Gary Woods relandscaped the front and back yards at his northwest Fresno home, starting with removing all the lawn.
"I've been mowing since I was 9," he says. "It's quite freeing now."
For that and other efforts, Woods is one of six homeowner recipients of the 2011 Central Valley Friendly Landscape Award for the Fresno-Clovis area. He and the others -- Martha Claro Arevalo, Sally Carroll, Mike and Corky Peterson, Bruce and Amy Roberts and Christine and Howard Watkins -- were recently honored at a reception where they received 18-inch-tall Margaret Hudson quail sculptures with recognition plaques.
The city of Fresno this year started the award program, which seeks to educate home gardeners about creating and maintaining healthy and beautiful gardens. The program recommends seven landscape principles: conserve water and ensure water quality, conserve energy and air quality, nurture the soil, reduce garden waste, practice integrated pest management, select appropriate plants, and create habitat and protect wildlife.
A common effort by the award-winners was modifying or eliminating their lawns to reduce water consumption. All say others can do similar efforts at their homes.
Martha Claro Arevalo
The yards at Arevalo's northeast Fresno home on East Pintail Circle were mainly lawn in 2005 when she moved in.
"Just a few bushes," she remembers.
She wanted a large garden, instead.
So she hired people to remove the grass and create brick walkways that she designed. She also wanted to plant flowers unlike those in her native Colombia in South America.
"Tropic plants die in the winter," she says.
She planted lots of geraniums and roses that survive the winter.
She says she continues to receive positive comments for her efforts, especially from female friends.
"Some people don't like all the flowers; they like the grass," she says. "It looks pretty to me."
Carroll didn't want any lawn when she was buying a new Granville home on South Claremont Avenue in southeast Fresno.
"I worked with the developer," she says.
It was her clean canvas. She went to work in the front planting flowering shrubs -- salvia, rock rose, butterfly wand, lavender, rose mallow and lantana.
She also planted trees, such as chaste, redwood, bay and Japanese blueberry. A gardener installed drip irrigation.
She planted a variety of shrubs and trees also in the back. She and her husband designed the watering system.
Mike and Corky Peterson
The Petersons created low water-consumption yards at their East Waterford Avenue home in northeast Fresno.
In the front, they laid bark mulch about three inches thick atop landscape fabric, which serves as a weed block. They also planted manzanitas, yews, society garlic and licorice.
In the back, they left a circle of fruit trees and replaced red-apple ice plant with buffalo grass, which needs only a quarter-inch watering weekly and hardly any mowing.
The grass has grown six inches tall since it was planted in the spring -- and it still hasn't been mowed.
The Petersons also replaced sprinklers in both yards with drip irrigation. He says they're pleased with the lower water bills: "We've cut our outside water usage to a fourth of what was normal."
Bruce and Amy Roberts
Looking to buy a home, Amy Roberts just wanted one with a view.
The couple bought one on West River Bottom Avenue in northwest Fresno with a backyard view of the San Joaquin River and east Sierra.
Both yards, however, needed a lot work.
"The whole backyard was one slab of concrete," she remembers.
He broke up the slap. Then, the couple created a backyard landscape using native, drought-tolerant plants and stones and rocks they collected on their travels. They also created a fish pond.
In the front, the Roberts removed some grass and a tall palm tree and created a riverbed look with boulders, bunch grass and purple society garlic.
Now, they love their view, back and front.
Christine and Howard Watkins
The Watkins' front yard on West Dovewood Lane in northwest Fresno had grass until they tore it out and replaced it with drought-resistent plants.
The plants are strawberry arbutus, foxglove, rock rose and a variety of sedum, providing multiple color year-round. They also created a curving dry creek with boulders that crosses a walkway.
"Think of urban woods landscape," he says.
All the dogwood trees stayed in place, but they planted a ginkgo tree whose leaves turn golden yellow.
The idea was to develop both water and color zones, front and back.
He says, "It takes minimum maintenance now and saves a lot of water."
When Woods removed the flat Bermuda grass at his North Rafael Avenue home, he had birds and butterflies in mind.
"My goal was to have color 12 months out of the year and attract hummingbirds 12 months -- and to get away from mowing my grass," he says.
He planted Southwestern and native plants, including lots of salvias. One, salvia leucantha, or Mexican bush sage, blooms purple fuzzy flowers.
"It's beautiful," he says. "Salvias really attract the hummingbirds."