Linda Matthew and her husband Marcelo, two Davis residents who always have had an interest in water conservation, finally decided to do something about their water-guzzling front lawn a few years back.
The couple, with the help of their two kids, decided to rip out the grass from the front of their Miller Drive abode and replace it with something that required quite a bit less irrigation: wood chips.
“We started by laying down newspaper over the entire front lawn until it was about four to six newspapers deep,” explained Matthew standing outside her home. “Over three months, (we) gradually put wood chips over the top.”
Immediately after the change in landscape, the Matthew family began to see their water usage plummet, and with it, the amount they were paying every two months on their utility bills.
Their consumption levels, as Matthew explained, pointing out troughs and crests on a graph she had drawn and laid out on her kitchen table, had been cut by a third during the summer peak months when she and her family would traditionally water their lawn.
“You can see that peak water use dropped from 67 ccf in a two-month period in summer 2008, to about 45 ccf per two month period in the following years,” Matthew said following up in an email. “So about one-third of our summer water use went away.”
More and more residents in Davis may decide to join the Matthew household in replacing high water-consuming lawns as the city prepares to inflate water rates over the next five years — and many years thereafter — to pay for the recently voter-approved Woodland-Davis Clean Water Agency surface water project. The project will be built to provide Davis and Woodland with new sources of potable water.
Starting on Wednesday, water bills in Davis will climb an average of about 5 percent. On Jan. 1, 2014, they’ll jump again by another 20 percent and by 2018, residents could be paying three times as much for water as they fork over now.
Fortunately for those residents with an eye towards conservation, the entire Miller Drive neighborhood, not just the Matthews, is beginning to turn into a living diorama of outdoor water-saving techniques that provide various examples of how to conserve, and conserve in style.
Down the street, Dorothy Kepner has taken out both her front and back lawns and replaced them with a constellation of plants, flowers and vegetables.
In the front, working largely by herself on the transformation of the outside of the house that she grew up in, Kepner began ripping up sections of grass a few years ago and replacing them with many different species and colors of flowers.
“I did a little bit and then a little bit more and said, ‘This was really great,’ and then next year I’d do a little more,” Kepner said.
In the back, Kepner has laced the soil with seeds of many kinds, turning the former grassy space into an explosive garden filled with asparagus, strawberries, grapes, cucumbers, cherries, parsley and an innumerable amount more that she has planted.
Feeding what she calls her “ornamental-edible garden” with a strategically lain drip line, the front and back gardens have Kepner saving the green in other ways as well.
“I wanted to use less water because I’m an environmentalist,” Kepner said pridefully. “And my water use has gone way down.”
Further down the street, Gena Harper and Mike May offer even another way to replace a lawn while preserving the aesthetics of the neighborhood. They’ve installed artificial grass, which, of course, requires no water at all.
That is, unless some misplaced dog poop needs to be rinsed off of it.
Harper, who’s visually impaired, first employed the use of an artificial lawn in her previous residence to cut down on the maintenance work she’d have to do outside.
Now in Davis, the artificial option is continuing to improve, as the products continue to grow more realistic.
“They’re adding dead (blades) of grass to make it look more authentic,” Harper said Friday. “It looks really nice all the time (and) the cost savings help.”
Back south on Miller, Ed and Jacqueline Clemens have removed a little less than half of their front lawn and inserted three garden boxes where they, too, grow vegetables and fruit. They’ve also planted vegetables around the boxes and have carved out space for five rows of soil and mulch where they recently started growing blackberries.
Though, to be fair, the Clemenses did start their home vegetable garden in the back, just a few feet from their backyard chickens.
“We knew we wanted to take out some of the front lawn, it was just a matter of figuring out what we wanted to do,” Ed Clemens said. “We really wanted to grow our own food. It keeps you in touch with reality: dealing with the heat, the suns, the bugs.”
The shift away from lawns in Davis has been noticed by local nurseries as well. The Three Palms Nursery in rural west Davis has had a greater and greater amount of people walking in to ask about drought-resistant plants and about pulling out their lawns.
Phil Kitchen, owner of the nursery, says that his inventory has begun to shift a bit in that direction to accommodate them.
“There are a lot of people who come in and say they want to take out their lawns,” Kitchen said. “They’ll come in and say they’re paying more for water (and) ‘What can I do?'”
Whether it’s fake grass, an expansive garden, or a full re-design performed by a landscape architect — like Matthew’s neighbors across the street on Miller who also replaced their lawn with gravel pathways and low-water plants — it appears Davisites have many options to choose from if they’d like to get rid of the grass.
Back at the Matthew residence, the transition from a green lawn to wood chips came as a bit of a surprise to some neighbors. Matthew said that fellow Miller Drivers came by early on in the process to ask when she might plant some flowers or other plants to dress up the front of the property.
But before Matthew could seed anything, an unsolicited designer came by and planted something for her.
One day, a crop full of California Poppies, the neon-orange varietal that’s also the state flower, began to sprout up through the wood chips that had been laid down in place of the grass, creating the aesthetically pleasing front lawn for which neighbors had been asking.
— Reach Tom Sakash at [email protected] or 530-747-8057. Follow him on Twitter at @TomSakash