From bland to beautiful – with big water savings, too

How one Folsom business turned its thirsty turf into a water-wise asset

By Debbie Arrington

When Colnn Miguelgorry and Chris Marsh bought a building to house their commercial insurance agency, the century-old cottage in Folsom’s historic district came with a problematic lawn.

“The landscaping was 100 percent grass,” recalls Miguelgorry of Republix Insurance Risk Mitigation Services. “The sprinklers were old. There was mildew and mold. Moss was growing in places. There were obviously drainage issues.”

Click the image to view the final results.

Plus the uninviting strip of old turf needed weekly maintenance – and lots of water. “Ironically, we work with a lot of landscape companies all over California,” adds Miguelgorry. That lawn was not making a positive first impression.

Then, the partners learned from the City of Folsom about a special rebate from the Regional Water Authority for water-wise landscape makeovers on commercial properties. Working with a local landscape company and designer, they transformed their patch of turf into a flower-filled, water-wise oasis.

“It’s absolutely gorgeous!” says Miguelgorry, who has lived in Folsom for more than 30 years. “Folsom is all about nature, and we wanted something natural with lots of color to make it a beautiful place. We’re extremely happy with how it all turned out.”

The RWA’s special rebate program was made possible by a grant from Proctor & Gamble through the Bonneville Environmental Foundation. The goal of the program: Turn thirsty turf into beautiful low-water landscapes.

For the makeover, Miguelgorry worked with Ryan Hughes of Hughes Landscape, Inc., and landscape designer Clayton Winter. Hughes and Winter understood which low-water plants would do well in that 40-foot strip while also solving the underlying drainage issues.

Hughes’ crew removed 800 square feet of grass and weeds plus 130 square feet of concrete walkway. Four tons of boulders and seven cubic yards of cobblestones were used to create a dry riverbed, which not only unified the landscape design but provides the needed drainage. The riverbed is surrounded by colorful, drought-tolerant perennials, shrubs and a small tree – all on drip irrigation with a weather-based smart sprinkle timer.

Winter chose a plant palette with attractive combinations of blues and pinks including ‘Storm Cloud’ agapanthus, ‘Paprika’ yarrow, English lavender, pink muhly grass, ‘Dragon Blood’ sedum, ‘Passionate Blush’ gaura and ‘Tapien Blue’ verbena. As well as flowers, ‘Kaliedescope’ abelia – a dwarf shrub – offers variegated foliage that goes from lime green in spring to fiery red in fall.

Started late last spring, the project also included the installation of 800 square feet of weed barrier and lots of mulch. The total price tag was about $30,000, says Miguelgorry. That was offset by the RWA’s $15,000 rebate.

His company is already seeing huge benefits. The new landscape reduced irrigation needs from an estimated 4,000 gallons per week to 440 gallons per week during the summer. Instead of weekly maintenance and mowing, the new landscape requires care only once or twice a month.

“This project was a win-win-win,” Miguelgorry says. “It’s functional, it definitely upgraded the look of our property to something beautiful and it’s extremely water conservative.”

The reaction by clients and the community has been overwhelming positive, he adds.

“Everybody loves it,” Miguelgorry says. “We went from just grass and a bland-looking space to something people look at as they walk or drive by.”

Debbie Arrington is a longtime home and garden reporter and co-author of the blog Sacramento Digs Gardening: