According to poet John Keats, beauty is truth, truth beauty; but our notions of beauty change over time as new truths surface. The popular appeal of fashions like fur coats and dark tans has faded, and, in these times of drought, lush, high maintenance gardens have lost center stage to the balance and beauty of water-wise backyards.
Water is the new gold in the American Southwest where winter rains yield to summer drought just when gardens are most thirsty. But many Southwest native species rank high among the most drought-tolerant. Add jubilant native wildflowers and succulents to your garden for water-sparing plant pleasure. You'll find a variety at Waterwise Botanicals, a nursery that grows its own plants and offers expert advice to gardeners.
Travelers to western Italy delight in the country's warm patios and romantic Mediterranean gardens that group water-wise plants in water-sparing ways. To get the effect at home, meld earth-tone containers, like terra-cotta pots, with the green-grey leaves of Mediterranean native plants, including fig trees (Ficus carica in zones 6 - 9) and bright-flowering shrubs like in this garden by Love Design Ideas.
Beautiful backyards don't have to be chock-full of thirsty plants if you hardscape, constructing some permanent, non-plant elements for your garden. People have enjoyed decks and patios for years, but the current trend is to use features like pergolas, pavers, pools and patios to replace lawns or backyard plants as a water-saving strategy. The right hardscape creates serenity and architectural interest, as in this Isabelle Greene design.
Xeriscaping is a method of low maintenance, water-sparing landscape sustainability rapidly gaining popularity. It promotes natural, chemical-free gardening techniques in a water-wise environment by stressing plant selection and minimizing turf. According to Allen Quay of Landscape Design Advisor, xeriscaping is not zero-scaping, but can create a water-wise garden full of life and color.
Many gardeners take baby-steps toward transforming their thirsty yards, but others dive right in. One couple decided to transform their backyard pool into a garden patio, leaving the pool beneath as a rain-storage tank. The benefits include not just recouped rain-harvesting, but also eliminating the thousands of gallons of water that evaporate from a large pool annually.
Limited space never stopped a real gardener, since even the smallest apartment has room for potted plants. When you select both plant and pot carefully, container gardening saves water as well. Avoid unglazed terra cotta pots that absorb and sweat out water, and move your plants into the shade during hot weather. Drip irrigation can work well to get your precious water to the plants' roots.
Ornamental grasses add texture and movement to a landscape without exacting a high water cost. Increasingly popular in water-wise landscape designs, ornamental grasses provide strong visual impact far longer than summer flowers. In the Bellevue Botanical Garden, highly drought-tolerant Mexican feathergrass (Nassella tenuissima, zones 7 - 11) contrasts with deep blue catmint (Nepeta x faassenii), another water-wise perennial for USDA zones 3 - 8.
Native plants thrive in the wild with only Mother Nature's rain for sustenance, and they provide a valuable addition to water-wise gardens. To experience the range and beauty available in native plantings, visit the native plant garden at the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden where more than 6,000 native plants form a rich and textured palette.
- San Diego: Easy Water-Wise Gardening
- Horticultural Magazine: Growing the Golden Barrel Cactus
- Christian Science Monitor: For a Waterwise Landscape, Consider Mediterranean Garden Design
- Missouri Botanical Gardens: Ficus Carica
- Long Beach Water Department: Lawn-to-Garden Turf Replacement Program
- Extension.org: Ornamental Grasses for Water-Wise Landscapes
- Floridata: Nassella Tenuissima
- Cornell Gardening: Catmint
- Extension.org: Water Conservation for Container Gardens