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Q&A: Rick Mayer

August 19, 2009

Water restrictions and an increased emphasis on conservation is changing the way planners conceive home gardens, commercial landscapes and parks. Rick Mayer, a Glendale-based landscape architect who helped plan MacArthur Park in Los Angeles and the Buena Vista Library in Burbank, sat down with us to discuss the future of outdoor spaces in Southern California.

Severe water shortages have prompted the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which supplies most of the water to Glendale and Burbank, to cut its distribution by 10% and aise rates by 17.4%. The Crescenta Valley Water District has reacted to shortages by restricting lawn watering to two days weekly and Glendale Water & Power is following suit with a three-day-a-week limit. The Burbank City Council is also considering its own lawn-watering restrictions — three days a week in the summer and once weekly in the winter. Experts predict more cutbacks are on the way as resources grow more scarce.

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ZAIN SHAUK: What are local gardens and parks going to look like as residents become more mindful of water conservation? Are we destined for Japanese-style rock gardens?

RICK MAYER: I think we're looking at a different type of a landscape. There are opportunities for grass, but I think it's going to be in a more functional way, where you're using the grass and it's not just a visual aesthetic. One of the things that we have been asked by many clients is how can we cut back on irrigation, how can we save water and save money? There are a number of ways that we approach that. It's not just from the viewpoint of saving water, but you have to start with how are you design the entire property.

Q: Why is grass a questionable addition to a garden?

A: Many types of grasses are more water thirsty. They take more water. So if you want to cut back on your water consumption and to recycle water and think about water as truly what it is, which is a resource that we shouldn't be squandering, you need to look at whether you need grass and then how much grass do you really need. In other words, maybe the front yard, which typically in Southern California has been more of an aesthetic view of the house, isn't where we normally would use grass in a functional way. By merely asking those questions and doing proper site design, you're cutting back on the amount of water you're using because you're cutting back on your grass.

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