Localscapes: The changing ethics of Utah landscapes

Utah landscape styles have been the same for a very long time. Lots of lawn, a few trees or shrubs, and very few perennial flowers. This formula of landscaping is modeled after the classic east coast yard, which originated in England. The difference between Utah and the regions that inspired our landscapes is a rather significant level of rainfall. Those places get enough rainfall to meet the water requirements of wall-to-wall lawns. The water Utah lacks in rainfall must be made up for by using water through sprinklers and drawn from an increasingly limited supply. More than half the water distributed by Utah water districts is going to lawns. It’s time we adopt our own landscape style that not only respects our culture and tradition, but melds them with the reality of our climate.

What people want out of their yards is pretty simple: an attractive, clean look that shows respect for their neighbors and keeps the neighborhood looking nice. A neatly trimmed green lawn has been our default look for several generations and requires a lot of water. Creating an ethic of using less will help protect a future water supply that allows our kids and grandkids to stay in a state whose population is set to double by 2060. This is an ethic that conveys to our neighbors a belief that a landscape adapted to the local conditions (“Localscaping”) is better for the environment, the people who live here, and our progeny who may also want to make Utah their home.

What does a Localscape look like? Localscaping ensures that there is a defined purpose for each area of the landscape, improving overall functionality but requiring less grass. Where there was once only lawn, there will now be gathering spaces, activity areas, pathways, storage, and plant diversity. Our new landscapes will work better in Utah’s extreme weather conditions and use every drop of water more efficiently.

Localscaping will also require a change in how we water. Installing drought-tolerant plants but watering them the same as the lawn doesn’t save water. Lawn and plants have distinctly different water needs: lawns need more frequent watering for less time, while other plants need less frequent watering. All plants absorb water through their roots—and drip tubing delivers right to the roots. Now we can water exactly the amount each area needs without waste. The needs of both the plants and our water supply will be met.

Landscapes of the future will be more intentional. This may require more planning and thoughtful installation, but the paybacks will be landscapes with greater function, healthier plants, and less overall maintenance.

Changing our landscapes is the first step to having enough water for future generations. Localscapes teaches us that we can use less water and still have lawn, beauty, functionality, and curb appeal—we’re just getting smarter about how to do it with less water.

If you’re interested in localizing your own yard, visit Localscapes.com for more information and free downloadable pre-planned landscape designs. Visit Conservation Garden Park’s website at https://conservationgardenpark.org/