In the Garden:
Northern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
September, 2010
Regional Report

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This front yard landscape is certainly more colorful than a lawn and much easier to care for.

Out With the Old!

It's no secret that I am not a big fan of turf grass in the landscape. I feel that lawns are a waste of water, time and perfectly good planting areas that could be better used for something else - something with color or something that you can eat. I know that some people take great pride in their lawns, but the fact is; most folks I know curse the fact that they have to mow the darned grass every week, rain or shine.

Green lawns are an English tradition that became popular with the advent of cinema. Hollywood glamorized rolling expanses of lush, green turf. Turf grass lawns really don't make sense unless you have kids or pets, especially here in the arid west where water is precious.

Now that fall planting season has arrived, why not take this opportunity to dig up that tired old lawn and replace it with something colorful, drought resistant and maintenance free?

Last summer my friend Jean and I did exactly that with her father's front yard. Prior to the relandscaping, she had her dad turn off the water until the lawn was basically dead (good riddance!). She then hired a neighbor with a rototiller to come and incorporate bags and bags of organic compost into the existing soil. We left the old irrigation system in place, covered the amended soil with landscape fabric and then went to the nursery to select plants that would require little, or no, maintenance once established. Gaura, yarrow, lantana, various ornamental grasses and a variety of heather's that bloom throughout the year were planted in a random pattern. I brought some cuttings of Henry's aeonium to put in the brick planter box that surrounds the porch. We added a thick layer of free mulch from the local tree trimming company to complete the project.

The garden is well established now and honestly, it requires almost nothing in the way of maintenance other than to remove faded flowers from the yarrow and to pull the occasional weed that sneaks in through the openings in the landscape fabric. The garden is watered via the old irrigation system once a week for 7 minutes. I apply slow release fertilizer every 3 months to the base of the plants.

The best part of this garden is how it looks from inside the house. Instead of looking out of the front window and seeing a flat, spotty lawn and the across-the-street neighbor, the view has been changed to clouds of pink gaura, rolling banks of yellow yarrow and interesting grass plants that move gracefully in the constant South City breeze. The variety of heights and textures is what makes this landscape work.

This project could easily be completed in a weekend, and think of the savings in terms of water, maintenance time and chemical usage! Jean, who is an accountant, figured the entire project, from start to finish, including the compost, landscape fabric and plants, cost about $600. What have you got to lose except your lawn mower???


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