Some environmental groups and local businesses are launching a "Parade of Gardens" — a new event that will show off the best gardens in Utah's desert country to promote water-saving landscaping.

ST. GEORGE, Utah — Amy Long is thrilled to show off her new, desert-friendly landscaping.

"This was all just originally a big, flat lawn," she said, pointing to a front yard that has a mixture of plants native to southwestern Utah. "We've got a lot of things that bloom. Food for our pollinators, bees, birds, butterflies. We actually have hummingbirds year round."

Long's lawn will be part of a new event launching this fall to show off the best gardens in Utah's desert country in an effort to get more people to switch to water-saving landscaping. The environmental group Conserve Southwest Utah, the Washington County Water Conservancy District and a number of local businesses are launching a "Parade of Gardens."

"Fifty percent of the water that we use here in Washington County is used for outdoor irrigation. Conservation is the best first step you can take. It’s the most efficient and effective in order to create more water," said Karen Goodfellow, who is helping to draft local gardeners to show off their best tips and tricks for the event.

The concept is like southern Utah's popular "Parade of Homes," which shows off some of the finest properties — except it's specifically focused on landscaping that's desert-friendly. People can buy tickets and learn from gardeners simple ways to swap out water-hogging lawns for more native plants that still provide beauty, save water and keep things cool.

"It's an exciting way to help people become inspired by seeing what’s going on behind the walls of some of the most exciting gardens in our region," said Doug Bennett, the Washington County Water Conservancy District's conservation manager.

The "Parade of Gardens" will let people visit homes to see what's actually working and how it looks. They can ask questions and find out how much it costs. There will be a number of different types of yards, including some that still have lawn that pets and children play on.

Find our more about the Parade of Gardens here.

"When they come to these gardens we want them to feel like they’re learning something. We’re going to offer them plant lists and ideas for what they can do," said Andrea Augenstein, who has been working for years on her desert-friendly garden and volunteers with Conserve Southwest Utah.

Long said she decided to get rid of her lawn to be more sustainable in the desert landscape of St. George. But she wanted plants and shade trees to keep her home cool. Getting rid of her entire lawn (front and back) cost about $19,000 — but it was offset by rebates handed out by the water district.

"The rebate at Washington County covered about a third of the costs of doing the landscape," she told FOX 13 News. "That for us just pushed us over the edge."

Rebates help homeowners a lot, Bennett said.

"What we’re seeing among our customers that are engaging in our conversion program, is they’re paying about $5 per square foot to have lawns demolished and new landscaping going on top of them," he said. "The rebate program that we’re offering pays about 40% of that cost. For every $5 you spend, we’ll give you $2 back."

As Washington County grapples with a declining Virgin River (a tributary of the Colorado River), incentives to get people to switch to water-wise landscaping have showed success. Communities are getting rid of "nonfunctional turf," which is grass that isn't really used.

"Since we started the program last year, we had about 1.2 million square feet of conversion," Bennett said. "That’s saving us more than 50 million gallons of water each year and it’s perpetually in the future."

That stretches water resources a little further as this area continues to grow (and communities in southwestern Utah have started getting tougher on water waste with new ordinances restricting nonfunctional turf). The water district does have some requirements for the rebates, including insisting on more shade trees in replacement landscaping. That's to help keep things cooler.

Long told FOX 13 News that she's also seen a dramatic reduction in her water bill.

"In the summer, we'd spend over $200 a month for water," she said. "For the lawn, both front and back because it had to be watered almost daily when we get into the 100s here. Now? I’d say we’re spending less than $50 a month on water in the peak season."

Goodfellow is currently calling on southwestern Utah gardeners who want to showcase their yards to sign up for the Parade of Gardens. The event will take place in the St. George area in September. While it's in sunny St. George, many of the ideas can be applied to northern Utah which faces its own water crisis including a shrinking Great Salt Lake.

"True gardeners want to share what they have and we want them to see all of the different possibilities," she said.

Augenstein said if people are even feeling anxious about replacing their entire yard — don't. But experiment a little and see what you like.

"They don’t have to eat the whole elephant," she said. "Start with a bite and so maybe you’re just going to have a 10 x 10 spot you can work on this year. Don’t feel like you have to do it all at once."

Long said she gets a lot of compliments on her yard, but she worries some of her neighbors aren't quite ready to quit their grassy, unused lawns.

"I'm afraid and sad to say I think people really are attached to their lawns," she said. "It’s one of those things that we want to be a showcase that a desert landscape can be beautiful, you can have a beautiful, lush looking garden that’s using a fraction of the water that you can be using."

This story was originally published April 15, 2024.  

Fox 13 Reporter
Ben Winslow is FOX 13's reporter on Capitol Hill covering a wide variety of topics including politics, polygamy, vice and courts. He has been in the news business in Utah for more than 20 years now, working in radio, newspaper, television and digital news. Winslow has received numerous honors for his reporting, including a national Edward R. Murrow award; the Religion Newswriters Association Local TV News Report of the Year; the Utah Broadcaster's Association and the Society of Professional Journalists. Readers of Salt Lake City Weekly and Q Salt Lake have named him their "Best TV news reporter" for many years now. He co-hosts "Utah Booze News: An Alcohol Policy Podcast," covering the state's often confusing and quirky liquor laws. Winslow is also known for his very active Twitter account keeping Utahns up-to-date on important news.

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