If you think “stones and cactus” when you hear the term “xeriscape,” then Andrea Cummins would like to talk to you. She’s too polite to just say “No,” and too eloquent for “Er, not so much,” but those do convey the general idea.
A Horticultural Extension Agent from Douglas County, Colorado, Andrea spends much of her time dealing with such misperceptions. At the opposite end of the spectrum, she and her fellow agents try to educate the many newcomers to her area who think they can recreate a New England or South Carolina garden in the west if they just water it enough.
Before Andrea and I launch into the seven principles of xeriscape, we spend a while talking about where she lives, a high county in the east Rocky foothills with no major lakes or rivers, where the biggest draw on residential water supplies is the irrigating of lawns and gardens.
We talk about this because xeriscape is all about place, and Douglas County is a particularly good place for the conversation, since the term was coined in nearby Denver. The exact conditions that exist in Andrea’s county probably don’t apply in New Mexico or South Dakota, but this exploration of one particular place serves to illustrate the complexity of water planning—and water education—across the drier parts of the country, even the continent.
It’s easy to list the seven principles of xeriscaping, but when you hear Andrea explain them, you realize how much such a list leaves out. Take site assessment, the first of the seven. We all know that we should take stock of the plants and trees on our land, but did you know that you should also plot all areas covered by cement or gravel? (These waste water during rain, while on sunny days they both collect and reflect heat onto surrounding plants or buildings.) And did you realize that when planning “plant zones” (garden rooms) in the yard, it helps to group thirsty plants together? That way, only one “room” in the yard needs to be watered at this higher level. (This is principle #4, in case you were wondering.)
Andrea has similar tips and insights for each of the other principles. These are practices that actually make it possible to significantly reduce one’s garden water use—practices that make it possible to keep a garden beautiful and healthy even in dry areas, even in drought.
Check the blog, The Manic Gardener, for more links and information.