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Water-Wise Garden

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Since 2003, Stanford's Water-Wise Demonstration Garden has showcased alternatives to thirsty residential landscapes.

Grounds Services staff designed the Garden and continue to maintain and update it. The original plant material was donated by Boething Treeland Farms, San Marcos Growers and Valley Crest Tree Company, while the irrigation system was donated by Rainbird Corporation. The project was sponsored by Water Resources & Civil Infrastructure.

Water Efficiency at Stanford

Map to the Water-wise Garden on Raimundo Way

Garden Sections

The Garden features three sections:

Click the links above to jump to each section, or learn more about water-wise gardening

The three sections of the Garden: California natives, Mediterranean, and lawn alternatives
View of the Water-wise Garden

Lawn Alternatives Section

You can see several lawn alternatives at the north corner of the garden. A dense planting of yarrow (Achillea millefolium) becomes a flowery meadow in summer, while the plants themselves stay green year-round. This tough California native can tolerate heat and drought well, though it doesn’t fare well under heavy foot traffic. The low water use grass planted in front of the yarrow lawn is commonly known as eyelash grass (Bouteloua gracilis). Children and adults delight at the flower heads that resemble eyelashes as they appear in summer. Nearby, groundcover manzanita (Arctostaphylos edmundsii 'Carmel Sur') forms a green carpet, though this too is not meant for foot traffic.

Lawn substitute grasses at the Water-wise Garden
Deergrass (Muhlenbergia rigens)

Useful as either accent plants or lawn substitutes, ornamental grasses can be viewed en masse at the north end of the yarrow bed. You may recognize deer grass (Muhlenbergia rigens) from several campus parking lots, such as the Stockfarm Road lot and the Museum Way parking. One of the toughest and easiest bunchgrasses to grow, deer grass can take either little or much water, full sun or part shade. The large gray bunchgrass nearby is blue oat grass (Helictotrichon sempervirens). This plant thrives in full sun with little water and is also a reliable choice to encourage soft movement in a garden. A third grass, California fescue (Festuca californica) is better suited to dry shady sites, as found in the wild under native oaks.

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Mediterranean Section

Mediterranean section of the Water-wise Garden
Australian rosemary, New Zealand flax, and Grevillea

The Mediterranean Garden is located under two mature Eucalyptus trees and features plants from Australia, New Zealand and the Mediterranean region. Low-growing Australian fuchsia (Correa alba) and New Zealand flax (Phormium 'Jack Spratt') are flanked by a curving row of Australian rosemary (Westringea fruticosa 'Wynyabbie Gem'), which features small light lavender flowers for much of the year. Two groundcovers that can be successfully used under eucalyptus are myoporum (Myoporum parvifolium) and hardenbergia (Hardenbergia violacea). The latter is often trained as a vine up a trellis but is shown here in another form. Grevillea 'Red Hooks' is a fast-growing specimen from Australia with red showy toothbrush-like flowers that bloom throughout the year. It requires little to no water once established, tolerates various light conditions from full sun to full shade, and is a pollinator haven!

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California Natives Section

Oak tree and manzanita at the Water-wise Garden
Coast live oak (Quercus agrifolia) and Howard McMinn manzanita (Arctostaphylos densiflora)

The California Garden was planted under an existing coast live oak (Quercus agrifolia). These iconic trees thrive in coastal environments with no summer rain and can be killed by summer watering, so care must be taken when planting in their vicinity.

Several low groundcovers are featured: prostrate black sage (Salvia mellifera 'Terra Seca'), California fuchsia (Epilobium 'Everett's Choice'), and Carmel Creeper (Ceanothus griseus horizontalis 'Yankee Point'). Another sage, Salvia clevelandii 'Winifred Gilman', is a mounding shrub growing up to five feet tall, and is covered with bluish purple flowers in late spring. Salvia clevelandii 'Alan Chickering' planted nearby, is visually similar but grows with a taller, more open form and blooms paler blue flowers in the summer. A tough shrub commonly planted on campus as a 3-4 foot green hedge is Howard McMinn manzanita (Arctostaphylos densiflora 'Howard McMinn'). This plant flowers in February and can take little or much water, heavy soil, and looks best with no pruning. Other featured California natives are California rose (Rosa californica), Island bush snapdragon (Galvezia speciosa), and a new hybrid manzanita, Arctostaphylos 'John Dourley'.

Western redbud in bloom at the Water-wise Garden
Western redbud (Cercis occidentalis)

Several trees native to California are also planted in the west half of the garden. Western redbud (Cercis occidentalis), is a deciduous shrub from the Sierra foothills and the coast range further north. In fall, its heart-shaped leaves turn brilliant orange before falling off to reveal its beautiful structure. In spring, the branches are coated with magenta pea-shaped flowers for which it is named. This small tree can be used as a single trunk specimen or as a multi-trunk shrub - both forms are present in the garden. Another large shrub or small tree with pretty spring flowers is the Ray Hartman California lilac (Ceanothus 'Ray Hartman'). The intense blue of its flowers pairs nicely with magenta redbud blooms. California lilac is an evergreen plant with glossy green leaves that produce a resinous odor in summer. It is quite drought-tolerant once established, though this cultivar is also tolerant of some summer water, making it a good choice to add to an existing garden.

Cotton lavender at the Water-wise Garden
Lavender cotton (Santolina chamaecyparissus)

The pyramidal conifers that form the western border of the garden are Incense Cedars (Calocedrus decurrens), native to the mountains of California, southern Oregon, western Nevada and northern Baja California. They are heat and drought-tolerant once established, though they appreciate a deep drink once a month in summer.

The silver-grey foliaged plant is lavender cotton (Santolina chamaecyparissus). This Mediterranean native is planted primarily for its leaf color, though in summer it is covered with tiny yellow buttons of flowers.

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Water-Wise Gardening

All the planting beds at the Water-Wise Garden are mulched with a layer of wood-chips that serves several functions. The chips suppress weeds, insulate the soil from intense heat, hold moisture in the soil, and break down slowly to release organic matter into the soil. A second kind of wood chip is used along the pathways.

Water-wise Garden opening day
Opening day in 2003

The plants were planted from the smallest container size available, because small plants establish quicker and often surpass plants from larger containers within a year's time. The rootball of each plant was wrapped in chicken wire to protect it from ground squirrels and gophers.

A water meter is located at the center of the garden for visitors to monitor water use throughout the year. Each planting bed has a separate irrigation valve and is irrigated with drip irrigation. See our irrigation system specifications

Visit the garden regularly to see how the plants change over time and discover plants you might like to use in your garden. Water conservation is becoming increasingly important in California landscapes, and this Water-Wise Garden is a good source of information to help you lower your landscape water use. 

For more water-saving ideas, see our conservation tips page:

Water Conservation Tips for Your Garden

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