Brown is the New Green?

Brown may be the new green, but what happens after that? Can we really count on future rainy years to save our lawns? Wouldn’t it be better to redesign our city now, with plants that do not need much summer water? Then silver and gold, lime and lavender and burgundy can be the new brown. These are only some of the palette of colorful and thriving plants you can see if you visit Garden for the Environment.

Foliage color alone can create a stunning garden.

Foliage color alone can create a stunning garden.

At a recent family and friends event, the topic of gardening in our drought came up, and one woman just shook her head: “We just have to learn to love cactuses.” While I do love cactuses, I don’t grow them at GFE.

There are so many beautiful plants which do not require much summer water! But they bloom and sway and hold colorful, shiny, or lush foliage during our driest months. These are native plants from California, or from similar climate zones in Africa, Australia, South America, or Europe. Any garden style, from the soft, rambling English cottage garden to the big, bold contrasts of modern design can be achieved with summer dry plants. There is no need to skimp on beauty or creativity.

But this is not the end of the story. Making the effort to replace lawns and other summer-thirsty plants doesn’t just give us summer and fall beauty without a huge water bill. It actually supports wildlife and helps mitigate the environmental damage that is at least partially responsible for our drought.

Our resident and migratory birds, our butterflies and bees, and our soil life cannot survive the removal of all our gardens, or their replacement with cactuses. Gravel and a few succulents can’t absorb the carbon that a garden layered with drought tolerant trees, vines, and blooming shrubs can. We actually should be removing sidewalk squares and replacing them with street trees and sidewalk gardens. These reward us with beauty, coolness, and oxygen while sequestering carbon. They provide habitat for wildlife, and actually help rebuild the water table by opening the surfaces of the city so that winter rains can penetrate the deeper soil layers instead of running off into the sewer system. It takes time and work to achieve these results, but it is a personal, concrete action each of us can be part of.

What if all our streets were tree lined, with fresh and peaceful gardens around each tree? What if our apartment buildings dripped with geraniums, herbs and vines, and our backyards were towering layers of thriving green? What if our schoolyards and work campuses had gardens, where migratory birds could rest, and butterflies or hummingbirds could refuel on nectar? What if every window had a window box garden?

If you want to learn how to be part of redesigning our city’s landscape, then GFE has the workshop to help you get started. Check out our upcoming workshops here.