GreenTown Los Altos

Drought-tolerant Landscaping at the Packard Foundation Building


Sep 2012


By Charley Pow, Volunteer – GreenTown Los Altos

Like many areas of California, our annual rainfall of 15 inches doesn’t meet our water needs.   Half or more of our residential water is used for landscaping.  Addressing this need, the landscaping at the new LEED Platinum Packard building shows how to conserve water and reduce storm runoff through:

  • drought-tolerant plants;
  • a rooftop garden; and
  • no lawns.

    Interior courtyard with trees, bunchgrass, and patio seating

These landscaping features add to the many environmental features discussed in a June GreenTown post on the new Packard Foundation building.

So what did the Packard Foundation plant?  Their landscaping relies on commonly-used California native shrubs, grasses, and trees.

Shrubs like Carmel creeper ceanothus, ‘Louis Edmunds’ manzanita, douglas iris, Catalina perfume currant, and Cleveland sage.

Grasses are mostly California fescue and sedge.  Trees include coast live oak and pacific dogwood .

Western columbine, a favorite of Lucile Packard, by A. Hayter, Packard Foundation

There’s even attention to detail in specific choices that have personal connections.  The western columbine, a California native, is one of Lucile Packard’s favorites, which explains why the columbine flower is on the visitor name tag.

The two-story building encloses a courtyard that provides light and a pleasant place to sit.  Our tour guide said that every employee has a laptop, and they’re increasingly moving outside to work.  The grassy area is sedge, a native bunchgrass, with wood chip mulch between the sedge.

There’s a green roof, basically a roof covered with vegetation, with the enormous advantages of absorbing rainwater, providing insulation, and providing a habitat for wildlife.

Living roof at Packard Foundation

Packard Foundation green roof absorbs rain water, provides insulation and provides a habitat for wildlife.

The green roof is planted in stonecrop, thyme, blue fescue, and hens and chicks.  Gray solar panels line the parking lot across the street, capturing sunlight, helping the building achieve net zero energy consumption each year.

Parking strips around the building are bioswales,a landscape element designed to remove water-borne dirt and pollution from surface runoff water.  Storm runoff in the street gutter enters the bioswale at one end, is filtered by plants and rock, and any excess exits the other end, before flowing to the bay.  The bioswales illustrate the principle of “slow it, spread it, sink it”.  Reducing and cleaning storm runoff is important for hundreds of cites like San Francisco and New York City, where sanitary wastewater and storm runoff run into a single sewer system.  During rainstorms, the combined flow overwhelms sewage treatment plants and untreated sewage flows to the ocean or rivers.

The Packard Foundation provides a nearby opportunity to see water conservation and other environment features in action.  They use California native plants that perform well in our area and are readily available to consumers.  The trees, shrubs, and grasses mentioned here (except for the dogwood and greenroof plants) are planted in our yard, and we’d plant them again.  The Packard Foundation provided the list of plants used.  We noted the California native plants.
For more information about the Packard Foundation, go to their website or sign up for their fall tours.

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