Kadner: Lawns face a rocky future in the suburban landscape
PHIL KADNER email@example.com | (708) 633-6787 July 10, 2012 6:54PM
Updated: August 12, 2012 6:30AM
Driving through south suburban neighborhoods observing all the brown lawns, I began wondering how long it would be before people started planting rock gardens.
I decided to bounce the idea off Mark Sipes, owner of Prairie House Garden Center in Orland Park, to get his opinion.
Mark’s mother, Geri, opened the garden and landscaping center at 151st Street and Harlem Avenue when that street still was a dirt road south of the store.
“I don’t know about rock gardens, but people might want to consider zero scaping,” Sipes said.
I had no idea what that was, but if it meant not having to plant things, grow things or water things, I was all for it.
Not that I don’t love greenery. I just have no luck with the stuff and it takes a lot of work.
A zero scape is apparently a landscape that doesn’t require any maintenance whatsoever
and includes rocks and desert plants such as juniper, yucca and cacti.
“They’re very popular out in Colorado right now,” Sipes said.
I vaguely recall a suburban homeowner spending a lot of money on a rock garden a few years back, in Burbank, and village officials went bonkers.
They threatened fines, wanted the woman to dig the whole thing up and replace it with grass, and she was ostracized by her neighbors.
Suburban folks used to get really touchy about their neighbors’ grass, and in many villages in the Southland they’ll fine you a hefty sum if you let the stuff grow a foot or higher.
I told Sipes I was thinking about replacing my front lawn with a natural garden.
“Those fields of wild violet I see growing in vacant lots and along the roadsides look real pretty and no one has to care for them,” I said. “Of course they’re weeds, but I could never tell the difference between weeds and natural gardens anyhow.”
Sipes said that anyone living in Orland Park could probably get away with such a thing “because if they tried to give you any grief you could tell them your place still looks a heckuva lot better than the police station.”
Orland Park a few years back spent thousands of dollars on a natural garden in front of its new multimillion-dollar police station.
“It looks like a big patch of weeds,” people would say.
And village officials would say that it was just natural growth and it would take some time to become all pretty.
After a few years, it still didn’t look pretty.
“It was hideous,” said Sipes, using technical landscaping terminology. “Ugliest thing I’ve ever seen.”
So the village ripped the whole thing up, spent thousands of dollars more for new natural plantings, and hired a guy to do some weeding.
“And it still looks hideous,” Sipes said. “I don’t know what they planned to do, but it just looks awful.”
I could do that.
Weeds are my specialty. I can grow them two, three, four feet high without even trying.
Sipes said that although this year’s drought has been tough on lawns, he estimates most of them will rebound nicely.
But I had a different theory.
I think the price of water in the suburbs, along with the economic downturn, has many of my neighbors wondering if a pretty lawn is worth the price.
I mean, would anyone in their right mind sprinkle hundreds of dollar bills on their lawns each month just because all that green looked nice?
That’s what watering a lawn amounts to, what with Chicago raising its water rates to the suburbs 15 percent a year and Oak Lawn about to spend a boatload of money on a new pumping station and water lines to the southwest suburbs.
“It might make sense to go minimalist,” Sipes said. “But I
don’t think rock gardens would
be attractive without some plantings.”
I did a little research and found out that in addition to zero scaping there’s also something called xeriscaping that involves drip irrigation, drought-tolerant plants and mulching that allows an area to remain more green than zero scaping.
In addition to the cost of water, there’s another factor that may be at work in the brown fields of the Southland.
It seems to me the drought has gotten people to thinking: Was maintaining my lawn really worth all the work?
There’s the fertilizing, the edging, the weed whacking and a lot of stuff that really comes down to pride of ownership vs. the loss of free time.
I mean, who really cares if you have a brown lawn? Don’t dandelions look like flowers to a child who doesn’t know any better?
And if we’re concerned at all about the future of the planet and the future of our children, shouldn’t we be conserving every drop of water we can?
And saving money on the lawn might even provide enough extra cash to pay the property tax bill.