The great water harvest

It is little news that the desert Southwest is running low on water these days. More and more people moving in, shrinking aquifers, and a drier Colorado River – all of these factors have lead to real concerns about the future of water in the region. As a response, the City of Tucson has adopted one of the more progressive laws with regards to water conservation, or, in their case, to water harvesting. As of June 1, 2010, all new commercial development plans submitted to the City must include a water harvesting plan, which must outline how the site will harvest rainwater to supply 50% of the site’s irrigation needs.

Target has gotten a head start on the whole affair and has retrofitted its Super Target on Oracle Boulevard with water cachement areas (shown above), swales, and a plethora of desert-friendly plants and trees. Not a swath of turf grass is to be seen on the site.

The asphalt parking lot slopes towards permeable planting areas instead of towards storm drains

We are of course still left with the perennial problem of the big box store and the enormous amount of urban surface area and asphalt it requires to begin with – not to mention a whole host of problematic urban design and pedestrian issues this building type creates. . . but that, I am afraid, would open up a whole other can of worms and is perhaps better left for another post, for another day. In the meantime, let us bask in one small baby step towards a mildly greener tomorrow.

Noir on light

“Did it ever occur to you that light creates landscape, so that the world itself is created daily, in a sense? In my sense,” says one character to another in Ross MacDonald’s noir classic, The Ivory Grin.

So often, the role of light is forgotten in the composition of a landscape. By light, we do not mean lighting, but rather, that particular light from the sun that reads differently from place to place. This Foothill Palo Verde (seen at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum) shown above positively glows in the stark Sonoran sunlight; whereas in many parts of Los Angeles, the same tree loses its brilliance, as the light is simply more washed out there. Same goes for Bougainvillea – so brilliant in the stark desert light of Palm Springs; somewhat drab in much of Los Angeles. When thinking of borrowing plants you have seen in other regions of the country and world, try to imagine how that plant might look in the particular light that shines where you live. Adding this much-overlooked criterion to your landscape composition process will invariably result in a more spectacular, show-stopping landscape.

Plant of the week

KOELERIA MACRANTHA / JUNE GRASS (as seen in the Zenith Avenue Landscape)

One of the great cool-season grasses of the prairie, we love June Grass for its fresh blue-green color in spring – one of the first grasses to pop up – and then for its wheat-like panicles, which flicker from yellow-green to tan as spring melds into summer. When backlit, the panicles simply glow. The grass is clump-forming, especially when planted from a container specimen, and stays relatively neat and compact, not reaching more than 2 1/2′ in height, with a spread of about 1 1/2′ – 2′ after a few years. As it is cool season, it will go dormant durng the hottest months but won’t brown out until winter. And, as usual, it is quite drough-tolerant. In Los Angeles, you can see it planted in a mixed meadow with Bouteloua gracilis / Blue Grama Grass at Barnsdall Park as an alternative to conventional turf grass. In Minnesota, June Grass needs no supplemental water once established, except during particularly dry stretches. PRAIRIEFORM prefers June Grass in mass plantings for dramatic swaths of texture, color, and sway, but you can plant June Grass tucked in here in there in the front or mid-section of a mixed bed or border and you’ll still be happy.