Design Dilemma: Lush Gardens without the Water
Hmm….. Gardening without water. Is it possible? A growing number of gardeners are finding a way, particularly in the West and Southwest where drought conditions and extreme heat make it necessary to approach gardening without the garden hose. But these gardens are not the dusty and dry, sad and puny little patches that you might imagine. Instead, they are lush, visually exciting, and even…. well green. Take a look:
Above and below, this low-water use Las Vegas garden dispenses with traditional grass and substitutes instead a range of plants and flowers that do well in desert conditions. These include yucca, blue agave, golden barrel cacti, euphorbia, lacy red bird-of-paradise and Palo Verde trees. River rocks help to provide some architectural interest.
On the patio in a shadier part of the same yard, the homeowners have opted for upright boxwoods and purple cordyline to add color and contrast. These plants can withstand cooler temperatures and shadier conditions, but don’t require a lot of water.
Now some people may think that a drought-hardy, water-restricted garden would be barren of color. But as the garden below shows, desert gardens can be just as colorful as gardens in more tropical areas.
The San Luis Obispo garden below is even more colorful, incorporating yellows, oranges, pinks and various shades of green, but requires no watering.
The other great thing about low-water use gardens is that they can be a perfect opportunity to create a hardscape, architectural structure which can showcase fewer plants with a bit more flare. For example:
The above Austin garden is pretty darn exciting just in it’s use of steel, metal, wood and concrete. The few cacti and succulents that are planted really stand out.
So what’s the secret to a top-notch water conscious, drought-hardy garden?
1) Ditch the grass. Sod is always thirsty and it’s a little boring, let’s face it.
2) Rely on a hardscape to provide a structure. By “hardscape” we mean architectural elements that will help shape the physical space in your garden. They act as a frame, allowing your plants to stand out. They will often allow you to achieve more impact with fewer plants, which will help you save on water. These architectural elements include raised gravel beds, river rocks, paths, low fences, steps, planters and patios.
3) Embrace your inner cacti. Explore the vast world of succulents and cacti that require no water at all. In addition, there are many other plants out there that are not cacti but require very little water. These plants come in a variety of colors, and many have flowers, so there’s no reason to assume that your drought-hardy garden will be colorless.
4) Embrace texture. The coolest thing about drought-hardy plants is that they come in a variety of weird shapes. Many look like living sculpture. And this gives you one clue about how to work with these plants in your garden. Think about shape, size, texture and try to include a range of these in your garden design.