Jeff Jardine

New slogan in drought: Make California brown

Rick and Judy Hamilton already had made the backyard of their Modesto home more drought-resistant. Now it’s the front yard’s turn with a remake that includes new walkways, drought-resistant plants and artificial turf. Contractor Tim Smith of Just Right Construction discusses the project with Judy Hamilton on May 19.
Rick and Judy Hamilton already had made the backyard of their Modesto home more drought-resistant. Now it’s the front yard’s turn with a remake that includes new walkways, drought-resistant plants and artificial turf. Contractor Tim Smith of Just Right Construction discusses the project with Judy Hamilton on May 19. jjardine@modbee.com

Driving in Arizona a couple of weeks ago, I couldn’t help but notice how brown it is down there, and I’m not talking about UPS trucks.

It’s a desert. Adobe, red rocks, brown rocks, pale-green cactus and mesquite trees dominate the landscape and the landscaping. In fact, you’d say folks down there don’t really landscape. They rearrange.

Lawns? There are some, found mostly at parks, ballparks, schools and golf courses.

I mention this because the drought continues its torture tour of California. Water restrictions, well, restrict. And those lush, green lawns we’ve nurtured for years are going to go brown. Gov. Brown said so. Cities including Modesto are cracking down on water wasters or those watering on the wrong days, issuing warnings and fines. Modesto stands poised to scrape away acres and acres of grass at some parks.

And now Stanislaus County supervisors have imposed watering days on rural residents as well. While some cities and counties throughout the state are offering rebates for removing lawns to reduce water use, the rebates offered here are pretty much limited to water saving inside the homes, such as toilets and washing machines. Yards? You’re on your own.

All of this has some folks rethinking their landscaping. They are downsizing or eliminating entirely their water-guzzling lawns and replacing them with everything from drought-resistant shrubs and plants to drought-embracing cactus and other succulents to drought-impervious artificial turf. Some are even killing the grass entirely, then painting it green to get the same look sans the mowing and edging.

Last week, I received calls from folks who are taking this drought seriously, and are finding they’re having some fun doing so.

It’s gotten them thinking about alternative landscaping – more rocks, bricks and slate. They’re planting succulents like cactus, which comes in many colors. And not all of them are like a surprise visit from the acupuncturist. They’re planting yuccas and aloe vera. They’re going to lavenders and other drought-resistant plants and shrubs.

Ann Best of Modesto yanked out her front lawn and grass strip along her driveway recently. She’s replaced it with bark, drought-resistant shrubs and a speck of grass in the middle. How small? In the time it would take her to say, “I need to mow the lawn,” she could have mowed the lawn.

Rick and Judy Hamilton went to the other extreme in Ceres. They hired a contractor to tear out everything from their front yard – grass, concrete walkways, shrubs, you name it. This week, they’ll get new cobblestone walkways, just enough of a drip system to accommodate a few plants, and will install artificial turf across the front. No yard lines, hash marks or end zone logos, though. Just faux lawn – crisp, clean ...

“And we’ll still have green,” Judy Hamilton said.

Indeed, the Hamiltons are no strangers to upgrades and change. They were among the first in their neighborhood to go solar. They began converting to a more water-free backyard before it became both fashionable and necessary as a minimal rain year became two, then into the third and an official drought.

“The water bill just kept going up,” she said. “You’ve got to do your part.”

So as the drought progressed and cities began instituting watering restrictions, the Hamiltons decided to go all out with the front yard, starting clean.

“We are doing a lot at one time,” Judy Hamilton said. “It’s going to give us access to a part of the yard that we can enjoy. And it will be easier on my husband. He won’t have to mow.”

They entertained estimates from landscape contractors but ultimately went with a general contractor, Tim Smith of Just Right Construction. Smith foresaw that folks like the Hamiltons would need to rethink their landscaping, so he became certified in installing artificial turf and ordered new signs with a catchy slogan: “No Grow – No Mow – No H20.”

Smith said his crew should finish the 10-day job by the end of this week. The projected cost? About $11,000.

“We’re very anxious to see the results,” Judy Hamilton said.

Indeed, people driving through the neighborhood might be shocked to see such brilliant green lawn – until they get a closer look and realize the grass is fake.

Meanwhile, other folks are opting to go for the Arizona look with big rocks, little rocks, gravel and decomposed granite, cacti and other succulents. They’ll draw the line at importing other Arizona mainstays such as rattlers, scorpions or Gila monsters, though.

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