Waterwise                                                                                 An efficient garden design can  ...
Richard Hansen and Friedrich Stahl, the                                                                                   ...
AHS Zone 9–5) and autumn-blooming                                                                                         ...
Regional Waterwise                                                                                                  Garden...
fective weed-smothering, moisture-re-          tenuis, Zones 3–8, 8–1) is doing the best.taining mulch. It is slowly being...
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Waterwise Gardening: An Efficient Garden Design Can Reduce Water Consumption and Still Yield Spectacular Results

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Waterwise Gardening: An Efficient Garden Design Can Reduce Water Consumption and Still Yield Spectacular Results

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Waterwise Gardening: An Efficient Garden Design Can Reduce Water Consumption and Still Yield Spectacular Results

  1. 1. Waterwise An efficient garden design can reduce water consumption andGardening still yield spectacular results. BY ETHNE CLARKEE V E R Y W H E R E Y O U turn these new lawns has been imposed, at least until Given the need for water conservation, days, someone is talking about the end of this year. In St. Petersburg, today’s gardeners—no matter where they drought and water restrictions. Florida, residents are permitted to water live—must evaluate and devise appropri-That’s not surprising when, according to their gardens only once a week—on a spe- ate design and planting strategies.the Climate Monitoring Branch of the cific day, during designated hours.National Climatic Data Center in Other cities, including Albuquerque, ADVANCE PLANNINGAsheville, North Carolina, slightly more New Mexico, Las Vegas, Nevada. Santa When I arrived in Austin, Texas, fivethan 50 percent of the contiguous United Rosa, California, and Austin, Texas are years ago, I made the decision to be ac-States by area suffered moderate to ex- offering incentive programs for water- tively waterwise. I was coming fromtreme drought conditions last summer. In wise landscaping, including a variety of England, which you might think has all KAREN BUSSOLINIAurora, Colorado, where reservoirs are al- rebates for elimination of lawns and/or the water it needs. Some areas do, but Imost three-quarters empty, a complete installation of low water use plants and had gardened in Essex, the driest coun-ban on planting annuals, vegetables, and planting schemes. ty in England, where the renowned48 the American Gardener
  2. 2. Richard Hansen and Friedrich Stahl, the published findings of research by these two German plantsmen conducted during the last half of the 20th century. The book lists plants for a comprehensive range of cul- tural habitats, from damp shade to dry shade; wetland, steppe and rock garden and so on. As the authors note in their in- troduction: “…many perennials have a wide tolerance and it may be possible to use species from two or more different habitats together in a single planting…the trick is to arrange small groups of associat- ed species within a unified background.” This principle can be applied to a “water zoning” scheme recommended in an irrigation guide produced by the City of Albuquerque. In this plan, the “oasis zone” is the planting area immediately sur- rounding the house where the most water- dependant plants are located. Moving out into the landscape, the next planting area is the “transitional zone,” where plants that are moderately drought tolerant find a home. The final zone, at the garden perimeter, is “xeric,” for dependably drought-resistant plants. This scheme can be adapted to any re- gion, and the one that I followed when designing my Texas garden. I wanted a mix of native and adapted exotic plants, Opposite: A side yard planting by Big Red Sun of Austin, Texas—a firm that specializes in which meant that in addition to water- xerophytic designs—includes gaura, rose campion, salvias, and sedums. Above: In the zoning, I also had to identify pre-existing author’s backyard in Austin, a steppingstone path is framed by creeping thyme, dianthus, microclimates. I pinpointed areas of dry and silver-leaved herbs. Bearded irises add height. shade and moist shade; areas where the soil was heavier and better suited to rose- British plantswoman Beth Chatto has central Texas garden, and the basic tech- growing; and free-draining, full-sun areas her nursery and display gardens. niques of converting a water-thirsty, where herbs and Mediterranean perenni- When Chatto converted a large gravel- chemically maintained lawn to a water- als would be happiest. topped parking area to a dry garden, she wise landscape are appropriate no matter set the standard for waterwise garden- where you garden. SITE PREPARATION ing—at least in Europe. But her experi- Remove existing turf by solarization (see ence has much to teach us. One lesson I START WITH A PLAN “Harnessing the Sun,” page 16) or the use learned was to alter my expectations of the Waterwise success depends upon suiting of translocating herbicides such as those flower-filled border. The Chatto dry gar- plants to both the site and each other, containing glyphosate. In arid climates, den has no supplemental watering systems thereby creating self-sustaining plant com- let drought do the work for you. Dig the and can consequentlylook pretty bedrag- munities. Many waterwise programs pro- site over by hand, or use a tiller if you gled by midsummer. But by selecting mote the use of native plants, and provide must. Remove any perennial weed roots plants for their mutual compatibility and lists and cultural information to assist gar- and incorporate well-rotted compost as xeric nature—their ability to survive pro- deners in the selection. But the plant deeply as you can: a three-inch blanket of longed periods of drought—and by fol- palette can be extended to include adapt- compost dug in to the top eight inches is lowing a program of judicious grooming ed exotics, particularly perennials and a good guide, but add more if possible, and cutting back, the garden comes ephemerals, to add a layer of form, color, especially on sandy soils. On heavy clay through its midsummer, drought-induced and contrast to the garden picture. soils, add gravel or decomposed graniteETHNE CLARKE dormancy, springing back into life with One of the best guides I know to aid in to the compost, which will improve the the first early autumn rains. the selection of drought-tolerant subjects texture of the soil and help to prevent the This routine has translated well to my is Perennials and their Garden Habitats by damaging cycle of baking and cracking. July / August 2 0 0 3 49
  3. 3. AHS Zone 9–5) and autumn-blooming C. hederifolium (Zones 7–9, 9–7) can form self-seeded ground-covering blan- kets of attractive heart-shaped foliage decorated with softly scented rose-pink flowers. The latter species does well in central Texas gardens. Plants with fleshy root systems seem best able to withstand arid conditions. Winter and spring rains help hellebores such as Helleborus niger (Zones 4–9, 9–1) and Lenten rose (H. ✕hybridus, Zones 6–9, 9–6) establish a foothold in dry shade, en- abling them to survive summer drought. Another tough plant is lilyturf (Liri- ope muscari, Zones 6–10, 12–1), which makes dense clumps of straplike foliage with white to mauve flower spikes in early summer. FROM OASIS TO XERIC The central area of my back garden lies in full sun and is occupied by a squareA circle of drought-tolerant buffalo grass surrounds a terrace in the author’s back garden. At terrace of native limestone slabs encir-right, a metal trough that serves as a water garden sits amid a planting of drought-tolerant ferns. cling a tranquil area of drought-resistant buffalo grass (Buchloe dactyloides, Zones I cannot recommend too strongly that into the soil. Remember, deeply rooted 3–11, 12–2). The circle is circumscribed inyou make your own compost from yard plants withstand dry spells better than limestone blocks. A steppingstone pathwaste. An annual top-dressing in spring, plants that are shallowly rooted. leads from the house to the terrace.lightly worked into the top few inches The beds on either side of this path areconditions the soil, introduces beneficial MULCH planted with a mix of creeping thyme andorganisms that assist root growth and Covering bare soil around and between dianthus cultivars, silver-leafed herbalplant vigor, and encourages earthworm plants with a blanket of organic material plants like curry plant (Helichrysumpopulations, which further condition the conserves soil moisture, keeps root systems italicum subsp. serotinum, Zones 7–11,soil, enhancing its water-holding capacity. cool, and suppresses weeds. My personal 12–1), Santolina pinnata subsp. neapoli- favorite is coarsely ground wood chips be- tana (Zones 9–11, 12–9), ArtemisiaIRRIGATION cause they do not form a tight mat, as ‘Canescens’ (Zones 4–8, 8–1), andParts of a waterwise garden, particularly some commercial shredded mulches do. Mediterranean herbs such as rosemary,the oasis zone, will need supplemental In the Southwest, where plants are Greek oregano, and marjoram.watering from time to time. Soaker hoses adapted to soils that contain little organ- The flower spikes and strappy foliageand rain barrels help make the most of ic matter, mulches like pebbles or rock from a collection of bearded iris cultivarsyour irrigation efforts. A soaker hose is grit make sense. Like their organic coun- give height and contrast to the planting,porous all along its length, emitting terparts, inorganic mulches help prevent which is otherwise a patchwork blanket ofwater directly into the soil around the weeds, moderate soil temperature, and re- silver gray and dark green foliage. Al-plants, so little evaporates. duce surface evaporation. though this is a full-sun area, the ground Position rain barrels under gutter Spread mulch in spring or fall when covering plants supplement the mulch,downspouts to use for emergency water- the soil is moist, taking care not to pile it and the beds are watered regularly to keeping during prolonged drought and peri- up against the plants because this en- their oasislike freshness; after all, this is theods of water restriction. Water on a still courages rot. entrance to the garden.day in early evening or early in the morn- Nearby, in a shady corner against theing to give plants a chance to absorb the TACKLING DRY SHADE house foundations, the soil is cool. Thiswater: nothing makes less sense than wa- Dry shade has always had the reputation area does not drain quickly after rain andtering at midday. as the most challenging area for garden- has been turned into an artificial “dry Rather than watering a little each day, making. If you have dry shade, experi- stream bed” by the addition of plenty of ETHNE CLARKEwater thoroughly once or twice a week: ment to find out what will survive there. smooth river gravel and large smooththis way water percolates deeply into the Cyclamen species, including spring- boulders—an attractive contrast to thesoil, encouraging the plants to root deeply blooming C. coum (USDA Zone 5–9, buffalo grass circle. The stones make an ef-50 the American Gardener
  4. 4. Regional Waterwise Gardens Midwest. Drought-tolerant prairie natives are a good place to start when planning a waterwise garden in the Midwest. In this garden, native big bluestem grasses and black-eyed Susans cohabit happily with non- natives such as Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ and feather reed grass. California. Natives and plants from the Mediterranean region are well adapted to California’s mild winters and dry summers. In this terraced garden, the dramatic form of a century plant provides a refreshing contrast to the fuzzier outlines of drought-tolerant herbs such as lavender, salvias, pinks, and California poppies.TOP LEFT AND RIGHT: DAVID CAVAGNARO; BOTTOM LEFT: LYNNE HARRISON; BOTTOM RIGHT: KAREN BUSSOLINI Pacific Northwest. Although we tend to think of the Northwest as perennially rainy, summers are dry in many parts because of “rain Mid-Atlantic. With many areas of the East Coast under shadows” from the mountains. In this waterwise garden, Mediterranean water restrictions last summer, gardeners who had established plants such as santolina, lavender, and lamb’s-ears mingle with Russian drought-tolerant plantings were rewarded for their foresight. In sage. A thirstier rose benefits from spillover from the birdbath. this Connecticut garden, low-growing sedums, pinks, juniper, and blue fescue soften the look of a rock outcrop. July / August 2 0 0 3 51
  5. 5. fective weed-smothering, moisture-re- tenuis, Zones 3–8, 8–1) is doing the best.taining mulch. It is slowly being colonized Various salvias are the backbone of theby a mix of ferns, including southern transitional zone. This useful genus gives Resourcesmaidenhair fern (Adiantum capillus- scent, flowers, and in some cases, foliage Many botanical gardens, publicveneris, Zones 8–11, 12–8), lady fern interest, while the loose habit blends with parks, and regional horticultural or-(Athyrium filix-femina, Zones 4–9, 9–1), neighboring plants, knitting the planting ganizations promote ecologicallyand its recently introduced sport, ‘Lady in scheme together. Salvia darcyi (Zones friendly gardening and can be goodRed’, which has soft apple-green foliage 5–9, 9–5)is a robust sage with lipstick pink sources of educational material andand ruby red stems. Japanese painted fern flowers and pretty crinkled foliage, good inspiration. And don’t forget to(Athyrium nipponicum ‘Pictum’, Zones in sun or part shade. S. madrensis (Zones check the Internet to access count-5–8, 8–1) makes a silvery splash in the 6–9, 9–5) grows to five feet given the less information sites related toshadows. chance, with long spikes of bright yellow xeriscaping and water conservation.. Beyond these small formal areas near- flowers. S. guaranitica ‘Black Knight’est the house, the garden devolves into the (Zones 7–10, 12–8) is medium height Native Gardens for Dry Climates bytransitional water zone and a wilder mix with dark violet-blue flowers and pleasing Sally Wasowski with Andy Wasowski. Clarkson Potter Publishers, New York, 1995. Natural by Design: Beauty and Balance in Southwest Gardens by Judith Phillips. Museum of New Mexico Press, Santa Fe, 1995. The Undaunted Garden: Planting for Weather Resilient Beauty by Lauren Springer. Fulcrum, Golden, Col- orado, 1994. Water-Wise Gardening: Americas Backyard Revolution by Thomas Christopher. Simon and Schuster, New York, 1994. Xeriscape Handbook : A How-To Guide to Natural, Resource-Wise Gardening by Gayle Weinstein. Fulcrum Pub- lishing, Golden, Colorado, 1998.In the author’s front garden, a mix of native and adapted exotic plants coexist successfullyin dry heat and sun without requiring supplemental watering.of plants chosen for their good foliage, as anise-scented foliage. For a full rundown like “waterwise” and “Mediterraneanlimited water is not conducive to lavish on salvias, pick up a copy of Betsy Cleb- style” have come into use: They representflowering. A “short-short list” of the best sch’s The New Book of Salvias. an effort to make water conserving land-would include feather grasses (Stipa spp.), This being a central Texas garden, I scaping more appealing.which are incredibly durable, and as grace- have of course planted agaves, yuccas, and It’s time to move on, stop agonizingful as their relative, the Mexican feather other hardy succulents and cacti. Their over what we call it, and simply garden. Bygrass (Nasella tenuissima, Zones 7–11, sculptural forms add another layer of in- embracing water conserving practices and12–7). Shrublike Jerusalem sage (Phlomis terest and fill the gap between transition- appropriate plant selection and placement,fruticosa, Zones 8–9, 9–8) and Artemisia al zones and the xeric fringe of the garden. the reward is an appealing, efficient land-‘Powis Castle’ (Zones 6–9, 9–6), along scape that accommodates water restric-with some heritage roses—particularly the JUST DO IT tions with ease and grace.hybrid Musks ‘Penelope’ and ‘George- Xeriscape, despite all its trademarkingtown Tea’—are true stalwarts even when and commercial promotion, has come to Ethne Clarke is author of many gardeningparched, as are bamboo muhly (Muhlen- mean zero-scape to some gardeners, who books, including Herb Garden Design, re- ETHNE CLARKEbergia dumosa, Zones 8–12, 10–5) and sev- understand a xeric landscape as an empty cently re-released by Antique Collector’seral species of penstemon. Of these last, wasteland of sun-baked gravel and hos- Club. She has just been named garden editorthe Gulf Coast penstemon (Penstemon tile cacti. This is part of the reason terms of Traditional Home magazine.52 the American Gardener

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