There’s been plenty of attention paid to California homeowners and their struggle to keep the most waterlogged slice of the American dream — a lush, weed-free front lawn — alive amidst landscaping-specific water restrictions brought on by the state’s historic drought.

Less has been said about non-residential water customers that regularly consume a huge amount of the wet stuff for landscaping purposes, lushly landscaped cemeteries included. This is partially because these prodigious H2O users have long practiced water-conserving irrigation techniques. 

It’s also partially because you’d never really expect a respectable cemetery (read: not your stereotypically overgrown horror movie graveyard) to look messy, un-manicured or brown. With one notable exception, a cemetery is a place brimming with life  and that most certainly includes the preternaturally green expanses of grass.

As the drought continues on without an end in sight, some California cemeteries already practicing water-wise landscaping techniques are further cutting back on their water usage. For example, the storied Hollywood Forever Cemetery, perhaps the most heavily trafficked place of eternal rest in Los Angeles, has brought in drought-resistant grass varieties such as Marathon and Augustine grass to help cut back on water usage and keep the associated bills — which can range between $30,000 and $50,000 per month during the summer — as low as possible.

Tyler Cassity, Hollywood Forever’s owner, tells KPCC: “The people who chose to be buried here chose to be buried in a landscaped garden with green grass and trees. And so the aesthetic is set: we maintain an idea of beauty for those who are dead. We’re duty-bound to fulfill that obligation."

Ticket sales from Cinespa, Hollywood Forever’s popular  outdoor movie series, help to keep the famed cemetery's sprinklers a-sprinklin'. 

And as reported by the LA Daily News, one California cemetery has taken a decidedly more drastic approach to water conservation: doing away with grass altogether.

As part of an effort to reduce water usage by an impressive 60 percent, Savannah Memorial Park, a historic cemetery located in the small Los Angeles County city of Rosemead, recently stopped watering its grass. The cemetery’s groundskeepers then removed the grass and planted native flora in its place. A layer of mulch, donated by the city, was spread on the ground to help retain moisture.

“No other cemetery in California is even attempting to do this,” explains Beverly Morton, a board member at Savannah Memorial Park, to the Daily News. “They usually let the grass die and the weeds take over.”

Over at Rose Hills Memorial Park in Whittier, the largest cemetery in North America, the already drought-resistant grass will be staying put. Instead, the 1,400-acre cemetery, which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year, has plans to transition from fresh water to recycled water for landscaping by 2015.

‘Cemeteries have always been looked at as a place where there’s a lot of water being used,’ Rose Hills spokesman Nicky Clark said.

However, Clark is unconcerned with conservation measures, such as those that restrict irrigation to only three days a week. In fact, he doesn’t expect Rose Hills to be affected at all. Rose Hills is watered entirely in sections, and has drought-resistant grasses that will allow the cemetery to make due with less water usage. Additionally, recycled water is completely free from restrictions on usage, giving Rose Hills even further flexibility.

Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

Drought forces California cemeteries to think outside the (pine) box
Along with the rest of the state, lushly landscaped boneyards are confronting seemingly eternal bone-dry conditions.