The Texas lawn, my friends, is dead. Literally and figuratively. Just take a look around and witness the devastation. And unless you’re one of those who can spend thousands of dollars watering your lawn to keep it green and living (and there’s plenty who have, sigh), I think it’s high time the lot of us admit we must now take a different approach to sustainable landscape design in Texas. With water utility bills expected to rise 25% over the next five years, there’s no better time to think about removing your grass once and for all and embrace drought-tolerant Texas plants. Not only does Texas landscape design need to change, we need to change. So, before you gear up to replace your dead or half-dead lawn with east-coast St. Augustine or golf-course Zoysia this fall or spring, think about investing your money in a long-term solution that will last and really make an impact on our future.
Of course, eliminating turfgrass and other water-dependent, non-native plants in Texas landscape design is not new. The City of Austin has been offering landscape rebates to Austin residents for many years to do just this–remove grass and switch to drought-tolerant trees and shrubs. Not only will this type of landscape, called xeriscape or xeriscaping by some, save you money, resources, and time, you will be on your way to updating your landscaping into the twenty-first century. Having a traditional “lawn”, at least in the hot South, is no longer in style. Frankly, it depresses me, like the time I saw an Arctic Wolf panting and pacing back and forth at a small private zoo on the way to San Antonio. Let’s get with the program. Grass is for English gardens, or Yankee gardens. We live in a desert.
If you don’t believe me, read on. This summer has been a summer of record temperatures in Austin, TX. As of the writing of this blog post, Austin has had 74 consecutive days (and counting) of 100+ degree temperatures, surpassing the previous records of 69 (1925), 68 (2009), 66 (1923), and 50 (2008) sometime last week. Also, please note that three of the last four years (2008, 2009, and 2011) have been record-breaking years in this 100+ degree category. To add insult to injury, yesterday Austin set another record, reaching a whopping 112 degrees at Camp Mabry and 110 degrees at the Austin Bergstrom Airport. That is not only a record high for yesterday, August 28, but also (2) a new Austin high for any day ever in the month of August and (3) a tie for the all-time highest temperature ever at Austin’s Camp Mabry. At the Airport, it is the second all-time highest temperature on record.
And whether you believe that climate change is a product of man-made greenhouse gas emissions or, like our anti-scientific governor, you think it has all been manipulated by greedy scientists to put money in the pockets of green industries, the facts are here to stay. We are getting hotter. And the resources needed to keep traditional landscapes in Austin are either diminishing or becoming more costly to sustain. Next week (September 6), Austin will go into Stage 2 Water Restrictions, which is a mandatory set of water restriction for the private and commercial use of sprinkler systems (only on certain days) and outdoor fountains (must be turned off), among other things. The restrictions even prohibit restaurants from plopping down glasses of water in front of their customers unless they specifically ask for it. Glass of water, er, anyone?
The first thing all of us should do is change our viewpoint. No more yards. Or much smaller ones. For those who are new or hesitant to the idea of hiring a garden designer to plan out your landscape, you might want to reconsider. It might just be the smartest thing you ever did. A good Texas landscape design should reflect the area in which we live and bear in mind Texas resources. Good landscape design, in Texas or anywhere else, should also think about your unique needs and tastes, as well as your level of involvement in maintaining the gardens they create–i.e., they make you home a home, a place you want to come home to. Almost always, good garden design improves the value of your home, even during a recession. Imagine how much you could save on your monthly utility bill alone. Detailed plans can always be implemented in stages that align with your budget (everyone’s budget varies) and can help you avoid making costly mistakes that may have to be undone in the future. Removing an established tree in a location where you now want a patio or deck to be installed, for example, can easily cost 2-3 times what a complete design can cost.
Probably the best thing that will come out of having your yard professionally redesigned with no (or little) grass, is a sense that you are not fighting the world, the heat, and your utility company. You will have more time and energy to do what it is you like to do, which is the whole point, right?