- Author: Marian I Chmieleski
This is the perfect time of year to think about your lawn. Once the only thing people planted as a front yard ground cover, the lawn is now being seriously re-considered. A lawn takes a lot of care: regular weed control, periodic feeding and, ideally, de-thatching and aerating once a year. If we use chemical fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides on our lawns, there is almost always some run-off that eventually feeds into the San Francisco Bay. Our gas-powered mowers, de-thatchers and aerators contribute pollution to the air we breathe and the electric ones, naturally, use electricity, thereby adding more carbon to the air. Additionally a lawn takes a lot of water.
According to sustainable landscape designer and Cupertino Master Gardener Deva Luna, lawn mowers account for 5% of air pollution in the United States, (I wonder if that includes the weed-eater and the leaf-blower.) and more than 30% of urban fresh water is used to water lawns. Holy cow! That's a lot of water that we may not continue to have available as the population of our state continues to grow, the climate continues to warm, and aquifers are depleted.
With the goal of encouraging wise water usage and a more-healthy, sustainable landscape, Solano County is continuing its Water-Efficient Landscape Rebate program this year. The Solano County Water Agency is again offering residents a rebate of one dollar per square foot of existing lawn removed and replaced with native and drought-tolerant plants on a drip irrigation system. The County is also offering a Bay Friendly Landscape Workshop, planned for September 14th from 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. Check the website for details. http://www.solanosaveswater.org/Rebates.html
Lawn removal is a pretty big project. Depending on the type of grass you have there may be a variety of approaches. It may involve sod cutting/scraping and smothering; solarizing the soil; sheet mulching; rototilling; or even just pick and shovel labor. If you are interested you can find a nice "how-to" list at fremontlibraries.wordpress.com/2009/06/05how-to-remove-your-lawn.
You can also check out www.bayfriendlycoalition.org/principles for some good reasons to take out that lawn as well as a list of garden professionals in the Bay Area.
In our family we are beginning the process of removing a Bermuda grass lawn and replacing it with appropriate drought-tolerant perennials, perhaps a small deck, a dry creek bed and a swale to catch rainwater, keeping it on the lot. We'll get our first experience with solarization and hope for a nice warm next six weeks to really toast that grass. Easier care, lower water bills and the knowledge that we are making our planet home a little bit more healthy will surely be worth the effort.
Attached are a few pictures of water-wise yards in our area.
By 2009 the one remaining lawn is the main lawn with the traditional "need to mow and water" grass from the front door to the sidewalk. We begin planting a little garden next to the house with a row of Erysimum below our living room window. They look very tidy. We add some Euphorbia characias and I find the beautiful yellow blooms against the grey-blue foliage enticing.
During the spring of 2009 I attended a workshop at Solano College given by the Solano County Master Gardeners on the subject of "Propagation". The MG's are friendly and very helpful as they explain some basic how-to's of plant propagation, I'm hooked and submit my application for the Solano Master Gardener's Program 2010 term. As I sit through the series of lectures, I realize there are many options for gardening and soon begin to think seriously about removing the main front lawn and putting in a garden that is more interesting to use, uses much less water and give us a chance to experiment with different plant materials. So it is now 2011 and the rains seem to continue on and on. Finally it is May and our son has relocated nearby. He agrees to remove the sod and we are on our way.
A couple years later and now we are both retired. We decide to pull out another mow strip in front and put in some nice perennials and herbs. We are now cooking alot more and fresh herbs are always a good idea. The dogs play in the backyard so the herbs were much safer in the front. Also, we were beginning to think it would be nice to have some plants that aren't as attractive to insects and disease as our roses have proven to be. I was spending a lot of time with my Sunset New Western Garden Book looking up rose disease and pest solutions by now and had begun to notice that many perennials had some pretty nice features.
So the middle strip of lawn between the walkway up to the front door and the driveway eventually got dug out. Since our two dogs love their daily walks around the neighborhood and I am the designated dog walker, I am noticing more what is going on with the neighbor's gardens and appreciate what is blooming and doing well or not. Have I mentioned that it is very windy in the front yard as our street faces the Carquinez Strait. There is virtually nothing to slow down the wind so the plants have to be sturdy enough to withstand both the long exposure to sun and frequent day long winds. These same winds, I suspect, have also played a role in spreading some of our most prevelent rose diseases and pests amongst our neighbors, namely rust, black spot, mildew and the most invasive of all, the aphids. Thank you perennials for entering our lives.
As we planted our newly dug out mow strip, just by luck did we choose a Lantana montevidensis 'Confetti' to anchor this garden area. I can't claim to have studied a book or website to make this decision. The Lantana was just sitting very prettily near the entrance to Mid-City Nursery the day I had chosen to make some plant purchases. This plant has proven to be one of the hardiest and most prolific bloomers in the garden. It has stood up to my trimming and shaping with a vengence. It has become a real stunner as it is now shaped as a small bushy tree with branches that bend gracefully with many blooms. Besides the many people that like this plant, it has attracted Monarch butterflies each year along with bees and many different birds that are attracted by the berries in late summer. We have added many herbs including Origanium vulgare, Salvia officianalis, and Thymus vulgaris. Besides the herbs, we have added Aloe attenuata and arborescens, Coreopsis, and many, many different succulents. This old mow strip has really turned into a joyful garden.
So with success brings confidence. As we shape our gardens we continue to learn what grows well, and looks good. and when it is time to shovel prune an intruder or poor student as in the case of many of those early rose choices. Truthfully we haven't had to shovel prune much, we have grateful neighbors with more patience and know how who have been happy to give new homes to our cast-offs.
- Author: Kathy Thomas-Rico
That scraping sound you hear is my soapbox being dragged out. Today’s rant is nothing new, but I’m gonna rant anyway:
Do we really need our front lawns? I don’t think we do.
I know many of us are wedded to the idea of a lovely green expanse that fills space and provides a great spot for kids and dogs to play. I maintain, however, that California is not the ideal place for a manicured lawn. Our climate is dry, unlike the Midwest and East where summer rains keep lawns moist and green. We Californians have to irrigate our lawns, a lot. And therein lies the rub: Our state’s precious water is needed for other things.
There’s no arguing that less-thirsty, more appropriate turfgrasses are being developed for Western yards. Check the UC Guide to Healthy Lawns (http://www.ipm.ucdavis.edu/TOOLS/TURF/index.html) for some really helpful, detailed information on turf species.
In the meantime, perhaps you’ve noticed a small trend in Vacaville? Some front yards have gone turf-free. And the results are really attractive. Water-wise plantings are being used, and I’m not talking cactus set among yards of white rock. I’m seeing colorful salvias, graceful meadow grasses, lush ferns, spiky phormiums, delicate Japanese maples, even edibles, all used to great effect.
You should know this: This kind of landscape is cheaper and easier to maintain than a lawn. Drip irrigation is perfect in these situations (placing water right where it needs to go), no need to mow (less air pollution), no need to blow (less noise), and very little need to fertilize (cleaner runoff after a rain). Perhaps best of all: That water bill will be lower, and the water is being used more responsibly.
Amen to that.
A few years down the road and we both agreed that it would be nice to have some rose bushes. So we shopped for roses on the weekends and found spots in the back garden for our new treasures. Of course, we choose our roses by color, fragrance, and size. My earlier experiences with roses had been rather lucky. I had planted bush roses that bloomed and thrived in the East Bay climate with virtually no pests or diseases.
We were happy with our beautiful roses and as we ran out of room in the backyard, we decided to remove one of the lawn mow strips in front yard and plant some more roses. These new roses would benefit from the daylong full sun exposure with the south west orientation; something we were beginning to realize might be a problem with some of the shady backyard planting areas. We had a dedicated rose bed encircled with tree roses which were doing very well until I decided to plant a cute little fig tree in the vacant middle part of the bed. A couple of years later the fig had to go, as it grew up it provided a little too much shade and attracted the squirrels, much to the chagrin of our two large dogs. (to be continued on October 12)