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2007.07.25

Comments

Polly

Yeah, I certainly don't get it. I have a front lawn for now (the house came with one), but it's going as soon as I can swing it. I would much rather have a garden, and as it is I am encouraging the clover to take over since it doesn't turn brown in the summer (and it enriches the soil, and it has pretty flowers that the bees love).

Some of those ideas, like installing rainwater tanks or using greywater (which is not exactly the same thing as "using reclaimed sewer water"--that sounds like a recipe for cholera) are actually good water-saving tactics that anyone could use. Of course, planting appropriate plants for where you live is also a good idea....

Anyway, did you see this on front-yard veggie gardens? http://biz.yahoo.com/ap/070724/business_of_life.html?.v=3

drunken monkey

I would hope that these people all get some kind of grass-killing lawn disease, but then they'd just smother it with pesticides.

A lot of the lawns in our area are not grass but a variety of plants that grow well in our part of Ontario, mixed in with things like stone walkways or open areas or trees. They are really lovely and clearly very well taken care of, and I don't get why some boring green lawn is seen as more attractive than that.

Ky

That is truly insane. When I was growing up, we had a half an acre yard, with a front lawn and a back lawn. However, my parents just couldn't see wasting water like that, so if the lawn went brown, the lawn went brown. We only used a sprinkler when us kids wanted to run through it for a half an hour.

I remember you talking once, Lisa, about a "greener" option to lawns-- some sort of plant or low-lying bush the was more environmentally friendly. Would you be willing to share what those options are with us?

Lisa S.

Ky, the ones I'm thinking of are: woolly creeping thyme (I have been testing this in a side bed all summer and that sucker stands up to foot traffic, plus it's good in sun) or blue star creeper.

In areas that don't get a lot of direct sun, you can always lay down baby's tears. It's dense, grows quickly and loves the shade. The only die-backs I've seen in my yard came after I pruned a tree and exposed a bank of the stuff to six hours of sunlight daily.

These choices are sort of predicated on the idea that your yard is more of a garden than a big plot o' land covered in something so the dirt doesn't blow away. And on the nights when I'm busy watering the plants in the dark, I can totally see where a lawn might be appealing because you're not hauling water or pruning or dividing plants or laying down hardscape.

Polly, if I could, I'd happily use graywater for my plants. An irrigation system that hits the roots -- guaranteeing that there's no contact between edible portions of the plant (unless it's, um, a root vegetable so there -- plan B!) -- would be so sweet. I love the idea of minimizing wastewater.

Kate the M

I don't live in drought country but even during years of little rain, my yard has yet to permanently die. Sometimes, the grass stays brown during a bad summer. But come the following summer, it's still there. So here's my comment to the homeowners profiled in this article: Grass grows back. It always grows back. Unless you're dumping a coffee mug's worth of sulfuric acid on your grass every morning, it's not going to die. I've seen a 13-year old birch tree succumb to a bad winter but the grass around it continued to grow. It's quite hardy.

(Note: I'm not a gardener and I'm allergic to grass. Yay)

Ellen

One of the Twin Cities suburbs has instituted a sliding scale for water rates. The more you use, the more you pay. The city had found that some properties used enough water to soak every square foot of their property in four feet of water. They already had various restrictions about what days you could water, and didn't permit it during daylight hours. That just wasn't working, so this is the next step. It's an interesting idea - I hope they can stand up to the complainers.

becky

We don't get it, either. My husband is in the lawn-care *industry* (commercial/golf based, not so much home lawns), and I think we're the only people on our block who never, ever water in summer--unless it is to establish new grass where the rabbits dug giant holes in our yard to try to nest. And then it's minimal, and certainly not when it is hot out.

There's a neat trick--wanna see my husband's forehead vein pop out (he's a very laid-back person, but still)? Water your lawn in the middle of the afternoon. And yeah, people do it here. It's hard convincing people that water is a limited resource when you live on the Great Lakes, even when lake levels are down to a record low. And then, some people really don't get that grass is designed to be dormant certain times of the year. Up here, we have cool season grasses. They will be BROWN in summer. And it's OKAY. Like Kate said, it wil grow back.

Ugh.

drunken monkey

Last night, I passed a yard that had a front lawn totally covered in ivy. So pretty.

Alice

drunken monkey, I totally just read that as "passed out in a yard". Hee!

The UK (or London at least) had a hosepipe ban last summer. You could water plants with a watering can, but no sprinklers, hoses, anything like that. The water suppliers and local councils (governments) also sold rainwater storage thingys at really reduced rates.

Amanda

I'm about to be a lawn owner and it will take awhile to decide what will happen landscaping-wise let alone make any changes. The previous owner took great pride in a very green lawn. Like it or not, it does help with the curb appeal. In my mind, though, I make a connection between brown lawns and weedy, scrubby looking lawns. Is there a correlation? I know I'm not interested in maintaining a "golf-ready" lawn.

Polly

Amanda, if you want to keep the weeds down in the yard, mow, mow, mow. Grass likes to be mowed (just don't set the mower to mow super low), and nothing else does. Grass will actually fill in holes faster if you mow it frequently.

Lisa S.

Amanda, did y'all buy? Awesome!

Bureinato

I'm from the East Coast, and moved out to Denver. I didn't believe that the lawn had to be watered. If it went brown in NY it came back. Here if it goes brown it's dead and the weeds have space to invade.

I replaced the front lawn with a combination of blue gama grass and buffalo grass. I don't mow it, it's supposed to look like a miniature prairie and I don't water it. Now those grasses do come back from being brown/dormant.

The back yard needs being redone, but in the mean time I've stopped watering about 6 years ago and it's mostly crabgrass. I do try and spray weedkiller for the other weeds. But the chokeweed still has its power to smother.

Amanda

Lisa -- we did! It's terrifying! We get the keys today and start moving in tomorrow. I'll post pictures on my Flickr account soon -- oddly, though this whole process, I was not very into taking pictures of the various properties and have only taken really weird pictures of the new house.

I'm really eager to do something interesting in the front and back yards though the reality of the costs of gardening have come home to me a bit after a reconnaissance mission to the local nursery. I recently picked up a book from the library called Gardening on a Shoestring. Of course, I haven't yet had time to read it.

In any case, glad to hear that an unwatered lawn is not necessarily a harbinger of total weeddom -- we'll be looking into ways to conserve and collect.

Lisa S.

Amanda, here is my totally unsolicited advice on gardening:

1. Mail order is surprisingly inexpensive. I love getting my bulbs that way, and the herbs I got from Mountain Valley Growers (http://www.mountainvalleygrowers.com/) were more interesting and cheaper than at the local nursery. They will also be smaller but, eh, plants grow. Crocus is a good way to add a lot of early-spring color for very little. Be sure to comparison shop, and check your warranties on plants, to make sure the company will replace any punks they send you.

2. That said, nurseries are great places to make friends. They'll tell you what works in a local climate and when. Buy your big-ticket and regional/local items here -- fruit trees, for example, or organic gardening supplies. Also to buy at nurseries: anything you want delivered in bulk, like compost. I paid maybe $80 last year for enough compost to cover my back and front yard 2" deep. The nursery just backed up a truck and dropped it off. Hauling home the equivalent in bags ... would have been much more; I had to pick up four bags from Home Despot to cover a spot in the front lawn and it cost me about $40, so doing the front and back would have been in the hundreds. DO NOT buy your flats of common annuals or groundcover at a nursery (for example: impatiens). Nurseries do charge more.

3. Home Despot and Lowe's have their uses too. If you want/like color or mass in a hurry, they're the spot to go to for inexpensive flats of plants (impatiens, say, or alyssum, or baby's tears) or some hardy perennials -- I've noticed they have nice vines. Their tree prices are also not too terribly bad, but stick to hardy or common plants. I picked up a peaky-looking fig for about $20 and after three months with a bigger container, a few fish emulsion feedings, lot of water and some espaliering, it's looking much better. Home Despot also has great sales when they're getting ready to turn over merchandise. If you can get there when they open at 7 a.m., you'll get good stuff -- go on the weekdays. Avoid weekends for plant shopping.

4. Craigslist and Freecycle are great for hardscape and for leftover plants. (I am actually getting ready to dig up and offer the shrubs we have in the front yard, because we will not be using them after we rip up the porch.)

My biggest problem has been impatience. I am one of these people who likes setting up a project and finishing it, and with my yard, I have had to accept that the constraints of time/money mean that I have to think more incrementally. Some times, it makes me a little crazy.

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