Photos from the Vault

How to keep your lawn green in a drought

Rick Wilson doctors dead lawns with a non-toxic green dye concoction he developed in 1990.
Rick Wilson doctors dead lawns with a non-toxic green dye concoction he developed in 1990.

Black-and-white photography can be a powerful way to tell a story.

However, there are exceptions.

In 1990, the then-Telegram-Tribune was not set up to print color images in the daily paper.

The low ceiling in the 1950s-era Johnson Avenue building limited the number of stacked color units on the printing press. Color was a rare and expensive proposal.

Film and prints were still hand-developed in a darkroom.

Unfortunately, the following story was about green lawns.

Lawns were born as a status symbol in Europe.

Only the wealthy had so much land that they could plant inedible gardens.

In the West, another type of status is flaunted — those who have water can have lawns.

Drought had withered lawns throughout the Central Coast as lake levels fell and water restrictions were enforced.

Lisa LaBarbera told the story in language more colorful than the photo in the Aug. 3, 1990, Telegram-Tribune.

The grass is greener…

Dye remedies drought-stricken lawn

Marta Johnson’s lawn is the color of a lush golf course.

There is no need to report the San Luis Obispo resident to the drought police, however, because her grass has not been watered since last summer.

Johnson’s dead lawn was transformed into a bright carpet of green Tuesday by the newest drought-fighting technique in the city, grass dyeing.

Although he did not actually bring Johnson’s lawn back to life, Rick Wilson of San Luis Green Lawn made it look healthier and less dreary.

Wilson uses a special dye that stays on the grass until the first rain, but soaks in and dulls when water hits it.

The San Luis Obispo resident had many problems finding a combination of nontoxic chemicals that would stick to the grass. With the help of his father, a pharmicist, Wilson discovered a mixture that worked.

He would prefer to keep the ingredients a secret, but he did say the concoction “is so harmless that you could drink it.”

Wilson decided to come up with a way to color brown lawns because he “got tired of looking at dead grass in his own yard.” He heard that someone in Santa Barbara had reacted to the drought in the same way, so he knew it was possible.

Wilson, a loan officer by occupation, has done about five lawns in the area. He experimented in his own yard before doing any others.

In Johnson’s yard, Wilson began the 90-minute procedure by cutting the grass and trimming it at the edges. This is necessary, he said, because most people neglect their lawns if they can’t water them.

“It feels weird to mow a dead lawn,” said Wilson.

Johnson, a program coordinator at the Tri-Counties Regional Center, has had a brown lawn since July 1989. She decided to get her grass dyed green after being teased about the desolate appearance of her yard.

A mutual friend suggested to Wilson that he approach Johnson about dyeing her lawn, and she “was so sick of brown grass” that she said she would do it.

“It is certainly very enterprising,” replied Mayor Ron Dunin when asked how he felt about Wilson’s idea. “Since the process doesn’t injure the roots of ruin the lawn permanently, people can do whatever they want.”

Johnson considers her bright green lawn to be a definite improvement over its previous state.

“I used to tell people that my house was the one with the brownest lawn on the block, now I say it’s the greenest.”

Johnson said that lots of people have stopped to admire her green lawn and many have told her that it looks nice.

In case anyone should think Johnson used water to make her grass green, Wilson posted a sign informing observers that the lawn got its color by other means.

San Luis Green Lawn has been operating for about a month. Wilson said business — his phone is 549-6485 — is picking up even though he wasn’t taken very seriously in the beginning.

For $40 to $80, he will use his pressure sprayer and green dye to transform an average-sized brown lawn into a good likeness of a manicured, lush putting green. “I’m mainly doing this to have a good time,” said Wilson.