“This is the irony,” thought home owner Richard Turner as he checked over the recently installed and amazingly authentic looking synthetic lawn in his mid-Wilshire front yard. “We grow grass to make the illusion that we don’t live in a desert. Here I am, enhancing the illusion of a lawn that is the illusion we don’t live in a desert.”
And there’s the rub. The iconic lavish, green tafetta like lawn — part of an aura profoundly inlayed in the Southern California perspectives and its surroundings — has arrived at a crossroads. Increasing drought, water costs that are hitting the ceiling and growing social awareness have merged to call into concern not only the continued practicality of owning a lawn but its very prestige.
The matter is polarizing, often fervent, with science encouraging both sides of the controversy. Lawn supporters claim grass lawns not only cool the encompassing air and produce oxygen but also pull hazardous carbon dioxide away from the atmosphere. Non-supporters on the other hand contend that any such benefit is more than balanced out by the sizable carbon footprint maintaining a lawn or improving it for that matter, from the expense to water it to generation and transport of fertilizer to nourish it and fuel to mow it.
The notion of maintaining a home lawn as a guilty satisfaction is rising. A lot of municipal water utility companies, together with the Long Beach Water Department, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power as well as the Pasadena Water and Power, present “cash for turf” programs and some are even offering discounts of $1 to $3 a sq.ft. to substitute a typical grass lawn with low-water plants. The LADWP, which has had a system in place ever since 2009, reports a significant increase in its turf removal initiatives ever since last summer. More and more, property owners — sometimes with ambivalence — are upgrading lawns with combinations of local plants, decomposed stone and other plants.
According to Glendale homeowner Tamara O’Connor, “The days of everyone expecting to have a lush green lawn are over,” who, after twenty seven years, is removing her huge front lawn. “Everything is changing, isn’t it?”
For other people, the time has not come quick enough. Peter and Hadley Arnold, co-founders of the Burbank-based Arid Lands Institute, one of the many think tank organizations discovering design improvement in water-stressed surroundings, witness the reconsideration of lawns as long past due. The biggest issue, according to the Arnolds, is the gigantic energy cost of bringing in water into Southern California, sixty percent of which goes to landscaping irrigation, primarily lawns.
With the rising cost of utility bills and continuing call for water conservation, this is probably high time to consider when to drawn the line on your lawn maintenance and upgrade. Of course having the greenest lawn in your community gives you that unique sense of pride but when do we consider enough is enough?