Saturday, January 31, 2009

Xeriscaping and Nativescaping

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Yesterday evening I attended two lectures given back to back, one on xeriscaping and the other on nativescaping.  Xeriscaping is landscaping in a manner that reduces water usage that may or may not include native plants, whereas nativescaping is designing a landscape using native plants.

The xeriscaping lecture was first and although I didn't learn much that I didn't already know it was nevertheless good to hear it again, plus it was good to know that my plans for my new home's landscape are on the right track.  Here are seven principles that she discussed:

1) Start with a good plan/design.  Make sure you understand your property's slope, exposure, microclimates, needs of existing plantings, as well as your own needs.  And of course know any restrictions put on your by your home owners' association if you belong to one--and if you do then get on to the board so you can change the rules to allow for xeriscaping.  Read the labels of plants before you buy a plant to be sure you can meet its needs and understand its mature size.

2) Prepare and improve your soil.  ADD COMPOST!  If your soil has too much clay then compost will help break it up, if your soil has too much sand then compost will act like a sponge to hold water.  Do a soil test and add any other components your soil needs.

4) Use mulches to reduce evaporation and to discourage weeds.  She doesn't recommend soil fabrics because they make it difficult to amend the soil, instead use finished compost and top it with bark.  She recommends making sure the color of the bark will compliment the color of your house.

5) Limit your lawns to only where it's truly functional for you. C'mon, how much lawn do you really need?  Wouldn't you rather increase your lush, colorful, and beautiful garden beds?  I have two young boys so I need a lot of lawn, but even so I'm still planning on removing large sections of my lawn to increase my garden.

6) Plant in zones.  She recommends having an "oasis" of water loving plants that you love near a high usage area close to your house, like outside the front door or off of your back deck.  Then there should be a zone surrounding your house of medium water reliant plants, and then farthest from your house should be the driest plants.  She recommends cutting out an irregular shaped edge around your lawn where it touches your driveway and sidewalk, and replacing the turf with heat loving plants because the paving materials reflect a lot of heat into these areas.  If you use straight lines for your border, instead of irregular lines, then be sure that there's a focal point at the end of these lines like your front door or a sculpture.  And of course you should read plant labels before selecting a plant to be sure you plant it in the correct zone and to be sure you plan for its mature size.

7) Regularly maintain your landscape.  Xeriscaped landscapes need some tending to get established but then they should require less maintenance.  Plants that are in the right site for the conditions they need (exposure, soil, drainage, water) are happy and won't be bothered by pests, all they'll need is a little bit of weeding and maybe some pruning--but mostly they'll just sit there and look pretty for you.


The next lecture was about nativescaping.  Here we are in the desert and he planted his own lawn with native grasses that he waters and mows once every three weeks!  Most of what he said applies specifically to our area but I'll share a couple of universal things with you.

1) Maintenance versus stewardship.  Maintenance is keeping a landscape just the way it is and just the way you imagine it should be, stewardship is working with the landscape to make it the best it can be.  For example, if you have a plant that's not doing well in its spot and requires a lot of maintenance then maybe you should replace it with something else.  Or if you have a large meadow filled with wildflowers and some weeds move in, maybe it's better to let a few weeds go rather than to risk trampling down the flowers to go pull it out.  If the weed is a native plant then it probably has some benefit in the landscape and you should recognize the benefit rather than curse it as a weed.

2. THIS IS PROBABLY THE MOST IMPORTANT THING I LEARNED ALL NIGHT!  When you read about a plant's attributes don't confuse edible with tastes good.  He said, "I said you could eat it, I didn't say it was yummy." LOL! Good advice.

I highly recommend that you learn about native plants in your area and try to plant them in your garden when possible.  I was really surprised to find out how many garden worthy native plants we have here in the Idaho desert, and even more surprised that I've never seen these plants in nurseries!  If you use native plants in your own garden you will not only decrease the amount of maintenance needed, but you'll also provide food for your native birds and insects!  Don't we all want to see more birds and butterflies in our gardens? I do.


Happy gardening!

Monday, January 12, 2009

on the road again

All preparations are finished and I am about to climb on my bike and head off to Sydney in a day or so. It is not a long ride at all, only about 300km of cycling but I intend to have a few days camping here and there along the way so it could take anywhere from 10 days to a month depending on what captivates me. For a change I may use an inland route, through rural farmlands ,instead of the usual coastal path I have ridden so often before. It may be that it is just too hot to go inland, as it is now in the hottest part of the year, where temperatures often top 40C or +/-100f  and higher and seldom going below 30 - 35C. Being peak season the cooler coast is busy with both cars and  people and the thought of free camping along rivers and the quiet of the countryside instead is very appealing.

I will mostly camp, as I go, in forestry areas , National parks and If I take the inland route - camp on riverbanks and waysides which always gives me a feel of adventure. I take all sorts of things  with me apart from my camera of course I am hoping to get in a bit of reading, take photos, fish, write a little, explore places that interest me and hopefully meet some locals along the way.  I will too of course have an mp3 player for my music - it has FM so I can keep up to date with whats happening about the world which is another bonus.

I have not been on multiply very much of late so far as creating blogs, commenting on blogs or photo albums etc. There has been too much happening in my daily life both with my time and head-space so have not really participated except for looking at what everyone is posting. Anyway when settled in Sydney I will most likely get back into the swing of things and motivated toward creating more posts. En route,
I will find some internet cafe's and post updates on my progress and keep you up to date - make all you in the Northern Hemisphere envious the warm summer we are enjoying down here while you enjoy the ice and snow.

So in the words of one of my favourites, Willie Nelson I say farewell see you in a month or so ....

"On the Road again -
just can't wait to get on the Road again......."