Pay Dirt

Success! After removing our front yard lawn and converting the entire area to an assortment of drought-tolerant plants and small shrubs we’ve documented a savings in water usage, as compared to last year during the same billing cycle, with a fifty percent reduction.


With our high daytime temperatures and landscape watering restricted to twice a week, lawns aren’t necessarily dying, but they aren’t very pretty. I was motivated to make changes so that I could adapt rather than grit my teeth.

Other homeowners are removing large portions of their lawns and replacing with decomposed granite or a heavy reliance upon gravel and rock. We have a couple of areas with pea gravel as a base for some added sitting areas. We (we, meaning Jay) did the heavy lifting and created a very large and sweeping granite walkway that serves two purposes.  I couldn’t plant anything under our shallow-rooted Redwood other than a few also shallow-rooted succulents. The pathway, with some ground cover between the stones, permits water saturation and breaks up the larger space with a purpose.

One of the things that has been a big concern to environmentalists is concern that in an effort to conform to the new rules, beneficial green spaces will be disregarded. If not accounted for properly, removal of all grass without some level of accountability could begin to affect trees and create even bigger problems over time. Additionally, people opting to use decomposed granite or only utilize rocks and gravel as replacement to turf could actually cause higher temperatures without the grass and greens to attract moisture at night and cool the area.

A fairly new-to-me term, heat islands, once thought mainly to pertain to highly urbanized areas, could begin to affect more suburban residential districts. Changing landscapes require some thoughtful planning.

What began as a response to the city-imposed water reduction mandates has opened up a rich and satisfying opportunity to learn a whole new plant vocabulary. I’ve been an avid gardener my entire life, but learning the differences between true California natives as distinctly different from the widely marketed “California Friendly” label, or simply the catchall term “drought tolerant” is a broad new vista of learning opportunity.

I’ve already taken a couple of on-line classes through the offerings of the Theodore Payne Foundation, a local non-profit with a mission to inspire and educate Southern Californians about the beauty and ecological benefits of California native plant landscapes. This wonderful resource deserves a blog post devoted entirely to what it has to offer.

The results of our hard work are personally very satisfying. It’s been both amusing and interesting to me to observe how others have responded. Many of our neighbors have been highly complimentary, and it appears they are genuinely a bit intrigued. A friend in a neighboring city drives by almost daily just to “admire,” or so she says. She’s intrigued that because of our drip irrigation we aren’t getting many weeds.

Others have been quick to say “This is so you! I like what you’ve done,” and then they give me a good schooling as to why they will never give up their lawns. Or my favorite, “I don’t like cactus.” I have a few succulents, but no cactus. I just smile.

The birds, bees and the butterflies are very happy. It’s still 90 degrees and higher throughout most of our day and so at this point I can’t say I’m sitting outside observing as many changes as I’m hoping to document when it begins to cool a little, but right off the block I am very happy. The areas we haven’t completed can wait a bit, and we’ll just let nature tell us what to do next.

I hope to share more detail as I have time. In doing whatever research I needed just to embolden myself to get started I have enjoyed some Southern California blogs devoted to the topic of reducing water in the garden and I hope I can become a bit of encouragement to others considering taking up their lawns.

I have so much learning ahead of me in attempting to learn how to care for the changes in my own climate, so it’s not possible for me to be very knowledgeable about where you live. But each of us must be facing local weather-related challenges, sometimes resulting in a strain on natural resources. It is good for us all to consider what we can do to contribute to overall ecological health.

Again, this isn’t everyone’s path, and if you’re very partial to a green lawn this really isn’t for you. But I hope you’ll enjoy learning a little more about our choices. The classes I’m taking and the steeper learning curve in knowing how to prune and care for plants that are entirely new to me is something I’m enjoying so you’ll likely be invited to come along on the journey with me.

I’m looking ahead to Autumn when we will be ready to complete a few unfinished areas. We are hard workers, but we don’t want sunstroke.

If you happen to live in Southern California, please take a few minutes to learn more about the Theodore Payne Foundation. It’s a treasure of information. And if you aren’t local, I’d still encourage you to learn about the foundations and organizations in your area devoted to native plant cultivation. It’s a fascinating nearly endless subject!