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I had an opportunity to tour several sustainable landscapes in Sacramento last Friday with Dave Roberts, a local landscape contractor specializing in sustainable landscaping. Accompanying us was front yard garden advocate Sue Jennings of Sustainable Urban Gardens. After a yummy lunch at La Bou (thanks, Dave), Dave whisked us over to several of his clients’ homes in Land Park and East Sacramento that have been re-landscaped by his company, Roberts Landscape. I’m a proponent of sustainable landscaping and told Dave I’d love to see some of his gardens up close. He graciously obliged even though he’s obviously a very, very busy guy!

Another term that’s been coined for sustainable landscaping in Sacramento, AKA River City, is “River-Friendly landscaping”.

What does “sustainable” or “River-Friendly” landscaping mean exactly? It can mean extra attention has been paid to selecting native, drought-tolerant or wildlife-attracting plants. It can also mean efforts have been made to reduce runoff from gardens into local waterways, or that soil health is preserved and that unnecessary use of pesticides is avoided. It may also mean the ubiquitous front lawn has been reduced or replaced, and that water-guzzling foundation shrubs have been replaced with River-Friendly plants.


Pink Muhly, Mexican bush sage, lantana, manzanita, etc.

As outlined by the River-Friendly Landscape Guidelines handbook, here are the main principles of a River-Friendly garden:

1. Landscape Locally
2. Landscape for Less to the Landfill
3. Nurture the Soil
4. Conserve Water
5. Conserve Energy
6. Protect Water & Air Quality
7. Create & Protect Wildlife Habitat


Deer Grass (Muhlenbergia rigens)

I really admire the fact that contractors like Dave and neighborhood advocates like Sue are working tirelessly to educate the public about the need for River-Friendly landscapes in the Sacramento region. Our dry summers, history of droughts lasting well into the “rainy season”, and prevalence of runoff-sensitive creeks, lakes and rivers signal that it’s time to embrace this new style of landscaping.

It’s been time to embrace our Mediterranean climate, especially since Assembly Bill 2572 was signed into law by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. The Bill gave us mandatory water meters and fees “based on the actual volume of deliveries, as measured by a water meter”. You’ll see that River-Friendly garden owners are watering less, but you’ll also see the abundance of butterflies, bees and hummingbirds in their yards. And, hello… flowers!

Gardens can look lush without a lawn. Houses without front lawns can please the neighbors, as evidenced by the fact that several neighbors went River-Friendly after the first Robert’s Landscape garden went in. From a gardener’s perspective, it’s just great to see something other than flat green rectangular lawns (yawn) set against the same old boxy hedges (yawn).

Whether you like a serene and formal mass of ground-hugging foliage plants… or an informal riot of color, an ever-expanding palette of River-Friendly plants provides exciting options for creating a garden that is both sustainable and aesthetically appealing.

[Landscape design (on left) by Luciole Design Inc.]

If you want to learn more about River-Friendly landscaping, Dave Roberts will be giving a seminar at the Northern California Home & Landscape Expo at CalExpo on Saturday, January 26. You will also be able to see a River-Friendly demonstration garden at the expo.

Seminar: River-Friendly Landscaping
A Holistic Approach to Your Yard
Dave Roberts, River-Friendly EcoLandscape Group
Date: Saturday, January 26
Time: 5:00 p.m.
Location: Pavilion Building

When you’re ready to make the switch to a River-Friendly garden, read the handbook online , visit the SacGardens.org website, or order a hard copy of the handbook. The handbook is chock full of recommendations and resources, including Roberts Landscape. Your garden could look like one of the beautiful, River-Friendly gardens pictured above!

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