A Piece of My Mind: To Green or Not to Green (LATC Feb 1,2017)
After four years of drought our lawn was a patchy mélange of sparse grass, tough weeds, exposed tree roots, and bare dirt. We have a corner lot, and even with the rose garden, clothesline, and veggie garden along one side, the lawn area still wraps around three sides of our house – a lot of space to replant or re-imagine.
In recent months I had comforted myself that our yard was not yet the ugliest and most neglected-looking on the street, but it was sinking quickly into contention for that title, and one by one the other practitioners of benign neglect were re-landscaping.
Some folks in our neighborhood had opted for xeriscaped yards – super-water-wise with lots of wood chips replacing grass and featuring agaves, sage, fountain grass, and other drought-tolerant plants. This style of landscape looks good with mission-style architecture a la Santa Fe, but our house is a modified ranch style. Desert landscaping doesn’t fit.
Plus, I heard from a reliable neighbor that the cost of such a total re-invention of our yard would be in thousands of dollars. It would take us a long time to pay the investment off in water savings, no matter how ecologically correct it would be
Our gardener, veteran of many years of rain cycles, assured us that a lawn renewal – not with sod, but with seed, could be done at a fraction of the cost of re-landscaping, and now was the ideal time, with a series of winter storms coming in to break the drought. So, despite my Sierra Club membership and longing for green cred, we agreed to his plan: first, thatching the yard to get rid of the existing scrubby growth, then reseeding with a drought-resistant grass, fertilizing, and hoping for rain.
The gardener’s team arrived, and in one Saturday morning our patchy, weedy yard was transformed into a smooth brown expanse of tilled soil It looked so much better that I almost wanted to stop there. But the gardener had already sowed seeds, and we sat back to wait for our new lawn.
Whoops! Here come the birds! Flocks of little brown sparrows and black-capped chickadees descend on that yummy grass seed. I shout at them and shoo them and toss pebbles in their direction, and they fly back into the shrubbery, then flock out again as soon as I am inside the house. How will there be any seeds left to germinate against this feathered horde?
Here comes the rain! Buckets of rain in storm after storm for almost two weeks in January!
Here comes the grass! It’s not exactly a smooth green carpet, and the little blades are noticeably sparser close to the shrubs that sheltered those dratted birds, but it is indubitably grass. Surely those little blades will grow thicker as they push on into the sun! And then
Here come the weeds! For four years of drought we had not worried about weeds- even dandelions had trouble thriving in baked adobe clay. Now we have our first new dandelions. Can oxalis and sticker-burs be far behind?
In another month or so I should be able to tell you whether we should have gone with the xeriscaping after all. Stay tuned!