NPR logo Colorado State Grass Unacceptable For Garden!

Colorado State Grass Unacceptable For Garden!

I really don't want to become the stifle-a-yawn Lawn blog. But I got an e-mail from Luanne Stehno and you've got to hear this story.

She lives in the Denver burb, Arvada. She wins the city's 2004 This Old Yard essay contest which asked contestants to describe why it was smart to conserve water in the landscape. What she wins is a new garden, designed by the supremely credentialed landscape architect Ken Ball, who's been associated with Denver Water (the folks that coined the term "xeriscape") for who knows how long.

The garden is a great success: lovely plants, green lawn, very little water. So great, it's considered a prototype for what can be done by the average water-wise homeowner. And one of the stars of the show is Colorado's venerable state grass, Bouteloua gracilis, commonly known far and wide as blue grama grass.

a lush xeriscaped front garden

Here's Luanne Stehno's lush, three year old landscape featuring flowering perennials and a flowing, blue gama grass lawn. The photo was taken this past June. photo credit: Luanne Stehno hide caption

toggle caption photo credit: Luanne Stehno

Last month, a neighbor of Ms. Stehno's called the City of Arvada to complain that the blue grama grass looked tall and weedy. Guess what happened? No, no one took the neighbor aside to explain that this was a demonstration garden, a view into the future, and would she like to learn more about xeriscaping?

Not even close.

Instead, Luanne Stehno was asked to cut her blue grama grass down to city-ordained size.

Well, the story's just rolling along like endless fields of Kentucky bluegrass. Neither Luanne or Ken Ball are going to go quietly. I'll keep you posted. In the meantime, for more background, here's the Denver CBS affiliate's story, and here's an item from the Rocky Mountain News.



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Ignorance and "buysybody-ness" knows no bounds. If you don't like tall grass don't grow it in your garden. Fine. Done. But really, don't impose your grass preferences on someone else. I just don't understand that kind of nerve. I don't really like red cinders and plastic figurines as a garden concept - but to each his own.

Sent by Kailla in Portland | 2:23 PM | 8-15-2007

The mind boggles. Let me see, this nosy neighbour type is probably the same kind who drives a ginormous SUV, would complain about someone having a clothesline, and would water his lawn in the dead of night even during a water embargo (a la Harry Potter's Uncle Vernon Dursley). Surely the city fathers/mothers have enough clues to straighten this bonehead out?

Sent by jodi | 10:07 PM | 8-15-2007

I am immensely disgusted by this neighbor's ignorance. Luanne's landscaping looks beautiful, and it is environmentally sound. Don't change it! It's high time people with sense start pushing back against the tides of stupidity.

Sent by Jen P. | 11:33 AM | 8-16-2007

Maybe she should cut the grass and replace it with really ugly lawn orniments. Like gaudy pink flamingos or those geese you dress up in outfits to suit the weather....see how the neighbor likes THEM apples?

Sent by Lori B. | 1:55 PM | 8-16-2007

Not just in Colorado. I moved to Alabama in Jan of this year, and my neighbors have no qualms about trespassing to mow the part of my lawn that is next to their house. No asking, no befriending, no civility, just a mysteriously cut section of my yard when I get home from work.
Their vision is a neighborhood of appearances, property values, curb appeal, and sterile landscaping. Mine was a idea of a organic respite for birds and butterflies. But I had to make a choice, people or grass. I now mow twice a week, like everybody else.
Seems no one wants Nature any more.

Sent by Camryn in Ozark AL | 2:26 PM | 8-16-2007

I am so grateful to be living in a neighborhood (in Portland) where I can let my lawn go during the summer without some nosy neighbor giving me their two-cents worth. Two of my three neighbors have green lawns, but they've never complained about my abomination. And with all the rain we have here, it will be green again in no time.

Sent by Anita | 2:39 PM | 8-16-2007

I know, I know, supposedly home-owner's associations are good things because they keep "undesirable" appearances away and property values "up." City grass-height codes are supposed to do the same thing. But, honestly, how much can a person say they "own" their home/property when everyone else gets to decide what is done with it? I am not suggesting NO restrictions or that people be allowed to have a brothel next door to an all-American family ideal. However, some balance would be nice. If the neighbor does not like the tall grass, then the neighbor should not put that grass in their landscaping. If it is a neighbor sharing a lawn line, they can put up fencing or a border to separate the two. Have we become so spoiled a society that we focus on the height or brown spots in someone's yard instead of the more important things such as the war, genocide in Darfur, the (still lacking) rebuilding of NOLA and the gulf coast?

Sent by Kerry | 7:14 PM | 8-16-2007

If that picture represents what Luanne's yard really looks like... how could you call it "weedy?" It's a monoculture planting! Since it happens to be grass I suppose you can call it a lawn. But it's way more interesting than the stubbly, shorn American Dream Lawns you usually see.

Sent by Kim | 7:48 PM | 8-16-2007

That lawn looks so soft and lush, it just makes me want to take off my shoes and run barefoot through it.

Sent by Aleth | 7:59 AM | 8-17-2007

The city giveth and the city taketh away. The city doesn't know what they do, obviously. I should hope that the city council will change the ordinance and put an end to such nonsense. There should be room for this type of lawn. In the meantime, will blue gama grow in Indiana? If so, I'll take some plugs.

Sent by Elizabeth A. Smith | 9:35 AM | 8-17-2007

Blue grama is great forage for grazers and adapted to being munched. She might consider finding a goat for a few days to do the "mowing".

Sent by Sallie | 12:53 PM | 8-17-2007

What about trimming (rather than mowing) to a height of 11.5 inches? To avoid contributing to green house gases, Ms. Stehno could use a manual clipper or hedge trimmer ... or a pair of scissors with the yardstick in hand marked at 11.5 inches ... or 11.9 inches!

Sent by J. R. Madden | 5:29 PM | 8-17-2007

This is typical Colorado behavior. They say they want one thing, then they do the complete opposite. Unfortunately for Ms. Stehno, the area of Colorado she lives in values appearance over substance and quality. It's the land of SUV driving environmentalists. I wish her luck in her efforts. We need more people like her and less like her neighbor

Sent by Claire in Northern Colorado | 6:45 PM | 8-17-2007

My husband once told me a story about his best friend's father. Mr. Scarlott is a very tall and burly man, a former marine from the Vietnam war. When my husband and his friend were children, they lived in the same neighborhood which was (and still is) governed by a home owner's association. Mr. Scarlott, aside from being very big and tall was also very outspoken.

One day, after some time of letting the grass grow a neighbor stopped by while Mr. Scarlott was out front of the house. This nosy neighbor strolled up, then asked Mr. Scarlott when did he "plan on cutting his grass". Mr. Scarlott was not amused, after all this is a man who took off the head of a Vietnamese soldier during the war. He looked at the neighbor and said in his great big voice, "I'll cut it when I'm f*****g ready." That was the end of that.

I wish we were all able to be as intimidating and authoritative as Mr. Scarlott when dealing with the minions of suburban America & their perfect 2 inch high fescue lawns.

Sent by Morgan Maskell | 9:04 AM | 8-19-2007

I never really understand the whole lawn thing to begin with. Everyone I know who has a lawn is forever fretting about it. What are the neighbors thinking? Is it too brown? Oh no, I have to mow it. I wonder if they ever even sit on their lawns or play frisbee or do whatever a person does to enjoy a lawn. I choose not to participate, I have a xeric landscape with only one tiny grass plant and the rest are drought tolerant flowers and plants. People keep coming over and commenting how much they like it. And best of all, I simply opt out of that whole neighbor lawn deal. I guess they could come over and demand when I'm going to deadhead my cornflowers or pull those weeds sneaking around the Russian sage. Also, I think it is ridiculous that the city is making such a big deal about this lady's grass. Grass is over rated and given too much importance! What about making a nice place to live that is welcoming and friendly, now that seems like a much higher calling and something that a city should spend its time and energy on. Much more important to make a nice place to live than to fret about someone else's grass and make her life less pleasant in the process. Sometimes this seems like a really strange country we live in!

Sent by T. Potter | 3:23 PM | 8-21-2007

If they make her cut it I hope she hires a herd of goats or sheep or maybe some cows to graze it down to a respectable height.

Sent by acer | 9:03 AM | 8-22-2007

Maybe she should put a sign up in her yard, or a plaque explaining that this is Xereoscaping, and that its an environmentally friendly kind of yard.

On another note there are people all over the U.S. and Canada who are defying neighborhood regs regarding clotheslines.

This is another environmentally friendly move to save energy. No doubt there will be much gnashing of teeth over the *airing of laundry.

Honestly I bought the land, I own it, and If I want to xeroscape it, dry my laundry on a line or park my small pickup out front, its a free country.

I have no idea why anyone would allow Lawn Nazis to rule their life like that, and poop all over the American Dream of home ownership.

If I can prove there is a reason for what I am doing, and that its beneficial then thats the way it is.

My religion is green, my speech is green, limiting those things to me is not only infringing on my rights to live my life as I see fit but also limiting the content of my speech about who I am.

I also refinish reclaimed furniture under my carport, and sometimes my socks dont match.

Sent by Sundog | 3:20 PM | 8-27-2007

THAT is my dream lawn!! Keep fighting the good fight Luanne, you're doing a heck of a job!!!

Sent by Natalee | 11:24 AM | 8-30-2007

The yard looks like a weedy mess that needs attention quickly. I don't blame the neighbors that have to look at that. If they wanted a landscape like this, they should move to the country where no one can see it. In the city, landscapes must be neat, or the whole neighborhood looks bad. I bet NPR won't post this comment becaue it disagrees with their liberal minds.

Sent by JMT | 2:13 PM | 9-27-2007

Uhh guys city uniformity is kind of important. also need to remember that it is normal for people to have to keep there part of land nice and tidy. Of course, we could decide to get a city where everyone does what he wants. But those tend to magically be poor cities for some reason. On the other hand, making an experiment to be more ecologique is a great idea even if it takes off some beauty. On the other hand, was the city ever advised that they were doing this experiment.

Sent by Stephane | 9:47 AM | 5-6-2008