Not too long ago, I received an invitation from the Loma Prieta Chapter of the Sierra Club to attend an open house of the Greenest House in the Santa Clara Valley. The house, which received a greenpoint rating of 309 may well be California's greenest home - at least if you believe the owner, who is also the developer who built the house and who discusses the house here.
Don't get me wrong - the house was amazing. I loved the central lightwell, a big high-insulation skylight. I appreciated the different ways in which appliances and the bathrooms had been selected to consume minimal amounts of energy and water. At the same time, the house was aesthetically appealing, beautiful colors had been chosen for both the outside and inside (no-VOC paint, of course). I also very much enjoyed meeting some of the good people in the Sierra Club chapter, and a young woman from Acterra who is working on activism.
It did my heart good to see so many people so excited by the idea of considering to do things with their house that were good for the environment. And yet... As I was coming in, one of the many labels explaining green features said "Native Drought Tolerant Landscaping".
Well, it was dark at the time of the tour, and what I could see was Mexican sage, breath of heaven, loropetalum, and rosemary, also some tall non-native grasses and something that looked like daylillies. "Where are the natives?" I asked Randy, one of the employees of the builder who was showing the house. "Oh, I have to take care of something, talk to you later," he replied and hurried away.
In the back, I found Japanese maple, bamboo, and one lonely Berberis (plus another "Native Drought Tolerant Landscaping" sign). I continued the tour, had a few nibbles, admired the butcher block kitchen island and the bamboo floor and went home puzzled.
The weekend after I drove to the house in daylight to find that yes, the garden in front did, indeed, include a few natives. Two medium-sized ceanothus (dark star maybe?) and three low-growing ceanothus plus a manzanita made attractive highlights in the spring garden. Would I call this Native Drought Tolerant Landscaping? No, I would not.
And here's the truly amusing wrinkle to this garden's landscaping story. Until just a few weeks ago, the garden had a bunch grass meadow, but the decision was made to replace it with -- yes, you guessed it, artificial turf.
A sign proudly proclaimed it was "heavy metal free artificial turf", but I was tempted to ask the question "what's it made of?" Yes, friends, oil is the mother of all plastic and artificial turf is plastic. I'm also wondering how green the turf will look in a few years. And I was disappointed (though not surprised) to find that, despite the claim that the owner's children and dog did not enjoy playing on the lumpy bunch grass meadow, no children were frolicking on the plastic lawn when I came for my photos.
I sent the owner of Earth Bound Homes an email suggesting that we'd all be happier if he would change his sign to say "Drought Tolerant Landscaping", and I invited him to the Going Native Garden Tour, which would offer an opportunity to see true native landscaping.
But noone likes an uppity mouse like me giving unwanted advice and I have, so far, not heard back.
In spite of all that, I highly recommend you go see the house if you have the chance -- it's inspiring and beautiful and you'll feel as if this good earth matters to others as well (and if you go, just bring a red pen and cross out "Native" on those signs).