The Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s gardens could be under threat after a hosepipe ban was imposed in Montecito, where their £11 million mansion boasts nearly eight acres of rolling lawns.
It is estimated the couple spend up to £15,000 a month on gardening but a “stop watering” notice issued last month threatens to push up the cost of tending to their sprawling estate, which features immaculately pruned rose gardens, elaborate topiary, fruit trees, tall Italian cypresses, blooming lavender bushes and century-old olive trees.
Residents in the exclusive community east of Santa Barbara have been instructed to preserve water as a result of a drought that has sparked fears that the arid, mountainous region will fall victim to wildfires.
And this week, residents of California were told they face fines of up to $500 (£370) for wasting water under new rules prohibiting watering the grass within 48 hours of rainfall, filling decorative fountains or washing cars without a shut-off nozzle on the hose.
It comes after mid-December saw 80 per cent of the state fall under “extreme” or “exceptional” drought conditions. The new rules will last a year and there are no exceptions for golf courses or other recreational facilities.
The Sussexes’s nine-bedroom, 16-bathroom property is particularly prone to drought because historic topography maps and photos show it was built on land with no natural creeks. There is a swimming pool on site, as well as an artificial pond, a babbling brook and small waterfall. A well was installed in 2016 which is thought to help keep the thirsty gardens lush and green.
But the use of such private wells, which pull water from the main aquifer as well as the groundwater, have proved controversial in the past.
On average, 80 per cent of the water bills on estates in Montecito are used for landscaping, with the largest, estate-style homes said to consume most of the region’s water supply.
As one local water expert, who did not wish to be named, explained: “There is only a certain amount of available water for the community, no one really knows how much.
“Why should the wealthy be able to drain these community water sources at will, from their private wells without oversight, only to sustain lush green lawns and gardens?”
Residents who exceed their monthly allowance are penalised and billed in increasingly higher price tiers.
In 2014, Harry and Meghan’s friend and neighbour, Oprah Winfrey, the chat show host, was forced to truck thousands of gallons of water to her 40-acre “Promised Land” estate after a drought. That summer, 837 residents coughed up $532,000 (£393,000) in penalties over their water use.
For decades, south-west American homeowners have been encouraged to conserve water, forgo green gardens, and instead install rock and cacti gardens indigenous to the region.
In December 2020, the Duke likened himself to a raindrop when he launched the Netflix-style streaming platform WaterBear, which is dedicated to conservation documentaries, campaigns and eco-travel films.
“Every single raindrop that falls from the sky relieves the parched ground,” he said. “What if every single one of us was a raindrop, and if every single one of us cared? At the end of the day, nature is our life source… But you can’t uplift, educate, and inspire unless there is a form of action that follows. For me, it’s putting in the ‘dos’ behind the ‘says’. There’s a lot of people that say, but this is about action.”