The End of the Lawn: Our Garden One Year Later

I’m excited to share photos of our garden one year later. We replaced our lawn last November with drought tolerant and California native plants.


November 2015 * Newly planted native garden in front of the house

Not only do these plants survive and thrive on limited water, but they also attract hummingbirds, bees, and other beneficial insects. Those visitors are a boon to any garden.

native garden

November 2016 * Native garden one year later

Salvia and native grasses

Salvia and native grasses

Nepeta and newly sprouted sweet peas

Nepeta and newly sprouted sweet peas

Once established, the plants only need water about once a week. It’s been an exciting step away from the outdated monoculture of suburban lawns to a more bio-diverse garden. As the drought dragged on, I let go of the fantasy of a cottage garden and fully embraced a garden that fits my environment. San Jose averages only 15 inches of rain a year, and virtually no rain throughout the hot summer months.


November 2015 * Newly planted native garden in back of the house

November 2016 * Native garden one year later

November 2016 * Native garden one year later

native garden back of house

2016 Native garden near swing

native garden near patio

2016 * Native garden near patio

Adding a rain catchment system earlier this year meant I could fill a box with tomato plants and water them guilt-free. I’m also enjoying letting things be, which means making sure a weed is a weed before yanking it from the earth. We’ve had a number of self seeded flowers this year including Sweet Peas, Nigella and Mirabilis Jalapa.

Halloween “Postmortem”

We’re exhausted (because we’re not twenty anymore) but boy did we have fun. We attended two Halloween costume parties, back to back.


First Halloween costume party of the season

We were too darn tired for the final party, but missed out on seeing those friends.  On Halloween night we opened the door to over 400 candy-seeking trick-or-treaters.

Halloween Night 2016

Halloween Night 2016 * These two homemade costumes were my favorite of the night. Upper and lower left, our front garden under blue lights. Mike’s pumpkins after dark, lower center

Mike expertly carved four of the seven pumpkins, leaving the two round ones for my first attempt at pumpkin soup. The smallest of the seven is part of my Thanksgiving display.


Spiderman, a Minion, Arching cat on a slate roof, Socks the cat

Our costumes needed explaining at the Friday party (what…you’re a meat pie?) but Saturday’s party was a different story. Pretty much everyone dressed up as either a character from the movie Sweeney Todd, or as someone from the Victorian era.


Our hosts, who are also from the UK, served a variety of traditional meat pies, but included a vegetarian option for yours truly.  They really got everyone in the spirit. We played a few games, danced and Martin gave all the guys a pretend shave, fully embracing his role as host and the deranged barber, Sweeney Todd. Diane dressed as Mrs. Lovett. You’ll see photos of the two of us and other party-goers in the short video clip below.

My lovely host awarded me the prize for best female costume at the second party. I’m pretty sure it was my crazy wig that pushed things over the top.sweeney-todd-party-alys-and-diane


I bumped into this skeleton in the lady’s room. The cheek!

All in all, it’s been a fabulous Halloween season.


48 thoughts on “The End of the Lawn: Our Garden One Year Later

  1. I love looking at how others are handling the need for drought-tolerant landscapes. We live in Southern California and have been making enormous changes, also. We still have some lawn, but because we’ve been treating it with an organic product designed to “hold” water, we aren’t using nearly the water we once required. We’ve expanded the garden beds, took out the roses and some well-loved tropicals, and have incorporated natives and a huge number of succulents. I am in awe of how many of our neighbors are doing the same. I spend about a day a week at the Huntington Botanical Gardens and even they have begun to highlight the most gorgeous drought-tolerant garden designs. Yours is beautiful. I really enjoyed visiting!


  2. You’ve clearly had a blast this Halloween season, and I hope you can keep it up as Thanksgiving and then Christmas and New Year approach!
    I’d love to turn our 3/4 acre of grass over to planting, but there’s just too much of it. I’m hoping to get some trees planted during the Wet, and create a series of islands in the sea of grass; a tree on each, surrounded by shrubs and lower plantings. But it’s going to depend on my back, and whether I can persuade the ride-on mower-loving Husband to sully his straight line mowing and glowing green lawn… We’ve just had the first big thunderstorm of the Wet season, and the grass that was crispy two days ago is growing almost visibly.


  3. I love the lace around your neck. It’s stunning. I’m sure the garden will fill in even more by next year as it’s looking quite at home already. Good call with the xeriscaping. Hopefully you will get some rain to catch. 400 trick or treaters is almost scary in itself. I had maybe a dozen. You guys really know how to do it up right. The pumpkin carving was terrific. How he keeps coming up with new ideas is impressive. That is some wig and costume. It had to be so much fun to dress up like that.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Your garden has grown so much in one year – imagine what year two will bring! Your costume is a delight – I love that wig – and Mike’s is a hoot! Such a shame that time is ruining your ability to party all night for three nights running, that’s a big ‘Boo!’ to Father Time!! And of course, I can’t depart without leaving a big round of applause for the master carver – they are phenomenal. I can’t believe he does this in one day – the man must have the dexterity and motor skills of a …… well, a master carver!! I’m glad you have had such a good month – next stop Thanksgiving?


    • Pauline, it’s been fun to watch things grow and to see the space filling in. I’ve been told in the past that it takes about 18 months for perennials to really take root. By next spring, things will be looking quite at home.

      Mike does an amazing job carving those pumpkins. He really enjoys it, too. I would never have that kind of patience. I will pass on your well wishes, or better yet, I’ll encourage him to read them himself (as I often do). Amazingly, the carved pumpkins lasted a full week! They just started to mold today. I fished out the candles and carted them to the compost bin. I’ve left a nice pile of seeds in the center of the garden as well (hint, hint little squirrels).


  5. Hello Alys
    I love the garden! It looks fabulous, and what a bonus that it attracts all those beneficial insects. As for Halloween, my, my, you two do not do things by halves! The pumpkins are marvellous and what awesome costumes. Mike’s just takes the cake, or at least the pie. He is a good sport!
    Looks like fall was a great season for you.
    I will be thinking of you over the next few days, during the election and it’s aftermath.



  6. You crack me up, with your enthusiasm for Halloween and those costumes! What fun! Now you’ll need to catch up on your sleep, to get ready for Thanksgiving and Christmas. I loved seeing the photos of your garden and the ways it’s developing and filling in. It always amazes me to watch this kind of transformation and yours makes so much sense, in terms of fitting into the realities of your locale.


    • Kerry, I’ve come full circle. I now completely embrace my “inner theatre geek”. I love the challenge of creating a costume around a theme, and I always like to do something a little different, hence the meat pie costume for Mike. He’s such a good sport.

      Our Thanksgiving is low key most years. Mike loves to cook and I like to decorate, so we’re a good team. I’m originally from Canada, so our Thanksgiving was in October. We have another family over to celebrate with us (also originally from Canada), and we have a non-traditional, international, vegetarian meal. Do you entertain in your home for the holidays?


      • We used to throw a humongous Christmas party every year. Did it for years and then just stopped! It was fun but so much work. Now we are peculiarly low-key about holidays. Our family members are scattered far and wide so we don’t always get together and we don’t go in for spending pots of money on gifts. I do like Thanksgiving a lot and wish ours was in October instead of so close to Christmas–I think it gets a little overlooked.


        • Kerry, we used to throw a big Halloween party for the neighborhood children, and like your Christmas party, it just stopped one day (as they aged out) and that was that. I missed it the first year, but quickly realized that I would have more time and energy to do other things. It all worked out.

          I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving. And I applaud you for your financial restraint around gifts. I work as a professional organizer, so I’m well versed in the piles of “guilt gifts” that people can’t seem to part with, but that they don’t want or like either. I try to give consumables as gifts (food, dishtowels, books, candles and even donations in someone’s name). I don’t always succeed, but it’s a good goal to have in mind.


  7. Brilliant party, a great theme and wonderful costumes. I like your front garden. I’m still clinging to the lawn and borders in my front garden, but there is so much moss in the lawn that I think it is only a matter of time before I do something drastic and dig it all out!!


    • Thank you for stopping by, Polly and for your kind words. It’s a big change moving away from lawn, mostly because I think it has been the “norm” for many of us for so long. Once I opened up to the possibilities, and convinced my husband that it was ok to let the lawn go, the process was a steady one. Good luck with your decision.


  8. I love how you’ve turned your garden into a sustainable one! It’ll be amazing to see it take shape over the years. I’ve always wanted to do something like this in our front yard too, but it’s a bit more challenging in our Canadian climate. Maybe next year!

    You look like you had a blast at the Halloween parties; wonderful costumes (and you look great as a brunette)!


    • Thanks, Sara. It’s fun trying out new and different looks at Halloween. We all have such a good time. It’s good to laugh like that, something that is easy to forget,

      I know the Canadian climate presents its own challenges. We’re lucky to have mild weather year round. But if anyone can figure out a change, it’s you.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Oh goodness, you were frightening. I caught on to the Sweeney Todd bit right away!!! Your lawn looks fabulous, and I assume will continue to grow into itself and change. It’s really quite lovely. Rest up, girl!


  10. You looked wonderful in that costume Alys – love the wig! 😉 Glad you had lots of fun! Your garden is looking so good – those grasses have got nicely established and the salvia is a wonderful splash of colour. And it looks as though you will have lots of colourful self-seeders again next spring too. 🙂


    • Thank you, Cathy. I love putting together costumes, dressing up, and in general the wonderfully festive feel of this time of year. I’ve heard once that it takes about 18 months for perennials to establish themselves, so if true, they are well on there way. It seems too early for the sweet peas to be up, but I’m hoping they make it past any cold days and fill the garden with wonder once again next spring.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Alys, what a great post!
    Your maturing garden looks wonderful. Isn’t it incredible what a year will do? I’d love to plant some of that salvia. The purple blooms on the almost sage green leaves are such a great contrast.
    In terms of Halloween: you always have the most stunning costumes and Mike carves the best pumpkins.


  12. The Sweeney Todd party must have been such fun. I don’t know what kind of pies you have in the States but I can imagine what we would have had here (pork pies).

    I hope your British hosts aren’t about to be kicked out of the country, if the unthinkable happens tomorrow.

    Anyway, on a lighter note, setting up a garden takes patience, doesn’t it? At first, the ground is so bare! Interesting to learn it takes about eighteen months for a perennial to feel at home. No wonder various things I’ve moved around still look a bit the worse for wear.


    • Oh goodness, we simply can’t let that cracker jack get in to office. It’s bad enough that he got this far. He’s set things back and unleashed a monster. He’s given “permission” to people to act on their racist and hateful ways. I shake my head that he got this far. It’s frightening and disheartening. Any way…

      I’m a vegetarian, so my favorite pies are sweet (pecan, apple, pumpkin or strawberry) but a popular American dish as chicken pot pie, a mixture of vegetables and chicken in a thick broth. Our British hosts are wonderful people. I can’t even imagine a scenario where they were asked to leave, but it certainly is a fear of many, especially anyone that doesn’t conform to some warped idea of what it is to be an American. My family immigrated from Canada and my father was British, immigrating from England to Canada and then the US. My husband’s parents immigrated from Argentina, his dad via Italy. We’re our own melting pot. One of the great things about living in Silicon Valley and the Bay Area in general, is that we are a huge melting pot. The diversity is a blessing, not a curse. I don’t know why it threatens so many people.

      As for the perennials, I’ve found that moving shrubs or trees does set them back a bit. They need to re-establish roots and then, if their conditions for water, light and air are met, they do well.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I agree that have people from different backgrounds is a blessing not a curse, so I truly hope it will be good news tomorrow!

        On a more heartening note, I was reading an article today about women aged 97+ who were getting the chance to vote for a female president. One of them at least remembered her mother voting for the first time 😊


        • Helen, I’ve seen some of those articles as well. Isn’t that something? It makes me tingle with pride. My mom was born in 1919 in Nova Scotia, Canada. Women were given the vote there one year earlier. It feels like a lifetime ago and it many ways it was.

          Our polls are open for another four hours. Then the results will come rolling in.


  13. Taking out the lawn is so sensible, and I love seeing what you are doing. Even when the rain comes back (and it will rain…..someday) I think you will have fallen in love with your new garden. So much more biodiversity and interest. Enjoy!


    • Thank you! Yes, I think you’re right. And of course now that we’ve had a touch of rain, all the volunteer sweet peas and Nigella are up leaving a lovely green blanket.

      I clicked over to your site, by the way. Those look like trips of a lifetime, especially the ones with the big cats. Fabulous creatures.


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