Time to change our views on big, green lawns

green-0By Brenda Beust Smith
Excerpted from Houston Chronicle Editorial Page Article, August 26, 2011
I’m not sure who decreed that the most beautiful, most marketable suburban home must have a huge green lawn out front. I’d like to kick him in the shins. We homeowners have so bought into this lawn-centric gospel that we’re willing to sacrifice so much for a little blade of grass. It makes no sense at all in normal times and even less during periods in which water becomes a precious commodity. It’s a proven fact. The average suburban St. Augustine lawn uses more water than all the other typically used landscape plants combined, including trees.

It’s also a fact now we have hundreds of beautiful landscape plants available that:
· Love our heat and humidity (even this extreme cycle).
· Require very little water.
· Demand very little maintenance.
· Are far more beneficial to our overall ecology than are lawn grasses.
I have nothing against lawns. They are pretty, they have a cooling effect. They are soft to walk on, provide great places for children to play and provide beautiful frames for more colorful or striking plantings. What is so insane is this notion that the expanse of lawn should far, far outpace all other plantings.

As with almost everything else these days, the real crux of the matter is property values. It all boils down to money. This, in turn, has triggered an unwillingness to trust one’s neighbors. Will their more ecologically sound plantings lower my property value? It’s a justified response, a very reasonable fear. And it’s one that property owner associations and homeowner associations could and should be addressing.

We have somehow decreed that big beautiful lawns make a house more marketable. HOAs and POAs are reinforcing that unfortunate mindset, rather than helping to change it into a more sane approach.

The Woodlands has proven that natural landscapes can be beautiful, can contribute to, rather than lower, property values. Unfortunately, in recent years, The Woodlands has capitulated in many sections, allowing and even encouraging massive St. Augustine lawns in some neighborhoods. To its credit, The Woodlands does still encourage natural, more ecologically friendly landscapes in most areas.

I have for years tried to find another greater Houston area subdivision actively educating homeowners on how to attractively switch to hardier, more drought-tolerant, lower-maintenance plantings so they can reduce lawn expanses. You may be out there, but you’re well hidden.

Obviously the fear of lowered property values is simply greater than our concern for dwindling water resources and the damage done to our bayous as a result of lawn chemical runoffs. It’s easier to do nothing, to simply maintain the status quo until some crisis spurs us into action. Maybe all the dead lawns around town will prove to be that crisis.

POA and HOA participation in any overall mentality change is crucial. They hold the power to force homeowners to landscape in this way, or that way. But POAs and HOAs are elected bodies. They’re not going to change until homeowners, those who vote members onto these boards, decide a change is needed.

In the meantime, if you want more information, it is available, free. We have an incredible resource in the WaterSmart Program promoted by Texas A&M and other resources. Log onto http://www.urban-nature.org/about/aboutus.htm for more information. Speakers are free, the information is free.

Consider sponsoring a session with one of these free speakers with your club, church, school or other group. And encourage your HOA/POA to at least investigate having these speakers help educate you and your neighbors.

Smith, a 50+ Crystal Beach homeowner, is best known as the (former) Houston Chronicle’s Lazy Gardener, now writes for the Lazy Gardener & Friends Houston Garden Newsletter (www.natureswayresources.com)

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