WaterSmart Landscape Winners for Otay Water District


When Denee and Bryan Felber bought their Chula Vista home in 2011, the entire front and back yard was the quintessential SoCal dream: lawn. About three years later, the couple, who have four adult children, began making practical improvements, installing both energy-efficient windows and solar panels.

Soon after, they undertook a major change in landscaping. It took the couple about a year to transform their entire front yard and part of the back yard — a total of more than 5,000 square feet — into a colorful, drought-tolerant garden that, seven years later, has made from them the winners of the 2022 WaterSmart landscape competition. for the Otay water district.


The Felbers both come from honest gardening. Their parents were all gardeners, and Bryan’s mother was president of his gardening club. But they learned to garden in the Pacific Northwest, where they raised their young family. When they returned to Southern California, it brought back their love of tropical plants, which they planted in their garden, as well as fruit trees and herbs. But two things strike them: the time it takes to maintain their lawns and their exorbitant water bills. They also have a pool, and it got to the point where they were paying $400 a month in the summer and $200 in the winter.

High maintenance and water needs prompted the Felbers to redo their front and back lawns, over 5,000 square feet.

(San Diego County Water Authority)

“When we learned that the course was offered by the San Diego County Water Authority’s WaterSmart Landscape Makeover program, we were very excited,” Denee said. “Because we were in a drought, we knew it would benefit our community by conserving water and reducing our water bill. It was a win-win. »

The couple went with a Mediterranean theme.

“We really like the Mediterranean theme because there are lots of Mediterranean plants that look great all year round, and with lots of them you get a nice pop of color at certain times of the year,” Denee explained. . “We love color. We wanted plants that would flower but were also low maintenance.

A dry river bed of stones in a Mediterranean style landscape captures rainwater for plants.

A dry riverbed of stones captures rainwater, which in the past would have flowed down the street, and instead directs it to nearby plants.

(Otay Waters Region)

The details

Denee was the lead designer. She and Bryan took advantage of the four sessions of the WaterSmart program to learn about drought-tolerant landscaping and plants, composting, drip irrigation and design. At the end, experts ask students to draw a design for their yard and help them refine the design based on water needs, which Denee used to create their vision.

Bryan served on the Chula Vista planning commission and befriended a colleague who had a landscaping business called Quality Landscaping. The couple hired the company and, based on Denee’s design, they did all the heavy lifting, from scraping the lawns, leveling, digging up the dry river bed and laying rocks, to laying the drip irrigation system, planting materials—purchased primarily from Terra Bella Nursery, but also from Home Depot and Lowe’s—and spreading the gorilla hair mulch.



(Otay Waters Region)

The couple removed the lawns, front and back, and replaced the backyard lawn with artificial grass. The main focus, however, was on the front yard. They already had two pygmy date palms, a queen palm and a kentia palm. Those stayed. Around them, Denee arranged groupings of multi-faceted plants. Near the street are two types of lantana, red and yellow. Behind them is a lacy senna shrub that produces clusters of yellow flowers. Interspersed with bushes of lavender, crimson-leaved myrtle and Agapanthus.

Lantana red

Lantana red

(Otay Waters Region)

Because the couple has an RV and their homeowners association wouldn’t allow them to install pavers on the other side of the house as a second driveway, they laid down broken rocks from Southwest Boulder and Stone. The rocks have warm reddish tones that complement the reds of the mulch. Along the rocky driveway are two large statice bushes, with its thick tufts of purple and white flowers. The statice, Denee said, volunteered in the rest of the garden.

yellow lantana

yellow lantana

(Otay Waters Region)

The couple was careful to consider tracking the sun throughout the day so that shade-loving plants love their red flowers. cliviaplanted along the porch entrance, would avoid the brightest light of the day, and others like the red lantana near the sidewalk could get more sun and produce more flowers.

Myrtle-leaved Milkweed

Myrtle-leaved Milkweed

(Otay Waters Region)

Instead of letting rainwater flow haphazardly down the street, the couple installed a dry river bed of stones. It runs from the top of the garden, where the gutter runs from the house down the broken stone path, diagonally across the garden, just behind the red lantana in the lower corner. The river bed now captures and directs water to surrounding plants. The couple found a miniature bridge on Amazon.com that fits the bed perfectly and appeals to their grandchildren. Interspersed with small boulders moved from a pile in the yard, where they sat when the Felbers bought the house. And the couple found space in front of the house for a small “lawn” of Dymondiaa dense, low mat of silver-green leaves that is also drought tolerant.

In the seven years the Felbers have had the garden, it has received positive attention from neighbors.

“We got a lot of compliments,” Bryan said. “The neighbor across the street says he loves looking out the window, especially in the spring when everything is blooming. I think we inspired other neighbors because there are a few down the street who have converted to drought resistance in their front yard. »

“And we have people stopping us when we’re in front, asking us questions,” Denee added. “It’s a fun and easy way to encourage others.”

A sun-loving senna shrub with five-petalled yellow flowers spreads its lacy branches in a yard.

A sun-loving senna shrub with five-petalled yellow flowers spreads its lacy branches across the Felbers’ front yard, just behind the colorful lantana.

(Otay Waters Region)


The biggest project cost the couple $21,000. This, however, includes the cost of sod for their backyard. For the front, the couple estimate it cost them between $7,000 and $8,000. Over the course of the landscaping, the basic outlay for labor and materials didn’t change much, but like many avid gardeners, they continued to find more plants they wanted to include and discovered that some of the they had installed needed to be replaced. The expenses, however, were partially offset by a $3,000 turf rebate and a $250 gift card to any nursery chosen for winning the landscape contest.

Water saved

The Felbers found that by replacing their spray nozzles with automated drip irrigation, planting drought-tolerant plants, and redirecting the flow of rainwater to the garden, their water use – and their bills – have been cut in half.

Purple statice and yellow lantana bring color to the front yard, atop a bed of gorilla hair mulch.

Purple statice and yellow lantana bring color to the front yard, atop a bed of gorilla hair mulch to help retain water. Small boulders, repurposed from the backyard, were placed all over the front, and the couple added a touch of charm with a miniature Amazon bridge that fits perfectly into the dried-up river bed.

(Otay Waters Region)

A Closer Look: Bryan and Denee Felber

Plants used: Pygmy date palms, Queen palm, Kentia palm, Silver Carpet (Dymondia margaretae), static (Limonium sinuatum), lavender (lavender), lantana, red cliviasenna, myrtle leaf crimson (Milkwort myrtifolia) and the African lily (Agapanthus).
Estimated prices: $7,000 to $8,000 plus cost of replacing yard lawn with artificial grass
Who did the work: Owners Bryan and Denee Felber and Quality Landscaping
How long did it take: 1 year
Water savings: 50 percent
• Participate in the San Diego County Water Authority’s WaterSmart Landscape Makeover program.
• You don’t need to buy as many plants as you think. The garden will initially appear sparse, but as the plants mature it will fill out.
• Use “The New Book Sunset Western Garden” like a vegetable bible.
• You can transition to a drought-tolerant garden gradually, replacing plants as you can. Visit places like The Water Conservation Gardenon the grounds of Cuyamaca College, to get inspired and buy plants at their plant sales.
• Plants have a lifespan. Be prepared over the years to replace them.

About the series
This is the first in an occasional series on the winners of the annual WaterSmart Landscape contest, held in partnership with the San Diego County Water Authority. To find out how to enter the next contest, visit landscapecontest.com.

For more details on WaterSmart Landscape Makeover courses and resources, visit landscapemakeover.watersmartsd.org. Landscape rebates are available through the Socal WaterSmart turf replacement program at socialwatersmart.com.

Golden is a freelance writer and blogger from San Diego.

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