Food not lawn grows in a Chico drought-conscious yard, July 2, 2015


What could have become a seldom-used side yard is another source of full sun and food.Heather Hacking — Enterprise-Record

Very soon we’ll see more examples of newly-converted drought gardens.

So many Chico people signed up for the California Water Service yard conversion rebate program that more money has been set aside for Chico yards.

My friend Jim recently had his application accepted. I won’t be surprised if he invites a few of us to sit in lawn chairs and sip fruity drinks while we bid a sad farewell to his yellow sod.

I’m not a huge fan of new drought gardens. You need to strain to even see the little plants hidden amongst the mulch.

However, looking at a large expanse of dying grass is even more depressing than a large expanse of mulch.

Consider the drought demo garden in front of the red barn at the Patrick Ranch. The Butte County Master Gardeners put a ton of work into that mulched little patch of earth. Yet, for the past two years it looked like a mulched little patch of earth.

I visited recently and everything had changed. The garden is in full bloom, it smells great and fat carpenter bees treat the plants like a smorgasbord.

(See short video here:

That’s why it was such a thrill to visit the yard of LaDona Knigge, who has been working on a drought conversion long before we had mandatory conservation budgets.

She and her late husband Willis Geer hired a landscaper named Jim Belles to get everything started.

LaDona had attended a workshop about “food not lawn,” during the sustainability conference at Chico State. She embraced the idea that if you grow something, it might as well be edible.

After digging up the sod in 2010, Jim flopped the lawn chunks to build a little berm on the front lawn. “The bones” were planted that first year, including a peach tree, fig, persimmon and citrus.

Over the years, new plants went in that were edible, and/or fragrant, colorful and would not grow in Wyoming, she explained

LaDona lost her husband unexpectedly in May. Working in the yard has been part of her grieving process. She and her husband spent a lot of time in the yard, dividing chores and sharing in the enjoyment of the food they grew.

As we toured the yard this month, the edible-ness was clear. If we had walked more slowly, we could have nibbled our way around the yard and been full by the time we reached the side gate.

Blueberries were cleverly growing in the acid-soil and shade of a towering redwood tree. The fruit trees, trimmed small for an easy harvest, created a sweet barrier between the street and the front door.

Along the front walkway, chives were in full bloom with a tomato plant growing in a mulched bed. In other would-be bare spots LaDona grows sage, rosemary and oregano.

Some of the plants include currants, salvia, squash, lemon balm, citrus, catmint, kumquat, butterfly bush, coneflower, fig, euphorbia, artichokes chives, parsley, feverfew and hibiscus.

What’s interesting is that most of the yard is covered with mulch, with only a small chunk of the home’s original lawn remaining. After five years, most of the yard is lush and productive.

During my visit, she served lemon verbena tea, with leaves harvested from the yard, and salad that included fresh basil. She also sent me home with a bag of peaches.

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