Lawns, rock and wood mulch deserts, and what could be

The front lawn is the biggest addiction of the American homeowner—even in my hometown of Davis, a city that likes to think of itself as a paragon of enlightenment and progress, yet often falls shorts in either category.

Here’s a selection of photos I took on walks around the neighborhood with Stella. I make no claims as to how representative these photos are of our city at large, but I have a feeling they reflect reality pretty well.

I’m not going to preach too much, but come on people, we’re in a permanent drought. And while removing your front lawn is laudable in and of itself, it’s only the first step: A bare expanse of wood chips or rocks may be maintenance-free for you, but it’s a dead zone for everybody else. You owe it to yourself and to your neighborhood to do better. (By the way, I'm only talking about non-functional lawns; the situation is different if you have kids who actively use it.) 

So much water and...

...maintenance needed...

...for a space that serves no purpose...

...and is never used

What a waste of opportunity

This is a little better, seeing how the lawn is fairly small and there’s quite a variety of other plants

I was so excited when they removed their lawn—just to replace it with new turf

The worst is a lawn that gets watered regularly yet looks like this

Letting your lawn die and doing nothing make weeds deliriously happy

Quite a few people in our neighborhood have removed their lawns. But all too often that’s where the ambition stops.

OK, they’ve done something, I just wish I knew what it was

I’m not a fan of rock deserts in the middle of suburbia, but at least this has Mexican feather grass growing in it—better there than in my own garden

A more interesting design, combining rock (still far too much of it) with low-growing shrubbery

Stella says: at least a strip of gravel is easy to traverse when chasing squirrels (not that my dad ever lets go of the d*§% leash)

A recently redone front yard at a corner. Between the rocks and the turf, I actually prefer the turf because it’s much easier to walk on. Those large pebbles trip you up!

This could be an ad for the wood mulch industry

Enough with the depressing stuff. Here are some examples of front yard conversions done right.

You don’t have to go overboard to create a vibrant front yard

Simple, yet attractive

A kindred spirits who believes in...


Sleek and elegant

I hate the word “curb appeal,” but this house has it in spades

My kinds of plants

One of my favorite front yards on our street

Whenever I see a blank slate like this, I feel a sense of optimism. Keeping my fingers crossed...

P.S. ¼" of rain this morning. Every drop matters.

© Gerhard Bock, 2022. All rights reserved. To receive all new posts by email, please subscribe here.


  1. As hard as it is to imagine, it seems many people just don't like or have interest in gardening. Maybe a hired hand maintains their lawn, and otherwise they don't give it a second thought. I don't know much about artificial turf, I've seen a few in my neighborhood, and it may be a good option for those who like the look of lawn without the water required to keep it green.
    The small bit of turf in our back yard, left to go dormant each summer, is saved for golf swing practice :-D

  2. The "OK, they’ve done something, I just wish I knew what it was" property -- those two rocks are very, very, very special and they framed them with some contrasting gravel and a plastic ring? Or, to be fair, more likely they discovered the area is solid tree roots and gave up.

    My newish next door neighbor waters and weeds his lawn by hand almost every day. It's small--6'x10', something like that. It looks absolutely perfect. The rest of his property is tough old trashy trees and succulents he doesn't water much. His lawn is what he has instead of a pet.

  3. I laughed (ruefully) when I read your comment about watching a neighbor remove their lawn only to replace it with more sod. I watched a neighbor across the canyon do exactly the same thing - twice! We've got at least 3 homes here that have replaced all or part of their grass with faux lawn. In one case, it was a relatively small shady area so it didn't bother me but another homeowner recently replaced 2 very large areas of turf, front and back, with fake grass. They spent a huge amount on the first area but the the company charged dramatically less for the second area because they supposedly got so many calls in response to the sign the homeowner posted along the street. I guess that means I can expect to see more fake grass in the future. In my view there are much better ways to save water that are less harmful to the environment than covering it in plastic that vendors claim can be recycled but seldom is.

  4. I'm with you. I don't get why everyone likes expanses of lawn. The properties you showed with more diverse plantings are far more attractive and I bet way less work. In the last photo are those birch trees in the middle? Can't imagine a more unsuitable tree for drought prone areas.

  5. There is much the same problem in Phoenix where people moved here from other areas (like the Midwest) and put in lawns and all the wrong plants. Tucson was smarter because they had water issues earlier. Back in the early days in U.S. history to have a lawn (the bigger the better) meant you had money and prestige. As time went on, that concept was copied by the middle class for the same reasons. Now the reasons are lost, but the grass still gets planted. We have to change NOW, not only for the water but the pollinators that need plants not grass!

  6. Oops, the Anonymous right above is me, Gerhard! Nancy Mumpton

  7. Still lots of front lawns in my neighborhood, but at least they are small. There are three on my block that have gone with faux lawns, one of them directly across the street. The fakeness is so obvious ! At least it saves water. On the plus side, there are several who have removed their lawns entirely and replaced them with climate/summer-dry appropriate plants and this really seems to be trending up here. The cacophony of the mow-blow dudes with their flotilla of gas powered equipment still continues though.

  8. Count me as one who does not understand the continued love affair with huge lawns. I have been whittling mine down for years. Around here (Maryland, Virginia) people have these huge savannahs which just sit there and get scorched by the Sun. It's bad enough around here, but if I lived in California or Arizona, I would feel guilty. Not to mention what you can grow there.

    Gerhard- love your site. Gut gemacht!

  9. That wood chip desert just looks like a fire waiting to happen! Here those who still have lawns allow them to go dormant over the summer, which is so ugly! I don't understand why anyone would want to come home to brown turf studded with weeds. I've not suggesting they water, but rather (like you) that they replace. Now they're all green though, we've been hit with an atmospheric river, 2" of rain yesterday alone!


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