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August 15-21, 2007

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Stay Off the Grass

Summer drought means less lawn--and more bocce!

By Gianna de Persiis Vona


'Look!" my brother says. In his hand he proffers a small, brilliantly orange, cherry tomato. "I got this off of a volunteer tomato plant in your garden box."

"Thanks," I say, taking the petite tomato. "Actually, that's not a volunteer. That's what a tomato plant looks like if you wait to plant your starts until they are almost dead, and then only water them for about three seconds twice a week. Want to split it?"

I include this anecdote as a means for clarification so that you, gentle reader, will understand that when I tell you what you probably already know: Water prices are getting higher and higher. What you may not already know is that in addition to the city of Santa Rosa's "Cash for Grass" initiative, the North Marin Water District is going so far as to offer up to $400 in residential rebates for those willing to rip out their aqua-hogging lawns. I hardly feel personally affected.

In the last week, I've paid $300 not in water bills, but in vet bills, to remove dried foxtails from the delicate nostrils of my four-month-old puppy, all snuffled up from my very own yard. Overwatering, obviously, is not an issue at my house. But what about the rest of you, with your verdant yards, your lush lawns, your opulent flower beds, your tomatoes hanging plump on the vine? What if you don't want your yard to look like a dried-up region of the Mojave Desert, where a single cherry tomato is a miracle of unprecedented proportions?

In order to find a glimmer of hope for those of you with a green thumb in time of drought, I called Cathy Summa-Wolfe, news contact for the grand opening of the Water Management and Technology Education Center at the College of Marin's Indian Valley campus. With water in short supply and lawns consuming 30 percent to 50 percent of our dwindling water supply, we need a new breed of gardener, one who understands how to plant and irrigate with the sustainability of our planet in mind. Workshops have already begun at College of Marin, available both for the layperson and the professional landscaper alike, in order to educate a new breed: the Qualified Water Efficient Landscapers.

Those who successfully complete one of the water-efficiency intensives will be given a certificate of completion, and licensed landscape contractors will be added to the Marin Municipal Water District's list of recommended contractors. For those visionaries wishing to become certified green landscapers, College of Marin is developing and launching this fall a new program based entirely around sustainable landscaping practices.

Whatever your goal--to learn some water-saving techniques in order to cut back on your water bill; to develop a professional landscaping practice with the survival of our planet in mind; or simply to hire someone who knows how to create the landscaping you want without sucking the last dregs of water from the communal well--College of Marin is doing us all a favor. With knowledge comes change, and while I might be perfectly content to live in the Mojave, many people are not, and for those, developing conscious water practices is the only viable option.

Summa-Wolfe assures that, if College of Marin has anything to do with it, we will be seeing a new kind of landscaper, the kind who understands that we do not live in the tropics, that this is California and that it's time we all came to terms with this undeniable fact of our water scarcity.

What, I thought, would my father, the late Italian count, have said if I had told him that he had to take out his lawn or no one would have anything left to drink? The answer is obvious. Survivor of Mussolini's army, survivor of starvation in a Nazi concentration camp, he would have said: "If we have to take out the lawn, we take out the lawn! At last, an opportunity to put in a real bocce court! Of course, we could always just drink wine."

And so I called Diana Pellegrini, executive administrator of the Marin Bocce Federation just to make sure that bocce is not played on grass. Pellegrini assured me that this immensely entertaining Italian game is not played on lawn, but rather on courts that are traditionally constructed of ground oyster shells or decomposed granite. What fun! In life, we must be adaptable. Here's your chance.


For more information on getting cash for your lawn, go to www.marinwater.org. To learn more about green landscaping classes at College of Marin, go to www.marincommunityed.org. For information on the Marin Bocce Federation, call 415.485.5583.


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