Water-Wise Plants and Design for Your Landscape
Arid or Xeriscape landscape does not have to be hot, boring, sparsely planted or just gravel-covered areas that look bleak. We call these designs water wise. A good landscape designer has the human environment or microclimate of your home uppermost in thought. The designer should first look at trees—also known as the “upper story”– to see where shade, screening and wind protection should be in your landscape. The next layer is large bushes or shrubs which soften blank walls, screen areas and also generate color and texture. Next is the medium-size bush or plant that gives more interest, color and texture. Then you drop down to a smaller bush with the same factors in mind and lastly to groundcovers that can absorb ultraviolet light, color and provide that always pleasant, green carpet look. They don’t have to be high wateruse plants to get this look. This is called microclimate layering design. You develop those climatic zones that give you a cool, colorful look. Next a designer should focus on vignettes or focal points to excite the eye and give an appealing area where you can enjoy a meal, quiet moment or a good book. This requires good plant knowledge, good horticultural skills and study to design this kind of environment. A designer also wants to keep in mind how to utilize water harvesting and all the activities that you would like to do in your back yard. The bonus is a great microclimate environment that gives you texture, color, scent and peace that you can enjoy.
A good landscape designer can help you achieve this luscious, green landscape and conserve the precious water resources of our desert when our designers follow the steps outlined above.
To “go green” in your landscape without feeling guilty about its water consumption, your landscape design and plant choices should be what I call ‘desert friendly.’ There are many plant choices that use little water and are nicely suited for desert dwelling, some are native desert plants like Palo Verdes and Mesquites, others like sages and cassias originate from areas in the world with similar climates. Other great choices include: Cassias; Genista, Sweet Broom; Germander, Teucrium; Mexican tarragon, Tagetes lucidum; Eremophila maculata, Emu Bush, Grewia caffra, Lavender starflower, African daisy, Vigueira deltoids, Golden eye, Jasminum polyanthemum, Pink Jasmine, Gelsemium sempervirens, Carolina Jessamine, Hardenbergia violacea, Desert Lilac vine; Sophora secundiflora, Texas mountain laurel, Gazania, Carrisa, Elephant Food; Myoporum, Baja Ruellia, Salvia leucantha and Mexican bush sage, just to name a few.
While lush and green, avoid plant choices that are tropical in nature, like Hibiscus; these are heavy water users and they are sensitive to extreme heat and cold. Another idea that is underutilized is the use of flowering, perennial groundcovers like African Daisies. Sown by seed, these types of groundcovers cover large areas and have a stunning affect in the spring when they bloom. And, they are self-seeding, meaning they will come back every year. The crop depends on rain. At our home, we have an orange and yellow carpet in good rain years. A lush look is achieved as much by the garden design as by the plant choices. Many people believe that to be water conscious you have to eliminate the front yard lawn altogether. This is not true unless your HOA does not allow it. While a lawn is a relatively heavy water user by comparison, the hybrid Bermuda grass used locally uses far less water than is typically applied. Many people over-water their Bermuda lawns. To have the beauty added by grass, simply limit the lawn size and surround the area with lush groupings of water-wise trees, shrubs and ground covers – especially ground covers. Of course, you can always use artificial turf that looks and feels good. Utilize techniques, like massing, and place large numbers of the same plant in an area to get the coverage you need. The results will be stunning and green.