In the summer of 1995, I moved to Oakland and into the only house in which I’ve ever lived. Two friends and I were able to afford the house because we got a break on the rent in exchange for prepping the property for its eventual sale.
Faced with both a 1/3 acre property to maintain and our first-ever water bill [with an elevation surcharge!], I did what seemed obvious — put our land to use. I ripped out most of the front lawn and replaced it with drought-tolerant plants, many of them native, and edibles. On Sunday mornings, while the neighbors mowed their lawns, I deadheaded and picked salad fixings. The compost bin in our backyard supplied the front garden with free fertilizer and mulch.
At the time, I believed that our neighbors’ ongoing animosity toward us was due to age difference. The Lawn Institute claims that 86% of Americans believe that “a nice lawn is a positive reflection on the homeowner” and, in hindsight, I can understand that they disapproved of my landscaping decisions because they defied the social code of the lawn.
I’ve also since learned what “staging a house” actually entails, and it’s nothing interesting or even practical, and everything lowest-common-denominator conventional and desirable. When the house eventually went on the market, the front garden was, naturally, replaced by a lawn.
California has always had issues with its water supply. This summer, EBMUD [East Bay Municipal Utility District] has outlined an ambitious water reduction plan that includes a 19% reduction in water use for single-family dwellings. Its many publications advocate the use of native and drought-tolerant plants among the techniques recommended to meet regional water reduction goals.
Meanwhile, across the country, people are increasingly growing their own food, as evidenced by some of the Elsewhere links I’ve posted. Fritz Haeg’s Edible Estates project is but one example of this. The shift away from the non-native ornamental lawn makes environmental sense, but I believe the major catalyst is economic [which was a factor for me as well].
A few more things deserve mention. This is the closest I’ve ever come to realizing the petit bourgeois American dream, although my description of it didn’t square well with family and friends back East, who knew Oakland as the “murder capital of the US” [and whatever they’d gleaned from 2pac and Too $hort]. There are no picket fences but plenty of winding streets and [to me, at least] expansive lawns. But, that’s relative — a couple of years ago, I visited friends who now live in the neighborhood, and they complained about raising their son in this “inner-city concrete jungle.” To me, living there seemed to signal a point of arrival, but it’s motivating my friends to transcend it.