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5 Sustainable Features for your Garden

If we had to come up with Campion Walker studio trademarks, they wouldn’t be features or plants-- they would be philosophies. Our designs are informed by many things: the site, client needs, aesthetic ideas. But the point of view we bring to our many and varied projects always orbits around the ideas of simplicity and sustainability.

We like to see that we listen to the land, and what this translates to is how we recognize the need to interact with the native environment. In short, that is the definition of sustainability. The most natural thing we, as garden designers and stewards of the land, can do is to simplify how we tread on the earth, and lean on sustainable practices to work with nature to create beautiful spaces.

Some of our favorite elements of sustainable design:


In a garden setting, we refer to rocky swales and/or rain gardens as watersheds. These features are tools for retaining rain water on-site, which has significant impact on both groundwater supply and stormwater management-- both of which have far-reaching effects on the ecological health of our world. A watershed is a low point of a garden, designed to have rainwater drain to it, and designed with rocks and/or riparian plants that thrive in dry conditions with occasional flooding. On top of their function, watersheds are a dramatic and stunning feature in gardens, especially in rustic modern or xeriscaped designs.


If a project allows, or a homeowner is willing to invest in some plumbing adjustments, we advocate installation of greywater systems. These systems allow clean used water, called greywater, from bathroom sinks, showers, and laundry, to drain into a garden, either irrigating plants or percolating down into the earth if channeled to a watershed. It might seem unusual to reuse water in this way, but greywater is 100% safe to recycle in this manner. As a bonus, using phosphate-free soap/detergent and epsom salt is actually a fertilizer-- which is even more reason to recommend using greywater to water your landscape plants.


The subject of composting can raise an eyebrow from less than enthusiastic gardeners, but in truth, its practice is spectacularly simple. Setting aside organic waste from your kitchen (trimmings from fruits and vegetables, egg shells, coffee grinds) and your garden (grass trimmings, fallen leaves) can reduce as much as 60% of landfill waste-- that makes composting more green than recycling! You can compost in your own yard, either in a tumbler, or a bin, or a simple hole dug in the soil in a dark, secluded corner of your garden. Keep your kitchen waste in a pail under your sink, and bring it out every 3 days, and then layering in your green garden waste instead of throwing them away in your green waste trashcan. Allow the compost layers to sit, turning once a month or so to aerate, and in about 3 months, that compost will become rich organic matter, perfect as a natural fertilizer for your garden plants. For more information on how to start composting, we recommend this article.

Firewise Gardens

As longtime residents of LA’s Topanga Canyon, we’re no strangers to wildfires. When naturally-occurring, they are a part of the earth cycles, but containment is key to limiting their devastation. Because many of our projects are in the Santa Monica mountains and are close to areas where fire danger is high, we design firewise gardens: plantings chosen specifically for their ability to mitigate the spread of flames. Firewise knowledge can be as simple as tree choices: native oaks are slow to burn and fast to recover from flames, while many other tree choices incinerate fast and feed a fire. Other tactics we recommend are choosing high water content plants, such as succulents, and designing them in wide swaths to act as moisture barriers should a fire approach.

Plant Communities

The practice of designing communities of plants is one of our favorite strategies for a healthy, beautiful garden. Our horticultural background has taught us that placing symbiotic organisms next to each other takes a lot of the guesswork out of maintenance because it creates self-sustaining ecologies. We like to educate our clients about the importance of choosing such complimentary plant palettes, such as planting low-water, chaparral natives like Heteromeles arbutifolia (Toyon) with Erigonium fasciculatum (California buckwhat) and salvias, in order to create a happy landscape.

Fire Wise Succulents

With the 2017 fire season shaping up to be what looks like one of the worst in history we thought we would touch on the topic by stressing how important it is to be fire wise around the home from a landscaping point of view.

The ideal fire wise landscape consists of low-growing shrubs, ground covers and fleshy succulents. To help retain soil moisture and minimize erosion and weeds, cover bare ground with redwood mulch or gravel. Keep plants well watered, especially during fall’s depleting Santa Ana winds. Avoid any fire ladders, fuel-rich plantings that enable fire to climb up to your home. In addition to plants that have a high moisture content, include one or more of these landscape enhancements: hard scape, a rock garden, a dry stream bed and/or a swimming pool. All make excellent firebreaks.

By removing flammable vegetation and debris and by getting rid of weeds, dead or dying plants, and anything dry and twiggy you are reducing potential kindling.

Avoid planting trees and shrubs that drop quantities of leaves, contain volatile oils or resins, and/or copiously shed bark. Notoriously flammable (and unfortunately quite common) trees include blue gum, eucalyptus, acacias, junipers and pines.

Be aware that some California native plants are pyrophytic, “fire loving”. These highly flammable plants depend on seasonal wildfires for regeneration or seed germination. Common ones include greasewood (chamise), sumac (sugar bush), creosote bush and California sagebrush. Many California natives, including manzanita, coffee berry, ceanothus and oaks, are not pyrophytic and actually are slow to burn.

Here is a list of a few fire wise succulents:

Opuntia (paddle cactus), the thicker the better. The rounded, upright pads make a nice counterpoint to more finely textured plants, succulent and otherwise.

Aloes. Mound-forming Aloe arborescens, sends up orange-red, torch like flower spikes in midwinter.

Aeoniums. There are numerous varieties of these rosette succulents. The best ones for fire resistance are multi-branching.

Crassulas. Plain old green jade, these don’t burn but rather it cook, and like the aloes, its leaves turn putty-colored and they collapse. If you think jade is boring, you may not be aware of its many cultivars. Some are striped cream-and-green; turn yellow-orange-red when grown in full sun; have silvery-gray leaves rimmed with red; or have intriguing tubular or wavy leaves.

Portulacaria afra (elephant’s food) is shrub-like, and yes, elephants really do eat it in South Africa. In fact, the plant benefits from being stomped on because pieces root readily. The variegated variety is less vigorous and more ornamental than the common green species.

Fire season is here, we all need to take every precaution available to keep our selves and our homes safe.


Snakes, breathe deep... they are good for your garden!

Although snakes could be very frightening for some people (and we understand the fear) snakes can be very helpful in the garden, to the point that we may even want to welcome them in!

It is actually pretty simple, in the garden snakes are of great benefit.  They eat insects and rodents primarily, which are likely to benefit the garden.  For example, small snakes can do severe damage to a grasshopper population in a confined area in just one summer.

Most commonly found in North America is the Garter snake, often called the Gardener Snake. These guys get their name from the resemblance of their stripes to old-fashioned sock garters (who knew?). The Garter snake is harmless to humans and animals and an all around super tenant in a garden!

What is so great is that snakes do their handiwork without damaging the environment one bit.  They don’t dig holes as they use holes already dug by rodents and other burrowers and they don’t chew or damage the landscape in any way.  They do not cause any harm plants, from being eaten or from their physical presence moving through them.  They don’t contribute to noise pollution one single bit and they leave very little in the way of droppings (excellent fertilizer since their prey is so well digested).  They also avoid the gardener at all costs. Garters are non-aggressive creature’s and don’t ever attack people (at least none in the US) and will never bite unless stepped on, picked up or forced into a corner or threatened with eminent injury.  Even then, all snakes would much rather get away than risk a fight.

The sight of a snake in your garden could very well be alarming, but there are so many benefits, and after all… they play an important role, just as mother nature intended.

Below are some of the most common of the Garter family.


Richards spiny plant of the week

This is a small tight-growing agave to 12 inches tall by 18 inches wide with short gray leaves and red spines. This selection is thought to be a Japanese cultivar of Agave potatorum and it and the variegated form called 'Kichiokan Marginata' or 'Kissho Kan' are very slow growing and highly sought after. These guys grow in full sun to light shade in hot climates. Mature plants have a hemispherical shape with up curving leaves with yellow to pale green variegation along the margins and red spines. Little irrigation is required in coastal gardens, but it is best to provide some supplemental irrigation in hotter inland gardens. It is cold hardy to at least 25 degrees.  There has also been considerable debate by succulent enthusiasts and nurserymen over the correct translation and spelling of the cultivar name. , others tell us that the variegated form is actually 'Kissho Kan', which translates to "lucky crown" or "happy crown" and that the non-variegated plant is the true 'Kichiokan'. 

These images were taken at the Huntington Botanical gardens, their tagging nomenclature states this to be  Agave isthmensis 'Kisshokan'  Whatever the name, it's a beautiful plant . 

Pick of the Week.

Euphorbia grandicornis is our pick of the week!

This cactus has spiky and spiny triangular stems that are edged with sharp light gray-white double spikes all down the length creating an ominous appearance. When full size Grandicornis can reach 6 feet in overall height and spread up to 6 feet in width. As prickly as this one is, we sure do think it's pretty.