“This neighborhood [Olivenhain] is what we call an ‘urban-wildland interface,’” says Nan Sterman, author of California Gardener’s Guide. “You have to be careful that what you do in your garden does not have a negative impact on the environment.”
The community borders the San Elijo Lagoon north of Solana Beach. “Olivenhain [pronounced o-LEE-ven-hine] is one of the five communities that make up Encinitas,” Sterman explains. “It was settled in the late 1800s by German colonists, most of whom came from the Denver area [the word means olive groves in German]. They were told there was plenty of fresh water, good soil, and good farming conditions, but when they got here they discovered they’d been swindled, and the land agents were run out of town. They were supposed to come and grow olives, but they ended up dry-farming lima beans because the resources they thought were here weren’t. In those days, if you didn’t have water, you didn’t have anything.”
Sterman is chairperson for the Encinitas Garden Festival, taking place on Saturday, May 3. As part of the festival, Sterman will lead a walking tour of 20 home gardens located in Olivenhain.
“People are getting away from the English garden, that traditional fufu stuff, and now you have many more gardens of place, what really suits Southern California.” Sterman cites some ideal drought-resistant plants. “Monkey flower is a really fun native. It’s a perennial and has [yellow] flowers and grows in the hillsides here in Olivenhain.” Toyon, an indigenous evergreen shrub, can grow up to 12 feet tall. In autumn it produces red berries. “When California was being settled by people coming from the East Coast, when they got to the L.A. area and looked at the hillside they saw these red berries. They called them hollies, and that’s how Hollywoodland got its name.” The last four letters, “L-A-N-D,” were removed from the iconic Hollywood sign in 1949.
The California lilac is another misnomer. “It’s not a lilac,” explains Sterman. “Just like people said, ‘Oh, look at those hollies,’ they said, ‘Oh, those look like lilacs,’ because that was their frame of reference. If you drive up Highway 15, out near Mission Gorge, you see all those blue flowers.” Yet another is the Dudleya, “a wonderful little ghostly gray succulent with blue, chalky fingers. We grow them really well in our gardens.” Other low-water-use natives include the Cleveland sagebrush, which grows wild in most of San Diego County. “They’re the aromatic ones you smell when you walk through the chaparral,” says Sterman. The leaves can smell like rosemary and, when rubbed between the fingers, release an odor that bears an uncanny resemblance to the skin cream Noxzema.
One plant Sterman would like to see less of is grass. “We really don’t need acres of grass,” she says. “Grass is the most resource-intensive plant. It takes more water, you have to prune it every week — that’s what mowing is — and you have to fertilize it constantly.” Sterman teaches a class for the Water Conservation Garden in Cuyamaca called “Bye Bye Grass.” It’s a two-part course. The first part covers how to get rid of grass, and the second part offers alternative ground-cover options.
“If you have the kind of grass that has really short, fine roots, then you can dig it out, you can smother it, or you can use solarization — cover it with plastic and let it cook in the sun. If you have that nasty Bermuda grass, with those thick, fleshy roots that creep along at or just below the surface of the ground and are very aggressive — which is part of what makes it desirable for lawns — the only thing you can do is treat it with chemicals, like Roundup. There are a couple different brands of glyphosate, the active ingredient, available in the marketplace.”
Sterman says many people have a lawn simply because they don’t have any other idea for how to fill their yard space. Some people erroneously think grass is the easiest plant to look after, and some people come from another part of the country and are “used to having a big sea of green.” If a family has dogs or soccer-playing kids, an area of grass might be in order, says Sterman, but she stresses, “Don’t have an acre of it when all you need is a ten-by-ten patch.”
Encinitas Garden Festival
Olivenhain Town Hall
Saturday, May 3
10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Park at Mira Costa College
3333 Manchester Avenue
Cost: Adults, $25; children, $10
Info: 760-753-8615 or www.encinitasgardenfestival.org