SANTA MONICA, CALIFORNIA, USED to be a sleepy beach town. To house its seasonal visitors, small homes and bungalows were built on very small pieces of property. However, it was only 12 miles from downtown Los Angeles.

Over the years, the open space between downtown Los Angeles and Santa Monica began to fill with homes and apartment buildings. With the opening of free ways,

Santa Monica was in a great location. If you like the beach and being near the ocean, it’s a great place to live. People started buying homes there as their permanent residences. Eventually, new owners began renovating; some even tore down the old homes and built new ones.

Our story begins with Dr. Paul Song and his wife, Lisa Ling. They purchased a home in Santa Monica, and knew from the beginning that they would raze the house and start fresh. Trying to build a modest home on a small footprint can be quite challenging. In addition, the couple was committed to a home that was built with a zero energy system. They decided to build their home to LEED Platinum Certification for homes specifications.

The new home would contain approximately 5,000 square feet, which left very little room around the outside of the building for landscaping. Yet they wanted some landscaping that would not only beautify the property, but would give them privacy as well. Again, their mandate was to build an ecogreen sustainable landscape.

Enter Marco DiMaccio of PUNC- House LLC. DiMaccio was the principal project designer for this house. He, in turn, began to interview landscape designers, and went through 50 of them before he and the client settled on the newly formed partnership between veteran designer Dennis Stevens and longtime collaborator Karla Lindeman, Lindeman/Stevens Landscape Design, Los Angeles, California.

The client and DiMaccio were adamant that this house be as environmentally compliant as possible. They wanted a small carbon footprint, with plant material that was drought tolerant, so as to use a minimum amount of water. During the interview session, it became apparent that both Lindeman and Stevens had the same passion.

“This particular project took on a very special meaning,” said Dennis Stevens, who calls himself a landscape environmental designer. “When we met the client and Mr. DiMaccio, I was impressed with the emphasis they put on ‘being green’. This, of course, was exactly the kind of project our company loves to be involved in.”

DiMaccio designed and drew the landscape plan, and Lindeman/Stevens managed the plant selection as well as the coordination and installation of the landscape. Working with a discriminating client takes a person who understands what the end result should be, and/or has the same feeling for the project. “We would bring cuttings and samples of plant material, as well as photographs, for the clients to see and approve,” said Stevens.

The house itself was built in a unique way: from the front entryway you walk through the house to a center court. This court contains a pool and was a key area to be landscaped. Past the center court is the guest house and the garages.

To provide privacy, Podocarpus was installed along one side of the property. On the other side, they wanted to build a living fence; however, the mandate for minimum use of water came into play.

Being a little creative, they acquired some cuttings of synthetic turf that looks like moss and hung it on the wall. “It makes the wall look alive and gives the court a soft look,” said Stevens. “But it also does not use any water.”

“We didn’t want to copy gardens from Europe,” said Stevens. “We were trying to create an American garden. I think we achieved it.”

Although the landscaped area was small—approximately 1,500 square feet—every component that went into it was well thought out.

Palo Verde trees were planted, because they stay green all year round yet bloom with color in the spring. Manzanita trees, gold-yellow ice plant, and cacti as well as other succulents were used to create a softness as well as adding some color.

A 5,000-gallon tank that will harvest rain water will be used to supply all the water needed for irrigation. The irrigation that was installed is all drip, and it is hooked up to a RainBird ESP_SMT irrigation controller that utilizes historical and real-time weather data to determine the onsite current weather conditions and optimum water needs of the landscape.

Synthetic turf was used along the side of the house and in the courtyard. Just about every part of the old house that was torn down was recycled. For example, the old roof is now the floor of the second story. Whatever was not used in the new home was recycled by others, to make sure none of the pieces of the old house went to a dump.

The Ling property, as it is known, not only offers its owners a great home to live in, its landscape is simple but elegant and certainly has a low carbon footprint.

Who said it can’t be done?