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July 23, 2024 12:12PM
July 23, 2024 12:12PM

customer care

Fire threat sparks couple’s landscape transformation

Profile.3There’s a balance of emotions, living close to the nature of Santiago Canyon.

Since 1992, Gene and Connie Stannard have resided in Portola Hills on the edge of this brushy wilderness — enjoying visits from scrub jays, owls, eagles and woodpeckers, along with the occasional bat, rattlesnake, deer or mountain lion.

Fire has been an unwelcome visitor, ravaging the canyon in 2007, then again in 2017.  In 2020, Gene and Connie watched as towering flames whipped and crackled through the brush behind their home, this time storming across the canyon from Whiting Ranch right up to their property line. When the couple later got word that their homeowners insurance was about to be cancelled, they rushed to fire-proof the house and firescape their yard.

They filled out an online application for IRWD’s turf rebate and, after getting the go-ahead from District staff, removed 1,325 square feet of lawn using a sod cutter Gene rented from Home Depot.

The Stannards, who recently celebrated their 50th anniversary, are hard-core do-it-yourselfers, their labors of love frequently acknowledged by neighbors impressed with the heart they put into their transformation.

River rock of various sizes was used to create three dry creek beds on the property, comprising 12,000 pounds of stones large and small that the couple laid, one-by-one, by hand.  Berms were built to form contours in the ground to capture rainfall and control irrigation runoff. A variety of succulents — many of which were propagated by Connie — were planted to add color to the landscape.

“We did everything except the drip irrigation,” said Connie.

Gene says he’s frequently asked if he’ll help neighbors with their yards.

“I always say no,” Gene said with a laugh, “but I’ll tell you how.”

His best advice: Be smart and don’t be afraid to ask questions.

Visit for online tools to help with your landscape transformation. 

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