Sunday, June 21, 2015

New Drought-Friendly Landscaping Attracts Friends Old and New

By Burton Cantara, Quilt staff.


Frederick “Fred” Pankow had long heard about the benefits of yard decimation, but it took him a while to warm up to the idea of having a complete frontal lawnectomy performed at his own home. 
Frederick Pankow
Photo: F. Pankow.

“Then my gardeners, Peppy Landscaping, raised their prices significantly to offset having lost a bunch of customers who’d already ripped out their lawns and no longer needed their services. I simply couldn’t afford them anymore," says Pankow.

Suddenly the idea of getting rid of water-thirsty grass and other unsightly greenery (“going brown” as it’s known among its proponents) became a no-brainer. “I could have really used that rebate money, so I started doing it myself but I threw my back out,” admits the 89-year-old retiree. “So I ended up calling one of those new lawn-removal companies.” 

Pankow was surprised at the familiar face who showed up.

Yard signs like this are becoming a familiar site here in LA
as more homeowners join the brown movement. Staff photo.

Desmond Churyk, the owner of Peppy Landscaping who tended Pankow’s lawn for years, had recently set up a new company, “Turf Removalers,” to assist residents in yanking out their lawns. “I saw which way the wind was blowing. I’d seen the ads, the billboards, watched all those 'alarming' news stories," Churyk admits with a chuckle. "It was time to diversify before I lost all my lawn-mowing customers.”

Subsidized by local- and state-offered incentives, including funds from a special Los Angeles DWP program that as of this writing, have not yet been embezzled, hidden or misappropriated, Churyk’s company offers completely free lawn destruction to local homeowners. They simply sign over their entire rebates to the grass-removal firm and pay only the cost for labor and materials as well as a garden gnome relocation fee recently approved by the LA City Council.

Turf Removalers’ professional team of turf removalers will then come in and carefully excise healthy grass — which is transplanted to needy Southern California golf courses, private country clubs and Malibu estates — and, finally, using a large dump truck, re-landscape the bare yard with drought-tolerant rocks, gravel and sand.

“This is important to our state,” says Jerry Brown, a governor with the State of California. “If everyone in Southern California simply ripped out their lawns and replaced them with more environmentally-friendly dirt, pebbles, or asphalt, we’d save enough water to turn hydroelectric turbines to create nearly .002% of the power needed for increased air conditioner usage induced by the overall warming of Los Angeles from all the reflective heat generated by the sun beating down mercilessly on magnificently grass-free yards, parks, and other public and private spaces."

How It's Done: Lush, unappealing carpet of grass, left, is delicately pried from yard and
carefully transported to a lawn-acceptance site such as the yard of a wealthier homeowner; a
rich, stark, brown expanse is left in its place. If pesky greenery should reappear, plant-killing
chemicals should be applied liberally, experts advise. Images: LA Dept. of Lawn Abatement.

As to the look of his new yard, Pankow is fine with it. “I’m nearly 90 years old, my wife’s dead, I don’t even really know any of the people around here anymore. My days of spending weekends getting the front yard ‘just-so’ are over,” he mentions. “Especially with this bad back. Hand me those pills, will you?”

California-friendly landscaping replaces water-dependent grasses and plant life with various rock and
sediment species native to the area — a win-win for both the environment and nature. Staff photo.

Others, however, note that Fred Pankow’s new landscaping has attracted some unexpected new friends. 

“Cats. Dozens of ‘em. Neighborhood cats, stray cats, feral cats — they all come here to crap in his yard now,” mentioned a nearby resident who declined to give his name.  

Pankow, a former payroll administrator with Rocketdyne but now largely a shut-in due to a recent sod-related back injury, says he doesn’t mind — but neighbors have complained of the smell. The widowed octogenarian goes out with a small shovel and a plastic bag once a day to pick up the abundant feces and ammonia-soaked clumps of sand, but admits he can’t keep up with it.

Fred Pankow has already enjoyed one surprising benefit of getting rid of his unsightly green lawn: the
appearance of countless neighborhood cats who are mysteriously drawn to the gravel and sand front yard
of the Blythe Street resident's cozy, mid-century home — as seen in this remarkable candid shot. Staff photo.
So despite being on a fixed income, when he discovered a flyer on his doorknob advertising a new service which, for a fee, would come by to clean up the mess, Pankow knew he had to call.

“Turd Removalers. Desmond speaking.”


  1. Wow. This is the opposite of funny. Apparently written by someone who is not just old, but old and lives in the valley. Keep shaking your fist and yelling at clouds in the sky.

    1. Ooh! Valley-shaming AND (ironically) ageist! Not very progressive, there, motherfletcher!

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