The elephant in the room, a.k.a. our front lawn
As the drought in California and other parts of the western U.S. continues unabated, more and more homeowners are switching to water-wise landscaping. In our garden, we’ve been focusing on low-H₂O plants since the beginning so we haven’t had to swap out large swaths of plant material to accommodate the new normal. All planting strips and beds are on drip irrigation, which runs once a week for 20 minutes.
However, there’s a metaphorical elephant that stares you right in the face when you look at the following photos: the front lawn. At roughly 400 sq.ft. it isn’t huge and in previous years it was used regularly by our kids, but as yet another bone-dry summer approaches, it’s getting harder and harder to justify its existence. It, too, gets watered once a week for 20 minutes and is doing reasonably well on this new regimen. Yet I bet the lawn sprinklers running at full blast for 20 minutes put out much more water than a drip system would.
My wife and I have tentatively decided to remove the front lawn in the fall, but there are many things we’re not sure about yet. Should we turn off the sprinklers now and let the grass die over the summer? Would we want to look out on a 19×21 ft. brown patch for the next four or five months? Or should we continue to water it (other areas of the front yard are irrigated on the same station as the lawn)?
More importantly, what are we going to replace the lawn with? My first thought was to create a central mound and plant it with succulents—surprise! My wife, on the other hand, would like a couple of stock tanks for vegetables since the front lawn gets sun even in the winter when the vegetable garden in the backyard (fallow this summer) is in deep shade.
How can we combine the two so they don’t look like a particular unfortunate Lady Gaga outfit? Maybe create raised vegetable beds with low stacked-stone walls instead of using stock tanks? (I’m a big fan of stock tanks but they don’t look good in every situation.)
I definitely want a large agave as a central feature. I recently obtained a decent-sized offset from a variegated Weber agave (Agave weberi ‘Arizona Star’) that might be perfect here (the plant below is the mother, herself still a young ‘un). ‘Arizona Star’ has the potential to grow to 4 ft. tall and 6 ft. wide. Here is a specimen that gives you an idea of how beautiful this variety can be when well grown.
I envision it surrounded by rocks and smaller succulents, and possibly even backed by a slender and ethereal desert tree like palo blanco (Mariosousa willardiana, previously Acacia willardiana). The palo blanco would be planted behind the agave and vegetable bed so it doesn’t shade them.
I’m actually glad we have time to think about this instead of rushing into anything now in order to beat the summer heat. I’ll be able to re-read Lawn Gone! by Pam Penick and check out similar books. I’d much rather take my time in the fall when whatever plants we pick will have the opportunity to get established before next year’s summer heat.
I would love to hear what your thoughts are. What would you do if this were your front lawn? Let your imagination run wild!