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Lisa Burton’s 10-Step Program for a Sustainable Landscape

Lisa Burton’s 10-Step Program for a Sustainable Landscape

About Lisa: Professional garden designer Lisa Burton has been creating gardens for her clients since 2001. The name of her company is Nature by Design. Her specialties include sustainable landscaping, native plants, low water gardens, lawn replacement gardens, and creating wildlife habitats. In 2013, she was designated as a, Certified Wildlife Habitat and Sustainable Landscape Professional by the National Wildlife Federation.

You can get more information about both Lisa and her landscape by visiting her website:, her email: You can also visit her Facebook page:

The creation of an attractive environment that encourages a more harmonious relationship with our local environment and each other is a basic tenant of sustainable landscaping.

In practical terms we can define sustainable landscaping as a systematic approach to landscaping that prevents or reduces processes that degrade or pollute the environment, protects the regenerative capacity of ecosystems, encourages biodiversity, and prevents developments that are detrimental to human health or might diminish our quality of life.

I try to put these principles into action with every garden I create and hope you will benefit from my 10-step program. Being responsible stewards of our environment starts in our own back yards. Here’s a “before and after”, with the rest of the “before and after’s” at the end of the article along with a class that she will be teaching on September 9th on this subject.    




Step 1: Plant with climate-appropriate, drought-tolerant plants. I always point out that reference to drought-tolerant plants is oftentimes misleading. What’s drought tolerant in Thousand Oaks is entirely different than what’s drought-tolerant in Ventura. Where you live is considered a microclimate within a region so special attention needs to be made to what’s specifically appropriate for your climate. Southern California is a Mediterranean climate but that can be divided into coastal and inland sub-climates, which naturally support different plant communities.

Step 2: Install an efficient irrigation system. Generally, a drip system that customizes for each individual plant is preferable since you are only watering the plants and not everything in-between. Just be sure to make adjustments as the plants grow to maturity. Some plants will not need supplemental water once mature while others will need drip emitters adjusted to encourage healthy root growth.

Step 3: Lawns are great for kids, dogs, and recreation but that doesn’t mean you can’t consider reducing the size of the lawn or eliminating it altogether to save water, energy resources, and the use of chemical fertilizers and weed control products. Consider replacing it with a climate-appropriate garden landscape that includes native plants and supports a biodiverse ecosystem.

Step 4: Lower maintenance by planting the right plants in the right place. Allow enough room for the mature size of each plant and pay attention to your garden’s microclimates. If you have a 3’ planting bed, resist planting a 10’ shrub! Read the label before you buy. It contains some very useful information about the plant’s needs for sun, water, and size.

Step 5: Select plants that will thrive in your native soil. Changing your soil with a lot of compost and amendments takes years so sometimes it’s best to do with what you have. Compost is useful to stimulate soil life where it is deficient. Oftentimes, I find that a lot of people think they have clay soil when it’s just soil that is unhealthy and compacted due to poor landscape practices.

Step 6: Provide a healthy habitat for local wildlife with native plants that provide nectar, seeds and berries. A clean source of water and a safe environment to raise their young is also important. Attracting wildlife such as birds, butterflies, bees and beneficial insects to your garden is the best way to control insect pests and keep your garden in balance.

Step 7: Mulch your garden to efficiently retain moisture, suppress weeds, encourage beneficial organisms that will aerate the soil, and keep your soil cool. Consider leaving the leaves! It’s nature’s own mulch and compost.

Step 8: Be ocean-friendly by preventing water run-off to the street. Urban water run-off is the number one cause of ocean and watershed pollution. Avoid non-permeable materials for hardscape surfaces and create a sponge garden or bioswale system to retain water on the property.

Step 9: Utilize materials that have a low impact on the environment. Avoid using exotic woods such as that from rain forests and stone that is quarried from great distances or damage the land.

Step 10: Sit back and enjoy your garden, watching it thrive with a diversity of healthy plants and the birds, butterflies and critters it attracts.

This may sound complicated but when following this 10-step program, sustainable landscaping will result in lower maintenance, significant reduction in water use, and elimination of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. What’s not to like?


Lisa will be teaching a class “Creating a Sustainable and Balanced Garden Ecosystem” for the City of Ventura on Sept. 9, 10:00-11:30am, Public Works Maintenance Yard, 336 Sanjon Rd. FREE. Register at:

Now more “before and after”, this could be your garden!




More before and after



More before and after




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Featured Plant



Botanical Name

Iris germanica TB 'Edna's Wish' re

Common Name

Edna's Wish


Flower Color


Mature Size

3' tall × 3' wide

Climactic Requirements


Full Sun


Drought Tolerant / Occasional
Profile Availability

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