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Letter to the Editor

Imagine there’s no water: Musings on sustainable gardening 

Let’s imagine for a moment that it is not raining very often, it is 100 degrees or more every afternoon and that some of our neighbors’ wells are going dry. Imagine that our creeks look like gravel pits, our favorite swimming holes are covered in algae, our flower beds seem very demanding and our lawns are getting decidedly crispy.

Just imagine.

We are experiencing an epic drought and in the midst of all the talk about cutting back on our use of water is the threat of having our landscapes become unrecognizable brownscapes. Those of us who still have water are hydrating our land in spite of the wisdom of conservation because we don’t want our grass or gardens to disappear before El Niño gets here.

We humans sometimes fail to see alternatives. We do what we have always done even in the face of evidence that a new way of doing things is way overdue. Like in other times of change or challenge, what we need during these dry days is a bit more Imagination.

Too many of us still harbor assumptions and preferences about what constitutes a “good-looking lawn” that became popular in wetter times and climes. It is time to replace these with different styles and techniques that actually work in our area and do not overburden our decreasing water resources.

How about xeriscaping? 

Xeriscaping is not just gravel and cactus. There are countless ways to design and maintain attractive and durable gardens on your property that do not depend upon thirsty plant species. You can even keep a small lawn, but let that Bermuda take over in the sunny part where it always wants to anyway and if you don’t have kids at home who need a soccer field or dogs who like a nice patch of grass whereupon to poop, it is high time to think about cutting down on grass rather than cutting it.

This summer is the perfect time to reconsider the Big Green Lawn Look and allow some new notions to creep into your consciousness.

Less lawn (or no formal lawn) can make you happier in many ways: You use less water, you use less fertilizer (or none at all), you have to mow and edge less square footage and you can replace it with something a lot prettier to look at and more useful than just plain ol’ grass. Play your cards right and you can skip getting the mower fixed next time it breaks down, unless you just like using your old rider as an adult go-cart. We know who you are.

In addition to cutting down on the actual area you keep as a manicured lawn, you will want to use a species of grass that doesn’t need much water or fertilizer. Bermuda is a great grass and we all know how well it adapts to growing wherever it is you do not want it. Buffalo grass is another wonderful native grass that needs little or no water and you can even skip mowing it most weeks since it grows slow and never really gets very tall. I have heard that the best way to grow a lawn in Texas is to haul in some nice pea gravel to a spot where you envision a parking space or driveway. Spend all day spreading out the gravel for your driveway, turn your back for one minute and you have a lawn.

I know, I know, you grew up on St. Augustine and just consider it the ideal lawn grass, but that was another time and likely another place and it is time to rethink this one, folks. St. Augustine is a big water-guzzler and if you are going to grow a crop that needs this much water, you might as well just put in a vineyard or grow tomatoes and strawberries. At least this way, you could qualify for that ag exemption.

When you have finally convinced yourself that you don’t want to have to take care of that Big Green Lawn Look anymore, this is where is all gets really interesting. You can have lovely stone or gravel paths that wind through your property, past your lantanas, alongside your rosemary, all the way up to that stunning flowerbed full of periwinkles, skullcap, blue sage and verbena. Mix in some tomatoes, herbs, squash, peppers and eggplant and you can hang out next to tomorrow night’s dinner and sip ice tea.

Your garden will have shady spots under your trees where you have placed a nice bench near the birdbath and over there is that spot where you have planted all kinds of native perennials the butterflies just cannot seem to leave alone. The frogs have moved in and the lizards are running away from your cats. Your dog is sitting at your feet. He doesn’t care. Welcome to your own domestic paradise.

If this doesn’t sound familiar, then it is time to start imagining a way out of the Big Lawn Look and into a new world of xeriscape gardening. Instead of just having a big ol’ sea of grass that takes up time, water and space, you can create outdoor rooms that will delight your senses, your budget and save the world all at the same time.

Just use your Imagination.
Susan Cook

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