“Life After Lawns” Gives Insight into Drought-Tolerant Yards
by Joshua Siskin
Los Angeles Daily News
“Life After Lawns: 8 Steps from Grass to a Waterwise Garden” is a simple guide to transforming your lawn into a breathtaking drought-tolerant oasis. “Drought-tolerant oasis” may sound like an oxymoron. An oasis is lush and green, you are thinking, so how could such a place be drought tolerant too?
An oasis is also a respite from the storm, a place where you find relief from the desert all around. And a judiciously designed drought-tolerant garden will bring shade, color, and texture to a space that previously consisted of nothing but grass and hot sun. Grass may be fine for a game of badminton, but as a space for contemplation and meditation, or for visits by insects, birds, and other wildlife, it leaves much to be desired.
Collectively, Molly Bogh and Bill Schnetz, the authors of “Life After Lawns” have more than 50 years of experience in crafting water-conserving gardens. Bogh has promoted drought tolerant yet “livable” gardens in her work as a city planner throughout Southern California after transforming her own lawn into a waterwise garden, while Schnetz’s expertise as a landscape contractor is in the design, construction and maintenance of such gardens.
A refreshing aspect of this book is its nonideological approach. Nothing here about global warming or saving the planet. The authors quote Susan Harris, a sustainable gardening enthusiast, as follows: “Why did I rip out my lawn? Because I hated mowing, and I wanted plants that offer more for wildlife and for my own enjoyment than turfgrass. NOT because I think lawns are inherently evil.”
“Life After Lawns,” among its many virtues, demystifies the techniques and procedures involved in transforming lawn to garden so that non-expert do-it-yourselfers will feel comfortable with each step of the process. Everything you need to know about irrigation system installation, for example, is discussed in comprehensive yet easily understandable detail. And the authors offer the sagacious advice of procuring a soil probe for the purpose of determining soil moisture content and adjusting watering schedules appropriately. A soil probe is as essential to a gardener’s tool kit as a pruning shears, a shovel or a planters’ trowel.
Quotes from a wide variety of experienced gardeners, set off from the main text in green boxes, are another wonderful feature...At the end of “Life After Lawns” there is a most valuable postscript of 10 “gardening pitfalls to avoid.” This section alone justifies the book’s purchase price.
Highland resident Molly Bogh was fretting over water shortages during the last drought, in 2008, when her college-age son asked her a question that drove her to action.
“Why don’t you do something about it?” he wondered. “Look at all this grass we water every day.”
Bogh’s son was referring to the family’s 10,000-square-foot yard covered in Bermuda grass.
So she got to work, taking drought-tolerant landscape classes at Western Municipal Water District in Riverside and the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden in Claremont. She also searched for how-to books but couldn’t find anything that gave her a general overview and step-by-step process
So Bogh teamed up with her licensed design-build landscaper, Bill Schnetz, and wrote a book. “Life After Lawns: 8 Steps From Grass to a Waterwise Garden” was released on Amazon last week.
“I wanted an overview, not of my particular climate zone or the plants I needed, but the process I had to go through from beginning to end,” said Bogh, retired city planning director.
A novice gardener herself, Bogh lays out the steps in her book, from killing the grass and preparing the soil to irrigation options and choosing a professional to help.
“My goal was not necessarily to become a gardening expert but to understand the steps. I don’t think it’s necessary that people have to do all the work themselves, but they have to know what has to get done and how to find the right people to do it,” she said.
The transformation from grass to less thirsty plants can be a long one and it’s not an easy one, Bogh said.
It was eight months from the time she began killing her grass until the plants went in. In between, a sprawling, flagstone-paved courtyard was laid, with low sitting walls around five fruitless olive trees and Chinese pistache. Big boulders were brought in and a decorative concrete sidewalks were poured to meander through the trees.
Bogh planted heat-loving velvet agave, Mexican sage for the hummingbirds, rosemary for cooking and colorful autumn sage. Among the highlights are the three detention basins lined with local river rock and planted with succulents. Underneath the basins is a large drum that collects water when it rains; small holes allow the water to seep out and go deep into the soil, she said.
Water use for Bogh and her husband is significantly less than their neighbors - an average of 125 gallons per person per day, which is less than the state per capita average of 198 gallons. Bogh said her neighbor has a $250 a month water bill while her’s is below $70.
The low-maintenance aspect is also a perk, she said.
“Grass requires a different kind of ongoing maintenance —mowing, fertilizing, thatching, edging, steer manure, etc. Also, people around here pay $50 to $60 a week for mow-and-blow crews, so lawn maintenance can cost thousands per year -- something to consider when doing the long-term cost-benefit analysis for lawn conversion,” she said.