Looking at that cable, you know this performer is prepared for anything. All musicians know you have to have equipment that will handle a lot of different situations. You might think I’m going to digress into the importance of a reliable garden hose, but that would be small potatoes, I’ve got a bigger fry planned.
If you think about the plants of the garden as your ‘equipment’ you might want to consider plants that will serve you in different roles. This was the focus of the UCLA Extension class I taught last term called "The Beautiful Food Garden." It’s a cause that I’m enthusiastically championing. To keep any plant alive is going to cost you money – how about you get something BACK from that plant?
All over Los Angeles, homeowners have lawns of dubious value. Most of them serve as little more than an expensive sink. Want to save some money? Tear out the lawn. If you are an afflicted golfer who works incessantly on putting, have children with a fondness for croquet, or a dog that prefers chiggers to mud (mine doesn’t), then you must have a lawn. If none of the above is true, that green thing is costing you money that you could use. And like most things, it will not get cheaper.
You can raise a good supply of vegetables on less water, with less fertilizer than a lawn. If you’re worried about what the neighbors might think, plant the veggies, share them and show off your water bill! That ought to take care of their objections. Those of you aesthetically inclined, can bask in the beauty of colorful cabbages and the rainbow shades of lettuce that can make a virtual mosaic out of your former solid green patch. And, "look ma, no mowing!"
I’m in favor of getting rid of ALL lawns ( but I have always been a radical). Certainly, all of us harboring ecological leanings want to reduce the amount of our lawns. What is your favorite fruit? Apples? Peaches? Apricots? Plant a fruit tree – there’s still time this year – you can get one in the ground until even late April. A strawberry bed is a little more work, and there are enough pests to make one think twice about undertaking growing your own. On the other hand, strawberries are one of the most chemically treated commercial foodstuffs you can stuff in your mouth. A few berry plants might be worth the effort. Cane berries (black and raspberries) grow as readily as weeds.
Rhubarb, which really isn’t a fruit but is used like one, is hard to grow in Los Angeles. In my garden near the coast, I get acceptably flavored rhubarb, but, without a hard frost I seldom see red stalks which means my rhubarb pies always look like celery pies. They still taste good, but the green color is a little off-putting.
All of the plants I’ve named above are perennials. They will come back year after year and provide an even lackadaisical gardener with some tasty afternoons – and cost a lot less than the lawn they replaced. Think ‘asparagus,’ ‘artichokes’ and you’re getting into the swing of things. How about blueberries? Yes, you can grow them here!
A bevy of roses, that lovely California Native Matilija poppy, Romneya coulteri (some of you know it as ‘fried egg flower’), or a planting of flowering perennials will save you considerably on your water bill. Only sub-tropical perennials that need abundant water – which your nursery person can steer you clear from – would need more water than your lawn. If you follow my advice on mulching and fertilizing (see my other FolkWorks columns), you’ll have enough spare cash to take me out to dinner.
Grandson of a Great Plains farmer, David King is the Garden Master at the Learning Garden, on the campus of Venice High School. He shares his love of the land and music through teaching, writing and playing in a folk/country band. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org