As the state grapples with drought conditions, Napa is looking at long-term strategies for saving water.

One of the strategies taking root: Smarter gardens.

In north Napa, the city has created a water-wise demonstration landscape so homeowners can see how to slash outdoor water use.

“Landscaping is a long-term solution to the drought situation,” said Patrick Costello, a water resources analyst for the city of Napa. “More water-efficient landscapes are the key to our future.”

Napa landscape designer Bill Snowden, who works at private homes and business, put it bluntly. “Water in the future will be the limiting factor in our development. If we have another drought year, it is going to get ugly.”

At the 9,000-square-foot outdoor water-wise landscape at Napa Fire Station No. 3, at the corner of Solano and Trower avenues, Napans can get a first-hand look at water- sipping plants, different kinds of drip systems and a high-tech weather station that determines exactly how much water a landscape needs on a daily basis.

The space features four kinds of gardens — native plants, lawn substitution, water-wise color and a firewise section. The finishing touches are being put on the site this month. The garden is accessible to the public.

Costello estimates the fire station can cut its outdoor water use in half — once the plants get established, which will take a couple of years.

Visitors can see first-hand about 60 different perennial Mediterranean-type plants which, once established, need only a sip of water to survive and thrive.

The site includes clumps of pungent society garlic, Elijah Blue Fescue, Creeping Red fescue, the sword-like Beaked Yucca and the yellow flowering Sticky Monkey Flower, all of which require a minimum amount of water.

A decomposed granite pathway leads visitors through the demonstration site.

Making a demonstration

The idea of the demonstration garden began to grow last year when the city’s water division announced it was accepting professional landscape architectural designs for a demonstration landscape. The goal was to get rid of the station’s thirsty lawn.

After whittling it down to four finalists, the winning design was from two Napans — Snowden and Jimmy Van Winden of Van Winden Landscape Inc. The duo each created their own landscape plan, then blended the two into one design that was submitted to the water department.

Homeowners incorporating similar plants, using drip irrigation and hooking up to a weather station, can probably cut their water bill in half, according to Costello.

Costello said the selection committee liked the aesthetics of Snowden’s designs, along with the incorporation of a firewise section.

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It was a “no-brainer” to have a firewise section, since the display garden is at a fire station, said Snowden.

Napa Fire Capt. Jim Pope has nothing but praise for the demonstration garden.

“I think it is awesome. It is everything we hoped it would be … the water-wise and firewise came together nicely. We are quite proud of it,” Pope said.

Pope believes it’s important for the fire department to provide a good example to the community, and discussions are ongoing about planting similar gardens at the city’s other three stations.

“At the future station No. 5, in Browns Valley, we hope these elements can be incorporated,” he said.

Pope said he wants to see people snooping in his garden.

“We encourage the community to come by and take a look. We may not be able to answer their water-wise questions … but we can answer firewise landscape questions,” he said. “People should take advantage of this opportunity.”

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