Allyson Johnson

Pieces of my Mind

Drought Intolerance (Los Altos Town Crier, June 4, 2015)

P1020796webDrought intolerance

Four years into it, almost everyone but the Santa Clara Valley Water District is admitting that our drought is a reality that won’t go away. (Hello, SCVWD? Still insist on building those catch basins in San Antonio Preserve and McKelvey for flood protection?) Walking, jogging, and biking around my Los Altos neighborhood, you can see a number of different landscape solutions our neighbors have reached in order to cope with water scarcity . These include:

Total Denial: The lawn is green and trimmed, shrubs are pruned, flowers are blooming. “This is my lawn and my flowers and I’m jolly well going to keep them going – it’s bound to rain someday!”

Good Citizen: the lawn is trimmed but browning, flowers are going to seed instead of being pruned. “Brown is the new Green!”

Cottage Gardener: the yard has no lawn instead flagstone paths lead to a bench or wrought iron table and chairs, surrounded by, lots of roses, hydrangeas, and other blooming flowers and shrubs. “It’s all on drip irrigation, get off my case!”

P1020804webPractical Productivity: The lawn has been replaced by raised beds sowed with vegetables, herbs, snail-repelling marigolds, and cutting flowers,   surrounded by gravel paths and bark mulch. “If I can’t eat it, smell it, or put it in a vase, I’m not watering it!”

Concrete and Conifer (good for corner lots): A large tree in front of the house (usually evergreen, but sometime oak) with a layer of weed-stifling leaves or needles underneath, provides the focal point of the landscaping. A circular driveway takes up the rest of what would be lawn. Some shrubs fill in the corners. “High function, low maintenance – what’s not to like?”

Maybe Sleeping Beauty is in there?

Maybe Sleeping Beauty is in there?

Concealment: A new picket fence bordered with shrubs conceals the yard. Is there lawn behind it, or dried ground? “Ask me no questions, I’ll tell you no lies.”

Desert shrubs, bubbling fountain, recycled water?

Desert shrubs, bubbling fountain, recycled water?

Smugness: (prevalent with newer houses with either Mission-style or Modern architecture) Instead of lawn, lots of gravel in geometric designs, bark mulch, feather grass, sage, California natives and usually a “water feature” (with recycled water, of course) just to rub it in how much water they are saving on the rest of the landscaping. “We saw it coming and you didn’t! Nyah nyah nyah!”

Anachronistic: The traditional Los Altos ranchhouse, but the lawn has been replaced with bark mulch and gravel as with the Mission/Modern landscape. “So it doesn’t match the ranch-suburban look, it’s not going to be featured in Sunset, but it keeps the water bill down.”

50’s Los Altos throwback: a wide border of overgrown juniper shrubs, with a spread of English Ivy instead of lawn. “Everything old is new again!”

Is it real?

Is it real?

Embracing the inevitable (Suburban traditional): It looks like a luxuriant lawn, but a closer look reveals artificial turf. “I can have my cake and eat it too!”

Weeds, schmeeds! It's ornamental grass!

Weeds, schmeeds! It’s ornamental grass!

Embracing the inevitable (Pioneer traditional): A border around the former lawn has been mowed, but the central portion has been allowed to revert to waist-high horsetail grass and star thistle. “Weeds, shmeeds, I say it’s ornamental grass, and I say the heck with it!”

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