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What's Up Magazine

Garden Look: Patience & A Firm Hand

Oct 10, 2017 09:00AM
By Janice F. Booth

Imagine your lawn a carpet of periwinkle, dotted with tiny purple blossoms; graceful grasses nod along the picket fence; plump chicks-and-hens, soft mosses, and sedum spill over a rock garden as your focal point; and let’s not overlook the splash of color in your flowerbeds—golden black-eyed Susan and orange Butterfly Weeds, perhaps sporting a Monarch butterfly or two. Sounds good? It sounds even better when you consider there’s no mowing the lawn, no trimming the hedges, only occasional watering.

Such a garden and lawn, relying on native plants and limited water-access is an example of xeriscaping. (Isn’t that a great word? A bit intimidating and mysterious. It’s from the Greek, xeri meaning dry...and the aura of mystery evaporates.) Using xeric plants—those that are sturdy, able to withstand dry periods, and native to Maryland—affords gardeners an opportunity to protect water resources and local plants.

But, before you join the trend to “xeriscaping,” a word or two of caution. Yes, if you choose to xeriscape you will design and execute an entirely new look for your garden—clean lines and a subtle palette with only splashes of bright blooms. A xeric garden will mean removing some or all of your present flowerbeds and lawn, carting away all but the trees and perhaps a mature shrub or two. In addition, for the first year or two, your xeriscape will need just as much attention as a more traditional landscape plan, requiring close tending and watering while the roots push deep enough to sustain the plants when the sun beats down and water is scarce.

Your role as gardener will be similar to the role of parent of a teenager. At first, you maintain a strong, guiding hand. But eventually, you step back, oversee from the lawn chair, as your awkward, adolescent plantings mature into an elegant, restrained garden. Planning or designing a garden of native, xeric plantings requires some research or an experienced landscaping specialist.

In time, xeriscaping will relieve you of the constant vigilance required of many gardeners. You’ll avoid the pampering usually required by non-native plants, more water and more protection from climate variances and pests. An established garden of native plants and carefully controlled watering cycles improves both your home’s energy usage and its water usage.

Here are a few key issues you’ll want to discuss with your master gardener or research for yourself before beginning work on your xeriscape:

1. Does your lawn and garden area need soil contouring or grading to redirect water runoff from the buildings? You may want the grading and contouring plan to include a cistern or water channels to redirect and store for later use of the rainwater in your garden.

2. Do you want to replace the lawn? Grass can demand up to 70 percent of a home’s water usage. Native ground covers such as periwinkle (vinca minor) or liniope can create a pleasing, unique lawn-like area using substantially less water.

3. Which mature plants in your current garden might remain? Some mature trees, shrubs and plants may have adapted to our climate even though they are not native to the region. Will they need pruning or dividing? Pruning can rejuvenate the plant and provide a focal point for other elements in your garden plan.

4. Will you want your garden to display a particular palette or color? For example, if you like a purple-to-blue palette you might plant native asters, and silver mound, with a showy French mulberry bush. For a garden glowing with yellow-to-orange, black-eyed Susan, butterfly weed, and stonecrop provide the spark. They’re all hardy perennials. And, in the case of the aptly named butterfly weed, attract beautiful butterflies to your garden.

5. Will you want to plan a patio for a small table and chairs? Have you a lovely sculpture you want to display prominently? What about lighting – solar garden lights? (You may need a permit for constructing the patio, but your professionals can assist you.)


Now that you’ve resolved most of these issues, consider talking with your close neighbors about your garden-makeover. The folks next-door may be startled or simply curious when a bulldozer removes the lawn or digs a small trench across your yard. Besides, it may be fun to discuss your planting plans with other potential enthusiasts.

Xeriscaping creates a clean, almost austerely elegant garden. You’ll achieve showy effects with foliage rather than flowers. Sedum, succulents, and ornamental grasses will be a mainstay of your new look. Sedum come in variegated colors, like wine red, lemon yellow, and purple, as well as green edged in white and pink rimmed in green. You’ll create quite a stir with Maryland’s only native cactus, the Eastern Prickly Pear. Add some ornamental grasses with lovely names like Blue Fescue and Mexican Feather Grass.

Finally, your garden is redesigned from subsoil to tree crown. You are encouraging the resurgence of native plants and limiting your use of water resources.

And while your xeriscape garden requires little water, here are a few clever ways to use water that might otherwise be wasted:

1. Water the garden grounds in the a.m. so the moisture will soak in before the midday heat. Water the garden pots in the p.m. to relieve the plants’ stress after a long day working in the sun.

2. Save and repurpose the water from your fish tank after cleaning and the water you drain from your cooking. Your plants will benefit from the extra nutrients.

3. While you’re waiting for your shower water to heat up, collect the cool or tepid water into sprinkling cans or plastic buckets, and use that water for the garden.

Xeriscaping affords you the pleasures of both gardening and conservation, a fresh, clean, earth-friendly approach to landscaping your own backyard.