Sonoma County partnership offers free landscaping plans to fire victims - and everyone else, too
Like the thousands of other people who lost their homes in the October 2017 firestorms that tore through Santa Rosa and the Sonoma Valley, Janis Powers also lost virtually everything growing around her house.
Gone were the hydrangea and the daphne flourishing against her garage. Ditto for the rosebushes that grew between her yard and her neighbor’s yard. All that survived of her cutting plants were a few bulbs.
“I love to pick flowers and bring them in the house,” said Powers, who had been living in her Coffey Park home exactly 23 years when it was destroyed by the Tubbs fire. Happily, she and her husband, Pat, moved into their newly rebuilt home Sept. 1.
And thanks to the efforts of the Sonoma County Water Agency, Petaluma’s nonprofit Daily Acts, and a cadre of volunteers, her front yard will soon be as fresh and new as her house.
Powers is one of four people selected to receive a free landscaping installation using a design based on a template created by the Sonoma- Marin Water Saving Partnership, a consortium of 12 water agencies that works together to come up with regional solutions for reducing water use.
The Powers are responsible for purchasing the plants and other materials. But the design was free and on Oct.12, volunteers will converge on her home and three others in Coffey Park to lay irrigation and put plants in the ground. When it is done, Powers will have two walkways — one from the sidewalk and one from the driveway — mulch, decorative rock, a sitting area and plants like French lavender that are drought hardy and won’t require a lot of water once they get established.
There are eight different designs to choose from among four key design concepts: a Sonoma Native Garden with an emphasis on native and fire-safe plants, the Sonoma Eco-Edible plan, with a mix of edible and habitat plants, the Sonoma Contemporary, a modern, minimalistic plan designed for easy maintenance, and the Sonoma Cottage, inspired by a relaxed English cottage garden but Sonoma-style with natural materials and colorful plantings. Each style has a plan for a small lot and a large lot.
The program was developed to meet the needs of fire victims. But the plans are free and available online for use by anyone at Savingwaterpartnership.org. The site also includes information about consulting with a trained Landscape Design Template advisor to adapt a plan for one’s individual lot. Many homeowners had their house insured but not necessarily their landscape. It ended up being another cost they didn’t anticipate,” said Ann Baker, a Petaluma landscape architect who was the lead designer and consultant for the project. Baker assembled a team of local designers, landscape contractors, civil engineers and the nonprofit Daily Acts, that teaches and promotes sustainable living, to help create the templates and engage the public in the design process.
Under normal circumstances, professional landscape design services can cost thousands of dollars, and that is before the first shovel goes into the ground, she added.
Many people also didn’t realize that new homes now require a permit for a front yard landscape. And since many of the homes in Coffey Park were built, the state developed stricter water efficiency laws for landscaping, Baker said. For many, the yard became just one more thing heaped onto the monumental task of rebuilding a home from the ground up.