Garden Photo of the Day

Sustainable Gardening in LA

Capturing and conserving water for a lush, low-input garden

Phan Yamada shared these photos of a sustainable garden in Los Angeles.

drought-tolerant plants

We mulch with wood chips (free from the city) to hold rainwater from our roof. The deep mulch holds in moisture very well. We have planted the edges with mock orange (Philadelphus) and bulbs for erosion control. We have planted some fruit trees with beautiful flowers (red baron peach, burgundy plum, snow queen nectarine, and four other peach varieties). These trees produce a lot of fruits in summer. We grow fragrant plants such as mosquito plant, rosemary, and lavender. The surrounding drought-tolerant plants do well too (not in picture: pomegranate, ginko, and shade-tolerant vines). The tall Chinese elms (Ulmus parvifolia, Zones 4–9) to the east offer medium shade from noon sun, but the canopy is high enough to let the morning sun in. This bed is also sheltered from the west by our one-story house.

grape trellis

To reduce the heat from the southern face of a wall, we strung up a grape trellis (‘Perlette’). This vine gives us a lot of grapes to make wine. We also plant a Santa Rosa plum in this courtyard. This tree has a lot of flowers with a sweet smell, and the fruits are delicious and beautiful. We also use this area to keep our outdoor orchids when not in bloom.

These two rows of trees are so beautiful in spring when they are full of flowers: white apricots, hot pink double-delight nectarines, red-baron peaches, and light pink apples. A rose garden is closer to our window bedroom so that we can see and smell the roses from our bed. The grass uses very little water, as it is mostly shaded in summer and we don’t fertilize it! The south face of the wall has jasmine, bay laurel (Laurus nobilis, Zones 7–10), and another grape trellis to absorb reflected heat.

flowering vegetable garden

We plant cilantro, kale, lettuce, strawberries, and herbs in our vegetable garden. Our kale salad is a favorite dish for any gathering. The flowers are pretty too. This area sits between a detached garage, another fruit trellis, and on the south, a 15-foot-tall hedge.

We built many berms to catch rainwater. Our area receives an average of 17 inches per year, less than 3 inches during a drought, and more than 30 inches in wet years. When it comes, the rain falls in torrents—1 to 3 inches a day—so we capture as much as we can. To make good use of the captured water, we plant a lot of trees, bushes, and wildflowers. Our garden attracts a lot of birds and butterflies.

In the last five years, we have rarely had to turn on the portable air conditioner in summer, as the trees in the garden keep our house cool. We also don’t have a heater. We bought orchids from the grocery store, and they flower again every year. We leave the indoor orchids on our kitchen window and outdoors in the courtyard. Whenever they flower, we put them on our front porch, where we can view them from our dining table.

My husband built many trellises from recycled materials. These are good father-and-son projects. Once vines climb over, they look beautiful.


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View Comments


  1. User avater
    treasuresmom 04/15/2020

    Phan, it is amazing what you have done. I'm not sure I have ever seen a garden on GPOD that has done so much to save water. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Icgirl 04/15/2020

    What an amazing group of plants. I’m very impressed by your techniques to become drought proof and energy efficient!

  3. cheryl_c 04/15/2020

    I'm totally awestruck with what you have done on a urban lot in LA! It must be a veritable feast at your house every day. What a great example you have set for all of us to be more caring of our precious resources and more committed to growing food in the beautiful ways that are available to us. Thank you so much for sharing.

  4. User avater
    simplesue 04/15/2020

    You've created a nice green retreat in hot dry LA.

  5. btucker9675 04/15/2020

    What a wonderful stewardship of land and water to produce a lovely garden! Thanks for sharing.

  6. Cenepk10 04/15/2020

    Beautiful!!!! You make me jealous with the peaches and grapes. And nectarines. And lavender. Nice work. I love when gardens feed our tummies & make life better with shade on hot days, wafting aromatics. Job well done !

  7. user-5117752 04/16/2020

    Your garden looks and sounds delicious!!! All those fruit trees in bloom and then bearing fruit makes my mouth water! You and your family are true "keepers of the land", the way you conserve the rain water, plant to eat and bring in the pollinators! And, in the process, make it a feast for the eyes. Thank you for taking the time to share your beauty and knowledge with us.

    1. User avater
      phanya 04/24/2020

      Dear all,
      This is PHAN.
      I'm new to this community. I didn't know that you left so many wonderful comments on my garden. ;-))

      Thank you for your encouraging. I'll post some pictures of our fruits in couple months. Hopefully, the squirrels won't steal all the fruits.

      My husband wrote a blog about building our yard. You can view it at the link below.

      Again, thank you for your great comments.
      Please see my post below.

    2. User avater
      phanya 04/24/2020

      Thank you for your great comments.
      Please see my post below.

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