A Tree House Finds its Roots


By Janet Lawless Christ

My husband Charlie grew up in The Bronx in New York, no doubt surrounded by brick and concrete, and one day he told me that he had always dreamed of having a tree house. I am happy to say that we are finally giving him that dream. Thanks to the great work of the designers and landscapers at

, my family and I have decided to transition our backyard to make it completely sustainable and eco-friendly: a real life tree house! We realized that living in Rancho Santa Fe is such a beautiful privilege that we wanted to give back to not only the community, but the environment as well.

Over the coming months, we will be improving our irrigation system to maximum efficiency while creating a colorful yet low-water landscape. We want to surround ourselves with beautiful, native, drought resistant plants, while maintaining an outdoor living space that welcomes guests and dogs alike. We will be improving the soil by adding compost and mulch to retain moisture. These are just a few of the additions and changes we will be making to our yard, and we welcome others in the community to follow in our footsteps.

Below are some tips for making your yard sustainable and environmentally happy.


-- Monitor water usage weekly and check the irrigation system regularly for water run-off, leaks, and overspray.

-- Program three start times per watering day. Run zone should only run as long as the water soaks into the soil. Once run-off occurs, stop watering. Wait 1-2 hours, then run that zone again. Then repeat. This allows the water to saturate deeper into the soil and reduces run-off. Plants are able to grow roots into the deeper moisture which strengthens them.

--Once established, native and drought tolerant plants will need very little irrigation. Make sure to adjust according to their needs.

-- Adjust timing seasonally to account for heat and cooler temperatures, and dormant months.

-- Use a Smart controller to make programming easier to adjust.

-- Consider installing a greywater system.


-- Add a pool cover if possible to reduce evaporation.

-- Install solar heating.

-- Replace inefficient and loud single speed pool pumps with high-efficiency, quiet, variable speed pumps.

-- Convert to a salt system, UV, ionic, or oxidation water quality system.

Planting Beds

-- Space plants appropriately according to their mature size to reduce pruning labor and green waste.

-- Let the leaves drop and stay in place or compost them and return them to the planting bed so they can return nutrients to the soil.

-- Choose drought tolerant and disease resistant plants.

-- Retain green waste and compost it on site; mulch planter beds with mulch and compost generated on site.



Add compost and organic matter prior to planting.

-- Limit square footage and plant drought tolerant turf grass.

-- Occasionally add compost and other organic soil amendments to improve soil fertility.

-- Use a composting mower that recycles lawn clippings.

These are just a few suggestions to help you create your own efficient, sustainable landscape. For more ideas, visit the website below that offers more than 80 tips on making your yard truly “green.”


I am excited for the process and transition my yard will be undertaking and to finally give my husband the tree house he has always dreamed of. I will be documenting the work every step of the way on my website, and I would like to open up my yard to anyone interested in the transformation. If you would like to discuss sustainability further, please give me a call at 858-759-6567 or visit