A Gardener's Notebook

A garden can go easy on the water and still be easy on the eyes

January 17, 2014 

A colorful example of a xeriscape in a Cambria front garden.

LEE OLIPHANT

  • Tip of the month . . . Most gardens in Cambria have some elements of a xeriscape. We’ve been creating them for years. There are also landscapers here that specialize in these designs. If you hire one of these experts, be clear on the kind of xeriscape plants you enjoy. Do you love flowering plants with color? Or more subtle or natural designs? Can you afford to install hardscapes like walkways and sitting areas with stone flooring to break up planting area? Be on the lookout for xeriscapes you enjoy and take pictures. Visit the San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden (across Highway 1 fromCuesta College) and see xeriscape plants close up.

It seems that I can’t talk about gardening with our friends without their eyes glazing over. I guess that with restricted water, there is not much to be discussed.

As we wait for Mother Nature to nourish the earth, trees, and shrubs, the hillsides remain parched and gardeners are forced to “wait and wonder.”

But most gardeners do not enjoy being idle in body and mind.

So while we are in a “holding pattern,” we can revisit a garden design appropriate for thirsty regions.

While we ordinarily are planning our spring planting at this time of year, perhaps our time would be better spent reviewing principals of gardening in an arid region. Gardening of this type is called “xeriscaping.”

In the early 1980s, Colorado’s Denver Water coined the term “xeriscaping” to describe a low-water-use landscaping design.

Xeriscape is a combination of the word “xeros,” the Greek word meaning dry, and “scape,” meaning a “kind of view or scene.”

Many water districts across the country have adopted the term and used it to help customers become familiar with drought-tolerant landscaping.

It continues to become more and more popular in the West as rainfall figures drop and gardeners search for efficient ways to use resources.

Essentially, there are seven principals of xeriscaping:

1. Plan and design your xeriscape. Consider soil, sun, shade, and slope.

2. Soil improvement. You can have your soil analyzed but we all know that most of our soil is deficient in humus, limiting absorption of water and holding capacity. Soils should be enriched with organic matter before planting.

3. Planting in “the right place,” in terms of sun and soil conditions, will greatly effect your success in creating a beautiful xeriscape around your home.

4. Turf substitutes should be incorporated. Traditional turf can be replaced with low-matting ground-covers and grasses. Astro-turf? Well, I’m not there yet.

5. Make your irrigation system efficient. Trees, shrubs, perennials and groundcovers can be watered efficiently with low-volume drip systems or low sprinklers that emit large droplets.

6. Apply mulch to all bare ground. Mulch minimizes evaporation and reduces weed growth and soil erosion. Organic mulches are typically bark and wood chips, pine needles, or rocks. Hardscape such as paths and patios reduce bare exposed earth in gardens.

7. Maintenance. If you’ve followed the first six principals, the maintenance of a water-wise landscape is relatively easy. Chores such pruning, weeding and pest control are lessened in a healthy xeriscape.

There’s much to learn while we are in our “holding pattern”. With a little effort, we can consider giving our gardens a “xeriscape face lift.”

Lee Oliphant’s column is special to The Cambrian. Email her at cambriagardener@charter.net; read her blog at http://centralcoastgardening.com.

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