A Smart Garden

      more than just a pretty space


How to grow a lush, low-water use landscape with Mediterranean and California native plants       
by Maryann Ridini Spencer (@MaryannRidiniSpencer)
Sustainability Now News
August 1, 2018

“When most people think of a stunning landscape, they tend to think of expansive, sprawling green lawns. However, these types of landscapes also consume a lot of water, negatively impacting our low reserves during the ongoing drought,” said Cari Vega, owner of A Smart Garden in Downtown Ventura. Vega taught the well-attended July 14th free gardening class, “Plant Selection for Water Wise Landscapes,” presented in partnership with Ventura Water.

“Our city falls into the Mediterranean climate and enjoys a similar eco-climate to the West Coasts of Australia, Europe, the West tip of South Africa, and the West Coast of Chile,” continued Vega.  “We’re fortunate that the variety of low-water Mediterranean and California native-plants that thrive in this environment offer quite a beautiful, bold and lush color palette.”

During the class, Vega stressed that one of the first things a homeowner should identify is their yard’s soil type.  “In Ventura, we’ve got clay, sand or the ideal loam,” said Vega. “What works in mid-town Ventura, might not work closer to the ocean.  Knowing what kind of soil you’re working with will help you determine the best plants to use and may even influence design elements in the garden like raised beds.”

Vega suggested that homeowners study up on the many varieties of low-water plants and “what plant goes where” at VenturaCountyGardening. com, talk to a local landscape design professional.

Vega stresses creating a plan starting with the tallest planting — trees, followed by shrubs, perennials, and ground cover to ensure proper spacing so that the landscape can thrive.

To help direct water where it will be of most use, Vega suggests digging a small trench around the perimeter of the landscape as well as digging 4” trenches around trees and filling them with mulch.  

Some suggested low-water trees that work well in Ventura:  Peppermint Willow, Pink Melaleuca, Australian Willow, and Pink Mimosa. Examples of low-water shrubs that provide a colorful backdrop include Texas Ranger, Neon Pink Callistemon, Pink Breath of Heaven, Buddleia, Protea & Grevillea.

Perennials: “Dusty Miller is a member of the daisy family and has silvery gray leaves that make for a dynamic backdrop. Everything looks terrific in front of it. Other colorful choices include Monkey Flower, Penstemon, Yarrow, Salvia, Lavender, Ivy Geranium, even herbs such as thyme, rosemary, and oregano.

Ground cover: “To get the green lushness without the maintenance and water required, opt for green varieties like Korean Grass or Thyme; neither requires mowing.” Find out about other gardening classes, visit: venturawater.net and asmartgarden.com.

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by Maryann Ridini Spencer (@MaryannRidiniSpencer)

Sustainability Now News

July 2018

 “A smart garden is more than just a pretty space,” according to Cari Vega, owner of A Smart Garden located at 33 S. Palm Street in Downtown Ventura, a new City of Ventura Certified Green Business.


A charming retail nursery located in a historic 1890 building that features high ceilings and brick walls and a large outdoor patio and environs, A Smart Garden opened its doors in 2017 to provide the community with climate-appropriate plants and organic supplies and products to foster community’s environmental sustainability.


“I always envisioned that someday I would run a garden shop that carried only organic and sustainable products,” said Vega, a former nursery sales rep, landscape design professional, and gardening educator who formerly sold products to the venues previous owners. “So, when I heard this beautiful space was available, I made my decision to open the nursery.”


Plants, garden supplies, pottery, gift items, wind chimes, and a variety of trinkets cover the decorative, inviting walls and antique tables at A Smart Garden.


“In addition to selling native plants and organic products, I’ve made a conscious choice to include inventory that people can appreciate and enjoy in their outdoor spaces. In this busy and sometimes stressful world, it’s important to slow down and enjoy nature.”


When it comes to becoming a certified green business, Vega, always mindful of keeping green even before her nursery owning days, admits that because of past habits, becoming certified was a snap.


“We’re big on recycling, separating out our trash and recyclables. We also have low flow faucets and toilets in our bathrooms, and in addition to installing LED lights wherever possible, we have our lights on timers and post stickers to remind staff and guests to turn off the lights when not in use,” said Vega.


“We also water our plants by hand using a hose-end trigger sprayer so that there’s no water waste, and while we welcome our guests bringing reusable bags, we offer compostable paper bags to carry product home as needed.”


Staff and guests also are educated about environmental sustainability, and A Smart Garden holds at least two gardening classes or workshops a month.  When customers are perplexed about what to plant in their spaces, Vega asks that they bring in photos and measurements and helps to plot out a plan that will meet her customer’s vision.


“I enjoy sharing my knowledge about design, plants, and sustainability.  It also puts a tremendous smile on my face to know that all the products we offer to care for one’s garden and landscape are organic and sustainable. Smart gardening is essential for air, soil, and water quality. So, regardless of whether customers are mindful (or not) of what's in our products, knowing they're good for the environment gives me peace of mind."


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Water saving tips for your smart garden

Toro’s Scott Donoho teaches a free City Gardening Class at A Smart Garden in Downtown

Sustainability Now News
by Maryann Ridini Spencer

June 20, 2018 admin

Every year, one Saturday morning a month except for December, the City of Ventura and Ventura Water hold free Gardening Classes offering informative lectures and Q&As, practical water-wise tips, and fun, hands-on experience. Classes cover everything from smart controllers to the benefits of permeable surfaces, how to install an ocean-friendly landscape and everything from A to Z about designing and maintaining water-wise landscapes and balanced garden eco-systems.

At a recent Drip Irrigation Workshop that took place at A Smart Garden in Downtown Ventura, I spoke to Toro Company’s Scott Donoho about irrigation best practices for residents. Here are some of his top tips.

The Most Important Thing You Can Do To Eliminate Water Waste — Check Your Irrigation System For Leaks

Outdoor water use accounts for upwards of 30-60% of the total household water use. As much as 50% of the water used outdoors can be lost to wind, evaporation, and runoff. One of the most important things you can do to eliminate water waste is to observe your irrigated areas after watering to see what you are losing to the sidewalk, driveway, or street. Make adjustments to the clock by adjusting the run times. Instead of having one long run time break them up into two run times to allow the water to be absorbed instead of trailing off onto impervious surfaces.

Adjust Your Irrigation Schedule So You’re Not Watering Your Hard Surfaces

If you discover that the hard surfaces around your yard (your driveway, sidewalk, patio) are saturated, or that water is flowing from your yard into the street, check your irrigation system to make sure water is directed into your landscape. Additionally, adjust your irrigation clock and make any necessary adjustments.

Repair and Design Your Landscape Before Making Irrigation Changes

Find out what isn’t working with your irrigation and make the appropriate repairs. Then, think about the changes you may want to make in your landscape and the uses you’ll require. If you’ll be making small changes and feel confident about making them, do it yourself. However, if you decided to remove your turf, or make other significant changes, consult with a C-27 Licensed California Contractor to discuss your ideas and to plan out what type of an irrigation system will work best for your needs.

Eliminate Plant Stress and Over-Watering

Since Ventura has a mandatory limitation allowing residents to water only twice per week, if you start to see stress in your plants (i.e., they are turning brown or look wilted), it may be that you are watering too little.

If you see that the top layer of your soil is always saturated, it may be that you’re watering too much.

As a reminder, the City of Ventura remains in a stage 3 water shortage event. The following activities are prohibited and are considered a violation of the City’s Water Waste Ordinance.

Be mindful to:

  • Never allow water to run and be wasted during outdoor use
  • Limit the use of potable water irrigation to two days per week
  • Fix water leaks (Don’t allow water leaks to persist for more than 48 hours)
  • When using a handheld hose, use an automatic shutoff nozzle
  • Don’t operate fountains unless the water is recirculating
  • Never hose down hardscape surfaces such as driveways and sidewalks
  • Don’t irrigate your outdoor landscape during (and within) 48 hours of measureable rainfall.

Sustainability Now News is a new column in the Breeze by Award-Winning Screenwriter, Author, Producer, TV and Print Lifestyle Journalist Maryann Ridini Spencer with a focus on the environmental, social, economic, and cultural pillars of sustainability covering green practices, programs, news and events, industry leaders, green business, and healthy living ideas.

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A Smart Garden Chamber ribbon cutting

Ventura Breeze

A Smart Garden held an official Chamber of Commerce Ribbon Cutting ceremony on Monday, March 20th, the first day of Spring. Councilmember Mike Tracy was very careful to not cut off his thumb while cutting the ribbon. Their grand opening will take place on Saturday, March 25th from 8am – 5pm.

A Smart Garden is located at 33 S. Palm St.
www.asmartgarden.com  667-8585  [email protected].

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Drought Tolerant Garden Tips
Living 805.com
October 20, 2016

Creating a Drought Tolerant Garden

While we try to conserve, one problem still lingers for homeowners: What do we do about our landscaping? Three seaside landscape specialists are here to help you create a beautiful and drought tolerant garden.

• Lori Snyder, The Plant Lady- 2340 Kingsbridge Lane
• Cari Vega, A Smart Garden- asmartgarden.com
• Brendon East, Channel Islands Landscape- channelislandslandscape.com

First step? Check to see what you may be doing that’s not working.

“I see a lot of landscapes where the soil is always wet” say Brendon East of Channel Island Landscape. Having consistently wet soil can promote root rot especially with plants that do not require much water.

Cari Vega from A Smart Garden adds, “Astroturf is hotter than grass by 60°. Low-growing, drought-tolerant plants like Herniaria Glabra, Dymondia, Creeping Thyme and slow-growing sod blends are beautiful alternatives.”

As for what you can do for a successful lawn or garden? All agree on several key tips:

  • Mulch is your best bet, recommends Lori. It holds in moisture by up to 60%.

    Drip irrigation is a must. “Water is focused on the root zone of the plant and doesn’t waste water” says Brendon.

    Water Deep. “If you water well the first few months of planting, it really gets down to the roots,” says Cari. “Then you can taper off.”

And of course, use plants that have low water needs. What are they?

Lori combines succulents & drought tolerant ornamentals to satisfy her need for color and softness. While a favorite is Rock Purslane, its hot pink flowers bloom above blue-green foliage nearly year-round. Next time you are on Kingsbridge Lane, stop and smell the flowers in Plant Lady’s beautiful garden!

Brendon also likes mixing decorative grasses with succulents. His favorites are called Agave ‘Blue Flame’- a handsome and water-wise succulent lending a Mediterranean feel, and Lomandra Breeze- a great choice for mass plantings and performs well in sandy or dry soil.

In addition, Cari recommends trees and perennial shrubs. Another choice is the Peppermint Willow tree, which has rich green or deep purple leaves that tolerate windy and seaside conditions. The Salvia is an easy care plant that attracts hummingbirds and tolerates dry soil. Also, it is good for cut flowers as it is in bloom all year long.

With just a few of these changes, you can create a beautiful, water friendly landscape too.

Lori’s Gardening Tips:

“Succulents need to be cleaned often by removing the dead leaves or they tend to look unkept. You can always cut them back severely and they will grow back fuller and more beautiful!”

“Every day I  know I get to come home to the best kept secret in California.”

“Although we are fortunate to have the sea breezes, they can dry out plants in a hurry.  To help with this, my husband has installed drip irrigation.  As a result, the water penetrates the soil instead of the air.”

“Some favorites are Geraniums, Rudbeckia (Black Eyed Susan), Echinacea, Lavender, Rock Purslane, Red Fountain Grass, Daylillies, Liriope, and Shasta Daisies. Milk Weed and Buddleia (Butterfly Bush) are loved by Monarchs.”

“While the plants I’ve listed do quite well even under our drought restrictions, the key to a drought tolerant garden is watering deep. Most of all, water thoroughly. If you only water the top, you wont have any luck.”

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Five outdoorsy things to do this weekend (Aug. 14-16)
VC Star
From staff reports
Posted:  10:00 AM, Aug 14, 2015
Updated:  10:13 AM, Aug 14, 2015
outdoors | entertainment

5. BEAT THE DROUGHT IN VENTURA: Green Thumb International is hosting a three-week series focused on drought-tolerant landscaping. Cari Vega, a landscape designer and founder of A Smart Garden, will host the free classes.

The first class, on drought-proofing your garden, runs Saturday from 10:30-11:30 a.m. Other classes will be held Aug. 29 (lawn replacement options) and Sept. 12 (drought-tolerant landscape design).

For more great outdoors content, go to vcstar.com/outdoors and follow us on Twitter @vcsoutdoors and Instagram @vcs_outdoors


Ventura sessions focus on drought-tolerant landscaping
VC Star
3:22 PM, Aug 10, 2015
3:29 PM, Aug 10, 2015

Ventura, Calif. - Drought-tolerant landscaping will be the focus of a three-session summer series being offered by Green Thumb International.

A SMART GARDEN, a Ventura County-based landscape design and consulting firm, will present the series at the Ventura nursery. Cari Vega, a landscape designer and garden educator with 25 years experience in the horticulture industry, is the founder of A SMART GARDEN.

Classes begin Saturday and will continue on Aug. 29 and Sept. 12, 2015.  Each class will run from 10:30-11:30 a.m. 

Topics are Drought-Proofing your Garden; Lawn Replacement Options; and Drought-Tolerant Landscape Design.

To RSVP or for more information, call 881-8100.

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