Back when this development was built in the 1980s, the homeowner’s association decreed that at least 50% of every house’s visible yard had to be grass. Apparently they thought they were living somewhere it rained, but I don’t know why. California has been a desert for a lot longer than the current drought has lasted.
When we moved in back in 2011, I was frankly pretty appalled that I was going to have to water the lawn. That bothered me more than having to pay someone to look after it. (My husband is even less capable in the lawn-and-garden department than I am.)
By 2014, the drought was so bad that we drove past whole orchards that had been ripped out by the roots on Highway 5. In 2015, the state mandated restrictions on watering, and stopped watering the lawns on government properties.
But you know what happens if you just stop watering your lawn? It turns into a fire hazard. I should know: some idiot accidentally set fire to our side yard that year. (Why no, I’m not a fan of illegal fireworks.) And frankly, our side yard doesn’t look that good even when we do water it. It’s mostly sort of scrubby weed and dirt.
By the spring of 2016, very few people seemed to be worrying about an obsolete housing association rule. So when I was out walking this summer, I paid close attention to the different possibilities for lawn alternatives. There are several options if you don’t want grass, or don’t want as much grass.
Bare Dirt or Weeds
This is my least-favorite option and the one my gardener would never go for, but there seem to be some houses in every part of the development that have just removed all growing things from their yards. In some cases, I think they intend to plant or put something in, but others have left their yards bare all summer.
This is my other least-favorite option, though in some cases it looks all right. It obviously makes a difference what kind you get and who installs it.
Mulch can look pretty good, especially if you actually have some shrubs and planters in it. One person I talked to said that most of the colored mulch is dyed, and fades pretty quickly in the ferocious Oakley sun.
Stones and Gravel
I think stones would be preferable to mulch in one way: you can use a leaf-blower on them. Also I think they keep their color better, and I like the look of both the black and the red pumice, and also the river stones. They look best when you combine a few different types. The down side is that of course stone costs more than mulch.
Some of my neighbors have really-nice drought-tolerant gardens. In a few cases, where they occupy a small strip of side yard, they might not be all that expensive to achieve, though frankly the county rebate for lawn replacement doesn’t even cover the cost of having your grass taken out. I don’t think I could begin to afford this kind of thing, but it’s what I’d like to put in if I had the money.