One of the dreamy perks of living in the East Bay is easy access to the Berkeley Botanical Garden, which boasts one of the largest collections of Mediterranean, South African, and Desert plant collections in the world, all conveniently located in one spectacular setting, up a canyon with views out to the Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge. If you are in the area, it is a must-visit place, especially in these times of drought, as you can discover the positively huge range and variety of plants from all over the world that actually grow and thrive in drought, and that look good to boot.
We probably could’ve called it, but we are settling once again into a late-summer drought. This is an all-too-familiar pattern we have obsverved for the past several years in the Twin Cities area, and it is in part why we created the Irrigation-Free Landscape in the first place. We wanted to create something that could grow and thrive in spite of the droughts that now seem to arrive like clockwork every summer. And, well, one year and three months in the ground and the Irrigation-Free Landscape is going strong and looks completely unfazed (see photo above for the proof that is in the pudding) by the latest drought. Aside from the five replacement plants we had to plant in early summer (only five casualties out of 203 total plants in the landscape, actually, which is a very low mortality rate for even a conventional landscape), none of the other plants have received supplemental water. So this means over a year of no watering. Meanwhile the local paper ran an article this morning on how you need to water your entire landscape and lawn with an average of an inch of water a week during these dry spells. For a conventional landscape of an equivalent size as the Irrigation-Free Landscape (658 square feet) you are thus looking at 410 gallons of water a week, or 1640 gallons a month. In contrast, and in our case, we have simply removed the need to water from the equation. No time and money spent watering, no added pressures on overtapped water supplies, but still a beautiful landscape. Pardon our French, but this is such a no-brainer.
Okay, over and out and ’til next time.
Some plants that have self-sown profusely in the Irrigation-Free Landscape
We have always been drawn to the element of evolution in the landscape – how a landscape grows and evolves across the seasons, and over the years. It is what separates a landscape from a painting or another creative work whose ultimate form is intended to remain static over time. To these ends, we have increasingly sought out self-sowing plants that can be interspersed within a structure of more so-called placeholder plants (i.e. clump-forming grasses, perennials, and shrubs), so as to infuse a wildcard element into the landscape, which is then subject to the everchanging whims of nature. This all being said, is there a limit to how many self-sowing plants we should include in a landscape? It is a question that has been on our minds all summer, as we have observed many a plant in the Irrigation-Free Landscape self-sow with aplomb, to the point where even we’ve been surprised by their botanical fertility and vigor (this includes both native plants of the prairie and plants from other regions of the world).
The biggest problem that arises when plants self-sow so profusely is the difficulty in knowing which seedlings are weeds and which aren’t. A serious maintenance issue then rears its ugly head when the wrong seedlings are pulled or weeds are left to grow and take over the landscape due to lack of familiarity with the good vs. the bad. While we as landscape designers can most often easily tell the good from the bad, the task is more complicated for those who are less familiar with plants and who don’t stare at and ponder them for a living. Additionally, in a year such as this one, when spring was late, and early and mid-summer were very wet and relatively mild, you will find yourself with so many seedlings the landscape may start to look more like a weeding nightmare than a source of joy.
How then do you infuse that wildcard element into the landscape without letting it become a maintenance nightmare? The first strategy is to minimize the optimal growing conditions for self-sowing plants, or at least reduce their optimal growing conditions in quantity or quality. In our case, many of the drought-tolerant plants we use prefer extremely well-draining soil, including preferring virtually pure gravel. As such, one could reduce the total amount of area that contains this soil type and confine it only to areas where plants like lavender (which need perfectly drained, crummy soil to thrive) will go. The other strategy is to pick a bare minimum of a few self-sowing plants, and choose those whose seedlings are easily discernible from the ever-bothersome weeds that will always self-sow regardless of soil type (re: dandelions, crab grass, etc.). So, for example, Rudbeckia hirta seedlings are grey, rounded, fuzzy, and easy to identify, whereas Carex bicknelli can be hard to distinguish from turf grass if just given a glance-over. A combination of these two strategies could potentially yield promising results and the balance between rigidity and free-form evolution that we are looking for.
We will be infusing this new strategy into our latest landscapes and then shall report back with further observations.
The Longfellow Garden Club will be hosting its annual garden tour on July 10 at 6:30 p.m. The Irrigation-Free Landscape will be featured on the tour, along with some other waterwise and wildlife-friendly gardens. Come one, come all. For more info, click here.