Helping a Canyon Landscape

For the past two and a half years, a group of gardeners and I have volunteered to rehabilitate the landscape of a five-home cul de sac in Trabuco Canyon. The site is 12 acres in size and is owned by a non-profit, The Teen Project, that shelters women who were subject to human trafficking and homelessness.

The property was formerly owned by Boys Town, a Catholic charity that helped troubled teens. Boys Town put the property up for sale and, in late 2018, The Teen Project acquired the site.

When we first saw the site in January 2019, we identified invasive plants that had overtaken much of the natural landscape, including fountain grass (Pennisetum alopecuroides), ice plant (Carpobrotus edulis), and sea lavender (Limonium). Black mustard (Brassica nigra) was also present on the property.

Fountain grass overtaking a hillside. (E. Wallace)

The Teen Project was busy getting the homes repaired and ready for residents to move in, and the landscape needed help. The new owners considered using artificial turf to solve some of the problems in the landscape, but I stepped in with a couple of partners to offer an alternative: Plant a natural landscape instead of using artificial turf. The natural landscape would be healing for the land and for the future residents.

Sea lavender growing in the middle of a native yucca (Hesperoyucca whipplei). (E. Wallace)

We offered to plant three front yards with California native plants. Native plants belong in the canyon, are beautiful, and require minimal water once established. In January 2019, with the help of volunteers, we began removing invasive plants and planting 300 one-gallon native plants. We removed about four semi-truck loads of invasive plants the first four months, and by April we had landscaped three large front yards and more.

That first year, we completed all of the work by hand. As the project progressed, we hired a landscape contractor to help with drainage and more complex designed areas like the butterfly garden shown below.

If you would like to learn more about the project, you are invited to attend a presentation I am giving at the San Clemente Garden Club this Wednesday, September 1, at 2 p.m. at St. Andrews by the Sea United Church at 2001 Calle Frontera in San Clemente. Join us and enjoy some dramatic photographs of our progress and hear about future plans for the site.

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