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Six grasses duke it out for drought dominance in SF lawn design experiment

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A bold new horizon in watching grass grow

If you walk by the offices of design firm Perkins + Will on Bryant (not far from the Ferry Building the firm famously rehabbed some years back), you will actually be observing an experiment.

On Wednesday, the P+W team dug up and replanted half of the lawn in front of their port-owned office. It wasn’t just idle landscaping out of boredom; in one sense, it was actually an effort to save face.

"My very first day at this job, my boss looks at the lawn and tells me, ‘We have to do something about this," P+W landscape architect Jennifer Cooper-Sabo tells Curbed SF. The firm wants to play up its sustainable design credentials these days. Lush green lawns in the midst of a drought are decidedly not the best optics.

So they replanted the space in stripes of six drought-resistant grasses instead. It’s a competition, of sorts, a great Grass Bowl: Which of the six will best survive a long, hot California year?

It’s probably illegal to gamble on lawns in this state, but surely someone in Vegas is curious/crazy enough to put odds on this. Is the smart money on bushy Carex Divulsa, aka Berkeley Sedge, with its long fronds and green flowers?

Or do the odds favor Festuca Glauca, the anemone-like French plant whose silver-blue tones give it the nickname Elijah Blue?

Or maybe Festuca Nubra, the tough, wiry California grass better known as Point Joe? (On a separate note, whose job is it to name all grass species after boxers from the 1930s?)

Of course, the lawn project largely serves just to attract eyes to the firm’s landscaping chops. But there’s a legitimate civic interest too—if we want San Francisco’s green spaces to stay green, the hour of replanting may be at hand.

Dan Hodapp, senior planner at the Port of San Francisco for 23 years, tells Curbed SF that turf is usually selected just for its durability. An urban lawn has to stand up to the hundreds or thousands of people (and dogs; lots and lots of dogs) that tread on it day in and day out.

But the best grass from 20 years ago is not necessarily the best grass for today’s climate realities. So is Dymondia Margreta (the "Silver Carpet") the turf of the future? Well, sit back and see how things grow.