Taking Your Landscape Native
Lara M. Wilson of Bountiful Botanicals offers simple advice for getting started on remodeling your yard.
Lara M. Wilson of Bountiful Botanicals has some simple advice for gardeners to create outdoor havens: design, install, and maintain.
Photo by Lance Yamamoto
One look at your rising water bill and your patchy brown yard, and you’ll want to replace that lawn with something more practical. Whether you’re a DIY-er or need a little help, Lara M. Wilson, who owns Bountiful Botanicals in Oakland, has some advice to get you started. “My big thing is to remove lawns and remodel the landscape sustainably,” said Wilson, who started her company 17 years ago, after a career in the finance world. She uses a three-pronged approach for her drought-tolerant, low-maintenance yards: “Design, install, and maintain — we design what we install, then show you how to maintain it. We also design gardens you can afford right now, sustainably.”
Wilson promotes being water conscious by using Mediterranean natives and lawn alternatives — along with no chemicals and no pressure- or chemical-treated wood. Instead, she chooses natural materials like Connecticut bluestone, Napa basalt rock, and flagstone. “We’ve gone backwards,” she said. “We don’t do anything our grandfathers did: No toxins, no chemicals, no rototilling.”
So, how can you get started with your pet project, maybe that corner of the backyard you’ve always hated? “Start by taking a look at the gardens in your neighborhood that you like,” she suggested. “Plus, realize how much you want to spend. We start with a dream garden but do it in phases if budget is ever an issue.”
What’s hot for the East Bay garden right now? Some foreign imports from Australia and New Zealand have been met with great fanfare locally. Wilson loves Westringia, an Australian shrub in the mint family that produces dainty white flowers and light gray leaves. They can handle full sun and are fairly drought tolerant. Or try Anigozanthos, more adorably known as kangaroo paw, hardy perennials that thrive on six hours of sun each day. They produce fun, fuzzy, red blossoms.
Ready to get started? Wilson swears by the Sunset Western Garden Book as her bible. “I have 15 different copies,” she admitted. She advised making a quick design for your garden, then checking out the local nursery for a plant you love. “Never buy just one,” she said. “Buy three or five of what you like.”
New gardeners often make a basic mistake: failing to learn how to water properly. “Take time to learn about your irrigation timer, and use it,” Wilson said. Her projects involve carefully setting up an irrigation system for each garden. “I walk clients through each step of the irrigation plan, give them a lesson on working the timer.” Plus, keep an eye on your irrigation. “People may know they have a leak somewhere but don’t look at the garden as the source.”
Put your money into irrigation, paths, and plants, rather than fancy plans. “I don’t draw plans unless the project requires permits; they can be expensive, not leaving enough money for the garden.” She loves when people sit down to sketch out their own plans, though: “Then they’re vested in the garden and make good clients.”
Finally, Wilson shared this food for thought: “I love growing food and making it part of the landscape. I like to incorporate blueberries, and use lavender and rosemary as pollinators,” she said. She recommended using thyme, another pollinator, along a path, and adding patches for fruits and veggies to create a beautiful, rewarding garden.
Lara Wilson, Bountiful Botanicals, 433 37th St., Oakland, 415-290-6609, BountifulBotanicals.com.
The New Sunset Western Garden Book, Sunset, Ninth Edition, 2012.
This report was originally published in our sister publication, the East Bay Monthly.