Ministry Of Controversy

Postcards From The Edge – DROUGHT

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I have lived through drought before, but I have never seen anything like what I am witnessing now.

I live in what is usually called an “up and coming” community – this is one of those places where artists and musicians come to raise their families, and before the drought, it looked like an adorable upper-middle class community of post-war bungalows.

Now it looks abject, a neglected place, even though the homeowners are anything BUT neglectful of their homes.

These pictures were taken on one block, around the corner from my house.

This is how things have looked since March, only now, in addition to the lawn shriveling up, foundation plantings are dying as well.

We simply don’t have water.

Has YOUR climate changed in any way that is affecting your quality of life? This drought means that I don’t wash my car, showering is quick, my beloved bubble baths are a thing of the path, and my garden is suffering. If it continues, it may mean that prices for food are raised dramatically, maybe for the whole county.

This is my reality, it is a painful reality for a passionate gardener. Even succulents and natives need regular water to thrive.

Yes, Los Angeles is a dream – a city built in a dessert where ALL the water is imported from elsewhere. Currently, we are in the midst of a population boom. Which means we need more water to sustain all the transplants (pun intended – even when I’m sad I’m cheeky!). Maybe what we need is to move this entire city somewhere else. Because THIS, this version of Los Angeles, is as unsustainable as it gets.

Have a look – this is repeated in many neighborhoods. The only thing that is worse is the neighborhoods that are lush and green.



Sigh. That’s all, folks.

Posted by

Ivette Soler
on August 27, 2014 at 10:05 am, in the category Lawn Reform, Ministry of Controversy.


  1. Tara, I think if we had to squeeze this population into low-risk temperate zones where there were no tornados, hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, blizzards, icestorms, fires, or droughts we would all be living in … I don’t even know where, Kentucky?
    Who can anticipate how the climate will change? And, for many, the risk of living in a flood plane where the risk is one flood every 40 years isn’t a bad one. People love to live in high-fire zones, those are the places closest to nature, the most undeveloped. I am not sure whether having a government agency “allowing” people to live only in areas of gentle weather is any sort of viable answer …

  2. It may sound strange but I found your photos comforting. I, too, live in an “upscale” Southern California neighborhood and my front yard looks like hell, just like some of those shown in your photos. In contrast, the yards of many of my neighbors look much better – their grass is still a pleasant green color. I just interviewed a garden service provider who suggested that either something was wrong with my irrigation system or I wasn’t running it enough. He commiserated about the water cost when I said I’d reduced my watering but he looked a bit askance when I said I’d done that in response to the drought rather than the cost. We’ve taken out large sections of lawn already and the rest will probably go, albeit in increments. I think all of us in drought-stricken areas have a responsibility to change our planting schemes – the drought is a kick in the pants to emphasize that we do, indeed, live in a desert and we need to adapt to those conditions. Every region faces its challenges – be it floods, fires, landslides, tornados or other violent acts of nature – we need to understand the impact and adapt our life styles and practices to fit our circumstances. The world is a crowded place and we can’t all in a rain-blessed haven.

  3. Kris, I get it – at least in these photos we see people are doing the responsible thing and cutting back on water. I have clients who WON’T have anything other than lush greenery everywhere, and it feels really bad. I want to yell at people – “This is a FINITE RESOURCE!!!” – so yes, these photos at the very least show good intentions.
    All of us have to think about how we are going to balance our desires for gorgeous gardens with the realities of the times we live in. It won’t be easy. But we have to start somewhere! Thanks for your comment!

  4. A finite resource just means – to some people – that the rich can more easily display their wealth while the rest of us show that we can’t. It’s not going to get better; the climate is changing and will get, well, more of what we’re seeing. i am in an area where it’s between a region expected to get wetter and a region expected to get drier, so we’re about the same as we’ve been so far. A little warmer. But we garden with irrigation water, and the western US water supplies are overextended. I expect that our suburban neighborhood will eventually be kicked off in favor of the farmers (as it should be). Hopefully we can still grow succulents. Maybe we can keep a few fruit trees or veggie beds going.

  5. I am curious about the first photo, with all the cardboard spread out. Do you think they are smothering what’s left of the lawn to prepare for a new planting scheme, something xeric?

  6. Mary Gray – that yard with the cardboard on it has been that way since around February. I don’t think they understand what it means to “mulch” with cardboard. I have approached them and told them that they could put compost on top and plant through it, but they responded that this was their new “mulch”. Another problem is that there is so much misinformation about how to use water well, how to prioritize, and how to have a water wise garden that works. From where I sit, there are very few successful xeric gardens going in, mostly just people abandoning gardening altogether.
    Thank you for your kind words, I hope this ends too! Unfortunately, I believe the climate is changing, and this is what is in store for LA for the near future.

  7. I would agree – BUT usually when one gets rid of a lawn it is replaced with something. All of these front yards have been like this for months and months. It is different. The act of creating a garden is a sign of hope, of positivity and investment. I see the lack of moving forward on replacing the lawn as a significant problem – people have no idea what to do, what kind of decision to make in the face of the changing climate. It isn’t like we haven’t had severe drought before, and planting drought tolerant gardens has been encouraged here since I was a baby gardener, almost 25 yrs. But for some reason, things are going fallow with no replanting. It’s pretty unsettling.

  8. Yikes! I left Central Texas a year ago and headed east. Too hot, too dry, and little chance that it is going to get better anytime soon. My gardening heart just couldn’t take it any longer…

  9. I’m from Australia where severe droughts are something we get pretty used to. Every time ‘El Nino’ strikes we get hit with drought, and this year we are at only 75% of our usual rainfall so it is looking like we are about to enter the next one after a reprieve of 2-3 years.

  10. Mog, what a great comment. Your experience is so valuable – that is what we in Southern California should have been doing for years! We might be in a better place during this, our worst crisis in many decades. Graywater is going to become a big part of my watering strategy. I wish rain barrels and cache basins were a better option for us, but we get no rain for about 9 months, and then monsoon, so that water is very quickly used. Saving and re-prioritizing is, I believe, the way SoCal needs to move forward. And using plants adapted to drought – I use many Australian natives in my design practice that work so well in times of water stress. There are ways to garden well in these times, even if we have to adjust our expectations. Thanks for your input!

  11. Ivette, thank you for this post. I only wish those individuals who insist on broad green lawns in summer dry climates were likely to read this. I live in Northern Cal wine country and grew up in LA. Most of my lawn has been gone for many years and I admit my reasons were not drought-altruistic..I wanted more room for plants ! I retain a small path of grass as a savannah for my cats, and it gets watered sparingly. It’s fescue and if not mowed too low I can get away with watering twice a month. I don’t fertilize it at all. This time of year as the transpiration rate goes down I can get away with a week and half between waterings in my garden. We hope for some normal rainfall up here this winter –maybe 30 inches ? I’ll continue to use stingy water practices even if the rainfall returns to normal.

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