Friday, August 21, 2015

The State of the Lawn (in my neighborhood)

I took a walk recently to check the status of the lawns in my neighborhood.  Since June, my area has been required to reduce residential water use by 36% in response to California's severe drought.  As they require a lot of water to maintain, especially during our hot, dry summers, lawns are the major target when it comes to meeting that goal.  I began eliminating my own lawn in increments shortly after my husband and I bought our house in December 2010 but I have 2 segments of the lawn left, both slated for removal this fall.

The remaining lawn segment in the front garden, just behind the hedge on one side of our driveway, currently dormant (and ugly)

The swath of half-dead lawn that, for the time being, serves as a pathway through the backyard garden


Walking through the neighborhood, I found some lawns still in relatively pristine condition.

Inexplicably, this includes a small patch of lawn at the entrance to the neighborhood

This homeowner and his next door neighbor had the most pristine lawns in the entire neighborhood - I initially thought they might be synthetic grass

This garden is mostly lawn
This neighbor loves his lawn but I know he's watching his water usage closely


Other homeowners, like us, have allowed their lawns to die back.




Some homeowners are maintaining small lawns, while using more drought-tolerant plants elsewhere in their front yards.

This homeowner has small sections of lawn in between wide planting beds filled with drought-tolerant plants

This homeowner has been replacing thirsty plants with succulents, while allowing the lawn to turn brown


Some homes have been lawn-free (or virtually so) since we've lived in the neighborhood.

I guess lawn could be lurking behind the shrubbery that hides this house but the shady conditions make it unlikely

This huge property spills down into a canyon but most everything at street level behind the gate appears to be concrete 

This neighbor replaced a mass of Vinca along the street with more drought-tolerant Dymondia

This terraced garden, still my favorite in the neighborhood, recently changed hands but they retained the former owner's gardener, which I see as a sign of commitment to maintaining the garden.  That's a Leucospermum on the right - the largest one I've ever seen.

This home has lots of palms and plants with a tropical feel

Many of the homes in our neighborhood, like this one, are "flag lots" with only a driveway fronting the street


One home is lawn-free because it's been gutted to make room for a larger house.



And one has a front yard full of dirt because the septic system is undergoing replacement (which is taking a long time).



There are more than 50 homes in the circle that makes up my neighborhood so what I've shown here is only a sample of what's out there but I think it's fairly representative.  I've seen only some of the backyards associated with these homes but enough to conclude that they're a mix too.  It'll be interesting to see whether lawns continue to die off and disappear, or if the expected arrival of El Nino this fall will hold the trend at bay.

I'll leave you with a few of the brighter spots from my neighborhood walk.

There are masses of Agave attenuata throughout the neighborhood - these are 2 of the best ones

I find it comforting that this plant, a form of Borage I believe, is growing wild through cement pavement without any supplemental water whatsoever in this empty lot

Clockwise from top left, plants growing with little or no supplemental water: Lagerstroemia (no ID but mildew-free), Agave (americana?), Bougainvillea, Cassia didymobotrya, Plumbago, and Solanum ratonnetii


All material © 2012-2015 by Kris Peterson for Late to the Garden Party

28 comments:

  1. Understand that it is difficult to have a green grass lawn when it is not raining.
    Good thing there are so many drought-resistant beautiful flowers.
    Have a nice day
    Mariana

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    1. Southern California isn't the place for green turf lawns, Mariana. It probably never was but it's taken a long time for the message to get through.

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  2. What a fascinating survey you've begun! It will be interesting to see how the numbers shift as the winter weather arrives with - or without - accompanying rains. There are people here who let their lawn die out every summer but even the ones watering grass this summer are experiencing browned out spots after our recent return to drought conditions and triple digit temperatures. Without selective blinders, August is not a pretty time of year in central Texas.

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    1. What's of greatest concern here is the failure on some parts to attend to the needs of the trees planted in those lawns, Deb. Some people seem to forget about them or simply think they don't need regular irrigation. The governor actually put out a reminder urging people to take care of their trees.

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  3. It's a state of lawn walk but also a fascinating insight on what your neighbourhood looks like :)

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    1. I think the story 3 years out should be much more telling than the current situation but it provides a baseline to assess future progress (or not).

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  4. Yours is a lovely neighbourhood! It's interesting to see the various states of lawn. But even in cool, high rainfall climates like mine, lawns do need a lot of attention (not necessarily much supplemental water, but lots of fertilizers) if they are to thrive. As a gardener, I prefer to think of lawn as a small area rug that offsets plants rather than wall-to-wall carpeting :-)

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    1. When I talked about removing all my lawn after we moved in almost 5 years ago, some of my friends were appalled. The truth is I appreciate the negative space provided by a nice green lawn too but, at best even before the drought was a significant factor, our lawn looked good only during our short winter season - it's not worth maintaining in this climate.

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  5. Your lawn looks like mine does in summer! I try not to water it, as if I'm truly committed to keeping it looking good it takes a lot of water. Not worth it in my opinion. Last summer I just left it, it always comes good again in winter.

    Once you remove those last two areas of, will that be all of it gone? I look forward to seeing what you do with the areas! As I run out of planting space, I always think about cutting into mine a bit more...

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    1. Those 2 sections I showed at the top of the post are the last remaining segments of lawn, Amy. At the time we purchased the house, most of the back and front yards were covered in lawn, as well as about half of both side yards. Only the back slope, the vegetable garden and the area I call the "glen" were lawn-free.

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  6. Interesting survey. Our town recently instituted a voluntary "water conservation advisory." There are signs all over town telling people to conserve water. I'm still watering the plants that need it, but we've stopped watering our lawn in back. We had a bit of rain recently, but we probably won't get heavy rain again till the end of September/beginning of October.

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    1. Think of your "advisory" as informal training, Alison - I'm actually glad I didn't have to jump into the stringent guidelines we now face without that experience myself. It's surprising how much water you can save if you work at it but it does take heightened awareness of how you use water. My husband and I began a serious conservation effort in 2014 in response to the voluntary call for a 20% cut but I about choked when I heard that our area was subject to a 36% reduction (against 2013 usage, thankfully). I'm hyper-vigilant about water now (to the point of annoying the heck out of my husband) but, as conservation becomes ingrained and as I get more used to living within a specified water "budget," I think I'll get less up-tight about it. The rain collection tanks have helped a bit, although I'm already down to about 175 gallons there and we don't expect any rain at all until October at earliest. I'll admit I'm counting on El Nino to establish new plants this fall but I'm also banking whatever we don't use of each month's water budget against my future water needs.

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  7. Thank you for sharing your lovely neighborhood. I'm north of you, inland Ventura County, 32% reduction and see much of the same. My '60s era neighborhood has a mixture of smaller 1/3 acre lots like mine (still large compared with new construction) on up to 1 and 2 acre horse properties with equestrian trails throughout. My neighbors across the street used a DIY green spray paint that looks surprisingly OK. More have been left brown and I will be curious to see how many will move towards lawn alternatives. There's a small minority of unfortunate Turf Terminator type gravel-scapes, a number of artificial turf installations. I also see quite a few landscapes that look very well watered. Not sure how they are managing that. My lawn was all removed in late 2012 but I lost a lot of shade recently due to removal of some large trees on my own and neighboring properties so I'm still challenged during the hot spells.

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    1. Some people in my neighborhood use a lot more water on their landscape than we do (and many also have uncovered pools) but as the savings is calculated by comparison to 2013 usage, their monthly water budgets are also set significantly higher. (One neighbor is still using double the water we are for a property of similar size.) But, ultimately, something has to give. Trees are important and I think we all need to do whatever we can to preserve them during this drought - I've given up 2 large trees myself due to pressure from neighbors related to perceived view obstructions but I'll fight such requests in the future.

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  8. I should follow your lead, I think most people would be shocked at the golden lawns all around Portland in the summer - not just his year! It's been this way in Portland and Seattle for years, people let them go dormant in the summer and they spring back to a bright healthy green in the fall when the rain returns.

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    1. Our "lawn" will green-up briefly during winter but as it's dry here so much of the year and as our lawn is half crabgrass and other assorted weeds, it's not worth saving. Your lawn provides a pretty backdrop for your spiky collection, Loree - maybe you could start by shrinking it a bit more rather than removing it entirely?

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  9. That was certainly an interesting walk through your neighborhood, for variety. What will happen when El nino comes this winter? Will the grass return or is it of the non-dormant type. Neighborhood associations must be having a hard time with this drought. I know they were very fussy about everything where we lived in Woodbridge, Irvine.

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    1. Our lawn seems to be a mix of warm and cool season grasses combined with lots and lots of weeds. For much of the year, only the weeds are green. Given our very short rainy season, it's really not worth holding onto - I cringe every time it crunches under my feet. Thus far, our voluntary neighborhood association hasn't taken any position on water-saving beyond a reminder last year that people should turn off their irrigation systems during/after measurable rain but such common-sense measures and more are now mandatory anyway.

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  10. Interesting survey. Seeing similar things here--quite a few browning lawns, along with quite a few removals. A few people are the you'll-have-to-pry-the-hose-from-my-cold-dead-hands type and their lawns are as green as ever. I think as more people realize how much money they can save not having a lawn (water, paying the guy to mow it) there will be less of them.
    It's now acceptable not to have a lawn out front--that's a big, big cultural shift. It's what a lot of people were waiting for, I think.

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    1. I hope you're right about the cultural shift. I'll go into shock if the guy a few doors down ever removes his lawn but he is trying to manage his water use within guidelines, which I appreciate. I'm surprised no one has installed artificial turf yet but, if El Nino doesn't grant relief next year, perhaps that will start to show up.

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  11. What little lawn I have left goes brown every summer. We've been asked to voluntarily reduce water usage by 10% this summer. Let's see, which is more important bathing or healthy plants? Your neighborhood survey shows quite a range of responses to your water restrictions.

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    1. Maybe you can shower with your plants, Peter! Rain barrels help and, as you get rain more often than we do even under current conditions, that alone may help you conserve. I've got one automatic greywater system (associated with the washing machine) and, in addition to collecting shower warm-up water, I save rinse water in the kitchen - everything helps but it does mean changes to your routines. I always seem to be hauling water around...

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  12. The drought may do your region a favor if it forces homeowners to choose lovely drought tolerant plants, such as the ones you show, instead of grass lawns foreign to the area. But a front lawn of concrete has to be blazing hot and is not the answer! Artificial turf? My first response is a strong negative, but upon reflection I can see uses for it. Thanks for the walk through your neighborhood!

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    1. The gates to the concrete-heavy property aren't usually open so that was the first time I'd seen what was behind them since the homeowners completed their 3-year renovation project. I felt weird taking a photo of the area inside the gates, though, which is why you didn't get a view. At street level, it's set up rather like a fancy resort with a bar, presumably looking down into the canyon. I think the property is over 2 acres in size, though, so there may well be lots of greenery below (or not).

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  13. It is refreshing to know that many people are either removing their lawns or allowing them to go dormant in summer. I have to admit that many of the few people who have gardens here want 'un prato inglese' (an English lawn), I really don't understand why. As much as I hate the idea of more plastic I would almost prefer to see fake grass instead of the waste of water a lawn requires. I will be watching with interest to see how you treat the two remaining areas of lawn in your own garden. We are both anxiously awaiting autumn so we can begin work!

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    1. There are ads on TV here, Christina, encouraging people to allow their lawns to "fade to gold" during the summer months. However, with the small amount of rain we've been getting the last few years, it really means 6-8 months of tawny color and only a few months of green. You're right that I'm as anxious as you are to get started with my fall renovations and planting.

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  14. How interesting to have a walk round your neighbourhood and see what people are growing. Good that people are getting rid of their lawns at last. I hate to see them being replaced with concrete though.
    It is amazing how a totally brown lawn recovers when it rains. But who wants an expanse of brown for part of the year? Specially when there are so many beautiful things you could grow instead.

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    1. In our case, the lawn is brown and crunchy for more of the year than not so it really makes sense to take it out. The neighbor with the concrete front yard has 2 or more acres in total, I believe, and lots and lots of guests (when we first moved here, I thought the property was operating as a B&B) so I suspect the front area serves as overflow parking.

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