Oct 05 2011

Habitat Gardens in the Good Times!

Published by at 3:41 am under Recent Posts

Yards of Tomorrow

Grass lawns are so 20th Century. Take a look at these ecological alternatives.
“I’m not 100 percent against lawns,” says Brett Graf, owner of Habitat Gardens, an ecological landscape design company in Santa Cruz. “If a lawn is really getting used a lot, then great.”

But on the other hand, he adds, “If you just want a green spot to look at and only go out there once a year, there are other alternatives.”

The lawns that have become suburban American mainstays—you know the type: improbably green year-round, perfectly manicured, and hardly used—don’t stand up so well to today’s environmental standards. They gobble water, crave fertilizers, and require serious maintenance. “They take a lot of time and resources to maintain,” says Graf, adding that most people who use lawn fertilizers aren’t using organic varieties, which means they’re sending pollutants into our creeks and oceans.

So whether it’s time, money or water they’re looking to save, some homeowners opt for lesser-known landscapes. The Food Not Lawns movement has cropped up across the country, from Santa Barbara to Kansas City. The Santa Cruz outpost, which is headquartered at the Laurel Street Manor near the Laurel and Mission streets intersection, promotes replacing lawns with vegetable gardens. And still others go for the zero-maintenance, zero-water “eco turf” (fake grass).

But Habitat Gardens offers a slew of other ecological alternatives to Santa Cruz residents, as well. Putting his background in habitat restoration, permaculture, and holistic medicine—Graf is also a massage therapist and Certified Western Herbalist—to good use, Graf has built a business that caters to the customer’s needs while also promoting sustainable, native, and habitat-friendly services. “Everyone has their own idea of what they want their yard to look like, and I help them to do that in an ecological way,” he says.

Habitat Gardens’ lawn replacement option removes the existing lawn and reshapes the landscape to create contour, shape and elevation changes—this allows for rainwater to naturally flow down to storm drains, getting filtered and cleaned in the process. It specializes in native plants, but Graf says they can also plant non-natives, such as plants from other Mediterranean climates around the world. It also offers mulches as a low-water, low-maintenance yard solution.

Or, if a customer still wants a lawn, Habitat Gardens can replace a standard one with native grass. The most popular variety amongst their clients is the “Mow Free” native grass from DeltaBlueGrass.com. “Because it is native, it’s a little bit better for wildlife,” says Graf. “You might see more birds and more interesting insects in your yard. It only needs to be mowed between zero and two times a year, and it uses 50 percent less water than a traditional lawn.”

While making either of the above switches means uprooting your current yard and investing in a new one, Graf says it will mean cost savings in the long term, noting that, “if you spend a few thousand to take out your lawn and put in a beautiful new landscape with drip irrigation, [for example], that would cost more than leaving it as it is. But if you add up your monthly expenses over the year of watering, fertilizing and maintenance, then you’d be saving money over time.”

Further alternatives include planting thyme or chamomile instead of grass (“It smells good, and it takes even less water than native grass,” says Graf), or installing a rainwater catchment system (which, at full-scale, can be quite large) in your yard—both of which Habitat Gardens is happy to make happen.

“There’s an expectation people have that, first of all, they want a lawn, and second, it has to be perfect, but they don’t even go out and use it,” says Graf. “There are many other options that are so much more enjoyable.” Learn more at habitat-gardens.com. | Elizabeth Limbach

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