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Cross posted from Davis Enterprise, 2-19-2015

Every year, with the approach of the summer heat, the grasses of Lynn Blumenstein’s back yard turned brown because she was reluctant to water her thirsty lawn.

On Sunday, however, Blumenstein’s back yard received a complete transformation into a drought-resistant garden as part of the Grass2Garden initiative’s kickoff.

“I spent my entire life in and around a big city,” Blumenstein said, “so when I moved here … I tried to do the gardening myself.” When she moved from Brooklyn to Davis 3 1/2 years ago, Blumenstein dreamed of fruit trees and fresh herbs. She found, however, that the gardening proved challenging under California’s drought conditions.

“When they knocked on my door, I was so grateful,” she recalled.

As California moves into its fourth year of drought, the importance of sustainable systems becomes increasingly apparent. The Grass2Garden initiative is part of the larger Abundance Project in Davis, which is dedicated to bringing sustainable community living to low-income households.

As the recipient of a federal grant for $8,000, the Abundance Project will provide a total of eight homeowners with a free lawn-to-garden conversion. Blumenstein’s home in the Rancho Yolo mobile home park was the first to receive this service.

Blumenstein’s lawn, dotted with green and blue construction flags on Sunday morning, was completely overturned and replaced with rich compost and mulch by the afternoon.

Local permaculture landscape architect Derek Downey led the project. Downey’s plan included a nine-step process of ripping out the old lawn and replacing it with edible plants, drought-resistant plants and support pollinators.

Volunteers uprooted and transported an ill-placed magnolia tree whose flowers “burned” in direct sunlight as soon as they bloomed. Now, Blumenstein’s yard sports kumquat, fig and pomegranate trees transplanted from the side yard.

These trees are more sustainable options, Downey said.

David Abramson, one of the volunteer coordinators at the event, explained that many of the native plants used in the garden can survive with less water once they’ve been established.

Downey also recycled and repurposed the old sprinkler system with a water-conscious alternative: a Netafin drip system. Instead of spraying gallons of water across the lawn and onto sidewalks, the drip system evenly distributes water to the roots of the plants at a rate of 0.6 gallons per minute. Downey estimated this would reduce the garden’s water use by 50 to 75 percent in the long run.

The project also incorporated a garden “swale” on the downspout of the rain gutter. Downey explained that this allows rain water to slowly seep into the soil, instead of gushing into storm drains.

“These projects can take up to a week,” he said, “but we’re trying to see if we can do it in a day.”

With sleeves rolled up, the volunteers toiled away for seven hours under partly cloudy skies. The event brought a range of Davis community members together including UC Davis students, members of cooperative housing units and environmentally conscious locals.

Volunteers donated time, tools, music and cheer to the event.

“We’ve had really good company,” said volunteer Christine Backman. “As new people come it brings so much fresh energy. We’ve made a lot of great progress.”

The Abundance Project started just six months ago when several members realized that individually, they were all doing the same type of permaculture work, according to Abramson. He said drought and food security are the chief reasons for starting the project.

“We’re finding local ways to solve problems and make our community better,” Abramson said. “We’re just hoping that everyone will transform their lawn.”

The Grass2Garden initiative is accepting applications for the remaining garden projects at bit.ly/grass2garden. For more information on building drought-resistant gardens, visit http://www.davispermaculture.org.

— Reach Felicia Alvarez at falvarez@davisenterprise.net or 530-747-8057.