Strategies for a new age


stermanIt’s not just what’s happening “out west.” Water management of every kind is a huge issue for everybody, so I have been listening and reading with great interest to all that’s happening around water. On Thursday, as I was driving up to Toronto to attend a truncated version of the garden bloggers’ annual “fling,”* I heard a fascinating NPR segment featuring a gardener many of us know, or at least know of, Nan Sterman.

You can listen to it here. It was part of Here & Now, a daily afternoon program around here. Host Robin Young visited the expansive landscapes of Rancho Santa Fe, an affluent suburb of San Diego. As Young tactfully puts it, “many families are less eager to cut back water use,” i.e., they can afford to pay thousands of dollars in fees—regularly—in order to maintain their acres of velvet green lawnage.

Sterman, Gay and Tom, Young; photo by Robin Young
Sterman, Gay and Tom, Young; photo by Robin Young/Here & Now

However, one couple, Tom and Gay, are replacing their traditional landscaping with the help of Sterman. As they are not big fans of succulents, Sterman is recommending plants that thrive in Mediterranean-type climates, such as cork oak, geraniums, agapanthus, rosemary, oregano, and others. She’s also helping them get rid of their lawn using solarization, and the couple plans to start a gray water program for irrigation.

Part of the fun of listening to the show is that Young is clearly not a gardener (or she’s playing a non-gardener for her listeners’ benefit, which is smart) and often seems to admire the turf more than its replacements. In any case, this was one of the most interesting and expansive radio segments I’ve heard on the topic.

Do listen; the text summary on the website does not really give you much, though there is a slideshow.

*I had to leave Toronto early, but my two days were wonderful—more on Fling in future posts.

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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regular radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world, and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at


  1. You relate:

    “many families are less eager to cut back water use,” i.e., they can afford to pay thousands of dollars in fees—regularly—in order to maintain their acres of velvet green lawnage”

    That’s what the owner of our rental would like US to do, but it ain’t happening, and he has been informed of the regs several times now. WE pay the water bill, not him.

  2. If possible, I hope you will consider planting California native plants. They look great, no water is needed once established.

    Ornamental plants are a food desert for birds. North American birds are declining at a steady rate from 0.5 to 4 or 5 percent per year.

    Douglas Tallamy’s Bringing Nature Home gives some background

    Just one of the many excellent California Native plant resources: Helen Popper’s California Native Gardening

    The local California Native Plant society is a great local resource

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