It is almost embarrassing to live in Louisville, Kentucky owing to the current weather trends. In mid-November we have yet to experience below freezing temperatures. The entire year has been incredibly moderate with near perfect periodic rainfall supplying near-perfect landscaping conditions. The very notion of some impending drought seems ultimately wacky.
But I sympathize with other geographical micro climates, having lived there and having always suspected this pass of water angst. The ideas below may seem absurd to Kentuckians, yet many of the artistic principles are being adopted here for purely aesthetic reasons. That is a also product of smaller land areas and sometimes with homes built on tricky land forms. Urban life, of course, deals heavily with dense populations and somewhat smaller plots for homes. And – make no mistake – water will become an issue at some point, even if it implies shipping it out and allocations of local water intentionally allotted at a higher level to those in need. And now I am making this unnecessarily long.
I have 500 posts in a blog produced over the past 9 years, making it incredibly easy to forget how many times I have addressed a topic. 😉
It turns out, after a small audit, I have a dozen or more articles relating to water conservation. In reviewing these, it was almost like playing Pin The Tail On The Donkey choosing which ones to recirculate and why. But topical it remains, this entire water problem, particularly now with corporations buying water rights as a new investment tool, then undoubtedly allocating the supplies which were once free-wheeling and natural to us all. I hope the seriousness with which I view this now-growing problematic situation comes through.
All pictures in this post are of my own designs and installations. I have always felt a personal experience viewpoint delivers a more impactful statement of a subject of any complexity at all, because we can see my own adaptations to the realities, instead of it being some theoretical concept.
Water may well end up as the “new Oil”, in terms of resource value. Understanding this will matter as time goes on, especially Out West in the United States, as well as in countless other climates and continents. This is a recirculated post which – combined with a part 2 – explains how one town deals with landscaping in the midst of water shortages.
With the thought of conserving water borne foremost in mind, what does an unrepentant garden lover do to adjust to the new realities? How do we change the way we design gardens and landscapes? What fundamental changes are required in us to develop gardens in still-beautiful ways when we face so many hard decisions about social responsibility and in such a public way? Let’s face it – as I have said before, landscaping is the “Ultimate Cosmetic”. No one deals with a larger palette.
(click on pictures to enlarge)
What do we do when we find out we have an actual budgeted amount of water use? As absurd as this question may sound, it is the height of design wisdom. Water auditing for existing landscapes and gardens have been and should take place prior to their installation or further development. A sense of how much water we have used in the past should reflect favorably on making changes to lessen them in some very specific ways. The methods are out there and the results for redeveloping existing lawns and gardens as well as for installing future ones can be and should be more than exciting, actually. There is much to learn but it does not have to be anywhere close to disastrous. The fact is, done right, we can literally make things better as opposed to merely settling for some dire end.
(click all images to enlarge)
What to do with grass lawns?
In the first place, the primary sponge for water in typical landscapes remains lawns. I have always maintained that cutting down lawn space actually can give a completely new and fresher look to an existing home landscape. While lawns serve a variety of functions, including a place for children to play (perhaps its most important role, IMO), they do not have to be a monolithic presence. Broken up appropriately, over time, a lawn can change into many things, among them an adjunct and contrast to new color and new features. Lawns do not have to be gigantic at all. Inasmuch as their cool characteristics make them so similar to water in a landscape design’s effects, leaving a pool or “lake” of green is wise and refreshing.
Cutting the size down to resemble a feature in their own right can include shaping them to reflect their “semi-aqueous” nature. It can set a lawn apart, actually and thereby take advantage of how glorious colors look as a backdrop to swaths of green.
Grass can be engineered to resemble a literal trail, or pathway. Instead of having a monstrous assembly of grass as a mono-colored foreground, it can lead to interesting places, offering a cool walk in bare feet to inspect the place better. At the same time we find it interesting in form as well as function. The gentle and most inviting curves of a lawn lead the eye on in a wholesome way, appreciating the structure and form of a landscape itself. It’s a bath in cooling and soothing color and texture – the perfect use of grass lawns to a designer.
Lawn grasses have been developed now which send their roots an insane depth, which require far less watering and are virtually geared to a more responsible water usage. They stay just as green for longer during Summers- in fact, more so than Bluegrass – owing to their drought tolerant natures.
My bottom line is this: so far, I have not cut out the notion of grass lawns, simply because I happen to love them. Admittedly, they should be used far, far less in desert climates – among others – and there is a body of thought that has no need whatsoever for a lawn to make a garden beautiful. In fact, let’s visit some of them now.
How do we replace lawns in design?
This is a huge and interesting subject. It reflects all that is newest in landscaping, from the array and plenitude of hard-scaping materials to even water features themselves. I realize how ironic it must seem to proclaim a water feature to be some sort of alternative method of landscaping with less water. But they do. And they do it well, indeed.
Water features recirculate water. Once filled, the same water does the same dance over and over and over – well, you get it. Yes, there can be evaporation loss and, yes, we install automatic fill mechanisms to “top off” the feature once it reaches a certain lowered level. But, even in hot and sun-drenched and hot Nevada, we rarely run a 3/4″ feed pipe more than 2 minutes a day on normal sized features, implying the use of about 30 gallons, or less than a shower a day.
Landscapes whose be-all and end-all in the past was a wide expanse of lawn studded with trees have now become far more complex and interesting. In place of the expensive water-thirsty lawn, we now have “features”, like this water feature and the pretty patio and walkway pictured here. Full of color and shape, the carnival atmosphere lightens the mood yet still provides a consistency of form and function. The ultimate irony of a landscape such as this is that, after figuring the watering costs for a lawn set ion the same place over time, this place will have comparatively paid for itself in three years. After that it is just beauty and money.
The home owner of this place below wanted lawn and nothing else. He owns a car dealership and he listened closely as we explained what the costs of lawns was and where they were headed. As a businessman, he investigated on his own as well, having some thinking fodder to work with. Delighted with his research, he assigned the water feature you see below which he thoroughly and absolutely relishes watching as it rushes along below his patio deck above. Lit up at night, the falls and the creek have phosphorescent appearances at three different falls locations. As with all well-installed features, such as lighting and waterfalls with pumps, it runs off a timer and stops automatically to preserve power. He also served good wine. 😉
A different mind set in general accompanies all this increasingly complex designing, now that the monolithic lawn is out of consideration. Suddenly, things like more patio space are entertained. The notion of sculpting the actual land by creating hills and mounds studded with rocks and plants becomes a fascinating alternative, making the entirety of any landscape suddenly more riveting an event. More park-like, less boring, more interesting and livelier by far, suddenly we are actually released to play around a little bit. Art seeps into the equation at about this time and all designers, I bet, can trace the moment of this discovery. It actually gets a bit intimidating, the truth is, because designers become far freer to experiment and to entertain alternatives for the regular folks – instead of just for the wealthy. In fact, it becomes an imperative.
We arrive at features like Bubble Rocks.
We do new things – different things – things like inserting lighting, making vineyards, enlarging patio space and making walking platforms from natural stone – all of which I will show next as we consider what features we deem suitable for a water-conserving regime which retains beauty before all else.
This is a great post – very useful especially now with summer approaching.
Thanks, Annette. Where you live, in Israel, drip irrigation is all the rage and responsible for some great agricultural innovations. You guys are using your water well.
Steve, this is brilliant. Thinking about an exact water budget before planting is an idea whose time has come. Thinking about landscapes in terms of paybacks is a brilliant way to put it to people unfamiliar with water-saving ideas. And I love the creative use of small lawn patches; I agree on so many points. Lawns are terrible water-eaters (and for people who use chemicals, terrible toxic sinks) – but they are really nice for kids to play on and adults to lie on. The wavy lawn-strips illustrate a great compromise, along with the rest of the design (including characteristic beautiful stonework) which beautifully illustrates how interesting a landscape can get when you stop thinking in tenth-generation cliches.
Well, the technology is there to audit water use. Actually, it always has been, of course. It’s just that there have been so many innovative methods of still supplying water without the wastage that has caused such a major upheaval in the possibilities. It really has opened it wide up for art.
I have been concerned about aging any more. My daughter and her friends are just ruthless, as are my own “friends”. I hate thinking I have advanced to the eleventh generation now. 😉
water conservation should be done because we are already having some water shortage these days*`;
Just gave me some great ideas. GREAT article
Water conservation is a tough thing to get people to learn where I live… could become a problem in the future. Good article.
Human consumption of water has gone beyond the thing of watchfulness and has, instead, entered an area of vast concern producing water conservation resources of paramount concern to everybody on a planet. At its most basic, water conservation strives to offer resources that the average homeowner can utilize and thus become part of the product or service rather than remaining component with the problem…
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