The Water-Wise Garden: Art of Xeriscaping

Xeriscaping requires very little water, provides wildlife habitat, reduces chemical pollution—and saves you money.

| March/April 2008

  • Cheery, low-water yarrow thrives in its natural habitat.
    Photography By Daniel Nadelbach and Gilda Meyer-Niehof
  • The entrance to painter James Havard’s Santa Fe gardens showcases the artfulness of nature. Aspen, wisteria and untamed
    Photography By Daniel Nadelbach and Gilda Meyer-Niehof
  • Overlooking the mountains and city of Santa Fe, the Havard garden is an untamed wonderland of xeriscape plants, including day lilies, silver lace, Russian sage and delphinium.
    Photography By Daniel Nadelbach and Gilda Meyer-Niehof
  • Thirsty aspen near the Mission-like garden building soak up runoff and help prevent erosion.
    Photography By Daniel Nadelbach and Gilda Meyer-Niehof
  • Lavender cools the warm adobe walls and clay walkway to this garden entrance.
    Photography By Daniel Nadelbach and Gilda Meyer-Niehof
  • Shasta daisies grace a wrought-iron garden gate.
    Photography By Daniel Nadelbach and Gilda Meyer-Niehof
  • Havard creates his picturesque landscapes by complementing tumbling, native plants such as yarrow and agastache with adobe structures.
    Photography By Daniel Nadelbach and Gilda Meyer-Niehof
  • A pot of petunias offers a blaze of color.
    Photography By Daniel Nadelbach and Gilda Meyer-Niehof

When I moved from the dry foothills of Colorado to humid North Carolina, I expected water to be abundant and flowers to bloom all year. I planted a container garden on my back porch in the spring, and by August—after a string of weeks reaching 110 to 120 degrees with no rain—my shallow-rooted plants were dead. The Southeast was in a severe drought, and I realized it was time to brush up on all the water wisdom—especially xeriscaping—I learned while living in the arid West.

"Xeriscape" derives from the Greek xeros, which means "dry," and describes a method of low-water landscaping. Coined in Denver during an early 1980s drought, the term is often misinterpreted as "zeroscape." Popular in the Southwest, xeriscaping has now spread across the country: All 50 states have active programs. In some areas with extreme water shortages, xeriscaping is mandatory; other regions are adapting the principles to mitigate potential drought problems before they arise.

Xeriscaping is gaining popularity as more communities become interested in conservation. To reduce your own garden’s water needs, just remember these seven principles:

1. Plan. Walk around at different times of day and get to know the different conditions in your yard: natural contours, exposure, drainage patterns, soil types. You’ll typically find three zones:

• Protected areas: Areas that are protected from the sun and wind and require little irrigation once established. Often found along north- and east-facing lands, these areas are best for plants that require the most water.

• Partially exposed areas: Areas that have limited protection from the elements and require slightly more water. Best for plants with moderate water needs.

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