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by Dan Clost
by Dan Clost


First serious garden earned 25 cents from the Kemptville Horticultural Society when I was 12. Have been poor in horticulture ever since but rich in spirit.

Went to work writing the Good Earth column (over 500 articles published in newspaper, magazine, website and journal.) and learned that what was printed wasn't what I wanted to say and certainly not what Gentle Reader understood me to say. Subsequently have developed a certain clarity and economy of words.

Day job- nursery and production manager for a large nursery/garden centre
Side job- Garden restoration and renovations, design consultations, remedial pruning.
Night job- garden writer and communicator (overnight success in another 20 years)

Dan gardens in Canadian Zone 5b

January 18, 2004

Xeriscaping is a relatively new term for most of us gardeners. Well one notable exception would be Marjorie Mason-Hogue. She has been the pioneer (pioneeress?) in our part of the country. As a result it is downright impossible to pen an article without many of her ideas showing up. ( If you’re reading this on the net, just do the googol thing and read some of her articles or visit her garden.)

Okay, back to xeriscaping. Think of it as a process that incorporates design features and plant selections with the primary purpose of reducing water use. It's that simple. As a philosophy, it centres on awareness of our environment as a whole and the part our own little bit of this good earth holds in the overall scheme. As a thematic plant concept, it focuses on selection of plants that use less water than other possible choices. These plants tend to be native or naturalised to the area.

Here's a brief thought a about green swards. Do we want or need certain patches of lawn? Should we construct a deck or patio? They don't need water. What if we made the garden path a little bit wider? We can stroll down side by each with our sweetie- and use less water.

Let's look at our site from its environmental perspective. Warm, drying winds can be an issue. We can construct a windscreen. Use a decorative lattice, hang some garden art from it, set up a small patio with a bench upon which to sit whilst admiring your garden art. Or you can just set up a "thinking" bench. A nice protected spot where, once you get there, you don't have to do anything at all but sit there and think. Or you can plant a specimen in the same spot.

Do you have a huge expanse upon which the sun beats down? You could think about ornamental grasses or planting some locust trees. The 'Frisia' robinia (think member of black locust family) is an excellent choice for a medium size tree that is exceptionally drouth tolerant.

How much rain do you get? Where does it go? Can you collect it? Rainbarrels set at the bottom of downspouts make a lot of sense. Here's a tip from a seminar participant (I'm sorry, but I forget her name): a couple of teaspoons of vegetable oil in the rainbarrel will prevent mosquito eggs.

The soil, as with any form of gardening, is the crucial element to growing healthy plants Improve your soil by adding organic matter; compost, leaf mold, manure, straw, or peat moss. This will allow the soil to retain extra moisture without becoming waterlogged.

In new beds, use landscape fabric covered with mulch. Mulch retains water, lowers heat, reduces weeds, reduces work, and; if properly done, enhances the beauty of your bit of this good earth.

Consider container gardening on your new decks and patios. Artfully arranged less is more. Less plants, less water but more impact. It also allows you to group plants according to their watering needs.

Think about statuary or large ornamental rocks in a bed of decorative mulch. It can have a stunning visual impact and uses zero amounts of water.

Now we get to the crunch: watering. Longer good soaks are what you need. Train yourself to do that. Even harder, train yourself to not water during the week. Make those roots chase the water down through the earth.

Use soaker hoses. Use sprinkler patterns that fit the area to be watered, i.e., don't water the driveway. If the pattern isn't right, reshape the bed or the lawn. Water in the morning. Avoid overhead sprinklers.

Plant selection is the easy part, there are many that fit into the xeriscaping concept. These plants, with the exception of a bit of help when being established, should not need any water beyond Mother Nature's allotment. Read up on the plant's biography. If you're not sure, leaves are a good clue. Look for grey, fuzzy, hairy, waxy or fragrant leaves.

Can you have a water feature in a xeriscape? Absolutely. Select a shady spot. Soothing waterfalls (no fountains) can provide moist air "pockets" for some treat plants.

Remember the point of xeriscaping is to reduce water use as much as possible. But it is not zeroscaping. It can be a wonderful, fascinating and fulfilling challenge. Enjoy it.


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