Where The Sidewalk Ends

As springtime comes to a close, temperatures have unexpectedly soared into triple digits. Even the beach communities hit 98° this past week. That means, as always, lawn sprinklers are working overtime.

While I love Los Angeles and everything it has to offer, I have never enjoyed the amount of energy, time, expense and – above all – water that go into keeping the grass green. In fact, I dislike the idea of trying to grow grass in the desert so much that removing the lawn at my home was a top priority when escrow closed. I started with the parkway and quickly made my way to the rear property line. 

I think my neighbors thought I was crazy. In fact, I know they thought I was crazy as they watched me systematically cover every inch of grass in plastic and leave it there – for many weeks… for no apparent good reason… for the love of God, what is she doing? – as I simultaneously removed 80+ yards of old concrete from the backyard in large chunks and placed them on pallets in the driveway (to be later picked up, free of charge, as part of a local recycling program).

Surely, I was the new nut-job on the block.

Surely, I was going to destroy the neighborhood.

Let’s just say, no one came running over with a casserole.

But they did watch and wonder – and, eventually, began to wander over – as I transformed a few patches of former grass into, what the locals now call, “Joan’s Jungle.” It is a wonderful place to come and take a load off, have a cup of tea, and chat about the events of the day. There is a beautiful, lush world in the backyard that attracts hummingbirds, bees and California wildlife year round. It’s also a wonderful place to entertain and relax with friends because the plant life keeps things cool, even when the air is hot. The front yard is just as inviting, and I often find myself sitting out front on the recycled-wood benches that I carved by hand, having a laugh with my neighbors as we survey the coming-along of my gardens and our neighborhood.

What I enjoy most are the strangers who knock on my door. People from all over the area come to talk to me about how to do something similar at their own homes. They also come to ask for cuttings (small pieces of my existing plants), because the word on the street is that I will allow people to cut from my garden in order to grown their own.  They are correct – I will gladly give away for free what I have worked many years to create because I despise waste, I despise being selfish and I despise the sprinklers that water the sidewalk at night in an attempt to keep 200 square feet of grass alive in the parkway. On the flipside, I truly enjoy that I have inspired so many of my neighbors to convert their properties, and it’s always a pleasure to drop in and see what they are cultivating in their own yards. All of those who arrived on my porch timidly asking for a slice of a plant or a slice of advice have become amazing friends and dependable neighbors. We’ve even managed to create a fruit-vegetable-herb co-op on our street! How Santa Cruz of us

In my ongoing attempt to educate, we also discuss the environmentally-friendly and sustainable woods I use for my decks and fences, how to recycle unwanted concrete and yard materials, how to create hardscapes and outdoor green living spaces, and how to plant correctly so that trees and plants learn to nourish themselves from available ground water, rather than from sprinkler systems. And, for those who still want a slice of lawn, I discuss new underground watering systems, like Ecomat, directed watering and drip systems, decorative grasses, and artificial (or synthetic) lawn options.

I also share with everyone the (sadly) little-known fact that the DWP offers rebates to residents who remove their lawns and install drought-tolerant plants.  They actually offer up to $1.00 per square foot of transition from grass to native plants, provided you contact them and follow the guidelines prior to making the changes.  You can check out more information on this program on the DWP website by using these links:




or you can call the L.A. Department of Water and Power Water Agency Rebate hotline at (888) 376-3314. (The recording will say funding for regionwide programs is exhausted, but keep listening. DWP customers can press 3 for more details on their rebate.)

I water my property about 12 minutes a month from June through September. The rest of the year, there’s enough moisture in the air to turn off the sprinklers. My lawn-loving neighbors water every night and every morning, for a total of 10-20 minutes a day, year round, and their lawns still look like they need water. I guess if they actually used their lawns – walked around barefoot on them, or rolled naked on them, or even had a picnic out front once in a while – I’d understand their stubbornness. But they don’t; they’re simply stuck in old thinking. Hopefully, continued education and subtle encouragement will help them to understand that lifestyles are changing because there is a desperate need for us to alter how much we consume, especially with the ever-present water shortage California is facing. But I will save that soapbox for another day.

There is so much available in the way of ground cover, succulents, drought-tolerant, native plants and trees that I cannot imagine why anyone would choose grass over gardens. The amazing colors, textures and scents that I wake up to every morning and wonder at every evening while the mockingbirds sing and call to the nightingales – well, I wouldn’t trade it for anything; it really is Southern California living at its best.  

Here are some shots from the jungle - enjoy!