Native Plants Can Transform Your Yard—And The Planet

With her drought-tolerant landscapes and permeable hardscape designs, Cassy Aoyagi of FormLA Landscaping has proven her dedication to saving our most precious natural resource.
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What are your most favored drought-resistant plants?

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FormLA Landscaping principal Cassy Aoyagi integrates drought-resistant plants into her Southern California projects.

Clients joke that all California natives are all my favorites! They include any IdealMow [native grasses and "beyond grass"] lawn alternative, Salvia ‘Dara’s Choice’ ground cover, and Hummingbird Sage, a Salvia variety that thrives in
sun and shade, with flower spikes that draw hummingbirds.

How can we capitalize on city initiatives such as the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power’s turf removal program (aka Cash for Grass), which offers people $2 per square foot of grass traded for native plants?

Capitalizing on this initiative might include integrating native plants and irrigating new plantings with a subsurface, low-volume alternative to overhead spray. The incentives also present a wonderful opportunity to update your space. 

Approaching a sustainable landscaper in your region is a great start. Each municipality has its own set of incentives as a result of the statewide Water Efficient Landscaping ordinances. In addition to Cash for Grass, residents can get rebates for replacing turf in specific areas, like parkways. 

Are programs like these preparing us for the inevitable? No more lawns?

That would be a dream come true! Aside from all the compelling arguments regarding sustainability and water’s impact on the fiscal health of Los Angeles, there is just something incredibly dull about a traditional lawn. [L.A.’s] diverse architecture and distinctive culture deserves more. We have native grass varieties that can be kept short or long, feel soft or rugged, grow flat or mounded, and come in every shade imaginable.

Are there low-water, foot-friendly grasses that we can plant instead of traditional lawns?

For areas that receive a great deal of foot traffic or play, we like two IdealMow lawns: Carex pansa, which is hearty and can be mowed to look and function much like a traditional lawn, and UC Verde, a hybrid buffalo grass that is incredibly hard to distinguish from a traditional lawn. 

Is there such a thing as a "dry" garden, or one that uses virtually no water?

We do have clients who use no or very little imported water. It takes design savvy to get there, but it is possible. The gardens that achieve this level of sustainability have a few things in common:

•    There is no non-native grass

•    All foliage used is native or climate compatible (from the Mediterranean basin, Australia, Chile, or South Africa)

•    Deep, deep mulch is frequently replenished 

•    Hardscapes are permeable, allowing rainfall to seep into the ground,
and they are of materials that do not unnecessarily amplify heat

•    Trees are planted strategically to
mitigate heat 

•    There is some sort of rain catchment, whether it be as simple as a rain barrel or as technical as a cistern fed by an infiltration pit or bioswale


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For a Los Angeles home, Aoyagi used an IdealMow lawn of native grasses, and Dymondia, Juncus, and Hummingbird Sage.

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Pavers and succulents in a yard in Malibu, California, help save water.

Erika Heet
Erika Heet has been working in publishing for more than 20 years, including years spent as a senior editor at Architectural Digest and Robb Report.


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