Are big suburban lawns becoming un-PC in California? Is that such a bad thing?
My main memory of a Palm Springs weekend was driving through a ritzy neighborhood, and seeing through homes' gates big stretches of green lawns—and thinking how unreal that green glowed—like a mold from outer space—against the desert landscape.
We don’t live in a desert. Our climate is described as Mediterranean, but do big green lawns around houses belong here, any more than they do in Palm Springs? They have become fixtures of our suburbs, but should they be? Is it time to rethink this popular landscaping strategy, especially for bigger homes on large lots, given our climate and California’s ongoing concerns about water supplies?
That’s the question asked by the KQED radio show Quest the other morning, which you can listen to here. The show begins by pointing out that the series of storms this past winter have alleviated our immediate concerns about drought. However, those storms haven’t relieved Californians of still worrying about how and where our growing population will get water to keep our yards green, our pools filled, our farms irrigated.
To cut down on household water use, the state in January instituted new water restrictions on landscaping. Municipalities around the state are deciding whether to use these base state guidelines to impose water conversation measures on property owners—or to adopt their own, more stricter guidelines on water use.
These restrictions raise the question: “Wither the lawn?”
Gleick said changing social norms and heightened environmental concerns will likely make Californians more interested in asking why we started to plant lawns around our homes in the first place. He said East Coast immigrants to California in the 19th and 20th centuries were enamored of the big green lands surrounding country manors in Great Britain. They transplanted that idea of the big green lawn as status symbol to California, regardless of whether big green lawns were suitable to our drier climate.
Gleick wonders if that symbol is losing some of its status as the practice of "green" and eco-friendly life-style practices is becoming the new fashion, the new status symbol.
He compares the desire for big green lawns to smoking on airplanes, and suggests that one day “we’ll look back on lawns as anachronisms"-- as one of those things we'd be amazed that we ever did.
For more information about the state's new water restrictions, read Quest reporter Katharine Mieszkowski's blog on "Putting Landscaping on a (Water) Budget." She basically explains that a developer in California, who plans a new commercial or residential property that has at least 2500 square feet of yard and garden, must tailor the plantings to conform to the amount of water the state deems sufficient for that site.
Existing landscapes, she adds, won't be impacted by these new rules. "But homeowners might wonder how their own landscaping would stack up if their properties were being built today," she says. "In other words, is your yard a dated relic of California's water guzzling past, or, an exemplar of the drought-tolerant future that the state's trying to nudge us all towards?"