Free Designs & Ideas for your Front Yard

Anyone can design a grass lawn: decide from among about five types of grass, and then throw down grass seeds or slabs of sod. But creating a beautiful water friendly landscape opens up a whole new world of possibilities. Your choice of plants and non-plant material and how you arrange them is nearly infinite. The following strategies give you simple yet flexible tools for creating your own unique and beautiful landscape.

Virtual Tour Beautiful Landscapes

Because viewing on-line photographs of beautiful landscapes is such a powerful tool for designing your own landscapes, we’ve identified two more sites with excellent ‘virtual tours’ of terrific landscapes that thrive in our region’s semi-arid climate:

  • From LA Coastal Water Wise Gardening
  • From BeWaterWise garden tours

What Makes a Landscape Beautiful?

There is a reason some landscapes stand out as being particularly beautiful. What is it about those landscapes that make them beautiful and can you incorporate those elements into your landscapes?


Hardscape is something in your landscape such as a walkway or patio, constructed of material such as brick, stone, wood or concrete. Hardscape can increase the beauty and usefulness of your landscape (by adding a patio, for example), but can often be the most expensive portion of a new landscape.

Controlling Runoff

One of the primary focuses of your new landscape is to use our limited water resources more efficiently by creating beautiful landscapes more in tune with our region’s semi-arid climate and limited water supplies. But with a little additional work, your project can also help achieve another very important goal: reducing the amount of polluted urban runoff spoiling our coastal marine habitat. This is easy to do because it tends not to rain really hard: most of the time it rains here (92% of the rain-days), we have less than 1-inch of precipitation. Urban runoff damages coastal marine habitats and, during storm events, can flood our neighborhoods by overwhelming storm drain systems. There is no easier or less expensive way for each of us to do our share of controlling runoff from our property than when we are relandscaping our yard. Here are a few strategies for your consideration.

  • Design and use a “retention basin”
  • Urban runoff is often the primary source of ocean pollution. Surfrider has an Ocean Friendly Garden method to help combat this runoff and make our oceans healthy again.
  • Grading: this is another simple approach that will capture most of the rain falling on your yard except in the most severe downpours. Simply re-grade your yard so that water will flow towards the center of the yard, away from the sidewalk and driveway, and away from the house. You only need a very minor change in elevation to prevent most rainwater from leaving your landscape: a change in elevation of as little as one-inch over the course of three or four feet is usually adequate. Remember that when we do get precipitation, on 92% of those days we get less than one inch of rain, a small amount easily managed.
  • Capturing rain falling on your yard and roof is doable, but will require a little more investment of time and money than the “simple” approaches. You can find a lot of information on this subject over the Internet, searching on key phrases such as:
    • Rain garden
    • French drain
    • Redirect rainwater from a downspout
    • Permeable hardscape


When planning your garden, it is important to consider how much sun different areas of your garden will receive. Most California-friendly plants prefer sun, but there are some plants that thrive in shade. Many varieties of Lilies and Coral Bells will do well in shade and also have beautiful flowers! Consult a gardening guide, Los Angeles Coast Water Wise Gardening, or your local nursery for more information on a plant’s sun requirements.


Many California Friendly Plants have wonderful blooms that attract hummingbirds and butterflies. Tubular flowers are the perfect fit for a hummingbird’s beak and the same bright colors that attract them also look great in your garden. Milkweed is a favorite plant of the Monarch Butterfly, Buckwheats are great nectar sources for adult butterflies and are eaten by many larva. Also, some plants with thorns or strong scents can be used to deter undesired animals such as stray cats


Everyone has heard of spring flowers; however there are many plants that bloom during other seasons. You may want to select plants that bloom during the winter to brighten up your garden during gray days, or autumn bloomers to give your garden a “fall feel.” Your garden doesn’t have to be stark or bare during the other 3 seasons!

Maximum Size

When placing plants, it is important to consider their maximum size. We all want our gardens to be healthy, and that means that the plants will grow! Be sure to allow adequate space between plants and away from buildings to avoid problems later on. If you feel that your garden looks too sparse, you can always sprinkle wildflower seeds in for a seasonal burst of color!


Color coordination is a must for any garden. You can choose to coordinate between plants, or with your house. Complementary colors will blend, while contrasting colors will make your garden “pop.” You may want to use a color wheel while designing, or select several shades to serve as your color pallet.

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