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Sunday, April 28, 2013

Texan Turf War

In the land of prickly pears and scrappy people, Dallas authorities are demanding that all homeowners plant "traditional" grass in their yards.

Turf wars can be the silliest of all scuffles, and no place does silly with more zeal than Texas.

For example, the fine people of Dallas recently fell into a doozy of a turf tussle between the natives and foreigners — and the foreigners are winning. The out-of-staters, hailing from such distant lands as Bermuda and St. Augustine, Florida, are not people, but turf grasses.

Many homeowner associations, realtors, chambers of commerce, and city officials applaud (and even mandate) the use of such outliers to give a community that uniform, well-manicured, lush lawn look.

The natives, on the other hand, are tufts of tenacious prairie grasses, prickly cacti, and rough rocks — local elements that were “landscape” ages before lawns were invented, and way before there was a Dallas.

Enter Burton Knight, owner of a modest home in the city’s Junius Heights neighborhood. In the interest of water conservation, and in the interest of nature’s own beauty, he ripped up his lawn and went native, creating a xeriscaped yard.

It’s beautiful, but not in the eyes of the lawn lords who rule the local landmark commission and city planning office. Knight’s problem, sniffed a planner who oversees the Junius Heights historic district, is this: “The lack of lawn. There’s none. Zero.”

She cited an ordinance that sets standards for such things, but all it says is, “Landscaping must be appropriate.” Well, wonders Knight, in this land of constant drought and a critical water shortage, how appropriate is it to keep landscaping with water-guzzling, chemical-demanding, imported turf grasses? Besides, he adds, “How can you say that cactus is not historic?”

This is, after all, Texas, the natural home of prickly pears and scrappy people. Loosen up, Dallas — go native, or give up your Texas passport.

OtherWords columnist Jim Hightower is a radio commentator, writer, and public speaker. He's also editor of the populist newsletter, The Hightower