by Ed Begley Jr.
One of the first things I did when I moved into my current home in Los Angeles in 1988 was to rip out the lawn. I realize that this borders on heresy: If the American Dream were a book, it'd probably have a grassy green lawn on its cover.
I have no problem with garden gnomes or lawn-jockeys, if that's your thing. But lawns are thirsty, and in Southern California we get nearly all of our water by dipping our straw in someone else's drink. Nationally, it's estimated that 50 to 70 percent of residential water use goes toward landscaping, most of it to water lawns.
When I got out my shovel, though, I wasn't just looking to conserve water. A lawn is usually composed of a single species of grass - often one that's not local to the area - and this reduces biodiversity. If you're looking at one yard, this isn't a big deal, but nationwide, an estimated 20 to 30 million acres of land is covered by lawns.
There are other choices. After I finished ripping out the lawn, I put in a drought-tolerant garden composed of a great many native California plants, such as sage. Boy, does it smell good. It also features a shifting array of colors throughout the year. And, unlike a traditional lawn, I don't have to douse it with petroleum-based fertilizers or with pesticides, herbicides and fungicides.
The small amount of water I need to irrigate the drought-tolerant plants, the fruit trees and the vegetable garden that replaced my lawn all comes from rain and recycled graywater. So by simply using water that would have otherwise wound up in the sewer, I have one of the best-looking yards on my block and fresh produce to boot.
Ed Begley Jr., is an Emmy Award-nominated actor and the host of the television show "Living With Ed."