Most California landscapes (front and back yards) have been graded to be as flat as possible and to direct rainwater from the hard surfaces to the street as quickly as possible. This sort of grading makes it very difficult to build a successful drought tolerant garden! The drought tolerant garden relies on rainwater as a precious resource, so we want to slow, spread and sink as much rainwater as possible. Natural ecosystems are rarely completely flat. In nature, water and wind erode areas into hills or berms and gullies or swales. Over time plants more adapted to dry spots find themselves thriving on the tops and slopes of the hills, and the plants that don’t mind wet feet in winter find themselves nearer the bottom of the valley where it is wetter. If you are considering changing a big area of your garden, you can re-grade the landscape into a more natural form with some high and low spots. In some cases, where renovation of a large area is out of the question, you can still figure out ways to direct water from hard surfaces, move it around, and allow it to enjoy its stay in your garden. Your new drought tolerant plants will be very happy to drink up the rain! Look at your site plan and start thinking about slowing, spreading, and sinking rainwater in your garden. Have you noted the areas of erosion, low points and high points in the landscape, and places where water is flowing from hard surfaces (like patios, pathways, and the roof) into the garden? If so, you are ready to move on to making decisions about where to dig down and where to berm up. Look for naturally low areas to direct water into and allow it to soak into the soil before any excess overflows into the street. The size and shape of your graded areas can vary greatly. Your whole yard can be graded into a bowl! Start with the rain garden out front, if it works for your yard. As you make decisions about the rest of your garden, make sure that you aren’t directing water towards your house, garage, or your neighbors’ yards. If you live on a slope or in an unstable soils area, seek professional help before you start moving soil around. Observe your garden during heavy rainstorms. It is very important that any water your soil and plants can’t absorb is directed towards the streets, and not into your buildings.