decide whether it qualifies for the rebates or not (Landscape Conversion Rebate, Irrigation Equipment Upgrade Rebate etc).  If yes, they will provide the rebate program application forms to be filled out and sent back.  If approved, a Notice to Proceed will be received.

Application Submission

The key information to be entered on Application Form before one can submit include:

  1. “diagram or set of plans” for the landscape.

The diagram can be a just a  sketch of the yard and where the plants will be placed.  To see some design of the gardens, see Garden Photos.

2.  plant list, each plant’s coverage value, and the total plant coverage (square feet).

To receive the rebate, the old lawn needs to be replaced  “with a minimum of 50 percent plant coverage consisting of low water using plants from the water district’s Approved Plant List. ”  For example, if the lawn’s total area is 1,000 square feet, then at least 500 square feet needs to be covered by plants from the “Qualifying Plant List” provided.

To see what some of the plants on the list are like and their coverage, visit Water Efficient Plants


For people who are qualified to receive Irrigation Equipment Upgrade Rebate, they also should enter the info for the equipment.  For example, if the equipment approved is weather-based irrigation controller and rain sensor, one can select the products from the list provided by the Rebate Program, and fill in the make and model info on the form.  A rebate will be given for such products, along with the lawn conversion, if all the requirements are met.

Receiving Notice to Proceed

About 2-4 weeks after the application is submitted,  one may receive a Notice to Proceed from the Rebate Program.  This means the fund for the rebate is set aside, and the home owner can proceed to purchase materials and install the garden.

On the notice, it will show a “Project Completion Due Date”, which is 3 months from the date the notice is issued.  To receive the rebate, one needs to finish the project by the due date.  (It is possible to apply for and obtain an extension).

Notice to Proceed

Purchasing Materials and Getting Ready for Installment

Shopping time for plants!  Go to nurseries and buy all the plants as indicated on the application.  Pick the ones that look strongest and have the best chance to grow.  Purchase other materials too – mulch, etc.


With all the materials, the brown lawn is ready to be converted to a beautiful water efficient garden!








Santa Clara Landscape Rebate Program First Step – Pre-Inspection


Got a yellow lawn and live in Santa Clara county, California?  Now is the perfect time to replace it with a water efficient garden.  Not only will you get rid of the eyesore, but also receive some rebate cash provided all the requirements are met for the new landscape.  The Santa Clara Landscape Rebate program is open now, providing $1/square feet for the lawn replacement (see full details).  Seize the opportunity and take the first step – schedule a pre-inspection.

After you call the number listed on the rebate program, the water company will schedule an appointment for you.  When the time comes, someone from the water company will show up at where the lawn is at.


At the pre-inspection, first, the water company person will decide which areas qualify for receiving the rebate, which ones don’t.

According to the program, “areas to be converted must include approved high water using landscape at the time of pre-inspection…In response to the drought, lawns that are dead, brown, yellow or green all qualify as long as the lawn is still physically onsite. Sites do not need to maintain a green, living lawn in order to qualify for the rebate program as long as the dead or stressed lawn was still onsite at the time of the pre-inspection and has not been removed.”

These areas qualify.  While the lawns are already brown, they are still physically on site.



These areas do not qualify, as they have not been lawns:



Second, the water company person will measure all the areas that qualify, and come to the “Total Irrigated Turf Square Feet”.  This is what the $1/square feet replacement rebate will be based off, provided the replacement finishes in time and meets all the requirements.

Then he showed us all the documents for the application, and went over the key items one by one.  The documents include an Application Form, a Information Packet, a Qualifying Plant List, and a W-2 Form (for the part of rebate that will qualify as personal income).

The next steps is to fill in the information required on the Application Form, mail or email it, then receive the Notice to Proceed from the water company.

Submit the Application Form

The key information to be entered on Application Form before one can submit include:

  1. “diagram or set of plans” for the landscape.

The diagram can be a just a  sketch of the yard and where the plants will be placed.  To see some design of the gardens, see Garden Photos.

2.  plant list, each plant’s coverage value, and the total plant coverage (square feet).

To receive the rebate, the old lawn needs to be replaced  “with a minimum of 50 percent plant coverage consisting of low water using plants from the water district’s Approved Plant List. ”  For example, if the lawn’s total area is 1,000 square feet, then at least 500 square feet needs to be covered by plants from the “Qualifying Plant List” provided.

To see what some of the plants on the list are like and their coverage, visit Water Efficient Plants


Notice to Proceed

Once the application is sent, the next step is wait for the Notice to Proceed.  When it is received, the replacement project can kick off.  The project needs to be finished within 90 days from when the Notice is received, with 2 possible extensions for a total of 180 days.

This beautiful garden was one of the those that applied for the program and successfully received the rebate.

Schedule a pre-inspection now and build a great water efficient garden! Connect with us on Facebook if you have any questions.















Santa Clara Landscape Rebate Program Open Till End of Year


Good news for owners of single family home or other properties in Santa Clara county who want to replace their lawn – the Santa Clara Landscape Rebate program is open and accepting application now.

Per California Department of Water Resources, “outdoor landscaping is the single largest use of water in the typical California home. In most of our yards, grass consumes the most water, so reducing or eliminating how much grass we have in our landscapes can make a significant impact on the state’s water use.”


The Santa Clara Landscape Rebate Program

To encourage the replacement of lawn with drought-tolerant landscape, some local water agencies provide a rebate program.  The Santa Clara Water District provided such a program early last year, then stopped when the funds depleted.  Now, with the arrival of new funds, the program was reinstated on July 1, 2016.

Anyone who own such properties in Santa Clara county are eligible to apply for the rebate:  “Santa Clara County single family homes, multi-family and business properties with qualifying irrigated landscape (i.e. irrigated turf or functional swimming pool) can receive rebates for replacing high water using landscape, such as irrigated turf grass, with a minimum of 50 percent plant coverage consisting of low water using plants from the water district’s Approved Plant List.”

The rebate amount for lawn replacement for a single family home is $1/square foot.  See details here

Rebate Application Procedure

The whole application process run like this:

  1.  Property owner call to schedule a pre-inspection;
  2. An inspection will be performed; if approved, the owner can submit a Request for Application Form;
  3. After the Form is submitted, receive a written Notice to Proceed;
  4.  With the Notice to Proceed, purchase materials and start the project.  Projects must be completed within 90 days of date on written Notice to Proceed.
  5. Another inspection will be performed; if all the requirements are met, the rebate will be processed and sent to the owner.


When to Apply

Rebate applications are accepted on a first-come, first-served basis. The program will end on Dec 31, 2016, which means there are only 3 months left.  Anyone interested should submit their applications as soon as possible.

The plants used for the the new landscape must be on the water district’s Approved Plant List.   Check out some the plants on the list, with their photos here