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Reduce and replace thirsty lawns

Reducing the size of our lawns is the first step in reducing the cost of our water consumption and avoiding the punitive tariffs imposed on us during the summer of 2016/17.

The tariffs being enforced at the present time penalize us, the more water we consume, compelling us to water our gardens using buckets and watering cans. This is a sacrifice that we have to make to save money firstly and preserve the water reserves as a result.

Unfortunately for many of us, turf lawn dominates our urban landscapes in both domestic gardens and public parks. An unsightly, dry and brittle lawn certainly does not meet our current expectations. Lawn requires frequent, almost daily watering because of its shallow root system being susceptible to immediate evaporation in the summer sun.

Farming too requires daily irrigation input, using enormous amounts of ground and contained water. However the use of water here has an obvious and very desirable outcome in the form of locally produced food.

Compare this outcome to the high water consumption used in a landscaped garden or public park. A lush green lawn may meet our personal expectations but yields nothing of real value. This means that in order for us to successfully navigate our way into this new era of high water tariffs, we will need to change our expectations and our traditional landscape/garden practices. If we are going to practice meaningful water conservation then we need to design future gardens that can survive with very little of this resource during the dry summer months.

Those of us who are unable to access subterranean water from boreholes will need to re-assess our landscape environment, especially if the summer lawn no longer meets our current expectations.

Reducing the size of the affected lawn is the first step that you can take towards adapting for a water scarce future with lower utility bills. By reducing the footprint of the lawn we also reduce the amount of watering required to keep it green in the hot dry season.

For example, if half of the lawn is functional, and other half is not, then replace the non-functional half with indigenous plants that look acceptable in the dry months. The other functional half of the lawn is then reserved for whatever activity it is still used for.

Irrigating a smaller area of lawn, on a separate station, for the correct duration, during periods of the evening makes an enormous contribution to water conservation.

I am aware that the removal of lawn can be extremely traumatic for a lot of people, especially men. I have experienced this many times during my career. However it is logical that if all or some of the lawn is not being used for sport or any other activity then surely there is no point in spending money on either constant maintenance or water.

Lawn reduction or replacement creates great opportunities in garden design and can be applied at most properties. But bear in mind that each home and garden is as different as the families who occupy them. So there will be different solutions for every property. No ‘one’ solution will fit all equally well.

In large and medium sized gardens, I am proposing that non-functional lawn is replaced with a flat growing, water-wise, ground cover. It would be best to stick to one or at most, two species only, especially if there are already assorted shrubs in the existing beds. This new buffer zone between the functional lawn and the planted beds now becomes an attractive feature requiring less maintenance, money and watering.
There are a great variety of succulents and indigenous, herbaceous perennials to choose from for this purpose. Even low growing, woody plants such as the dwarf, mound forming, Felicia and Helichrysum cymosum are incredibly effective when planted en-masse (see picture). Also consider planting a uniform, modern-looking buffer zone of wild grasses like Aristida or Chlorophytum saundersiae.

Smaller gardens can be styled to appear more like Mediterranean courtyards. Here I would propose a combination of hedges, gravel, pavers, pebbles, potted succulents, planted fruit trees and woody herbs such as Lavender, Rosemary and Thyme. These plants can easily integrate with our own indigenous species. The paved and gravel areas become functional places, populated with the occasional café table or bench from which to enjoy it all.

I have written much on this subject through the years; please also see my archive articles with this theme.

Further note to those suffering with their lawns:

If you are suffering with horrible dried out turf in the summer months more than others seem to be, it may have more to do with your property location and orientation than the lack of watering.

These include such factors as, the type of lawn species, sloping, raised or retained ground, the angle at which the garden is exposed to the summer sun or soil conditions such as clay or sand. These factors will influence the amount of water required to keep some lawns greener than others.

If you can tolerate the dry and patchy lawn during the summer then all is well otherwise consider reduction or replacement.