A few months ago, we moved into a new Austin neighborhood called Southwood. As we got settled in and the summer heat began to die down, we started to get out and take occasional walks in the neighborhood in the evenings. We’ve met all kinds of nice people and their dogs and I’ve been noticing that many people are not replacing their lawns with more turf grass, but installing hardscapes in their front yards, mainly gravel or decomposed granite pads where the grass has died out. In some cases, it’s a perfectly divided strip separating the old lawn and the new landscaping, as if designating a state line or something. My interpretation is that there a growing number of people out there who have just given up on the American lawn and don’t see the point of spending any more money on grass that will likely die again next summer. Future gardens are on the way!
Somehow, I find this encouraging, even though not all of the attempts at landscaping are aesthetically pleasing. What’s encouraging is that people are obviously changing their attitude about the heat and drought of Texas, not to mention the rising costs of water bills and the labor involved in maintaining a manicured lawn. Still, there’s a lot of grass out there yet. I read recently that 30 million acres of American lawn exists in the United States, an area roughly the size of the state of Virginia. That’s incredible, especially considering the “traditional” lawn is basically a twentieth century invention. I won’t go into the details here, but there are a number of great books published on the subject, including “The Lawn: A History of An American Obsession”, “Redesigning the American Lawn: A Search for Environmental Harmony”, “The American Lawn” (a nice collection of essays), and the more recent “American Green”, to name just a few.
I am also particularly fond of John Greenlee’s “The American Meadow Garden: Creating a Natural Alternative to the Traditional Lawn” and, most recently, Stephen Orr’s “Tomorrow’s Garden: Design and Inspiration for a New Age of Sustainable Gardening.” I recently had a chance to attend a lecture given by Stephen Orr and was impressed not only with his progressive ideas and photographic talents, but also with his casual style of communicating his ideas to the public, as if he were talking to a group of friends or acquaintances and not a roomful of strangers. I also greatly appreciated his humor and lightheartedness, even when talking about somewhat pressing and polemic matters, which is something noticeably lacking in the literary garden world in general, or so it seems to me. Whether we call it future gardens or tomorrow’s garden, it’s all the same.
Anyway, I am rambling. The neighborhood. Lawns. I guess I am just excited today about the possibilities of future gardens, and future communities, to come. The next few years, I think, will likely bring about great change in gardens in Texas and the Southwest. Much is happening. It’s a new way of seeing the spaces we inhabit, both shared and private spaces. I, for one, am glad to be involved…