La Mesa residents Bob and Shan Cissell’s conversion of 2,500 square feet of thirsty irrigated lawn into a creative conservation garden was selected by the Otay Water District as the winner of its 2019 WaterSmart Landscape Contest.
The annual competition recognizes landscape redesign projects among 13 participating San Diego County water agencies which best represent water-efficient landscaping principles.
Project inspired by free WaterSmart landscaping classes
Inspired after their participation in the Water Authority sponsored WaterSmart Landscape Makeover Program courses, and by the Water Conservation Garden in El Cajon, the Cissells began their La Mesa Conservation Garden project in April 2018 by removing the sod. They incorporated creative elements including a hand-built waterfall made from an old truck ladder rack, and other solid materials otherwise destined to become trash in a landfill.
Water from a swale feeds the waterfall, then travels through microtubes up a faux bonsai tree — made of concrete and unused materials – to irrigate flower baskets resting at the end of each tree branch. Large tree roots that once ran through their yard now decorate other areas of their yard.
New efficient irrigation includes drip tubing along the top of the ground, and corrugated drain piping below. The piping allows excess water to irrigate the slopes surrounding the home. To assure their drip system would continue to work properly, the Cissells came up with a system using a birdbath made from an old sink. When their drip system turns on, it feeds the birdbath. The water flows up into the sink and into the overflow hole and back down to the trees. No water is wasted, and mosquito reproduction is avoided. If the birdbath is dry, it means that the drip system is not working properly.
‘Not a single drop of water wasted’
“The coolest thing is that it was a 100 percent makeover from irrigated lawn that took a pathetic amount of water to keep it green, and it wasn’t even green,” said Shan Cissell. “It’s the design, the technical, the labor, the creativity, and the focus on not a single drop of water being wasted that we took seriously.”
The Cissells maximized their viewing area by strategically placing curved walking paths of decomposed granite throughout their yard. Paths are surrounded by vegetation and water-wise plants such as succulents, honeysuckle, pincushion flowers, and manzanita. The Cissells say they their efforts have reduced their water bill as much as 25 to 30 percent.
“The Cissells’ unique project proves that creating a beautiful WaterSmart landscape can be both cost-efficient and environmentally beneficial,” says Mitch Thompson, Otay Water District board president and Water Conservation Garden Joint Powers Authority member. “The benefits can be attributed to their efforts in incorporating recycled material along with water-saving features.”
Winners are selected based on overall attractiveness, design, plant selection, and efficient irrigation and maintenance. The Cissells were recognized with a certificate of recognition, gift certificate to a local nursery of their choice, and other promotional items. View more photos of the Cissells’ winning landscape here.