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Xeriscape Gardening
by Dr. Oneida Cramer

The annual Xeriscape Tour of gardens, sponsored by the City of Dallas Water Utilities, during the first weekend in June took on anew dimension this year with the implementation of the new summertime water restrictions for Dallas residents, which states that sprinkler systems can not run between 10 am and 6 pm from June 1 though September 30.

For Judy Fender, master gardener and landscape consultant (214-367-8799), whose home was on the tour, the new water restrictions did not change her gardening techniques one iota.

?I have no sprinkler system, ? said Fender. ?If you plan wisely and plant wisely, most of your plants will do well on normal rainfall and only have to be supplemented, after they?re established, if we don?t have rain for a period of time.? She does use soaker hoses, however, which is permissible according to the new policy. And she supplements her roses, but only by hand watering with a hose. Hand watering is also permitted under the new restrictions.

?If you?re capable or able, physically, to go out in the garden and hand water, that?s your time to really enjoy the garden. It?s like putting the lines on the doorframe and watching your child grow. It?s not a chore; it?s like?oh, how this has grown, I?ve got to trim it.? In addition to the occasional watering and pruning, Fender?s xeriscape garden requires very little maintenance.

?I like to enjoy my garden,? Fender said. ?I don?t want to be a slave to it. So, if something is a problem in the garden, I can always pick it up, compost it?that?s what shovels and pruners are for.?

?I use my yard as a test garden, too,? Fender said. ?I?ll buy different plants and things to see just how they do. There are so many things that you can grow here and have an attractive yard 12 months of the year. And there are so many things that you can bring into your yard that will flower or berry or fruit or seed and will attract birds.?

?Knowing Judy, she doesn?t fuss over individual plants at all,? said Garden writer and photographer, Larry Maupin (214-349-3133) who was photographing the Fender garden on the day of the tour.

The highest maintenance kind of landscape is what?s called the monoculture where you have nothing but shrubs and holly, for example; basically just two species, according to Maupin.

?If something attacks your holly or your grass, then you?ve lost half your landscaping,? Maupin said But in a xeriscape garden, there is very little concentration of any one kind of plant anywhere. And it?s that separation that reduces the spread of plant specific diseases. Take, for example, that over a hundred varieties of roses can be found scattered through out the Fender garden. Yet, her garden is not considered a rose garden although she does concentrate the roses into a rose garden path that runs along the east side of the house. The roses are placed about ten feet apart with other plants in between. And often, these other plants repel the insects that attack roses.

?Lawns were invented in England about 400-500 years ago,? Maupin said. ?So, we?ve kind of absorbed this culture.? However lately, because of the emphasis on water ecology, there is a trend, so to speak, of coming back to gardens designed in the way they were originally intended to be, i.e., with a variety of plants. Just think of the woods, where in any given location, a person usually sees more than one species of trees, for instance. Such is the theory behind the concept of whole natural gardening.

?Your biggest water eater is your lawn,? Fender said. ?If people would put gardens in the middle of their front yard, they could take up some of that grass, reroute the sprinkler system, and use less water.? A quick survey of homes around town does find encroaching gardens moving out from the residential structure onto what was once strict lawn territory. At the White Rock Pump Station, a garden path illustrates how effective a walkway can be at separating lawn from xeriscaping and also become the access for getting up close to xeriscape plantings.

Meandering garden paths, in fact, often look something like adventure trails when they are found in a xeriscape garden, where they also define and encircle the different pocket gardens that make up the personality of the garden. In the Fender garden, for instance, there is the butterfly habitat with cone shaped flowers that accommodate the configuration of the butterfly proboscis, and near-by, there are plant leaves, provided by different plant species, for nesting the butterfly eggs.

Creating a garden path can be as easy as scattering a trail of pebbles or stones or, perhaps, grassy bedding for something soft underfoot.

?If you have large areas of cement, you?re going to absorb more heat, and that will be conducted into the ground,? Fender said. ?If you have lots of gravel walkways in the yard, the temperature in the soil is going to be lot hotter because the stone is going to conduct heat to the ground. One of the things that people don?t do, that they should do, is mulch. Mulch is a wonderful thing. It acts like insulation so, that it protects your plant roots. The other thing is that mulch will decompose and become part of the organic matter and, thus, attract worms. Worms crawl through the ground; they aerate the soil; they make worm castings, which enriches your soil. Mulch also helps keep moisture in the ground.?

In order to lower a $400 monthly water bill for a homeowner, Fender re-designed the landscape to house several xerixcape garden rooms. She put slate stone around the rooms to separate the gardens and build a path. Then, in between the stones, she planted herbs that require very little water. All in all, the xeriscaping cut down on the watering by 55%.

?These things could become marketing tools for homes,? Fender said. ?Yard maintenance takes up a lot of water, a lot of fertilizer. Xeriscape gardening cuts into those costs and requires very little maintenance, making them easily transferable to new owners when they move into a home. For instance, the xeriscape garden that Fender created at her own home that she later sold in 1985 still remains in place today.

-by Dr. Oneida Cramer
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