Dogwood days

Lawnless and prettiest trees

About five years ago, my husband and I purchased our first house, a 1950s rancher that had good bones but needed a lot of cosmetic work, along with some big-ticket items. It was difficult to decide what to tackle first, other than some simple painting inside. I guess that’s how it is when you buy a fixer-upper.

We could’ve chosen any number of projects, but we were always drawn outside—into our backyard, which is fairly large by modern standards. From day one, we began transforming it into a little sanctuary. We’ve planted perennials and fruit, shade and ornamental trees, at least 13 by my count. We also have a nice little garden as well as a play area for our toddler. The space we’ve created is by far the best thing about the house.

Meanwhile, the front yard remains a work in progress. We hated to do it, but last year we removed a really old but very diseased mulberry tree. And, like many other Chicoans, we let our lawn die. Right now, aside from a few flower beds and a maple tree we planted, the front yard is a blank canvas.

But that’s about to change. We’re getting ready to redo that space, too.

The question for us over the past six months or so has been whether to replace the lawn. We’ve gone back and forth on it several times. At one point, we toyed with the idea of having just the tiniest patch of grass. This is the time of year when everything in Chico is so lush and green, especially with the recent abundant rainfall. It’s been tempting to go for the turf.

However, pragmatism won the day. We’ve decided against a landscape with lawn, opting instead for drought-tolerant plants surrounded by bark. We are going to keep that young maple where it is. We’ll probably plant another one, too. And then there’s another tree we’re set on: a dogwood.

Not to sound hokey, but if you haven’t noticed those gorgeous trees blooming around town right now, think about having your eyes checked. Dogwoods typically have white or pink flowers, or a combination thereof. I favor the white ones, which give the illusion of a snow-covered tree this time of year.

But back to our turf. If I had any lingering doubts about going lawnless, they were put to rest this week by news about our parched state. Water experts sounded off about how the long-term drought has created a long-term depletion of groundwater. Recent rains haven’t replenished those losses. On top of that, the state just announced that urban areas didn’t hit Gov. Jerry Brown’s water-conservation target (see “It ain’t over,” page 4).

I’m no martyr, mind you. I’m going to plant a lot of those drought-tolerant plants. I’m also keeping the patch of lawn in my backyard. Give me a few years and stricter conservation mandates and that may go, too.