Growing tropical-looking plants in the Phoenix, Arizona area. With a wiener dog.

February 9, 2018

How to create a xeriscape garden without making your neighbors hate you

In a longish life, something that I encounter in just about everything is the tendency of people to go to extremes. It doesn't matter what, they go to extremes with exercise, either trying to run a marathon or sitting on the couch, they go to extremes with technology, either trying to own every gadget in the world or not even touching anything like that. And in gardening, I find that the extremes are either: hugely wasteful gardens or vicious-looking plants and weeds. It just makes we want to twang a sad guitar, so I write here in this blog.

If you're tempted to go to an extreme, I think I can help. Because your neighbors will hate you if you just put stuff in your yard that makes it look like an abandoned lot, or if everything there is so deadly that it's dangerous for children to walk past it.

Start by thinking about why you are planting anything in your front yard. Speaking for myself, I do it for the same reason that I've always washed my cars - it's not in preparation for a sale, I just like the way it looks. I like to come home every day and be proud of my home. This is where I live, this is what I see every day. To me, it just makes sense to make it beautiful. But as a frugal person, and someone who lives in the desert, I want it to look great with a minimum use of water.

If your goal is to minimize the use of water and effort it takes for your yard, then by all means leave it as dirt. You could maybe throw a couple of rocks out there, and some deadly-looking cactus, like prickly pear, or cholla. And if you're that kind of person, I guess I understand. I remember the creepy old people who lived in my neighborhood when I was a kid, and that's what they did. They didn't care. As I get to the age that those people were, which was about 50 to 100, I see that attitude creep in. I see elderly people who have given up on their personal appearance, walking out to get their mail looking as if they should have been buried weeks ago, or going to the store with enough nose hair that it makes children cry.

If you're not one of those people, then you can have a responsible xeriscape garden without making your neighbors hate you. And it starts with a little research. I live in Glendale, and I started at the Main Library, which has a xeriscape demonstration garden. From there I selected things that I liked, which used very little water, and also learned how to install a low-pressure watering system. My watering system is very low-tech, and just runs on battery-operated timers. The lines are simply an inch or so below the gravel, and water travels up to where it's needed with tubes and risers and waters only the area that needs water. There is no overspray, no water running down the sidewalk. I use so little water here that it's just ridiculous. And not only does it save me money, but it makes me feel good about living in an area where water is precious.

So please, stop insisting that xeriscape means making your yard an eyesore. And leave the deadly cactus plants, especially cholla and prickly pear, out in the desert, well away from where a child might be riding their tricycle. And if you choose to plant agaves, and I do, be sure that they're very far away from where anyone might be walking by. The tips of those things are needle sharp, and should never be where someone might stumble into them!

I hope this helps. If you've read this far, that's a good sign. If you want to know more about xeriscape gardening, visit the Glendale Main library, or just read any of the posts in this blog.
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