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Resource-wise gardening

by: Barbara Kam

Garden Path  |   Issue #2  |   November 25, 2005

Careful placement of perenniels, shrubs and trees can reduce water waste and muffle noise pollution.

A well-designed landscape is beautiful to behold and invites a person to enter the space. Thoughtful planting nourishes a weary spirit. It helps lower heating and water costs. Gardens can contribute to overall environmental health by reducing air pollution and buffering noise pollution.

First, understand the orientation of your home to the sun and prevailing winds. Many newer homes are situated on ridges and bluffs providing access to nature and fabulous views. These sites can also expose the property to gale-like winds and the corresponding temperature drop from windchill. These same winds increase soil moisture evaporation and water requirements during summer, so consider trees and shrubs to buffer the wind. Locate the tree(s) at a distance from your home between two to five times the mature tree height for maximum wind reduction.

The coldest winds are usually from the north or northwest. If the winds worsen in winter, consider evergreens like Montgomery or fastigiated spruce (regular Colorado spruce are simply too large for most newer lots). Evergreens provide year-round coverage. Their density also helps muffle sounds. With newer homes and infills being so close together these days, your neighbours' homes may do the work of a windbreak depending on the orientation of your home.

Alternatively, walls of west or south-facing windows can heat up the entire house during summer afternoons. Consider placing a deciduous tree nearby to shade the window in summer and cool the house. Once the leaves fall, the sun and light can pass through in the colder seasons. If worried about blocking your view, the tree may not need to be directly in front of the window. Consider shadow patterns and remember that the sun is higher in the sky during summer and lower on the horizon in winter.

Foundation plantings also help insulate your home by creating dead air spaces. Don't “smoosh" the plants next to the foundation. People tend to do this because new small shrubs look lonely away from the house. Remember, trees and shrubs grow! Most shrubs should be planted at least four feet from the walls to account for growth and to allow for air space.

Tree placement contributes to a resource-effective garden. Plants also clean the air. They need carbon dioxide in order to photosynthesize and produce their energy for growth and produce oxygen as a byproduct.

Water-wise gardening, or xeriscaping, also makes the garden easy on the pocket book and resources. The word xeriscape is derived from the Greek word xeros, meaning dry. Xeriscaping is based on seven principles:

1. Proper planning and design: This includes the wind break/shading issues discussed above as well as devising your water and energy strategies.

2. Plant selection: Choose appropriate plants for your site. You can have moisture loving plants - they work well in a bog garden, a sunken area next to a downspout. Group plants with similar water requirements together.

3. Limit turf areas. If the only time you walk on your lawn is when you mow it, you may want to consider a different ground cover, whether its gravel, bark mulch, or drought tolerant plants.

4. Improve your soil. If you want moisture-loving plants, add plenty of compost and leaf mould to your soil to help it retain water.

5. Efficient irrigation: Incorporate soaker hoses and rain barrels into your plan. Direct your downspouts to thirsty trees. Avoid watering in the heat of the day when more water will be lost to evaporation.

6. Use mulch in the garden. Mulch can be a layer of bark fines, grass clippings, or even compost. It is an insulating layer atop the soil to moderate temperate fluctuations which stress plants and slow soil moisture evaporation.

7. Maintain your garden. Maintenance keeps your plants healthy and reduces the amount of water and compost going to unwanted weeds.

There you have it. You can garden and nourish your soul and be kind to the environment at the same time. Think about that the next time you are trying to justify the expense of a new plant purchase!

If you are interested in learning more there are several websites. Go to www.calhort.org/101/waterwise2.cfm to see information on a xeriscape project.

There are lots of drought tolerant perennials that offer colour and texture for the garden. Here are just a few:

  • Achillea filipendula - yarrow
  • Antennaria rosea - pussy toes
  • Artemisia schmidtiana ‘Silver Mound' - Silvermound artemesia
  • Artemisia stelleriana ‘Silver Brocade' - perennial dusty miller
  • Aster alpinus - alpine aster
  • Dianthus spp. - pinks
  • Echinaceae purpurea cvs - coneflower
  • Echinops ritro - globe thistle
  • Festuca glauca - blue fescue
  • Gypsophila repens - creeping baby's breath
  • Gallardia spp.- blanket flower
  • Liatris spp. - spiked gayfeather
  • Papaver nudicaule - Icelandic poppy
  • Papaver orientalis - Oriental poppy
  • Paeonia spp. - Peony
  • Sedum spp. - sedum
  • Sempervivum spp. - hens and chicks
  • Solidago - Goldenrod
  • Thymus spp. - thyme
  • Veronica whitleyii - Whitley's veronica
  • Yucca filamentosa - Yucca
  • Yucca. glauca - Yucca

- Barbara Kam provides consultation, design and ongoing garden maintenance to inner-city neighbourhoods and Springbank through her company, Edenscapes. She is co-author with Nora Bryan of the book The Prairie Winterscapes: Creative Gardening for the Forgotten Season. Her own garden has been featured in Gardens West magazine and seen on television. She can be reached at 245-4614 to help create or maintain your garden or get an existing garden in shape to enhance curb appeal and saleabilty.