It's been 2 1/2 months since the police rousted hundreds of stalwart Occupy L.A. protesters from their City Hall encampment, and for all those weeks, the beat-up grounds surrounding the seat of L.A. government have been cordoned off, ringed by concrete barriers topped with chain link, awaiting The Decision: Which way will the City Hall lawn go -- native or not?
In mid-November, before the eviction but after the grass was long gone, Emily Green, former Times staff writer and former Times Dry Garden columnist, weighed in with an Op-Ed. She called for a "test garden" that would "give City Hall a chance to walk its talk" about water conservation.
If felling the non-native figs around City Hall is a non-starter for sentimental reasons, we should at least be irrigating the magnificent old trees with drip instead of lawn sprinklers -- a move that would reduce trimming needs by slowing the trees' growth.
Even strategic use of turf could be preserved, though it should be the hardiest variety irrigated in the smartest ways requiring the least frequent grooming. Rather than lawn on the northeast side of City Hall (which has been wet enough in past years to grow mushrooms) and sweeping down the berm on the other flank, there should be hardy and fragrant natives that can survive with little water and no mowing or blowing.
Green got a lot of what she hoped for. This week the City Council voted 14 to 0 for a Goldilocks design -- not too much grass, not too little grass, but something it thought was just right: a 51% reduction of turf, and plants such as succulents, salvias and California holly added.
The Times news story, however, included a surprising fact: It will cost more to maintain this predominately native (and presumably low-water) landscape, not less -- $50,000 a year more. Green, who attended public discussions about what the new garden should look like, said in an interview: "The city and Rec and Parks have done an admirable thing, though it's not clear why it will cost more to maintain. In any event, that's not a message home gardeners should heed. Native plants are cheaper than turf."
To see for yourself, Green suggests checking out the online documentation of a sustainable versus traditional experiment in Santa Monica: Garden/Garden. On the website you can see demonstration landscapes for two side-by-side houses, peruse the plant lists, the water use and the amount of time and effort each requires.
Guess what? Sustainable wins hands down.
By May, we're promised, the experiment begins at City Hall.
Photo: The north lawn at Los Angeles City Hall is seen after crews cleared the tents of Occupy L.A. Credit: Los Angeles Times