The Story of Our Lawn

Our House - Front View

Here in Arizona we’re going through the 10th or so year of a drought. I mean, no water. Nothing. My next door neighbors are in denial about this. They water their lawn and their flower bed constantly. Their front yard is perfectly manicured.

And that hasn’t bothered me too much. I talk to them. I wave hello when I’m getting the morning paper. But, they seem to have taken an exception to the way I’ve cared for our lawn. I, on the other hand, am allergic to bermuda grass, and simply refuse, on principle, to maintain the kind of yard that would easily grow elsewhere in the world — but that simply doesn’t belong in the desert. I’ve vowed that no water shall fall onto our property that doesn’t fall naturally from the sky.

But this approach to landscaping seems to have soured any neighborly feelings the couple next door have ever held towards us. For instance, the other day, when the husband was shaving down all errant blades of grass along the border between our yards, I tried to say hello and he simply turned his back and walked away. Less than a week later, we received a notice from the city of Tempe saying our lawn was “slumlike” and that we had 30 days to improve its condition or face a $75 charge.

This had us quite upset, as you can see in this video taken by our friend Joe during a visit from Vermont:

Well, I’ll admit it. We gave up. We had looked for some landscapers but their quotes were either way too high — or, in the case of Pedro and his band of undocumented workers, their practices were suspect. So, we simply kept the idea in mind, thinking that the right opportunity would present itself. Well, it never presented itself. The people we called either didn’t call back, or we were too busy to get any additional quotes. However, armed with this new urgency from the city, we were looking again.

We posted to Craig’s List, we pulled out the old quotes and were almost ready to bite the bullet and pay 12 grand to a guy named Auggie to get the work done. However, last week, while taking Rigatoni on her morning walk, I decided to approach the driver of truck that was parked outside a neighbor’s house and had the business name Tom’s Landscaping on the side of the door. I could not have had better luck.

It turns out Tom was a licensed master gardener from Phoenix’s Desert Botanical Garden. And I’m totally in tune with his approach. It’s like we see eye to eye on the whole desert plant thing. So, over the the next month we’ll be working to transform our front yard. We’ll be selecting desert plants… palo verde, lantana, accacia. And I’ll be learning, first hand, what goes into creating a desert lawn.

Here’s a sketch that I made today outlining our initial plan for the front yard:

Plan for Front Yard

We’re planning to put in lots of lantana, two hedges: one Arizona Yellow Bell, the other Langman’s Sage. We’ll be putting in a Palo Verde and an Accacia so people can smell the citrus-like blooms from the entrance to our house. We’re also planning to put in lighting and a wide fieldstone pathway to welcome guests.

  1. Rando’s avatar

    Wow, cool!

    I love our palo verde. be aware that lantanas are poisonous to dogs. not that they’d ever eat it, really.

  2. John Tynan’s avatar

    Thanks Randy. I appreciate the encouragement. Any suggestions for making the entranceway real cute? Maybe I should consider putting up a trellis and morning glories…

    Maybe I should put a trellis up the entire west side of the house as well. Find some creeping vine to take the edge off the afternoon heat. Your thoughts?

  3. Bobbi C.’s avatar

    Yeah for you! Lawns are so wasteful and boring. I’ve always been a Xeriscape gardener and one who uses natives and such. We just moved to a suburban house with a real lawn and I’m gathering ideas for front yard gardens. I’ll use a combo of natives and herbs for landscaping, with very little or no grass eventually.

    A challenge, for sure!


  4. John Tynan’s avatar

    Bobbi, Thanks for the post. It takes a lot to reverse the momentum of a full-fledged, suburban lawn. Good luck with your project as well.

    Randy, you’ld like Bobbi’s art. See:



    P.S. I’m just now reading your gardening blog. There are some interesting ideas there. I like the idea of an earth box. Oh my! To leave a 7 acre home in the country for a 1/4 acre house in town. That’s quite an adjustment. And the houses could not be more different! It’s striking. I think a rosemary bush in the front yard will look and smell nice, though it may attract bees. And a grape arbor in the back. Well, that’s living! Best of luck in making your own little eden.

  5. Rando’s avatar

    well you can always use cats claw for a vine but it’s kind of invasive and once planted you will never get rid of it. but it has nice yellow blooms and it will totally cover the wall. it has little claws that will attach to the wall. you have to keep up with it or it will cover your roof, house, etc and grow in layers over itself.

  6. Joe loga’s avatar

    Folks: if you want to get the real story about this disgraceful display, in his own words, check out the news footage at

    Pray for Rain!


  7. Angela Ambrosia’s avatar

    John and Rene,

    The plans look great. Really like the idea of conserving water. More people should follow your lead.

    Don’t use cat claw. It has taken me years to kill it. Takes over and the goes under the roofing


  8. Quincie’s avatar

    Hi. I love your new yard. It’s the ethical choice, especially in Arizona! People who xeriscape should receive a major tax break!

    Good Luck.

  9. tommy anderson’s avatar

    I just came across this rebate site that you might be interested in:


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