My Lawn

Courtesy of Dave WielengaA man sipping an icy soft drink interrupted his slow walk through a blazing midsummer afternoon to pause before my front yard and watch me sweat and toil with shovel and hoe.

It has been nearly two years since I killed my front lawn and wrote about it in the Weekly, nearly two years since I replaced the velvety carpet of thirsty, scientifically bred grass with drought-tolerant California native plants. Since then, the knee-jerk moral outrage of my standard-suburban-lawned neighbors has steadily dwindled into measly bafflement—sometimes, I like to imagine, seeded with eventual admiration. They are witnessing, I remain certain, my ultimate righteousness.

Where a small green savanna once stretched flat and thick from my front porch to the curb, two short trails covered with wood chips and lined by river rock now wind through uneven brown earth—one arcing toward the driveway, the other twisting toward a whitewashed trellis and emptying onto the street. These paths pass among waist-high shrubs of sage, often dotted with flowers of red, purple and yellow. They brush against billowing bushes that promise vivid Mexican marigold and soft-blue ceanothus. They go through soaring reeds of Matilija poppies that two months ago were topped by flash-bulb blooms of gold and white, thin strands of frequently feathery milkweed, and low-lying coral bells and columbine, which will eventually sprout burnt-red antennae and off-white trumpets. They circle a noble manzanita, which is supposed to squeeze out little red berries and bright white blossoms. It did last year, anyway.

Meanwhile, however, it's really hot. Day after day, the sun shows up to take its mighty swings at Southern California, and most of the plants appear to be cringing. Their green leaves are faded, some singed with brown. Their blossoms have fallen, disintegrating into the dust. Only the weeds are kicking ass. My sweet garden of native plants looks a lot less like an urban oasis than like the godforsaken sides of the outlying hills. Which, now that I think of it, is the point: my front yard looks the way this part of the country is supposed to look during the summer.

This is the point I hope is getting through to the guy with the soft drink as he stands in front of my house, watching me working in the hot sun with a shovel and a hoe, pulling weeds from among the native plants in my little patch of California.

“You gotta lotta work there,” he notices promisingly, “with just a hoe and shovel.”

“Yeah, lots of weeds,” I concede with a shrug of agrarian modesty. “But whatcha gonna do?”

The guy takes another sip of his drink, and as he surveys the range of vegetation in my front yard, I suddenly realize he doesn't have the slightest clue about what I'm trying to do.

“If I were you,” he says, “I'd use a rototiller.”

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