As a kid I (and probably you too) were constantly instilled with awareness of the magic words; most often “please” and “thank you.” Then we grew up, and the list of magic words grew longer.
Homeowner Associations (HOA) appreciate hearing magic words too, particularly in reference to a landscape plan you’re advocating.
Of course each individual HOA is unique – distinct and different from one another. They’re obviously run by different people with different styles. They also face different problems. Every last one of them, however, likes to hear the magic words “drought tolerant.”
An example is a homeowner who wanted tough, durable plantings that left his weekends free for things besides yard maintenance. My design made extensive use of native grasses (particularly Lindheimer Muhly, at right), and native trees (such as Redbud, Mexican Plum, Yaupon and Soapberry). A vocal minority of the HOA, however, thought that the native grasses would not be appealing to other homeowners and would attract all sorts of nasty creatures. “Fence sitters” on the HOA seemed to be buying into these fables.
Then I made it known that the proposed plantings were very drought-tolerant. I also casually mentioned SB 198 (then newly enacted). Not only was the landscape plan approved unanimously, but the homeowner was able to eliminate the need for an irrigation system.
This shows that the vast majority of HOA members can listen to real, contemporary concerns that affect everyone (like water shortages), and are clearly reasonable – not just matters of personal preference and habit.
An example of what at first seemed to be personal preference comes to mind, in which I was proven wrong (yes, it happens). An encounter I had with an HOA of a housing development required that a simple birdfeeder be eliminated. We discussed the pros and cons of birdfeeders for several minutes. One of the HOA members showed several photos of large, garish feeders that I thought no sane person would ever buy, but some of their residents had wanted to put in their front yards. She added new information that it could be moved to the back yard, not visible from the street, without objection. It was.
That taught me that in some respects, HOA members have more experience than I about their particular development and its residents. The feeder is now located in the homeowner’s back yard, over an expanse of Gulf Muhly grass (which was presented using the magic words).
The most effective use of the magic words, and the most instructive about SB 198 in my professional career occurred just a few miles north of my home. The client’s house was a typical home, built on what was formerly a cotton field. The home was modest and unpretentious but was very much a source of immense pride for the young owners. A portion of the pride came from the two trees that the builder had planted in the front yard. Unfortunately they were Silver Maples which, as readers probably know, are notoriously weak-wooded, messy, water-demanding trees. Also they were planted a mere 15 feet apart.
A well-meaning neighbor told the new owners that the HOA required that the trees be left in place. I wondered about that and was glad to see that the owners, after researching the trees really wanted the Silver Maples gone. After questioning the HOA directly, it turned out that every other owner in the subdivision had left the two trees, planted by the builder, in place. The truth was that two trees were required in the front yard, but the trees did not have to be what the builder planted. We ended up removing the two trees, leaving holes dug by the builder and planted a Cedar Elm and a Mexican Plum (the Maples were replanted in the back – far from the house).
Of course we checked with the HOA before doing this, and they were quite pleased with the outcome. They were also quite pleased with our generous use of the magic words “drought tolerant” in describing the new, native trees