Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed

Is your Yard “Green”?

At WaPo, Ed Begley Jr. tells how he ripped up his yard and went native …

What do you do for your yard that is “green” (ecologically sustainable and natural)?

One of the first things I did when I moved into my current home in Los Angeles in 1988 was to rip out the lawn. I realize that this borders on heresy: If the American Dream were a book, it’d probably have a grassy green lawn on its cover.

I have no problem with garden gnomes or lawn-jockeys, if that’s your thing. But lawns are thirsty, and in Southern California we get nearly all of our water by dipping our straw in someone else’s drink. Nationally, it’s estimated that 50 to 70 percent of residential water use goes toward landscaping, most of it to water lawns.


When I got out my shovel, though, I wasn’t just looking to conserve water. A lawn is usually composed of a single species of grass – often one that’s not local to the area – and this reduces biodiversity. If you’re looking at one yard, this isn’t a big deal, but nationwide, an estimated 20 to 30 million acres of land is covered by lawns.

There are other choices. After I finished ripping out the lawn, I put in a drought-tolerant garden composed of a great many native California plants, such as sage. Boy, does it smell good. It also features a shifting array of colors throughout the year. And, unlike a traditional lawn, I don’t have to douse it with petroleum-based fertilizers or with pesticides, herbicides and fungicides.

The small amount of water I need to irrigate the drought-tolerant plants, the fruit trees and the vegetable garden that replaced my lawn all comes from rain and recycled graywater. So by simply using water that would have otherwise wound up in the sewer, I have one of the best-looking yards on my block and fresh produce to boot.

Comments read comments(15)
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Mike M

posted May 10, 2010 at 2:15 am

Edible landscaping, even here in the Midwest where water is plentiful:

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Mick Porter

posted May 10, 2010 at 7:13 am

Great topic Scot!
I’m setting up a Permaculture (contraction of “permanent” and “agriculture”) system in the yard. It’s been heavily mulched with leftover cardboard and paper, as well as palm fronds from trees on site and compost. Lots of fruit trees planted, as well as herbs and vegetables.
The system attempts to harvest and store water well, to form a kind of ecosystem with a balance of insects and other life forms, to have an improving soil quality, to avoid toxins, and to have a high yield.
I even started a blog about it, called Backyard Permaculture, which is partly to aid interaction with the gardening community in our city. We recently went to our first “Permablitz”, where a bunch of people spend a morning beginning a garden in someone’s yard – amazing how much a dozen adults can achieve in a morning! Also a great way to interact with the community.

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posted May 10, 2010 at 8:38 am

I now live in NY where the grasses in my yard (no expert on plant ID here, so I don’t even know what they are) all grow without the slightest drop of water from a hose. God takes care of the watering, and the grass is always green (usually growing more quickly than I mow). However, I used to live in northeast Texas and was looking to replace my burmuda and St. Augustine (heresy not to have St. Aug in Texas, I know) with natives like Buffalo grass, for the same reason as Ed.
If you are in that area, Howard Garrett has a lot of great advise on what you can do to have a lawn that is sustainable and native in the Texas heat:

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Paul Sheneman

posted May 10, 2010 at 8:48 am

I never water my lawn or yard plants. If they live then great. If not then it was preordained:)

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posted May 10, 2010 at 8:53 am

I think Ed Begley is correct. We live in a dry and hot part of the country, though not quite so hot and dry as Southern California. Watering our yard is expensive and, I believe, wasteful. We’ve replaced some of our grass with native plants, but I think it would be good if we did more.

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Michael Todd

posted May 10, 2010 at 9:54 am

Huh? So, when my redneck family members park an old car in their lawn and it kills the grass, they are actually being environmentally conscious?

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Mike M

posted May 10, 2010 at 10:38 am

Nice job, Mick P. Is that a WoodGas stove in the top video?

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posted May 10, 2010 at 10:42 am

I am not a lawn guy. I have weeds mixed in with my grass – hence bio-diversity. I do not water my lawn, I let rain come and do its thing. I do not fertilize my lawn, it will just have to get by with what is there. I mow everything, same level, all the time. Grass is green, weeds are green, it is all good. Beside the trees, and they are enormous, have pretty much sucked all the nutrients from the soil or sand as it is, there is not much growing anyway. So I am good with that.

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posted May 10, 2010 at 1:29 pm

Had to laugh about this one!
About three years ago, we buried the lawn — front and back — in cedar bark chips (not the bark dust stuff) … not to prevent having to water (we live in the Pacific Northwest!), but as a way to control weeds (because I am unwilling to poison them) and get around using fertilizer to strengthen the good grass (while messing with the water health).
But the most important reason was to provide a way for my three boys to not track mud into the house during the rainy season (October to May).
Not to mention it is easy to give directions: the house with the bark “lawn” LOL!
We are happy as clams….

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posted May 10, 2010 at 4:32 pm

I’ve been using a push mower and also digging up the grass little by little to plant fruits, veggies and perennials. But what to do about the little ones who still like to run around in the backyard…

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posted May 10, 2010 at 6:22 pm

We have pulled out most of our lawn and replaced it with native and drought resistant trees as windbreaks on the perimeter, then shrubs, ground covers, fruit trees and herbs. We use greywater and a dripper system and have heavily mulched the garden starting with an initial layer of thick newspapers. This prevents evaporation from the soil. We have relied on home made pesticides in the main.

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Mick Porter

posted May 10, 2010 at 6:46 pm

Hi Mike,
It’s similar to the WoodGas stove, but not the same – the obvious difference being that it doesn’t need any electric power for forced air. The more subtle difference is the flow of air in the central cylinder is reversed.
The inventor of the EverythingNice stove has been able to fabricate from sheet aluminium, and had them on the ground in Haiti very soon after the quake, along with many tons of wood pellets. He also coordinated supply of waste peanut shells to be used as fuel; very important in a country that has almost no trees left.

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Mike M

posted May 11, 2010 at 12:53 am

Now that’s real servanthood! I did the same thing from a different perspective. Being able to heat food and boil water is essential, especially in disaster areas like Haiti. I re-evaluated my perspective on sending medications and medical equipment and decided that what these people need is clean water (like you did). I sent an innovative friend some “Venom” energy bottles and he turned them into the Mangold Mamba alcohol stoves. Unlike wood, alcohol is readily available in Haiti. He made several of them for me and we sent them there with an RN from Kewaskum, WI. God does bless you on your efforts and whether you know it or not, you are storing up treasures in heaven.

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Mick Porter

posted May 11, 2010 at 2:47 am

Great stuff on the alcohol stoves – sounds like a good use for the plentiful alcohol :)
I haven’t personally delivered any stoves into needy places yet. I’ve been running experiments with a couple of stove designs, since I have access to palm tree waste etc. that isn’t fund in cooler climates.
I’ve also been trying to provide info on these things to various friends who are involved in missions activity in poor places. One reason for the kangaroo-cooking video was to assist that; it’s one thing to tell people about a clean-burning stove that uses waste biomass for fuel and produces a useful by-product – but providing a video helps them “get it”.

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posted May 11, 2010 at 9:02 am

We have a very small urban yard. In trying to keep shade for the house and garden what we can, we are experimenting with a back-yard (where the trees are) garden. But as the canopy fills with the coming of summer, we are also planning to use 1/3 of our front yard for sunny crops like tomatoes, peppers, beans. We are blessed to have a 3000 sq ft family garden in my brother’s more rural yard as well.
Ironically, though he is far in the country, he lives in a Planned Unit Development with “condo rules” that forbid things like raising chickens, even as the City of Grand Rapids is working out rules to allow them in urban areas (no roosters though).
Randy Gabrielse

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