Over the Hill

Drought is the perfect time to sow some wild oats

Phil Dirkx
Phil Dirkx

Any turf here in Paso Robles needs expensive watering for much of the year. But I like turf. It’s the skin of the Earth, woven of grass, roots and dirt.

You can also call it “sod,” but I don’t. “Sod” makes me think of the covering of new graves. Turf carpets baseball fields, golf links, football fields and lawns. Unfortunately, in our climate turf is unnatural and extravagant.

But I like it because I grew up in western New York State, where rain fell in the spring and summer, and trees and grass grew voluntarily. But the winters were cold and snowy so I’ve lived in California for 62 years. We moved to Paso Robles 52 years ago. Almost all the yards seemed green then.

In 1964 Paso Robles celebrated its 75th anniversary as an incorporated city. The Paso Robles Press published a special “Progress Report.” The main front-page story was headlined “Vast Water Resources.”

The first sentence said, “Tremendous water resources from a vast underground basin and from flowing mountain streams are the biggest single asset of the Paso Robles area.”

In the 1970s a building boom started in Paso, and now every summer the city urges us to limit our showers to five minutes or less. And we are only allowed to water our yards three days per week. My front and back lawns are a sickly light green with spreading patches of tan. I’m being forced to realize that fresh water is a limited commodity, more important than turf.

Many people have quit watering their lawns. They are public-spirited and conservation minded. They may also have noticed that our water bills are rising steadily because of our increasing water rates. I, too, am looking for ways to reduce our water bills.

I’ve looked at pamphlets and videos on how to convert lawns to water-thrifty landscaping. It looks hard, complicated and expensive. And ornamental rocks and winding paths to nowhere don‘t appeal to me. I prefer an uncluttered expanse of a lawn.

I wonder what would happen if I sowed our yard with wild oats this fall. Wild oats color our surrounding hills green in winter and sort of golden the rest of the year. They rely entirely on rain. I would never water ours.

Wild oats already grow on vacant lots in Paso Robles. Every spring the city makes the lot owners “abate” the oats and weeds as a fire precaution. That’s when I’d cut my wild oats short, and hope to enjoy the stubble.

Dry oat stubble sure isn’t turf. But it’s probably cheaper and less work than water-thrifty landscaping. And it would connect us to our regional environment.