Fun fact: the state of California has every type of climate in the world except for tropical. Pretty cool, huh? That means if you travel a few hours in any direction, you'll find yourself in a different climate than where you started without even needing to leave the state. Unfortunately, for the last several years, we've been suffering through a severe drought. This makes me nervous: I've never wanted to live in the desert. My favorite color is green, not brown, and I love playing in water. So water conservation is high on my list of priorities. The Water-Saving Garden, by Pam Penick, is a book I picked up for free from Blogging for Books (in exchange for a fair and honest review), in the hopes of cultivating a kick-ass garden without wasting water. Let me tell you a thing or five about what I've learned...
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The Water-Saving Garden is broken up into five different parts: inspiration, retaining water, planting, making you see things that aren't there, and recommended plants. That is a lot to pack into one book, but Penick does a great job of it. The inspiration portion features multiple gardens and highlights the different features that make them drought resistant. This portion is more photos than text, but it's a great way to start— giving you ideas as to what is possible.
My favorite parts in this book are probably the second part and third parts: retaining and planting. Basically: plan your garden. Before reading this book, I hadn't thought that planning a garden was more than deciding what plants to put in the ground or where I would place them relative to each other. That is certainly part of it, but you also want to consider how you can make it an inviting or relaxing space to be in, how you're going to water it, and how you can retain the maximum amount of rainfall on your property. Are you interested in holding rainwater to use during dry spells? There's a section for that in this book. What about preventing that rain from just going down the gutter and instead replenishing the ground water? That's in here too! I want to say that the basic premise of this book is: don't just reduce the amount of water you throw outside from your taps. Tap into the water that's already in the ground!
Thirdly, a chance to get dirty: Plant your garden!
So now you have a bunch of cacti planted in your yard so you won't have to water them?
Actually, right now I have a patch of dirt that needs to be cleared of debris. But to your insinuation that I would have a yard full of cacti I say, “Hah!” And no. While cacti and other succulents are certainly water thrifty plants, they are absolutely not the only choice available if you want to conserve water in your garden. You know what isn't really a choice in this type of garden? Lawns.
Lawns are the Humvees of the plant world —they're resource guzzlers, require a lot of time and maintenance, and don't look all that great anyway.
GASP! How can you say that about lawns?! It's the American way!
I know a lot of people picture a house with a white picket fence and a beautiful lawn as an integral part of the American dream but I think we can do better. There are other ways of doing things! And like it or not, the fact remains that during a drought, your lawn is going to wither and die because the roots just don't grow deep enough. They require a lot of water, you have to mow them frequently, they get weedy if you blink at them — they are just a lot more work than they're worth. If your main goal is to conserve water: lose the lawn. If you can't bear to lose the lawn, reduce it. If you decide to install artificial turf, lose my number.
Wanna tell us how you really feel about fake grass?
That's a post for a different day and a different blog. My point is that lawn is boring, lacks creativity, and takes a lot of effort for not much pay-off. There are alternative grasses and ground covers available to create visual interest, that thrive on less water, and give you an open green space if that's what you're after. There are wildflowers, trees, shrubs, and ground covers that are drought hardy. It doesn't have to all be about cacti or other succulents: we have options if we take the time to find them. I suppose that's the biggest deterrent for a lot of people having a garden instead of a lawn. You can set a lawn down and it looks like a lawn right away, but it takes more maintenance time later on. It might take you more time upfront to plan and set up a drought-hardy garden, but it will mostly take care of itself afterward. After all, it's meant to thrive on the amount of water that falls from the sky instead of you hosing it down.
What about this “making you see things that aren't there” section?
The section is actually about creating the illusion of water where there may not be any. This can be achieved by using stones, cascading plants, a simple water feature, etc. — anything that evokes an image of lakes, the sea, or other water by using plants.
The final section in this book is dedicated to 101 plants for water-saving gardens. Because like puppies, 100 just isn't enough. Gotta throw in that extra one.
And there you have it! The Water-Saving Garden: How to grow a gorgeous garden with a lot less water by Pam Penick is 223 pages of beautifully illustrated advice on how to grow a garden while conserving resources. If you have any aspirations toward creating an inviting outdoor space, I highly recommend it!