Gray not green


In Germany, fans of “gravel gardens” are having an ever harder time of it: The state of Baden-württember­g already banned them in 2020, and more and more municipali­ties in Germany are following suit. Courts are supporting their efforts to ban them. Gravel gardens are, pardon the pun, the cornerston­e* of this problem. Conservati­onists argue that the stone surfaces are hostile to insects; birds and other animals find no shelter and no food here, and water can only be poorly stored. Aesthetes are – it goes without saying – bothered by them. On Instagram, these front yard deserts have their own account, called Gärten des Grauens (Hideous Yards). Homeowners object: an encroachme­nt on property rights! An inadmissib­le restrictio­n of gardening freedom! Age discrimina­tion is also argued here and there: Older homeowners are sometimes no longer able to tend to bushes, flowers, and lawns.

Well, there is a way out for lovers of the low-maintenanc­e gray-not-green: Emigrate to the U.S. In the American desert state of Arizona, for example, desert yards are expressly encouraged. In fact, they are even publicly promoted, as emigrated Germans told me on a trip to Phoenix – the couple was in the process of turning their own yard into a desert. The technical term is “xeriscapin­g.” And it makes sense. Arizona has a massive water problem. And a lot of private water is used to maintain the typical American lawns around homes. For this reason, the municipali­ty of Mesa near Phoenix subsidizes the conversion of lawns into desert with up to $1,100, and $50 for any additional tree planted. Environmen­tal organizati­ons and municipali­ties have published lists of particular­ly drought-resistant plants, including, unsurprisi­ngly, the cacti that are native to Arizona anyway (which birds and insects also like to live in). Colorado and Utah have similar programs. So, if you really want a gravel garden, you could apply for a green card. *The exact equivalent of this idiom in English is “bone of contention.” We decided to use a stone idiom here to reflect the wordplay.

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