Somewhere That’s Green
When many people envision their ideal home landscape, they picture grass as a wall-to-wall carpet that covers most of their property. Front and backyards that are based on turf are traditional – an idea imported from the eastern United States, where grass is easier to grow with abundant summer rainfalls. The love for turf goes back further, to the estates of the European royalty that presented opulent and highly controlled landscapes as potent symbols of their status and wealth. Versailles, the pleasure palace of Louis XIV, was hugely influential in influencing tastes in landscapes for the middle class, who copied on smaller scales the formal and symmetrical designs with sheared hedges, shrubs and trees, all framed by a perfectly maintained carpet of grass.
This look evolved into the traditional American landscape with its foundation shrubs in front of the house, two shade trees on either side of the sidewalk to the front door, and Kentucky blue grass framing it all. The post World War II suburban housing boom featured this idealized landscape as part of the American Dream of home ownership, domestic bliss, and financial security. American grass seed and fertilizer companies heavily promoted the prospect of a perfect lawn as the status symbol of success. Husbands spent hours every weekend preparing soil, planting seed or laying sod, watering, fertilizing, weeding, and reseeding to cultivate their lawn for their neighbors’ approval and envy.
This aesthetic was as present in San Diego as in Cleveland or any other American city. However, many factors are creating a change in the ideal American landscape, particularly here in southern California. The most important one is that rain is rare to nonexistent for 6-10 months of warm weather, water prices keep going up, and droughts result in water rationing. San Diego recently made permanent its restrictions on water use for landscapes. Lawns that used to be green and lush now turn brown in the summertime.
However, there are many alternatives to either accepting parched grass, bare dirt or gravel, or paying for expensive water (and risking fines for illegal use of that water). One solution is to install underground irrigation, which is not covered by San Diego’s restriction on overhead watering to a 3-day-a-week and morning-only schedule. This updated irrigation can be installed at the same time the high water-use grass species is swapped out for a more water-wise one. Yet another possibility is artificial turf, some of which now look good enough to fool even us at first glance.
The best solution of all for you may be to consider why a landscape dominated by grass is even desirable or necessary. Lawns are useful for homes with kids and pets as areas for play. For those who still need lawns, consider reducing its area to that which is actually used. One study found that the average home only needs around 600 square feet of grass for recreation. Many landscapes that we have designed provide even smaller areas of grass – enough for the pet dog to lounge in the sun, for example. This patch of grass is featured in the back yard.
However, the front yard lawn in particular is rarely used by anyone anymore – it’s just there for show. Fortunately, landscaping aesthetics are evolving away from the requisite carpet of green. There are many different styles to choose from, many of which include more naturalistic designs that reflect the real look of southern California. These designs easily make use of the diversity of plants from California and areas around the world with similar climates. We use plants that are water-wise to reduce your water and maintenance bills, and provide an array of colors and textures to your landscape. Your landscape can be just as leafy and lush, and present you with year-round interest that will make you forget that the grass was ever there, and why you thought you ever needed so much of it in the first place.