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Water-Saving Gardens by Pam Penick

Pam Penick

Pam Penick

Pam Penick, who grew up in the southeastern part of our country, wasn’t expecting the very dry garden she would get when she and her husband moved to Austin, Texas. The years she has spent learning how to have a beautiful dry garden have resulted in a desire to share all she has learned.

The Water-Saving Garden: How to Grow a Gorgeous Garden with a Lot Less Water (Ten Speed Press $19.99) begins by showing us some beautiful low-water gardens, in case we thought it was really impossible, and then teaches us the many ways to accomplish that kind of garden.

She urges us to make our gardens water savers, not water guzzlers. That means learning about the various ways that we can keep water from the heavens on our property and preventing it from draining away into the streets and sewers. In our own area we are familiar with the benefits of rain barrels, and even rain cisterns that can hold 500 gallons or more. Rain gardens are less familiar here but there is enormous benefit to keeping rainwater from the roof or parking lots on site instead of sending that dirty water into drains that may end up in streams and rivers.

Berming, microbasins and swales are other techniques that can be used, as well as creating permeable paths and patios by using unmortared stone pavers, gravel or mulch.

Penick gives full directions for these techniques and then launches into water-saving design elements like eliminating lawn. Penick is not a purist, she sees the beauty and appeal of lawn, but suggests that it need not be the main element of our property. Choosing lawn grasses that are more drought tolerant is another way to handle the desire for a lawn.

After planning comes the actual planting. Penick discusses drought resistant plants, and native plants that thrive in your climate and soil. There is so much to consider when planning any garden and Penick’s view is certainly comprehensive.

I was particularly charmed by the chapters on creating the illusion of water. There are photos of grasses that ripple in the wind, wavy clipped hedges, weeping trees, a meandering ‘stream’ made of a single type of groundcover or flower, dry steam beds or even a reflecting pond made by a mirror.

The Water-Saving Garden by Pam Penick

The Water-Saving Garden by Pam Penick     Photo courtesy of Ten Speed Press

Penick concludes with 101 plants for water-saving gardens. Here in Massachusetts we don’t have Austin’s blistering climate, at least not most of the time, but this year our gardens have suffered for lack of rain. The whole region has been declared a drought region. Indeed, the whole country is experiencing more drought and we all need to think about water conservation. If we are going to cut down on supplemental watering we need to think about drought tolerant plants, unless we have a special fund to cover our increased water bills. Many of the drought tolerant plants on Penick’s list are very happy in our part of the world.

Penick is a garden designer, an award winning blogger and the author of Lawn Gone! which I have written about in the past. She has also written for Garden Design, Organic Life and Wildflower. She is a conversational and graceful writer who will delight as well as educate and inspire.

Mystery Solved

Last week in my column on weeds I included a photo of a mystery plant. Before I even woke on Saturday I received an email from Liz Pichette who said it was an aster, Symphyotrichum cordifolium, or heartleaf aster. I was glad she agreed with my waffly thought that it was an aster, but after checking my plant again, I did not see any heart shaped leaves.

However, Liz quickly sent another email saying she thought the tall plant by my porch that I described, but did not provide a photo, was wild lettuce.  Had I ever heard of wild lettuce? No. She gave the name Lactuca biennis, which I then checked on the Minnesota Wildflowers website and it matched perfectly, down to the very very fine hairs on the stem.

Lactuca biennis identified

Lactuca biennis identified

Shirley Pelletier also sent me an email and said the aster looked like the “common wild aster” to her – and I agreed with my weed book which listed the white heath aster as very common. It also said that the branching flower panicles could account for half the height of the plant. I ran out to look again at my plant, and sure enough, the branching portion of the plant is half the height. This business of identifying a plant means very careful observations of all the parts of the plant, and it helps if you have the vocabulary to match up what you observe with the written scientific descriptions in a guide book.

Thank you Liz and Shirley for being so helpful. I resolve to be more observant.###
Between the Rows   August 20, 2016

 Lilian Jackman is the owner of Wilder Hill Gardens in Conway and I have written about her wonderful gardens in the past. On Sunday, September 4  she is inviting everyone to her garden and the dedication of her two stone stupas which are Buddhist sacred sculptures. There will be activities for all, including the children, Tibetan dancing, and food. Come between 3 and 5 PM and join the celebration. There is no cost, but donations are welcome.

1 comment to Water-Saving Gardens by Pam Penick

  • Pat, thank you so much for your thoughtful and detailed review of my book! I’m delighted to hear that you especially liked the section on creating the illusion of water with plants, stone, and glass, as it was especially fun to write. I believe that section particularly appeals to those who love fresh design ideas, as well as whimsy in a garden. There’s no reason we can’t have fun while making waterwise gardens!

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