Life Without the Lawn

Driving for work or errands, I can find myself passing by and through endless suburban housing subdivisions which look as though they’ve been dozing through the controversy over whether to keep or lose the front lawn. (This is Los Angeles, Mediterranean climate, roughly 33 degrees latitude, zone 10, winter rain/summer dry, averaging 15 inches of rain a year.)

On my own street, however, the front lines of the controversy are drawn for all to see.

Gilbert has been sifting nutgrass out of his lawn, like we did decades ago when losing the lawn. Gilbert is keeping the lawn.


Nutgrass has the survival savvy of cockroaches, but it can be vanquished. (Raising arms in victory.)


Psst. Across the street, Holly’s away for a couple weeks, and while I’m checking up on the temporary caretaker’s diligence with watering duties, let’s take a quick tour, shall we?


Holly commenced life without the lawn last August and has done the majority of the work herself. I believe initially she had some day help with removing the grass.
I’ve given her some plants, and she’s bought some shrubs in gallon sizes, but the biggest expense has been the pavers and gravel, about $1,000. The bark is temporary while Holly saves for more gravel, but her instinct to mulch has paid off in beautifully thriving plants. With the lawn gone, Holly putters and plays in her front garden, instead of just passing through to get to the front door. Small stones are stacked into different configurations every time I visit, new vignettes appear. Bella, the German shepherd, does an amazing job of avoiding stepping on the plants and keeping to the paths.


A city rebate, the Lawn to Garden Incentive Program, offering $2.50 for plants per square foot of lawn removed, maximum of 1,000 square feet, has already blown through the $250,000 dedicated for homeowners replacing grass lawns in front yards and parkways with “California friendly” landscaping. There’s even billboards and buses around town promoting going lawnless. But I don’t underestimate the difficult step this represents for many people, workwise, designwise, and, yes, moneywise. The LA Times ran this piece recently on the dry garden, and the cash outlay was about 10K. One of the most ingenious solutions I have seen was a small bungalow in Venice, California, that turned the front walkway into a bridge to the front door, now spanning a water garden on either side, where the lawn used to be. With much of the housing stock designed to include lawn, it’s not going to be an easy transition.

Sleepy suburbs beware. In arid Los Angeles, it’s becoming increasingly more difficult to ignore the lawn v. lawnless controversy.

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4 Responses to Life Without the Lawn

  1. You’ve struck a nerve here. Why do people keep their huge lawns? I just don’t get it!!!! Here in Portland most people let there lawn go dormant for the summer. It looks like crap, especially when there are weeds (so many weeds!) that stay green and are not mowed because the grass isn’t growing (so why mow). UGLY! Get rid of the lawn people and plant some plants! It looks SO MUCH BETTER than golden dead grass speckled with green weeds.

    Thank you for letting me get that out of my system.

  2. Cool post. We have no lawn in our backyard and sideyards, and only about 1/3 of the front is traditional carpet grass.
    It’s definitely the weakest link in all of the garden and my least favorite to tend.
    Right now we are in a two week dry spell and the lawn is crying for water. The other plants are adapted and/or natives and they’re only mildly concerned. Wish we had the Lawn to Garden Incentive Program here for others to use. Me? I’m already convinced. 🙂
    David (Tropical Texana)

  3. Les says:

    I don’t mind lawns if they are planted with a grass that is not so resource intensive, they are boring though. I have managed to elimnate all of mine, which was not large to begin with, so it was not that huge of a task. I still have to maintain the lawn (green weeds) on the other side of the sidewalk that belongs to the city, but I am gradually turning that into garden as well. If I was in LA, my lawnless yard would be full of water-wise exotics that I can’t grow here.

  4. Denise says:

    Loree, I’m wondering if there’s civic pressure in Portland to let lawns go dormant in summer.
    David, sounds like most lawns in your area don’t get irrigation outside of rainwater.
    Les, so true. I’d say it would be easier to go lawnless in LA because of all the water-wise exotics, but it’s still a hard habit to break.

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