Make Your Garden Ocean Friendly – A Chat with Surfrider Foundation’s Paul Herzog


Paul Herzog works for Surfrider Foundation and is the National Coordinator for their Ocean Friendly Garden Program. The LA Stormwater Program recently caught up with Paul to discuss the program he oversees and glean a little insight on how to make our yards and gardens friendlier to our waterways.

LA Stormwater: Hi Paul! Can you explain how exactly runoff from gardens impact local water quality?

Paul Herzog: Runoff is the number one source of pollution in our local creeks, rivers and oceans. Water running off landscapes from sprinkler overspray or rain gutters directed to the driveway gets into the street gutters and is carried to ocean. It takes with it landscape chemicals and fertilizers, pollutants from car exhaust and oil, dog poop and other stuff. People that swim in these waters may get sick. We’re told that we are supposed to stay out of the ocean for 72 hours after a storm – but that’s often the best time to surf. This can affect the economy. If the ocean near where we live or where people want to vacation is thought to be polluted, many may simply stay away. People may also decide not to eat locally-caught fish.

Maintaining an Ocean Friendly Garden at home, work and in public spaces also takes less time and costs less than a traditional landscape – so you can go to the beach or hike by creeks more! There is also a moral component to all of this: to pass on healthy watersheds to the next generation. People can learn more about water and its impact on our lives by going to Surfrider’s

LA Stormwater: Will you give us a little rundown on what the Ocean Friendly Gardens (OFG) Program is all about?
Paul Herzog: We focus on a simple set of principles and hands-on programming. OFG educates people in applying what we call CPR – Conservation, Permeability and Retention – to revive our watersheds and oceans. We like people to think about their homes as mini-watersheds, and remember the three water S’s in between the high and low points where it gathers: slow it, spread it, sink it.

From the start of OFG, we have worked with the Los Angeles-based firm, G3, the Green Gardens Group to develop a program that helps lead people through the process of creating an OFG. G3 developed the curriculum for our Basics Classes as well as offer their Hands-On Workshops. Surfrider added a Garden Assistance Program Workday, which is like a barn-raising. These are open to the general public, landscape professionals, other non-profits and government agencies.
Here’s how OFG works: First, we’d like folks to attend a class to educate themselves about the issue. Second, we work with professionals like G3 to help coordinate workshops around site evaluations to help homeowners understand how their property can implement CPR. Third, we bring together teams to do a workday, where we actually transform properties into an OFG. Lastly, we build on this work by doing a Lawn Patrol (a play on dawn patrol, when surfers check out the waves), which is a neighborhood walk starting at an OFG to help people develop an eye for it and identify and support neighbors who want to do the same.

LA Stormwater: Can you talk about how fruit and vegetable gardens can reduce runoff?

Paul Herzog: Any garden can be ocean friendly as along at it applies CPR. Growing your own food conserves resources that would be used to truck them into urban areas. To get an OFG yard sign, we require people plant at least 10% native plants to help ensure habitat for insects and birds that pollinate the fruit and veggies.

LA Stormwater: How is Surfrider helping to promote these good gardening practices?

Paul Herzog: We have 80 great volunteer-run Surfrider Chapters in the United States that are the laboratories for this relatively new program. But we can’t do it alone. We seek to partner with water agencies, the landscape industry, fellow non-profits and others to share the costs and workload, bring their expertise and help spread the concepts. We encourage people to post their gardens on our online garden map as well as apply for a yard sign to educate passers-by even when the owner isn’t home (see

If I were to come up with a sound bite, I’d say we seek to spark change and build a wave of interest so it gets picked up and accepted by the public, landscape professionals and government agencies everywhere. We see OFG as a compliment to existing programs such as LA DWP’s guide to retrofitting your parkway or the proposed LA City Low Impact Development (LID) Ordinance that applies to new development and redevelopment. People can draw on the LID handbook for landscape projects even if they don’t need to pull a development permit.

LA Stormwater: Where can folks go to learn more about OFG? Are there community events they can check out?

Paul Herzog: On August 14, we are having a Lawn Patrol, which people can sign up for. We are working on setting up a workday in Manhattan Beach to transform a typical grassy parkway. The two local Surfrider Chapters – West LA/Malibu and South Bay – want new OFG Committee members to plan and run events. People can contact me directly at [email protected] for more information about OFG, the Chapters and these events. They can also visit our website at

LA Stormwater: Lastly, do you have any additional advice you would like to give to Los Angeles gardeners?

Paul Herzog: I’d say three things come to mind right away. First, take a walk through your neighborhood and see what people are doing to turn their landscapes into being ocean friendly. Stop and ask them how they did it — local knowledge is often the best knowledge.  Second, share the load and rewards. What I mean by that is, invite your neighbors to help you, and you can help them in return. It’s all about building community. Imagine a twist on the concept of meeting neighbors by asking for a cup of sugar: instead, ask for a cup of compost! Number 3, do your homework and don’t be afraid to experiment with your yards. Most importantly, have fun out there!


Comments (4)

  1. GG
    August 18th, 2011 at 11:50 am

    When will there be rebates for water conservation and also who is putting in these systems to catch rain water from gutters etc? Thanks

  2. Ingrid Lindfors
    September 29th, 2011 at 9:17 am

    Love this. Glad we are getting somewhere!! I live on the Great Lakes and am board member and co founder of Lake Michignan Chapter in Grand HAven Mich. I have been working on all of this for years and am happy to see if finally making some headway.
    Currently trying to incorporate local green roof specialists in an education plan for kids via my garden across the street from the school. I have made my driveway run-off free by cutting the concrete into sections and growing grass between. Planted all water free plantings and started a moss garden in place of large sections of grass.
    Starts at the roots.
    Keep up the good work.
    Ingrid Lindfors
    Lake Michigan Chapter
    Surfrider Foundation

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