An alpine planter by garden designer
The term xeriscaping stems from the Greek word xeros, meaning
dry. It refers to water-wise, drought-tolerant gardening. While the term may be relatively new, the concept is not.
Gardening on the dry side has deep roots in desert and Mediterranean
areas, where heat and drought are common and water is viewed
with reverence, a resource not to be abused. In less arid
regions, such as where I live (Canadian hardiness zone 6,
American zone 5), many rock, cottage, coastal and country
gardeners have experience with this type of gardening.
Opting for a xeriscape garden is often a response to particular
site conditions, such as fast-draining soils, steep slopes,
courtyards that reflect light and heat, exposure to strong
winds, and tree roots that deplete soil moisture. Rural property
owners may face additional concerns over lowered water tables
and the consequences of overwatering on their wells and ponds.
Accordingly, when planning the xeriscape garden, evaluate
the complexities of your property and the influence of soils,
winds, topography, microclimates and exposure.
Start by preparing a detailed audit of your property's site
conditions and water-retention characteristics for inclusion
in your scaled-base plan (see "Features
of Great Garden Design"). Identify natural
and fabricated features. If, for example, roof drains and
their outlets discharge onto a paved driveway, sidewalk, or
window well, valuable water is being lost. (A solution is
to install rain barrels to collect the water.) Perhaps your
yard slopes steeply, sending rainwater to a nearby ravine
and leaving your property high and dry. An inventory of existing
vegetation will also help identify wet and dry areas. Your
property might lack hedges, fences and walls that lessen wind
velocities, or your house may have broad roof soffits and
cantilevers that keep the areas below dry. As part of the
audit, take soil samples from various locations and have them
analyzed to ascertain their type and drainage characteristics.
This will also help you identify where amendments, such as
organic material and compost, could improve the soil's moisture
retention; minor grading changes may also help combat water