Xeriscape is currently one of the “in” forms of gardening! It ought to be “out!”

Amaranthusredyello.jpg (50068 bytes)
Amaranthus is just one of many annual flowers that does not need abundant moisture to put on a good display. 
Author photo.

1pt.gif (86 bytes)Xeriscaping is broadly defined as landscaping using plants that are resistant to drought. Unfortunately, many gardeners don’t realize that there is a huge difference between many so-called drought-resistant plants being recommended today, and plants that actually don’t require much water--among which grass is one!
1pt.gif (86 bytes)There has been and continue to be a number of campaigns by so-called environmental or natural gardeners to eliminate the neatly manicured lawn from our cities. I have no problem with folks replacing their lawns with gardens, in fact I did that myself, with both my front and back lawns, a way back in 1983. And, my late friend Howard B. Dunington-Grubb, the dean of landscape architects in Canada (1881-1965), converted his front lawn at his Rosedale home in Toronto in about the year 1934. But the point is, there needs to be a valid reason to do this. And, saving water is not a valid reason at all.
1pt.gif (86 bytes)The facts are, advocate groups may try to convince you that planting trees instead of grass will use less water, but that is quite simply incorrect.
1pt.gif (86 bytes)Others may try to prevail with the idea that our common Kentucky bluegrasses are enormous water consumers, whereas grasses such as fescues use less water, and therefore all lawns should be converted to fescues, or to whatever is “hot” at the moment. This is environmentalism gone crazy!
1pt.gif (86 bytes)I am reminded of a happening early this decade wherein a National Award for the Conservation of Water in the U.S., presented by a national organization in that country, went to a woman in Denver, Colorado. She had spearheaded the passing of a municipal bylaw in that city banning Kentucky bluegrasses from all lawns. The theory was that the bluegrasses use more water than other types. What the woman (and the national organization) apparently did not know, was that research some time ago, proved that bluegrasses use less water than fescues, even though that is not perceived to be the case.
1pt.gif (86 bytes)The same is true of many other plants that are suggested for planting in Xeriscape gardens. Trees are a good case in point. They use a tremendously greater volume of water than does grass.
1pt.gif (86 bytes)On the other hand, grass has a number of other attributes that we tend to forget. Consider: water purification, erosion control, glare reduction, particulate entrapment, oxygen generation, temperature modification, noise abatement, pollution absorption, allergy control, and groundwater replenishment. At least the first four of these are pretty well exclusive to grass or at least grass performs them to a much greater extent than do virtually any alternative crops.
1pt.gif (86 bytes)Please don’t get me wrong. I am not saying don’t take water conservation into account when you plan and plant your garden. I am saying none of us should be hoodwinked into thinking that we have to stay to a short list of plants that someone or some group states are the only ones to plant because they are water conserving. Chances are the facts are just not there to back up the conclusion. If water is in short supply and it’s annual flowers you wish, be sure to consider the following: Amaranthus, California poppy, Cleome, cockscomb, cornflower, four-o’clock, globe amaranth, Mexican poppy, Portulaca, sea lavender, verbena and zinnias.
1pt.gif (86 bytes)If water conservation is a major factor for whatever reason, there certainly are plants that withstand drought better than others, but remember that these are not necessarily plants that use less water. Even grass seed mixes are available which withstand drought conditions. They do this not because they use less water, they do it by sending down their roots much further (some times ten times deeper) than our traditional lawn grasses.
1pt.gif (86 bytes)Finally, if you wish to plant a truly water-conserving garden, consider a scree garden. The technique is the plants (all types, evergreens, shrubs, perennials etc.) are actually grown in granular “A” gravel. The depth of the bed needs to be at least 45 cm (18”) of gravel and the plants are planted right into it. After the plants are established, there is no watering needed. If you’re in Ontario and would like to see one (the one that has driven many gardeners to try the technique), pay a visit to Keith and Carolyn Squires at The Country Squires Garden in Campbellville.

Art C. Drysdale
6 Nesbitt Drive
Toronto, ON M4W 2G3
Phone: 416-968-5910