PLEASANTON -- When Beth Clark decided to remove her front lawn and replace it with native California plants and a water feature, she knew more butterflies and birds would come by for a drink.

She was pleasantly surprised when the neighbors began doing the same.

"In the summertime I'll be sitting out there relaxing and the neighbors will come by and we'll have a glass of wine," she said. "I love the whole look." The benefits of a drought-tolerant yard made the transition appealing, she said.

"My whole front yard was lawn. It took a lot of water and was a lot of work to mow constantly," she said. "I was looking for alternatives. I didn't want something that looked like a wild meadow; I wanted a mix between something more structured and the wildness of the natives."

Clark's front lawn was removed, and a patio was poured. Nearby, a circular gravel path surrounds a rock fountain, which muffles freeway noise and provides a visually cooling effect during the valley's summer heat.

Hummingbirds and butterflies are frequent visitors to the garden, which includes purple-blue Penstemon, pink Lewisias and bright red Channel Island snapdragons.

The yard has become a gathering spot for neighbors, who are learning to appreciate the benefits of a grassless yard, Clark said.

"One of them said my garden is the nicest non-lawn garden she's ever seen," she said.

A drought-tolerant paradise in Livermore


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LIVERMORE -- For a long time Darcy Horne felt like a slave to her Livermore yard -- a pretty but demanding space that was in constant need of attention.

"I had a lawn and flowers, and it required a lot of water and maintenance; you have to work really hard for success," she said. "Then I went on a native garden tour. I really liked the look of the yards -- they were different and natural, and they looked like they belonged here."

With that realization, Horne and her husband, Dick Bulmer, made a decision. They removed the lawn, along with a Japanese maple, Chinese tallow tree and a 40-foot redwood. A curving flagstone walkway and a new patio were added, surrounded by manzanita, California lilac, native fuchsia and flowering currant. A young oak tree has sprung up unbidden -- almost exactly where an oak was planned. Birds, butterflies and little lizards abound.

"I think it's so beautiful, "Horne said. "I love the colors; it's subtle and so relaxing, not frantic."

The ease of maintenance was a surprise, she added.

"There's nothing to do out there," she said with a laugh. "As a gardener I'm actually a little frustrated ... (But) we see things I'm sure the neighbors don't see -- things that actually belong there are there. My favorite thing is how peaceful it is.

"With a regular garden you always need to control it," Horne said. "This never gets away from you, or when it does, it's even more beautiful. It's Zen-like."

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