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Monrovia Bungalow
getting started
It took moving out of California for Andrée Matton to get an appreciation of California native plants.

“I used to live in Santa Monica and I tried to grow everything inappropriate,” she said. “Nothing was really really happy because it didn’t belong there. You’re always working and spending money on gardens like that.”

She changed her mind about how to garden when she moved to Seattle and bought a house that had been owned by a landscape designer who had planted the property in Washington-state natives.

“It was so effortlessly beautiful,” she said. “So when I came back (to California) I decided that’s what I’m going to do and I did; they’re happy and I’m happy.”

About 40 percent of her 60x100-foot Monrovia lot is planted with natives, but that percentage will increase, as she continues adding native plants for accent. The garden, which is lush in front and more spare in the back, features several salvias, including a vibrant fuchsia one, Salvia chiapensis. Her favorites are the delicate coral bells (Heuchera), which polka dot the garden with pink, but allow viewers a clear look at the plants beyond them.

“The iris and the coral bells come up together and you can look through the pink coral bells to the purple and cream (of the iris),” she said. “I love it.”

Saving water is almost a lifelong pursuit for the Canadian transplant.

“I came here from Québec in the fourth grade and I had a teacher here who told us above saving water,” she recalled. “Coming from Eastern Canada, it was a really new idea to me that you should save water—it’s so abundant there—and that so impressed me. Even as an adult, I’ve been sort of a fanatic about saving water.”

She waters with micro-spray sprinklers for 20-minute segments over a two-day period. In the winter, if it isn’t raining, she waters once a week. In the summer, from June to October, she waters every two or three weeks because that's all her native garden needs.

“I’ll say to people I water twice a month and they’ll say ‘you mean twice a day?’ And I’ll say ‘no,’” she said. “My neighbors are literally out watering three times a day in July and August.”

the front yard
The showiest part of her garden is the front, because that’s what most people see, and Matton said she wanted people to know that drought-tolerant gardens could be lush and beautiful.

“There’s color all year around,” she said. “Even things like manzanita (Arctostaphylos), which only has tiny white flowers, even when the flowers are gone there’s a lot of red and yellow on it so it’s colorful.

“So many people walking by tell me how beautiful it is,” she said. “There are people who walk by who tell me they saw it planted and wondered how well it would turn out, but that it’s beautiful now.”

the back yard
The back yard is starker. A Coast Live Oak (Quercus agrifolia) dominates the landscape, which also includes society garlic (Tulbaghia violacea), lavendar (Lavandula dentata), salvias, Pacific Coast iris, native California evergreen grass (Leymus 'Canyon Prince'), and coral bells.

“People don’t understand the back because it isn’t as showy,” she said. “But what I like about it is that it’s very soothing, almost a Zen quality.”

The biggest surprise for the uninitiated is the scents of the garden, Matton said.

“People expect it to not smell like a garden but the smell is so wonderful, especially in the morning,” she said. “There are also tons of butterflies and hummingbirds.”

Her efforts have not gone unnoticed. In June she received a beautification award from the city’s garden club—an award Matton said she was especially pleased to accept.

“I was nominated by a neighbor who lives a few houses away and he has a more traditional garden.” Matton said. “Most of the (local garden enthusiasts) have the more traditional gardens; I’m pleased that they recognized that this kind of garden could be beautiful, too.”