Tuesday is United Nations World Water Day, a time set aside each year to think about ways to conserve and maximize use of a commodity that is rapidly becoming as precious as gold. 

The theme of Tuesday’s international event is “Better Water, Better Jobs.” As the UN website unwater.org explains, 1.5 billion people — almost half of the world’s workers — are employed in water-related sectors, including gardening. While the UN puts extra focus on protecting the basic rights of those working in water-related fields, it also aims to show how enough quantity and quality of water can change workers’ lives and livelihoods for the better, and, according to the site, even transform societies and economies.

In Southern California, where landscaping in Greater Los Angeles alone consumes millions of gallons of water each year, there’s few better ways to demonstrate concern for conserving water than by going native; pulling out exotic plants and replacing them with native, drought-tolerant species. 

In Pasadena and Altadena, if your gardening is suffering from the recent two-week outside watering ban or the Level 2 Water Shortage Plan winter watering schedule now in effect, then now is the time to start planning a water-wise garden. You won’t be able to take advantage of the city’s Turf Removal Program rebates, because those incentives are no longer available, but you can take advantage of the knowledge of landscapers and private gardeners who have gone water-wise.

And there are few better places to learn ways to create water-saving, drought-tolerant gardens than on the Theodore Payne Native Plant Garden Tour from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. April 2-3.

These self-guided tours take visitors on a journey through 41 private and public landscapes (nativeplanttour.org) which will inspire many ideas on how to convert a yard from a faux English water guzzler to a green but less consumptive habitat for native plants, birds, bees and butterflies to thrive. 

To qualify for the tour, gardens must consist of at least 50 percent native plants. After that, they are divided into two groups: ones that are open on Saturday and those open on Sunday. At each location visitors will be able to meet the garden owners, designers and docents. If there is something of particular interest or a problem, such as clay soil or runoff management, the website also features a graphic illustration showing which gardens address those issues.  

According to Philip Oakley Otto, spokesman for the Theodore Payne Garden Tour, 2016 marks the event’s 13th year. One of the oldest homes featured this year is Garden 1 in Beverly Hills. Making their debut in this year are 15 gardens, four of them in the Pasadena area. Garden 30 and 31 are in La Cañada Flintridge. Garden 35 is in the unincorporated community of Kinneloa Mesa, near Pasadena, and Garden 37 is in Pasadena.

Barbara Eisenstein has one of the more established local gardens and a website dedicated to gardening (weedingwildsurburbia.com). That should come as no surprise. Eisenstein formerly worked at the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden in Claremont from 2004 to 2009 as a horticulture outreach coordinator. 

“My education comes largely from that jog and questions people would ask, and I could bring that to the staff at Rancho,” she said. Eisenstein’s home, Garden 39, in South Pasadena, was built in 1910. 

When she moved in, she recalls, “It was all lawn. … It’s been a gradual process over 17 years, little by little the lawn has shrunk.” Because there were mature trees on the lot, she didn’t want to make abrupt changes, she explained. 

Andreas Hessing graduated from Cal State Fullerton with a degree in ceramics and sculpture and his work was “already revolving around our native landscape and land use” when he moved into the area. His Altadena home, Garden 32, is “an extension of my artwork and incorporates sculptural details,” Hessing said. But, he added, he has also branched out into California native landscape design with his Scrub Jay Studios (scrubjaystudios.com). He recalls there was no lawn, when he first moved in, “But the weeds were five feet tall.” He and his crew removed the weeds and solarized the ground. Soil solarization is done to kill seeds banked in the soil by watering the ground until muddy and putting clear plastic over during the hottest months (August and September) to steam the soil. 

“People don’t know that we’re actually a Mediterranean climate here and we have the most species of plants in the union, over 6,000. That’s more than Hawaii,” Hessing explained.

Hessing also found that people also mistakenly think that California natives are all cactus and succulents, but he says most visitors to his garden are “fascinated by how many different smells the plants have,” from really sweet scents that mimic butterscotch to more savory aromas reminiscent of corn tortillas. 

When Debe Loxton, Garden 33 in Pasadena, acquired her 1929 bungalow, she had no master plan, but “I believe we have to be stewards of the land,” she said. “It is a gift to be a caretaker of this yard and this house,” which she said has been featured in American Bungalow magazine. The one-third acre garden is still evolving. Having participated in the tour since 2006, she has since become more involved in the Theodore Payne Foundation, becoming its vice president. 

Pasadena is ideally situated between three major sources of information: the Sun Valley-based Theodore Payne Foundation for Wildflowers and Native Plants, so named for the 20th century English botanist horticulturist, gardener and landscape designer best known work was done over his adult life in Southern California; the Claremont-based Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden; and the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens, which recently opened a new area with native plants.

While Hessing advocates end of summer solarizing, Eisenstein and Loxton advise revisiting some of the front yard gardens on the tour during the summer to get an idea of how the garden looks at different times of the year. Eisenstein noted that over the years, she learned a great deal from the Theodore Payne tour. Gardeners can learn from each other and are eager to share. All of these suggestions, if followed, should prepare gardeners for fall, the prime California native planting time. 

UN-World Water Day began in 1993 and has been celebrated every year since. This year’s theme is “Better Water, Better Jobs,” with the Theodore Payne Foundation, Eisenstein and Hessing, along with thousands of others in related lines of work, able to make their interest in water-saving native plants work for themselves and others. 

 


The cost of the tour is $25 for members and students; $30 for non-members. Two tickets are $40 for members and $50 for non-members. Tickets can be purchased online at nativeplantgardentour.org or over the phone by calling (818) 768-1802.