29 August 2005

Lawn and Garden

If Denver received an inch or two of rain less than it does each year, it would be classified as a desert. The basic concept behind vegetation here is simple: If you don't water it regularly, it will die. This sounds straight forward enough, but it is a primal rhythm of daily life here. For roughly half the year, ever other day, more often if it is hot, begins with watering your lawn and garden, a task that must be completed for ten o'clock in the morning, when watering is prohibited because it is wasteful, until six o'clock, when evaporation will no longer steal away the precious resource that is water. Some houses have timed sprinklers. The rest of us must set up our sprinkling devices in the early morning hours.

The real divide in almost every urban residential neighborhood, however, is not between the sprinkler have and have nots. It is between the xeriscapers, and the people with conventional lawns (along with a smattering of people who astroturf instead, and a significant minority who ignore their lawns creating a mix of dirt and dead grass). Conventional lawns cover the dirt with bluegrass and fescue, along with Eastern style gardens. These are water hungry, but can survive with heavy irrigation and fertilizer applications. Xeriscaping uses plants better adapted to the arid West, along with healthy doses of mulch and rock gardens, in order to be less water hungry. Both methods can look good. But, the artistic sensibilities that go into each are very different, and the messages a lawn and garden choice can send are complex, particularly since many homes do not exclusively choose one method or the other. Native plants may line a small bluegrass lawn. A conventional English garden may frame a patio and rock garden with a fire pit.

Does Xeriscaping come across as too California? Is a conventional lawn and garden too Eastern? Will a mix send mixed messages, or blend harmoniously?

The questions ae subtle, but no matter what you choose to do, you must make one style choice or another, and people do pay attention to it. Gardening comes not far behind every Denverite's favorite small talk topic, real estate.

We need to care. Half of municipal water use goes towards lawn and garden care, and much of the rest is devoted to golf courses. As the urbanized area of Colorado grows, this is unsustainable, or at least very costly. Water rights don't come cheap. Droughts have forced us to learn to conserve. But, personal taste matters too, and it matters more in the comfort zone we call home, than just about any place else.

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