Dealing with Dry Spells

At first I wasn't sure just what he was talking about. My elderly neighbor's brother had come up to visit from his home in Florida, and he was prattling on about "exerscaping," which, I imagined, must surely combine the rigors of Tae Bo with wielding a hoe. It wasn't until he mentioned his giant stands of salvia and plummeting water bills that I realized what he really meant to say -- xeriscaping.

Pronounced with a "z" sound (like xylophone!) xeriscaping is landscaping with drought-tolerant plants in lieu of the usual monoculture lawns, and it got its start out west, where water is sometimes hard to come by. Conserving water by installing low-maintenance, native plants is a great idea, but, believe it or not, there was a time when sundry homeowners' associations, hell-bent on all things being matchy-matchy, actually pooh-poohed the practice. Fortunately, even that's turning around -- and just in time.

Last year, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reported that the average temperature of the earth's surface rose by 0.74 degrees Celsius in the last century, and, provided greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase at present rates, they expect the earth's surface temperature to increase by about three degrees over the next 100 years. That's quite a dramatic difference, and I've already noticed some of the consequences of climate change in my neck of the woods.

I've been trying to keep up with the changes as best as I can. Like choosing plants that don't mind the tougher conditions and clustering them together in areas that were once occupied by nothing but high-maintenance turf. So over the years, my lawn has gotten increasingly smaller and my xeriscape -- including lots of lavender, sedum, verbena, Joe-Pye weed, and even prickly pear cacti -- has grown larger and larger. I rarely have to weed or water those patches once they become well-established, and they still look nice. Well, at least they usually look nice. As a result of our current drought conditions, I admit that even the plants which typically thrive on neglect are looking rather neglected; nevertheless, I'm pleased to report the visiting Floridian nodded approvingly when he popped over to see my own stab at "exerscaping."