What's Happening

News Roundup: Fake Trees, Fake Lawns, No Lawn, and More

War on Artificial Turf

In lawn news, something I can never get enough of, the town of Glendale, California has banned artificial grass due to "potential health hazards presented by high levels of lead".  But get this – they banned it only in front yards.  "When asked why the fake grass would continue to be allowed in backyards, officials had no answer," according to CBS Los Angeles.

In this television report, one unhappy resident describes having to rip out her brand-new $3,000 lawn.

I'm on the fence about artificial turf myself – because it sure saves on water, a precious commodity in most of California.  And they're making better product these days, right?  Not all of which is lead-based?  But readers, what do YOU think?

 

Quigley front yard

Occupy your Front Yard

In other lawn news, Paul Tukey alerted me to yet another instance of a non-lawn-loving gardener running into legal troubles.  Native-plant advocate Louise Quigley has been battling her Wisconsin town for three years now over the six-foot-tall prairie grasses she grows in her front yard, which has prompted, town officials say, “a slew” of complaints.  Her front garden also includes purple coneflowers, goldenrods, milkweeds and butterfly weeds, which she told the local newspaper are "less work, they come up every year, they are pretty. Native perennials have all kinds of environment benefits because the native plants feed the native bugs, feed the birds.”

The ordinance she's being charged under requires mowing, which ordinance Louise believes is outdated. From the local Patch:

"(The ordinance) is about lawns and it isn't about native plant communities," she said. "It was drafted way back and wasn't about 21st century aesthetics or a 21st century ecological understanding. I don't have a lawn, I have a prairie. They are using a lawn regulation to harass me about my prairie."

If there isn't already an online campaign against this silliness, we should start one.

HGTV dream home2

"Bio-native" – WTF?
This item is about nontraditional lawns NOT under attack, though the marketing language describing is questionable.  Mary Gray, a designer and frequent commenter here on the Rant, has her own fabulous blog, where she reports on HGTV's 2012 "dream home" and notes its use of what they call "bio-native grasses".  Ever heard that term before?  Neither had Mary. 

I had to see it for myself and sure enough – the term is used on this slide show about the front garden:  "Bio-native grasses, planted beyond Kentucky bluegrass, created a natural transition from ornamental beds to native meadow."  Were they thinking that "native" didn't sound good enough, and it needed to sound even greener? 

About that "tax on Christmas"

Remember Amy's post about the tax on Christmas trees? Fake tree flickr twidThe issue popped up in this WaPo story about a related conflict – between growers of real Christmas trees and makers of the fake ones.  I can't help but wonder if the fake-tree lobby played a role in the nixing of the marketing campaign for real trees.  Here's the mention:

The USDA gave up a short-lived plan for a “Got Milk”-type campaign to support real trees after it drew complaints that the government was putting a tax on Christmas. The government approved a marketing campaign for real trees that would be funded by a 15-cent charge to larger growers for each tree sold. Commentators including Rush Limbaugh, along with the Heritage Foundation, derided the plan as a Christmas tree tax, and the administration put it on hold.

Artificial tree photo credit ("artificial and unnatural, just the way we like it", says the photographer).  Quigley garden photo by Adam W. McCoy.

Posted by on December 13, 2011 at 3:58 am, in the category What's Happening.
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22 Responses to “News Roundup: Fake Trees, Fake Lawns, No Lawn, and More”

  1. Dave says:

    Banning artificial turf and such:

    The idea sounds great but really government has no business telling anyone what to do with their house, lawn or garden. When government rushes in to save us there is always a dumb result such as no artificial turf in the front yard, but it’s OK in the back yard. Hmmmmmmm — that’s really dumb. If you noticed, Glendale isn’t going to pay for the artificial turf to be removed; it is only by implied force that the city will have you remove your hard earned turf.

    Artificial lawns in low rain areas are really not a bad idea. They look tacky but that is a personal choice.

    The Golden Rule “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” is still the best way of doing business.

  2. Botanicbay says:

    in the country of lawsuits, as we Fench people are used to calling the States, no wonder one cannot live hastle-free in his own garden ! Move to Europe, quick ! Monsanto doesn’t rule it all yet !

  3. Mary Gray says:

    I don’t particularly see the point of artificial turf. If your climate won’t allow a lawn without irrigation, there are so many other creative and beautiful options for landscaping.

    That said, for the folks who MUST have one, at least they’re another option to the traditional, water-sucking turfgrass lawn.

    And thanks for the link to my blog! You rock!

  4. anne says:

    Does artificial turf allow natural drainage of rainwater? What happens to the soil and microbes beneath it? What’s it made out of (ie. how is it made)? These are some questions I would be asking before installing it–at the same time, considering other options.

    Dave, government should be allowed to administer the social contract that we all need to abide by if we live in a community; and we should all be able to participate in that government (ie., not only those with money, status or land). It’s not perfect and kind of messy, but think for a moment about the consequences of everyone doing only what they want to do…

    “Bio-native? Really? I guess whatever makes money and gives people the feeling they are “in the know” about a subject, sheesh. What would be the alternative to “bio-native”: “Necro-native”? Xeno-native”?

  5. Michelle says:

    This makes no sense to me. There is already proof that lead levels in this particular artificial grass meet state requirements from the state of California. After all, they created that new law and now will not abide by it? They are saying it’s a safety issue but will not comment on why it’s approved in backyards and not front yards. Safety can’t possibly be the issue if that is their position. It doesn’t make sense. In my opinion, until and unless they can answer that question, it should be allowed. They are being hypocritical and it’s not enough to substantiate this ridiculous law.

  6. emily says:

    I suppose native isn’t entirely clear by itself. For instance, it could refer to the plants traditionally preferred by local indigenous people. I’m not sure adding bio- answers the question, though.

  7. Patricia says:

    I know I’ve ranted here about this before, but every time I read about Californians using what is often good Colorado water in order to maintain an unnatural landscape, it simply seems unjust. Using water for basic needs I can understand. Using it to make green something that was never meant to be green is another matter, entirely.

    When we visited the botanical gardens at San Diego earlier this year, we saw one area of turf in deep shade where green grass would never have grown without tremendous babying. They’d plonked the artificial turn down, and we thought it looked just great.

  8. HGTV has had and continues to have a negative impact on home gardeners. Their shows emphasize the gimmicky and the grandiose, but don’t teach anything about sustainability or low key, realistic landscapes. I really think they should just admit they’re not a gardening network and drop the “G” from their name.

  9. emily says:

    HGTV’s idea of a garden is a firepit and some annuals from Home Depot. Create TV has some nice garden shows, but nothing like I remember from the good old days.

  10. Bio-Native huh? What on earth does that mean?~~Dee

  11. Mary Gray says:

    Dee,
    A reader informed me that BioNative is the brand name of a sod manufacturer in Idaho. I still think HGTV was trying to make it sound like their grass mix was SUPER-DUPER-EXTRA native, and not just a brand name. But I guess we’ll never know for sure.

  12. Abby says:

    Those planting prairies in place of lawns should call them “rain gardens”. They help reduce run-off into sewer systems. Check it out:
    http://www.catchingrainfw.org/

  13. Would have appreciated an ID on the grass species, HGTV. People here in Utah would benefit from learning about alternative native grasses so they could know them by at least their common names: blue grama, basin wildrye, indian ricegrass, little bluestem…very user friendly, easy to remember. What’s the issue? Makes me suspicious that those “native” grasses aren’t really native at all.

  14. Dave says:

    Mary Gray, there is no social contract with our city governments to tell us what to do with our lawns. As you can see from Glendale, the rule is no artificial grass in the front lawn but it is OK in the back. That makes no sense at all does it? Our city government contract is to take care of water, sanitation, zoning, fire and police. Those who want to live in a covenant controlled community can move to one. There are no covenant controlled cities in the US. There are in North Korea, Communist China and Soviet Russia.

    In this case, the artificial grass has already been approved by the State of California and is not a hazard. If Glendale were really concerned it would cover fake grass in the front and back yards and they would reimburse those with artificial grass for the cost of the turf, the removal of it and the replanting with new grass. This is strictly a power play by the city government.

    Today’s artificial grass is made with small holes in it to allow water to seep through. Otherwise our gigantic football fields would be lakes after each rain. For some reason worms work right below the astroturf. You can check this out yourself by putting some heavy plastic out and then cover it with cardboard. In the spring the worms will be right under the plastic.

    I am not a grumpy old guy. I have been around the block too many times and have seen too many scams. That’s why I garden and enjoy life. The best rule really is the Golden Rule.

  15. Bert Cregg over on the garden professors’ blog gave an insiders view of the Christmas tree “tax”. https://sharepoint.cahnrs.wsu.edu/blogs/urbanhort/archive/2011/12/12/another-victory-for-the-politics-of-destruction.aspx

  16. Gail says:

    The lady from Wisconsin with the supposed yard problem lives in a suburb-I think a nicer one in the Milwaukee area. I on the other hand live in a rural area of Wisconsin though close (15 miles) to a metro area. Lucky for me with 5 acres no one is complaining about the height of my ornamental grasses! (8-10 feet or more). County folks can get away with more than city folk.

  17. Molly says:

    It really burns my cookie that Louise Quigley is having such a hard time growing plants other than lawn. Can we start a facebook-style support group or something?

  18. cellbioprof says:

    I strongly urge anyone who want to plant a more ecologically-friendly lawn to work with their local township FIRST to change the weed ordinances.
    I did this – I wrote a 2 page letter explaining the advantages of natural landscaping and disabusing the myths, and sent it to my township supervisors. I showed up at the next township meeting, suggested a friendly amendment to the weed ordinance to exclude maintained ecological gardens, and it passed unanimously! (Of course, it probably helped that I included the progressive ordinance from the “high class” township to the north of us.)

    If you need more information on how to deal with weed laws, Wild Ones Native Plants, Natural Landscapes has excellent materials on their site at http://www.for-wild.org/.

  19. jemma says:

    Artificial turf is a hardscape installation. They dig down, compact the soil, install base rock, etc.

    There was an artificial lawn on my dogwalking route in my old neighborhood. I avoided it because it smelled bad. Could that be a reason for the front-only ban? Maybe someone on the city council was aesthetically offended by artificial turf?

  20. SKR says:

    “bio-native” may refer to species that naturally occur within the same biome but in different geographic locations. For instance, Mediterranean plants from Italy, California, and South Africa would all be called “bio-native”? Just a guess.

  21. Kermit says:

    Perhaps bio-native is an alternative to cyber-native – virtual lawns. Or, I suppose, astroturf and similar products may have been around long enough to be considered “native”. Go green, buy bio-native, not Astro-Native®! I remember aluminum Christmas trees from my childhood…

    Dave, it is frequently irritating or infuriating, but we have a social contract to which we are held accountable, even though you and I never signed it. However, these days most cities have their laws on line, and I’ve looked – my town does not have any laws forbidding turning the front yard into a garden. Laws forbidding plants encroaching into walkways, and similar limits, but they’re issues of safety and such which gardeners would have no trouble complying with. My sweetie and I did make sure to avoid neighborhoods with HOAs when we bought our house 11 years ago.

  22. KM says:

    Fake turf looks horrible. I don’t really care how much water it saves it is worse than having silk or plastic plants in your house (or worse yet in your window box outside. Something I am seeing more and more of lately). So whatever contrived reason they have to come up with to ban it from front lawns I am fine with. There are better ways to conserve water.

    And I have little sympathy for people with “meadows” in their front yards when they look like a weed patch. Every time I read an article about someone getting in trouble for their non lawn alternative I get enraged until I see a picture of it and realize that no one would have an issue with it if they created something beautiful that wasn’t an eyesore that made the neighbors feel like their home value was being brought down.

    So by all means get rid of your lawn. In fact I helped some friends here in Los Angeles do just that. But create something that your neighbors will love. Something that will inspire them to get rid of their own lawns. Not some horrible Adams Family mess.

    There you go. A little bit of a rant of my own.

    I do agree about the silliness of the bionative grasses. And who needs a house that big? Who? You could park a plane in that thing. The only people that really could use a free house from one of those HGTV contests could never afford the taxes and upkeep on them so probably just have to sell the silly things anyway.

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