— Nan Sterman
It’s emerald green. It’s soft underfoot. It smells great when it’s cut. It’s fun to play on. There are many reasons to like grass, but there are also reasons not to have a lawn in your garden.
How grass lawns got here
Lawns are new to California. They arrived during the Victorian era when a smooth green carpet came to represent gentility. And no wonder, since keeping a lawn irrigated in this arid climate was something only the wealthy could attempt. That’s the same time that garden hoses and sprinklers were invented, making lawn watering even possible – if you could find the water.
Can you imagine what the landscape looked like in those days? Brilliant patches of green grass surrounding clusters of stately homes, all surrounded by dry, brown scrub? The contrast is mind boggling.
Lawns in California exploded with the housing boom after WWII. Every home had to have one. Environmental historian Char Miller of Pomona College, who is featured in this week’s episode, tells us that the proliferation of grass lawns was the single most transformative event in California landscape style.
Times have changed
Today, however, we are all realizing that those emerald green carpets come at great cost, one that we cannot and should not sustain. Lawns are
perfectly suited to climates where rains fall at regular intervals, especially through summer’s heat. But here lawns die unless they are irrigated two, three, or four times a week year round. For homeowners and most commercial properties, that means watering with potable water. And if we’ve learned anything from the current drought, it is how precious that water is.
In addition to their water needs, lawns need to be pruned weekly (mowing is pruning), fertilized regularly, and treated with pesticides/herbicides on a regular basis to keep them looking their best. Mowing involves gas powered mowers, grass clippings get trucked to the green waste recycler, processed using large equipment, then trucked back to our gardens to be used as mulch. That’s an over-sized carbon footprint for a simple green carpet.
Say bye bye grass
I’ve come to think of lawns the way I think of swimming pools; we can each have one in our garden but that doesn’t mean we should. Instead, let’s enjoy lawns in parks, community centers and other places where we can share them with our friends and neighbors. But when it comes to home gardens and commercial landscapes, it’s high time we said “bye bye” to grass – and this week, we show you how.