Walking down this quiet Santee Street, you can’t help but notice a shady garden oasis that breaks up the concrete-lined street. The urge to stop and enjoy the spot of nature in the middle of the neighborhood is irresistible, and that’s just what homeowners Edie and Tate Thomas hope you’ll do.
In 2018, the Thomases decided that they wanted to save water, beautify their home and support the region’s local wildlife by planting a native California landscape. Edie is an architect and Tate is a contractor, and they used their experience to create a topography that captures and preserves the rainwater that falls on their yard.
“I always recommend people visualize a single drop of rainwater falling at the highest point of your landscape.” Edie explains. “Watch where gravity takes that raindrop and plan your landscape around that flow.”
Their landscape is irrigated through underground rock ravines that collect rainwater in a rock-lined underground cistern reservoir which flow water to plants through gravity. Additionally, they buried large unglazed clay pots in their yard called ollas, which have above ground access points to refill them with water. Plants wrap their roots around the porous ollas seep water out as needed, watering the plants with minimal water loss. The Thomases supplement with drip irrigation about once a month and occasional hand watering during extended dry periods.
The couple was inspired by the California Native Plant Society and long local nature walks to use mostly native plants in their landscape, and they have been richly rewarded with an ecosystem of butterflies, caterpillars, bees, birds and bunnies. They describe their design concept as “playful chaos.” Mixing colors and texture to be visually appealing.
The sidewalk in front of the garden is designed to be a community space for those walking by. The large California Coastal Live Oak provides shade to the retaining wall, designed as a place to sit, rest and perhaps read one of the books from the couple’s little free library. Water-efficient herbs growing in the planter boxes under the tree are freely offered to those who pass by.
The couple spend most evenings on their patio, enjoying the space and watching their ecosystem thrive. They are looking forward to watching the plants continue to grow and mature in the coming years and even decades.
“It’s so rewarding to see people come by and rest in the shade, or take some rosemary for their dinner.” Edie said. “I love that we get to give a small square of land back to nature, and that our neighbors enjoy it as much as we do.”