Ocean Friendly Gardens, Basic Class, HOW
March 30 2015

Part 1: OFG Curbs Pollution & Directs Water Into Landscaping

by Paul Herzog, Ocean Friendly Gardens Coordinator

Part 1   Part 2   Part 3  Part 4

In celebration of spring and Earth Day on April 22, what better way to show your love for Mother Earth than creating an ocean friendly, cost-effective, low-maintenance and high impact landscape! Our Ocean Friendly Gardens program provides the tools and resources to beautify landscapes while using the least amount of water – saving time, money and protecting our ocean from the number one source of pollution: urban runoff. 

Each week in April I'll blog more about our Ocean Friendly Gardens program and include stories about its success. You will learn how an Ocean Friendly Garden uses rainwater as the first source of irrigation, prevents polluted runoff, reduces flooding and recharges groundwater and stream flows. I will further explain how plants and soil absorb carbon dioxide (a greenhouse gas) to help fight climate change, while bringing the natural habitat for birds, butterflies and bees back into your yard. 

Our chapter network will be celebrating all month long with events across the country. Search here for a chapter event near you. Can't make an event? No worries! Surfrider offers do-it-your-selfers with an Ocean Friendly Gardens guide, here. It provides more on how to landscape and plant to help reduce the amount of run-off that is polluting the oceans we love. 

Today, get inspired to get dirty by watching and learning from our San Diego, Calif., chapter volunteers as they install an Ocean Friendly Garden. Then scroll down to read more about the San Diego project.

Happy gardening, Paul Herzog 

California American Water (Cal Am), a private water retailer in San Diego, approached the Surfrider Foundation San Diego Chapter's Ocean Friendly Gardens Committee last year about helping turn a water guzzling area of a local park, and its runoff producing parking lot, into an Ocean Friendly Garden. Patrick Pilz, Cal Am’s Field Operations Manager, had been working with a team, including Surfrider and several government agencies such as the City of San Diego, to implement a state grant-funded sustainable landscape program. Since Cal Am provided water to the park, Patrick decided it would be a perfect location for creating an example of an Ocean Friendly Garden. So Patrick reached out to the San Diego Surfrider Chapter.

The San Diego chapter, which has successfully retrofitted half-a-dozen residential landscapes over the past five years, immediately jumped at the opportunity to help with such a high profile public space.


To stay alive, the turf grass at the park was being over watered. The excess water would flow into the parking lot and street, and down the storm drain which led to the ocean, carrying all pollutants along with it. The project was to remove the approximately 2,000 square feet of turf grass and replace it with an Ocean Friendly Garden, which included a swale and basin and planting native plants throughout. The team would also cut the curb surrounding the parking lot, directing rainwater runoff into the basin. This would not only conserve water, it irrigate the landscape.

Several members of the community were told about the project during a California Friendly Landscape Training, a class hosted by Cal Am and taught by Surfrider partner G3/Green Gardens Group that promotes OFG-oriented principles. Several of them showed up at the retrofit of the park 

was accomplished through a series of G3-led hands-on workshops as well as site prep by the City Park’s Department. Diane Downey (G3’s San Diego Regional Coordinator) and Jeremy Sison (G3 certified pro, and landscape architect) are both Surfrider-San Diego OFG Committee members (pictured above, left of the pole). Surfrider's San Diego OFG Committee members also helped publicize the workshops, and Cal Am created a cool all-in-one flyer for the events. Cal Am took care of workshop registration and food for volunteers.

During an evaluation of the space, participants analyzed the site’s “health” and where to apply CPR: Conservation potential, ways to improve Permeability and strategies for Retention of water onsite. They learned that a native garden needs just 20% of the water required by turf grass. Then the group calculated how much rainfall runoff was available from the adjacent parking lot based on the area of the lot and the average rainfall (10-14 inches). There was more than enough to support a native garden. G3 also led the group through doing tests for soil type and drainage, and discussed types of supplemental irrigation such as drip.

Three weeks later, additional workshops were held in the same day. The first covered rainwater capture as well as turf removal and soil building through sheet mulching and rain capture. The second covered planting and irrigation. (The City Park’s Department had removed the grass and done rough grading, including digging a shallow detention basin.) Volunteers then completed the grading, removed and remaining grass roots, then added mulch, and then installed plants.

Rocks installed at the entrance to the swale slow the flow of the water, allowing it to seep into the ground, where pollutants are filtered and water is absorbed for plants to tap into during dry months. (Once the native plants are established, they will not need supplemental irrigation from the City’s water supply.) The project team learned that the water was not infiltrating well enough, so a follow-up workshop was held in February, focusing on drilling a dozen holes (aka augering) in the basin, back-filling with compost tea and mulch, then installing water-loving plants (juncus) in the basin and muhlenbergia rigens (deer grass) the sides and possibly creating some side channels.

Cal Am picked up the bill for the workshops as well as compensated the City to cover the materials and site prep. Additional funding came from the project qualifying for the regional turf replacement rebate of $2/square foot. A workshop attendee got so inspired that she OFG'd her home landscape (below). For more information, including tools and resources, visit oceanfriendlygardens.org. To get involved with a chapter near you, visit surfrider.org/chapters