The Road To Hell Is Paved With Chunky Gravel And Indifferently Chosen Plants

, Crrritic

**Trigger Warning*** This is a rant, and the images that follow may be unpleasant to some. They certainly are to ME.

A bit of background to set the stage: Los Angeles is in a severe drought. Considering the fact that Los Angeles is a city built in a desert and reliant almost 100% on water imported from outside its boundaries, you’d think water conservation would have always been a top priority, but no. We cycle in and out of water concern with every severe drought. During a water shortage, there is a panic. The Dept of Water and Power becomes draconian, establishing tiers for water usage and making it expensive to go over a (very generous, in my opinion) allotment. You have to ask for water at restaurants (people HATE this). Everyone flutters around, righteously proclaiming their drought awareness and talking about how little they shower and giving advice on how to wash a large load of dishes with one cup of tepid tap water. Once the Sierra snowpack (where we get most of our water) is replenished, the same people go right back into boom times, and start watering their big, beautiful lawns more than the every-other-day those meanies at DWP had previously enforced.

Then came the rebates. For the past few years, the Dept of Water and Power in Los Angeles has been giving people money for taking out their lawns – it is currently up to $4 a square foot. People are now ripping out lawns will-nilly, eager for the money and to lower their water bill.

So here enters a villain, maybe – or to some, a hero, maybe. A certain company who promises FREE LANDSCAPES. What they do is take the rebate and use that money to install a brand new “landscape”. Awesome, you say! A free garden! How could that be bad, you snarky and mean old Ivette Soler! Hold your horses, dear reader – gardens these are definitely NOT. Those rebates are usually within the $2000 – $4000 range, sometimes more … and the “landscapes” they get in exchange are a weary assortment of tiny drought tolerant standards lined up in rectangles, poking out of a thick layer of chunky gravel. Underneath that sad sea of gravel is probably landscape cloth just waiting to poke itself up out of the ground cover layer like the many-headed hydra we know it to be. And underneath THAT are most certainly drip lines, set up in a rectangle, also waiting to breech the thick rocks and offend all who look upon them.

This is NOT what I thought the new, state-of-the-art style of drought tolerant landscape was going to look like!

A detail of the planted beauty

From what I see, the resulting “landscapes” cost about $500 – $750 to install, including materials and labor. I secretly watched an installation – it was done in less than a day, including the removal of the existing lawn.

Here is another offending gravelscape – or load of “free” rocks with a few plants stuck in there

People should be able to use these refunds to install reasonable drought tolerant gardens, maybe not fancy ones, but certainly not these impoverished affairs! I am visually, financially, ethically and horticulturally offended! I think this company is a scheme! A rip-off! BUT – it seems like it is a legitimate and legal business. In my opinion it is a travesty. OR it is a very smart and canny business model. I am torn! I think both things. They have made putting in a quote unquote drought tolerant landscape easy. You don’t have to think about anything – just give them your rebate and they’ll give you … something like this.

For about $3k – $4k, (again, within the range of most rebates), people could get a drought tolerant garden like THESE, done by another LA company. I don’t know who the designer is, but I admire their work and am eager to see more of their front yards in the future. Goodness knows we need planted beauty to help battle the blight of the free rebated landscapes that are currently infesting our rain-starved city!

Here is a nice, clean, simple, spare, drought tolerant landscape. THIS.

Another simple, clean, straightforward, WELL-DESIGNED drought tolerant garden. The difference is important!

What say the Ranters? Am I being harsh? Judgey? Or do I have a point?

Posted by

Ivette Soler
on February 24, 2015 at 11:00 pm, in the category CRRRITIC, Everybody’s a Critic.

Comment List

  • Joe Schmitt 11 / 03 / 2016

    How do they manage to present the finished product to the homeowner with a straight face? Gravel alone with no plants at all would look better. They’re either con men taking outrageous to its limits, have the worst design sense on the planet, or both. I’m not sure they even have a shot at becoming con “artists” some day. I suspect that if you Googled “Dumb as a box of rocks” their company name would pop up.

  • Louise 29 / 06 / 2016

    Wow. That was just a poor excuse of a gravel garden… I think gravel gardenalmost always just look scattered, 20 different plants spaced evenly does nothing for me. The last pic was nice, a little story and dynamic to it. Road -gravel -house combo is a really boring and sterile design.

  • Garden Rant 02 / 07 / 2016

    Judge away, Ivette! Terrific rant, and so deserved. Susan

  • tara dillard 08 / 07 / 2016


  • Jane Brunclik 28 / 10 / 2016


  • Nina 07 / 11 / 2016

    I also am a garden designer in Los Angeles who sees the above gravelscapes as hideous. But I think in some cases, the previous existing garden was also unlovely & unloved by the homeowners. Some folks are just indifferent to their outside spaces. The stone suppliers must be making a bloody fortune!

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