By John Welborne
More and more front-yard re-landscaping projects are underway in our neighborhoods. In Windsor Square, in just a single block of Arden Blvd., three houses in a row have new, non-lawn front yards.
One of the front yards used to consist almost entirely of grass (with the exception of some random Agapanthus and bulbs). According to landscape architect, Alexis Nollmann, the yard “had no design to speak of, was watered (I believe), almost daily, and required a gardener to mow the lawn on a weekly basis.”
The property’s long-time owners wanted a change. Nollmann said that they requested “something loose and naturalistic that would be attractive from both their porch and the street and which would not require copious amounts of maintenance or water.”
Garden designer Nollmann says that she has been “gardening and doing art since I was a child, and volunteered at the Theodore Payne Foundation and Descanso Gardens when I was in high school and beyond.” Since obtaining her landscape architecture degree, she has been designing and installing drought-tolerant gardens for about 10 years.
The birds and the bees
In the Arden Blvd. front yard, a mixture of native and non-native drought tolerant plants in a muted color palette of mauve, purple, lavender, green and silver was selected by the owners. Nollmann says “It is supposed to give the effect of broad strokes of color, like a painting, and attract birds, butterflies and bees.”
According to Nollmann and the owners, these new, climate-appropriate plants, as well as proper grass-removal and mulching, have translated to a garden that requires little maintenance. The owners now perform the minimal required gardening, weeding, sweeping, and deadheading themselves, about every three weeks.
Asked about water savings, Nollmann said, “In the first six to 12 months of a drought-tolerant garden like the one on Arden, there will not necessarily be huge water savings, as the plants need enough water to become established before gradually lowering the water usage. However, you will see savings in subsequent years when, depending on the plant material chosen, water consumption can drop to a third or fourth of the amount previously used when there was a lush lawn.”
This redesigned garden is a definite contrast to the remaining lush front lawns nearby.
Nollmann observed that, “when I first started designing gardens, I had to almost coerce clients into eliminating their lawns or using drought-tolerant plants. It’s a relief that so many people have finally developed an awareness and actually are requesting drought-tolerant gardens.” But she joins other professionals in warning that removal of lawn is not a panacea. It can have unfortunate, negative consequences.
Lawn removal is not always the answer
Nollmann says that homeowners should “be wary of over-simplifying the idea of drought-tolerance. When one removes a lawn, there are factors that should be weighed. Do children and/or dogs play on the lawn? Are there mature trees in the lawn that will continue to require the same irrigation as a lawn?
“Furthermore, replacing a Bermuda grass lawn with excessively Spartan plantings and a bed of hot gravel does little to beautify a neighborhood, regenerate soil, create habitat for birds, bees and butterflies or bring down the air temperature.”
The grass clearing and hardscape installation began in the fall of 2014, and installation was completed in January 2015.
Nollmann attributes the abundant growth not just to good installation practices, but also to the neighborhood’s “magic soil,” which she describes as “very rich, clayey, and moisture-retentive.”
Commenting upon his project, one of the owners said, “The result was an outcome that exceeded our hopes. There were some adjustments along the way, but no surprises or daunting challenges.”
Next month, the Larchmont Chronicle will explore the challenges that faced these homeowners and others in connection with the parkway and street trees between the sidewalk and the curb.