We love beautiful WaterSmart landscapes, and even more, we love to highlight those that our customers have installed. Join us as we highlight different Helix Water District customers and their beautiful, water-wise, sustainable yards – and get inspired to upgrade your landscape.

Customer profile: Morris residence
Neighborhood: Horizon Hills in El Cajon

When Betty Clement Morris and Tom Morris purchased their one-acre Horizon Hills home 23 years ago, they became the owners of property with a beautiful mountain view, a few established trees and a lot of dirt and weeds. After years of envisioning a more inviting entrance, they finally got inspired to start their project after attending a landscape makeover class hosted by Helix Water District. They installed an eclectic and lush low-water landscape that highlights their mountain views, an artificial turf putting green for Tom and low-volume irrigation to water the plants efficiently, incorporating both form and function in their landscape design.

Q: What was here before?

A: Being dedicated “academics” my husband, Tom, and I knew little about taking care of a house on an acre of land when we bought it 23 years ago. We had a very pretty entry way dominated by a large bougainvillea with 10 stairs and a walkway leading up to the front door, but when you got to the top of the stairs what you saw was a flat area with about 4800 square feet of weeds.  There were two tipuana tipu trees in the middle of the yard and a few other bushes around the perimeter.

We’ve made various attempts to cut and water the weeds, and through the years the yard has gone back and forth from high water green to dry dead weeds and dirt. Always in the back of our minds was a vision of a beautiful garden.  We didn’t want to put in plants that were too tall because from the house they would block the view of the mountains in the distance. But I wanted some color, flowers and a cool lush feeling to counteract the heat of El Cajon – drought resistant, but no hot dry desertscape for me!


Q: Where did your design ideas come from?

A:  Everywhere! I took gardening classes and joined a garden club. We received valuable input from Tom Piergrossi, Chris Wotruba, Betty Newton, Rancho San Diego Garden Club members and the Conservation Garden. I started collecting drought resistant plants that I liked, and had many in pots, but couldn’t find anyone to work with us to plant what we wanted without a complete plan on paper. And we didn’t want to be limited to a particular “style” of garden since many of the plants we liked were representative of different styles. Having to choose plants that could survive the hot sun of the southern exposure when the tipu trees were bare, but could flower in the partial shade when the trees were full of leaves and flowering added to the perplexity. We were overwhelmed and we couldn’t get started.

Q: What motivated this project?

A:  After we both retired, I took the water district’s 2014 landscape makeover class with the emphasis on drought tolerant plants and we were finally inspired and able to organize it well enough to start planning on our own.  It went slowly because we changed our minds as we went along. I wanted the garden and by then my husband wanted a putting green so we divided the yard in half.  Francisco Ramirez had put in a paver driveway for us, and my husband asked him to put in an artificial grass putting green. In the process, Francisco laid a weed barrier on the other half of the yard, laid out the drip sprinkler system, and Tom and I started planting a little at a time. We used left over “grass” from the putting green to fill in a strip near the house. It looks quite natural with no maintenance other than blowing off the leaves along with the pathway clean up.

Q:  What do you like best about your new landscape?

A:  It’s finished and we no longer need to be embarrassed in the face of all our garden-lover friends and everyone who has helped us wondering why we haven’t progressed! We feel free to enjoy it and love coming home and, at the top of the stairs, seeing each new plant as it blooms.  From the house we view a colorful garden with the mountains in the background. Tom enjoys his putting green and the green adds to the serenity. When the tipu trees bloom they leave a lovely carpet of gold over the whole yard. Spectacular!

Q:  Are you saving water?

A:   At first I thought we weren’t because we had to make several changes to the watering system. While dealing with the front yard drip, we also replaced several other sprinkler systems with MP Rotors and drip. Now that I look back at our water bills, I see that we have indeed decreased the number of water units by about 100-200 units per year. Given that we have an acre of irrigated land, three controllers and 17 watering stations, that’s significant.

Q:  Does it take more or less time for maintenance?

A:  Up to this point, it has certainly taken more maintenance than before when we had nothing in the front yard. It took several irrigation experts and large adjustments to find the right watering system for the plants we have and figure how to link it to our other front yard systems. We just recently conquered this dilemma. We anticipate much less work now that the major labor has been done.

Q:  Do you have any tips for other homeowners?

A:  1)  Be patient! For all the plants we put in, it seemed sparse before this year when it filled in and burst into bloom. However, we now see that we have more plants than we need in one place. I suspect that some plants will simply take over the smaller ones if we choose to let them–the low maintenance way. Or we can keep cutting the big ones back.

2)  Don’t be afraid to make changes until you get it right! For the lantana that spreads along the ground, the emitters got lost under the plants and were hard to see to know when to adjust them. We put the heads too close together and overwatered the plants. When we changed that line to low volume mini sprinklers, we used less water, covered the area better and could monitor the usage.

Thank You

Thank you, Morris family for sharing your lovely and sustainable landscape with us. You’ve created a landscape that is not only beautiful, but also meets the needs and wants of your family.

Inspired to upgrade your landscape but not sure where to start? Consider registering for a free WaterSmart Landscape Program workshop or series of classes.

Do you have a beautiful, WaterSmart landscape that you would like to share with others? Contact us at conserve@helixwater.org and you could be featured in a future blog article.

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