Landscaping that sets a good example: La Jolla condo complex

Time was tight on our recent trip to San Diego so I didn’t get to drive through residential areas to see what kind of landscaping San Diegans might prefer. Is it yards filled with water-wise plants, with nary a lawn in sight? At least that’s the vision I have in my head. On our next trip I’ll hopefully be able to confirm whether this is true or not.

On our way to the beachfront in the wealthy enclave of La Jolla we drove through one residential street that had the kind of landscaping I’d pictured as typical for San Diego. At first I thought the building you see in the photos below was one gigantic contemporary mansion but at closer inspection it turned out to be a condo complex. I had to circle around the block twice before I found a parking space, but it was worth it. For commercial landscaping, this is about as good as it gets in my book. Take a look!


I thought the tree (some kind of live oak?) was the perfect size to anchor this bed


Check out the tile pattern on the stairs; it repeats on the balcony and in other places on the façade

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Agave americana would not have been my first choice but I’m glad they picked an agave as a feature plant


I love the dragon tree (Dracaena draco) and the aloes


Aloe barberae?


Same kind of tree anchoring the other end of the bed


It’s underplanted with sticks on fire (Euphorbia tirucalli ‘Sticks on Fire’)


Purple cordyline (Cordyline australis) and blue chalk fingers (Senecio serpens)


Horsetail rush (Equisetum hyemale)


Equisetum hyemale does look cool and fits in very well with the rest of the plant palette, but it’s such a thirsty plant that it’s completely out of place in a landscaping scheme that’s otherwise very water smart.


Silver carpet (Dymondia margaretae), one of the darlings of landscape designers up and down California


It’s easy to see why. Dymondia margaretae forms a dense mat which suppresses virtually any weed, grows fast with some supplemental irrigation (although it doesn’t need much water to survive), and takes a reasonable amount of foot traffic.


I also like how Dymondia margaretae acts as a “living mulch” for these agaves and cacti. A nice change from you’d normally see: either bare dirt or some kind of rock mulch.


Across the street was a single-family residence with complementary, albeit quite different landscaping. I liked it, too, although I was itching to add to what was there. There’s too much bare dirt calling out to be filled!




I’m not an expert on palm trees but I imagine they do need quite a bit of water. But at least the succulents are water-wise—and the rocks only need a good dousing once or twice a year to wash off the bird poop.


  1. Could your unknown tree be a type of Cypress? Sort of has the right form. Don't think it is a Live Oak, but could be wrong.

    1. I don't know what the tree is, but not a cypress. Maybe somebody from Southern California will help out with an ID.

  2. Interesting, nice overall. Being so close to the ocean, the palms shouldn't need that much water.

    1. I liked the overall landscape design. Low-key, but attractive and water-wise (with the exception of the equisetum). And it complements the building very nicely. Far better than what I see in condo complexes around here.

  3. Nice looking building with planting considered very likely even during its planning stage. Some palms are drought tolerant by virtue of their tap roots.

    1. One of these days I'll sit down with my copy of The Encyclopedia of Cultivated Palms to improve my ID skills.

  4. Really beautiful landscaping.... goes excellently with the modern style of the building. That's just the kind of look I adore!


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