Xeriscaping in Venice

By erica snowlake

For those who get around our fair city on bike and by foot, the diversity of front-yard and street-facing landscaping is remarkable to behold. Equally functional and eccentrically artistic, a day’s perusal of the green belt reveals most Venetians are eco-friendly and hip enough to have embraced Xeriscaping and Xerogardening, landscaping and gardening in ways which reduce or eliminate the need for supplemental irrigation. Let’s spread this good news and conscious practice to all our neighbors in Venice, greater Los Angeles and beyond!

Scientific studies recently compared the greenhouse gases absorbed by ornamental turf grass (lawns) to the amount of gases emitted by the irrigation, fertilization, and mowing of them. The results confirm keeping a lawn is not good for Mother Earth. Turf grass covers 1.9 percent of the United States and is the most commonly irrigated crop. Gasp! That’s a lot of water! According to Paula Daniels, an L.A. Public Works Commissioner, 40 percent of the drinking water we import at great financial and environmental expense is used for lawn-watering. Over half the household water usage in Southern California is in the yard – averaging 238 gallons per day for a family of four. This demand far exceeds the capacity of the bioregion’s 10-15 inches of rainfall per year to fulfill. Worse, overwatering results in pesticide and fertilizer-laden runoff into the groundwater, sewer drains and the ocean.

Implementing bans on watering from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily has been a successful measure. Joining the (anti) grass-roots movement of Xeriscaping (and collecting rainwater) makes common sense. Xeriscaping (from the Greek, xeros, dry) is the art of arranging gardens with drought-tolerant plants, a tradition originating in fifth and sixth century Persian courtyard paradises, where diverse arrays of native palms and cactus provide havens for butterflies, birds and poetry lovers. Venetians share a similar aesthetic and have a wide variety of lawn alternatives to choose from…. sedum (stone crop) and creeping red fescue to edible groundcovers, fragaria chilolensis (the wild strawberry), nasturtiums, mints, and nutritious chickweed. Flowering shrubs with little water maintenance include the entire sage (salvia) species (growing up to five feet in diameter), the california redbud, the monkeyflower, lilac and verbena. Stroll idyllically past rainbow bougainvillea, wild rose, vines of cascading honeysuckle and jasmine, and sidewalk hedges of rosemary, lavender and thyme. Native trees providing shade for groundcovers to thrive are laurel, juniper, chaparrel and oleander. Other green spaces solely feature succulents, from towering St.Peters, agave, and yucca cactuses to tiny hens and chicks.

The time is ripe to compost that lawn! Keep in mind a bylaw exists stating no more than 45  percent of the land can be hard-scraped, as this process contributes to desertification and depletion of the soil. Sustainable landscaping using drought-tolerant plant species makes water available for other uses and more people. It recharges the groundwater and allows less polluted run-off to flow into the ocean. It reduces maintenance and mowing, which results in less urban noise and a lower water bill! Most importantly, here’s our chance to affirm Mother Nature knows best. We’ll breathe easier existing in co-creative harmony. Lighter footprints! Astroturf is not an option!

The local chapter of the California Native Plant Society hosts planting tips for urban gardens on their website (www.lasmmcnps.org.) Farmer’s markets sell a variety of native plants. For water conservation info visit www.bewaterwise.com.