Changes in the Yard and Another Drought

Changes in the Yard and Another Drought

Last fall I started the project of removing the front yard parkway grass, about 260 sq. ft. It has been replaced with a mix of California native and Mediterranean climate plants, mostly geophytes, annuals, biennials, and perennials. I like to move things around from one year to the next, so I didn’t add any shrubs at this time. It looked lovely up through mid June, full of color along with lots of bees and butterflies. Every few weeks, there seemed to be a different star of the show. Many passersby stopped to stare at the towering Hollyhocks, but I was particularly fond of the Triteleia laxa, Lupines, Monkeyflowers, and Clarkias. Although most of it has gone over, it still looks acceptable with the Epilobiums, Oenothera elata, and Amarcrinums just beginning to bloom. Hopefully in the next few months, the “naked ladies” and Spider Lilies will send up their flowers and the Tithonia will bring in more butterflies. After hearing how serious this drought is becoming, and always wanting more room for my edible and ornamental plants, we recently revisited the idea of removing the front lawn entirely and planting it all in a similar manner to the parkway.

  • parking strip hellstrip design grass
  • Elenore MonkeyFlower
  • aster frikarti blue flowers monch wonder of stafa
  • perennials coming out of dormancy on parking strip hellstrip

Since we have lived through a number of droughts in this house, we have seen how the Bermuda grass can be a survivor, and we decided it would use less water to leave it in place, at least for the foreseeable future. We also felt this would be more in line with the rest of the neighborhood. With a Bermuda grass lawn, if it goes brown, the grass will green up without much effort on our part when rain returns. We are currently watering about once a week so it is green-ish enough right now not to be an eyesore.

The lawn is starting to thin and brown a little these days, but it is still green-ish.

On our daily walks, Corgie and I often go past yards that participated in our city’s lawn to garden rebate program. Some still look absolutely fabulous, but others have Bermuda grass that crept back in and took over or some have large numbers of plants that have died. Although we would be happy to get a rebate and use less water, I feel the program’s timeline of four months doesn’t work for us.

parkway with thinned out landscaping. This yard was converted during the last drought to low water with the city rebate for lawn to garden program.
This is one of the yards that participated in the lawn to garden program that had a number of plants die. Hopefully, it will get replanted, but it has been four years now. However, I like the lines of the beds with the decomposed granite. I took this picture when I started to think about redoing the parkway, and I was looking around for inspiration of what to do and not do.

I would prefer to make the changes over the course of a year (or more) so I can effectively remove the Bermuda grass. It is much harder to eradicate than most other turf species, but that is also why it comes back when rainfall and irrigation are plentiful again. Round-Up, glyphosate, the lawn would need to be thriving and green, in order to completely kill it, which would be counterproductive if we are trying to reduce water use. As an organic gardener, I prefer to dig and sift it out by hand, up to 12 inches down, as I did in the parkway area, the new little veggie patch, and the other 2000 sq ft we have taken out and replaced with fruit trees and flowers over the last couple of decades.

half and half. Less lawn more native flowers
Here is how the parkway looks currently in mid-July. The Hookers Evening Primrose is the dominating presence, along with rudbeckia

I think it was a good decision on Governor Brown’s part to mandate water restrictions during the last drought. It didn’t leave room for folks like me to choose to keep our lawns green. Our lawn was straw brown for a few years. Californians were all in it together last time and brown lawns were the norm, not the exception. It also allowed homeowners living in HOAs to avoid penalties for letting their grass die out. However, some of the news is saying our area isn’t in as dire of a drought yet as the rest of the state, yet.

I was surprised Governor Newsom didn’t mandate water restrictions until I remembered he was facing a recall election. I think it would be beneficial to all of California if Governor Newsom put concerns aside about how it could affect his public opinion polls and implement new state-wide water restrictions. If that happens, I will put away the oscillating sprinkler and let the front grass go completely brown again until water reserves improve.

After investing so much time and money into the fruit trees and flowering plants, it makes me sad to think we will see more of them may die in this worsening drought. Everything we grow feeds something, either us, the chickens, the tortoise, the bees, the mourning cloak caterpillars, raccoons, jays, skunks, opossums, and hummingbirds or provides habitat for other insects and lizards. We lost or took out many plants the last time, including Bababerrries, blackberries, blueberries, and a beautiful red Japanese maple that didn’t tolerate the grey water we gave it. I wish Long Beach could repipe the residential neighborhoods to use reclaimed water for outdoor use like they use to irrigate in the parks and golf courses. I am not I am ready to go without our garden.

veggie garden small
Corgie is demonstrating scale in the little veggie patch where we took out grass last year. Currently, it is beans, zucchini, herbs, and cucumbers.

After recently checking NOAA, I am not overly optimistic the drought will lessen during the coming winter. I normally propagate lots of little fruit trees and plants for donating to the OC CRFG and their spring fundraiser, but if I will be trying to reduce water use, pots are one thing I will be eliminating since most need daily watering, especially on hot days, and they don’t get the greywater. The pots also usually sit on the driveway to avoid coming in contact with soil, since most will be sold or donated to others.

We will try to do our part to save 15% more, but from what I looked into at water dept. our family members are already using 20% less than the LB average per capita since we have continued to do most of the water-saving measures we implemented during the last two droughts.

Update to this post on 8/3/2021. We recently had a reporter from the KCRW, a local NPR radio station, from a show called Greater LA, come by the house and interview me about my thoughts on the drought, what we are doing, but also about keeping a lawn despite the drought! They interviewed a few other locals, who said many of the same things, but much better than I did, but it sure was fun getting to participate. A podcast show can be found here.

If you are passionate about gardening like me, do you have any tips for saving more water, especially in the garden?

WhenWhere was the lawn and what replaced itApprox. Amount of Lawn removed
1997We started out with approximately 3200 sq ft of lawn around the property
1999 Backyard perimeter was changed to flowerbeds, fruit trees, and shrubs400 sq ft
2000Turf between patio and house changed to drought-tolerant flowers150 sq ft
2000Turf behind garage changed to veggie beds and gravel pathways290 sq ft
2001Liquidamber tree too close to the house with turf strip on Westside removed and changed to hopscotch path and grape arbors145 sq ft
2001 Declining Italian Cypress trees and Junipers were removed from the front yard and grass was removed to expand the flower beds120 sq ft
20034 ft strip of grass on West side of front lawn changed to flower beds155 sq ft.
2004Long Narrow strip of backyard driveway converted to blackberries and kiwifruit80 sq ft
2007Started irrigating fruit trees with Greywater from the laundry
2015Expanded the fruit tree orchard and flowerbed into lawn area after removing the concrete patio and installing a permeable paver patio. 380 sq ft
2020Patch of grass behind driveway gate converted to a veggie bed65 sq ft
2020Parkway strip of grass converted to low water flower bed260 sq ft
2021Using a fun water-saving calculator at that uses google earth maps, it looks like we have a bit over 1100 sq ft of lawn left on our property to go. 2045 sq ft total removed
I have slowly made changes in the yard at a pace that allows me to carefully eliminate the Bermuda grass and change to less thirsty ornamental and edible plants.

I would love to know what you think about this.

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