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Feature Stories

The Grass to Garden Tour

From Issue: Volume XX - Number 11
6/1/2012


Steve Propes

MODIFIED LAWN near Patrick Henry School
Sylvia Propes

The benefits derived from the recently concluded one day only self-conducted grass to gardens tour, sponsored by the water department, can be both intuitive and obvious. The obvious one is most likely the desired benefit, that of learning whether a particular non-lawn solution might work for your own yard.

A stiff wind can send certain types of flowering grass all over neighbor’s lawns like a needle grass that filled the parkway strip, propagating itself down the block on windy days. Picking them up so they don’t grow where they aren’t needed or even wanted, can be an unwanted task. Next door, the same plant was in the parkway of an otherwise grassy yardscape, but it’s a start.

While driving to the appointed gardens, any watchful garden lover can spot nearby gardens that are not part of the tour, and wonder why they weren’t listed. Maybe it’s because this tour also allows the grass-to-garden tourist to meet and greet locals you’d likely never encounter and speak to them about one of their favorite subjects, their own self-created environment … unless it’s their professional consultant who might also be speaking with visitors.

About 2,600 people signed up for the tour according to Water Department Director of Planning and Conservation Matt Lyons, who noted, “about 200 people went to the average home.”

Lyons described how the homes were selected. “We reached out to certain people who had gone through our program, though a lot of people are changing out part of their landscape outside of our program.”

A young couple starting a family maintains a grassy back yard as a grass-free surface isn’t necessarily ideal when young children expect to play games and otherwise frolic out front. Lyons estimated that “300 square feet is about the largest functional area you need for grass. If you have 1,000 square feet yard, you still have lot of yard that is non-functional.”

Likely the most dramatic and successful remake was to a house on Woodruff Ave., which was instigated by a sewer failure, which meant digging up the front yard. A poster-sized picture in the yard of each home gives the tourist a good idea of the before and after. In this case, the only thing in the before picture that survived was a hammock. Edged by a Dymondia cover, Autumn sage, an attractive fountain attract passing nighttime motorists. “I want it to look like a park,” said the homeowner.

As with several of these homes, the job was handled by a landscaping company, whose business reps were on hand to answer questions and collect names from a sign-in sheet.
“We’re okay with that, especially if they’re Long Beach businesses,” said Lyons. “We’ve been trying to promote businesses through this.”

Near Conant Street, the garden was accented by metal sculpture of found pieces made to look like a rusted train or a native American totem on an exterior wall.

Everyone seemed to have an opinion of which nurseries had good values, adequate pricing and expert help. Some nurseries fared not so well, but for those in search of adequate planning, there seem to be an abundance of vendors in our area.

At each home, fliers about the plant species found there were passed out, however there was some discrepancy between those photos and what was observed. The homeowner at Lomina Avenue solved that mystery. The photos were stock photos of each plant, not taken at the site and in his case at least, those were the plants he told the city he wanted to plant, but couldn’t find some of them when he began the project.

“In the interest of trying to manage about 31 landscapes, we just used photos of the plants that went in this direction,” said Lyons. “People added more and more drought tolerant plants.”

“It’s cost effective to buy the smaller plants to let them grow,” Lyons continued. “Other than trees, all these shrubs and other plants grow to full size in a year to 18 months after planting, it looks like a completely different space.”

The department offers cash to make the changeover. “We encourage people to go to lblawntogarden.com to try to understand where people got tripped up and those that were successful. The website also shows how to sign up for the rebate.”

All agreed that the new gardens required some to much maintenance, but it was worth it. According to the Lawn To Garden website, these drought resistant “landscapes can reduce water use per square foot by 70 percent or more,” which results in immediate cash savings, not to mention the advantages of neighbors not noticing water running down your curb line.

As one property owner pointed out, “we’ve been told our property is worth more since we put in the garden.”

steve@longbeachcomber.com