Water, Gardens and Plants: The Changing Landscape

WebGTMb5I was going to include in the title above the phrase “Boogeyman Rustling the Bushes”, with reference to that which we try to ignore until it is too late. However, enlightened by modern marketing concepts and the need not to frighten the children, I opted instead for the positive and uplifting “The Changing Landscape”.

Previously I have referred to plants raised in large automated factories that have often spent all their life coddled and nurtured – special nutrient suppliments, regular watering, sprayed with factory-derived chemicals, controlled humidity and temperature – and are destined to be fully urbanized in their own way once planted into their new garden. And yes, I am glad to say they usually succeed under those conditions provided by copious irrigation and the application of various products, greening our landscapes and cooling the air.

However, there is growing awareness that the days of golf-course greens and full irrigation in the garden may be something to fade out of the mainstream trends of gardening, as snow melt disappears, mountain lakes drop, aquifers are put under stress and municipal water supplies are rationed. That boogeyman has been rustling in the bushes again, and this time looks to be coming up the garden path. Reactions have included various strategies from artificial turf to spraying the dead grass with green colourant, or making lots of rock gardens. Frankly in my opinion the ripping out of lawns and covering everything in artful rock is just as useful as pouring concrete or spreading asphalt when we consider urban heat, or the cooling effect of vegetation. I should point out that I like rocks in moderation, and water retention/runoff by river rock is better than an asphalt-topped car park, so is a good thing.

So what to do? We can look to how pre-industrial societies – Rome, Greece, Arabia, Mesopotamia and sub-continental India spring to mind – created those “gardens” and therein lies some real thought-provoking avenues of thought, but for now I will be brief, throwing a few thoughts out there and pulling so lightly as to maybe help steer gardening practices to more sustainable solutions: Focus irrigation close to the house in isolated spots if you must (not the whole lawn/garden thing) and only irrigate when needed; drip irrigation for the food garden (and use grey-water if permitted); planting drought-tolerant varieties; preserve or create shade (once established, the right tree will put it’s roots deep down to find water); and develop water conservation by collecting rainwater, storing water, read up on permaculture techniques that slow down water runoff and trap it in your garden, and stop watering the weeds so much. There, a positive spin on the changing garden landscape is to make those weeds wilt in a positive way, if you know what I mean (then shift imagery to a dewey flower).



PS All images copyright to Guy Menendez.