Imagine a feathery emerald green lawn that needs watering only once a week and requires just two mowings a year. It may sound futuristic, but 'Rana Creek' fescue (Festuca)--a variety of a California native perennial bunchgrass--is available now.
Landscape designer Michelle Comeau discovered its charms on a field trip to Rana Creek Habitat Restoration, a Monterey-area nursery specializing in native grasses. "I wanted a grass that was soft enough to walk on barefoot," Comeau explains. She tried it in gardens around the Monterey Peninsula and found it the perfect solution for a cool coastal region plagued by droughts and water restrictions. " 'Rana Creek' fescue is the one grass that will probably survive an extended drought," she says.
In the wild, this grass grows and turns green when fall rains come, and stays green until late spring when dry weather drives it into dormancy. But in irrigated gardens, with supplemental water once a week during the dry season, it remains green all year long. Comeau irrigates this fescue only a few months a year (April or May through July). Then, to save water, she allows it to go dormant between August and the arrival of winter rains.
Mowing this grass is easy too. Comeau cuts it once in February or March and again when it's dormant--just before rains start. Between mowings, it can grow 1 foot tall.
To plant 'Rana Creek' fescue, prepare the soil as you would for a traditional lawn. After the first year, fertilize the lawn in fall using an organic (urea-based) nitrogen fertilizer that releases in cool temperatures.
Seed and plants (sold as plugs in 1-gallon cans) of 'Rana Creek' fescue are available from Rana Creek Habitat Restoration, 35351 E. Laurel Valley Rd., Carmel Valley; (831) 659-3820.