Don’t Waste Water: Part IV
So far we’ve covered watering techniques and soil management for drought tolerance. A major factor in water management also comes with your choices of plants. Many lawn grasses are water guzzlers and, in many municipalities, folks are being discouraged from growing lawns altogether.
It will never be the goal of SafeLawns to eliminate lawns entirely, but we do recognize that in many situations, better choices for landscaping exist.
Consider this article, published in my book — The Organic Lawn Care Manual — about a xeriscape project on Cape Cod in Massachusetts:
Xeriscape flourishes in Falmouth
Municipal plantings, historically, take one of two forms. Either they’re low-maintenance, no-function foundation plantings of evergreens, or they’re high-maintenance combinations of lawns, shrubs and flowers.
Lifelong Falmouth resident Paul Miskovsky was nearly drubbed out of Cape Cod when he came up with a revolutionary concept for the 3,000 square-foot area in front of Town Hall. Employing the principles of xeriscaping, his design proposed a drought-tolerant garden that would look like an idealized version of the town’s 17 miles of coastline.
Selectmen, faced with budget constraints and water restrictions, immediately embraced the plan. After the garden went in, though, townspeople were up in arms. They expected sweeps of flowers; they didn’t like sprigs of grass.
“This is a radically major change from a conventional landscape,” said Brian Dale, the superintendent of parks and recreations. “We took a lot of flack from a lot of people who visit Town Hall.”
Xeriscaping, which translated its Greek roots means “dry scene,” employs plants and hardscaping that require little water or fertilizer to be successful. Miskovsky, who has run a landscape company bearing his name for 20 years on Cape Cod, brought in 500 yards of sand as his base, but tucked 60 yards of fertile topsoil — up to a foot and a half deep — in the planting areas under the sand.
He found eight different grasses that thrive in drought and heat, along with black pines and oak trees that could go long periods without water. For a splash of color on the site, he planted several perennials, including sedums, Shasta daisies, daylilies and lavenders. A two-inch layer of seaweed mulch over the sand provides form and function.
“The appearance and color of the seaweed is great for the site,” said Miskovsky. “But the best thing is that it retains moisture from any rainfall and provides all sorts of macronutrients for the plants.”
In its third year, the garden has not been watered, but has still evolved to appear just as Miskovsky imagined. With careful placement of seashells and granite stones, along with seaweed on the ground and the sound of grass billowing in the air, the beautifully naturalistic Town Hall beach garden is beginning to win over the townspeople’s hearts.
“We knew it was going to take three years to come to fruition,” said Dale. “Paul is the design genius and we’re now seeing the benefits of that vision.”
It’s a model, according to the superintendent, that should be copied all over Cape Cod and beyond.
“The bottom line is that the town of Falmouth is saving a lot of money each year on maintenance, water and fertilizer,” he said. “And this type of garden is helping to save the fragile environment here on the island. Landscapes that require a lot of fertilizer run the risk of polluting the groundwater, not to mention wasting the water.
“I read the other day that half of our homeowners’ water usage goes into keeping lawns watered. That’s just too much.”
For Miskovsky, the beach garden provides another benefit all gardeners would enjoy.
“We don’t get any weeds here,” he said. “Weeds don’t survive in a hot dry environment like this, but the beach grass thrives.”
What more could you ask for?