How sexy is your thermostat? Is it the boring, beige rectangle of plastic with the way too complicated controls that no one wants to mess with? Well, a group of former Apple employees, lead by the guy who created the iPod and iPhone, have recently introduced version two of their programmable, learning thermostat.

It’s cool. Imagine a sleek polished steel cylinder capped with a glass lens, over a circular, 24-bit color display. With its five sensors for humidity, ambient light, near and far proximity sensors (it knows when you’re home and when you’re not) and, of course, a temperature sensor, it programs itself over a weeks’ time learning your preferences for daytime, nighttime or anytime temperature preferences. Furthermore, it talks to your iPhone, iPad, computer, Android so you can control your environment from anywhere in the world. In addition, NEST listens to the weather service via the Internet so that it can calculate how many minutes it needs to warm-up or cool-down your home to the proper temperature before you return home.

According to the US Energy Information Administration, we consume 48% of our residential energy in heating and cooling our homes. So it makes sense to avoid heating or cooling a home when it is unnecessary, such as when everyone is out of the house, either at work, school or running errands. The times when the home is unoccupied can be a major chunk of the day and usually follows a predictable and regular schedule.

But while programmable thermostats have been around for years, an estimated 95% of households have not programmed their thermostats correctly or at all, leaving our HVAC systems to heat or cool an unoccupied home, wasting energy and money. According to the people at NEST, using this learning thermostat can save you 20% on your energy bill. Now that’s cool.

Although NEST is our first choice because of its effectiveness and ease of use, it is not the only learning thermostat around. There are others, which integrate into your rooftop photovoltaic (solar panel) system, sound system, security system and are almost as cool looking. But that’s a topic for another blog entry.

How many people love to weed their yards? How about irrigating, fertilize and prune? What if you could install a gorgeous, aromatic garden that weeded itself, didn’t need regular irrigation, and fertilizing and pruning are actually forbidden? What if plants in this garden were so flexible that you could have a country cottage look, Japanese garden, woodlands, meadow or riparian look as well as attract butterflies, hummingbirds and snakes? Well, maybe not snakes.

Enter the native Southern California garden. Plants native to Southern California are drought tolerant in the summer, and grow their root systems during the wetter winter. Don’t bother irrigating. Generally, they do not like to be watered artificially and drip irrigation could cause root rot. No fertilizer! They are accustomed to our soil conditions, some actually preferring poor, sandy or rocky soils. Some plants flower not only in the spring but also in the fall—a double bonus. Some plants are edible or may be used as seasonings or as herbal topical treatments as Native Americans have for centuries. And, except for an occasional nibble by a hungry bunny, native Southern California plants generally don’t like to be pruned, although some can be trained into a hedge or other form.

You are not stuck with a few boring cacti and colored rocks spread across the front yard. Southern California has such a rich variety of plant communities including oak woodland, riparian (stream), chaparral, desert, and coastal sage to name a few. Each plant community offers trees, shrubs, vines, flowering perennials, self-seeding annuals, and ground cover to suit your landscape design needs.

Interested? While surfing the web can get you started in learning about California native landscape, probably a better place to start your research is by visiting the Santa Ana Botanical Gardens in Claremont, or visit any of the many native plant nurseries in California in autumn, during planting season. Take part in workshops, lectures and plant sales. Why not? It’s relaxing, healing and healthy like Yoga except with plants.

A couple final words: don’t bother to rake the leaves. Using leaf litter as mulch, each individual plant works in support of the other plants within the community, giving rise to a rich network of beneficial underground microbes and fungi which can kill invasive weeds as the weed seeds germinate. And, if you have a water feature such as a fountain or small pond, you could have your garden certified earning distinction as a Certified Natural Wildlife Habitat. Wouldn’t it be cool to have a certification plaque mounted subtly in your front yard just to let your visitors, friends, and neighbors know that this is a special garden… a responsible, sustainable, native Southern California Natural Wildlife Habitat?