REBECCA ROBERTS, host:
That perfect suburban image of a neat, little house with a white picket fence assumes the picket fence marks the edge of a yard. Ideally, a lush yard of grass so green, so immaculate that no dandelion would dare mar its perfection. But what if you live where grass just doesn't grow that easily, or you're trying to be responsible about your water use and think grass shouldn't take precedence over showers and laundry?
So maybe this is a discussion just for gardening junkies and other green thumbs. But NPR's own hort-head Ketzel Levine says otherwise. Her blog Talking Plants has been positively ablaze lately with people searching for lawn alternatives. Ketzel Levine joins us now from her home in Oregon.
Welcome to the program.
KETZEL LEVINE: Thank you.
ROBERTS: So this initial conversation on your blog took off when a couple in Tempe, Arizona, stopped watering their lawn and started looking for alternatives that wouldn't use so much water, and they ended up doing something called Xeriscaping. Can you tell us what that is?
LEVINE: Yeah. Absolutely. Xeriscape, which is X-E-R-I-scape. Xeris is from the Greek for dry. And essentially, it means using water wisely. I call it dope-slap(ph) gardening because why would you want to be wasting precious resources, as water has become, on a lawn.
ROBERTS: So what can you do instead?
LEVINE: A billion things. You've got to challenge this mindset that the front yard has to be green. And I think that's what happen with the couple in Tempe. Their neighbors turned them in because their lawn had died, and they hadn't done anything about it. Meanwhile, their neighbors were knocking themselves out watering and fertilizing, keeping a green lawn. So what they did was they took the lawn out completely - these are people who let their lawn die - and they put in what is called a xeriscape. And essentially, what that boils down to are plants that makes sense for area, water use that makes sense for the area. You know, using rock if that makes sense or using smaller amounts of green grass if that makes sense. And you make the decision not to have a wasteful lawn.
ROBERTS: And what about Xeriscaping? How does that compare cost and time wise to putting in a green lawn?
LEVINE: I would say that, upfront, you're looking at the same if not more. And over time, you will start to recoup. But upfront, there's no question, you've got to take the (unintelligible) out, you've got to reinstall a new landscape, you do have to water - even in the xeriscape - to get your plants going. And it will be a little while before things really start to pop.
ROBERTS: Now, what if water conservation isn't your first priority? What if you just think a vast expanse of green carpet is too sterile and boring?
LEVINE: Oh, that's great. Are you kidding? If already you're feeling sterile and boring, my gosh, well then you become a gardener.
(Soundbite of laughter)
ROBERTS: Okay, let me add and you're no good at growing things.
(Soundbite of laughter)
ROBERTS: Here's another scenario. A backyard where - just hypothetically -three children and a Labrador; use it alternatively as, you know, a baseball diamond, a racetrack, a toilet in the case of the Labrador, lousy soil, huge shade tree. But I don't want it full of rocks and flowering plants because it's my kid's play yard.
LEVINE: And the question is?
ROBERTS: I'm seriously considering Astroturf.
LEVINE: Astroturf scares me specially when you're talking about a place where dog goes. It just doesn't seem like it's a smart idea for that.
ROBERTS: So what looks nice on a flat yard that I don't have to spend all my time telling my children not to trample the plants?
LEVINE: I would look at grasses that are perhaps more appropriate for Washington, D.C. And you'd be surprised what kinds of things that you might be able to grow without having to do much watering, without having to do much fertilizing and with doing very little mowing. Just get away from the idea of sort of the perfect green grass and look at some of the mixes that have come up in the last couple of years that really would make sense there. Don't give up on grass entirely, just make the right choice.
ROBERTS: Thanks very much, Ketzel.
LEVINE: My pleasure.
ROBERTS: NPR senior correspondent Ketzel Levine. Her blog can be found at npr.org/talkingplants.
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