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Archive for the ‘Water’ Category


Keyhole Gardens – a new take on growing vegetables with less water

Monday, March 3rd, 2014

A few months back, I did a garden consultation for a couple who asked me about building a keyhole garden in their backyard. Keyhole garden? It comes from Africa, they said, and it’s supposed to be a highly productive method for growing vegetables, yet uses very little water.

High productivity with little water? That’s my kind of gardening, so of course I turned to the Internet and started typing.

Read more here…


Turn the Water ON

Sunday, February 5th, 2012

This is the time of year when I’m usually telling people (in the strongest terms) to turn their irrigation systems off.  Problem is, we’ve had almost no rain this winter.  Our rainfall total is far below normal. While the weather is warm, sunny, and beautiful for us humans, it isn’t so beautiful for plants.  This is when low water plants in particular should be storing up to survive next summer when its dry.  Without that winter water, they may not make it through the rest of the year.

So, as much as it pains me to say it, Turn the Water On.  If you live along the coast where the weather is pretty mild, you probably don’t need to water more than once a week.  Inland where its warmer and drier, water a bit more often.  Either way, water for a long time each time.  Water until you stick your finger in the soil and its wet all the way down – even further.  Each time, water for the same amount of time, just change the frequency.

Though its February, we may still get some rain.  Last time we went dry for this long was winter, 1991.  I remember the day the skies opened up.  It was March 20th, and my water broke (literally) at 4 in the morning.  After a Madd Hatter ride in the pouring rain to the hospital, my son, Asher was born at 9:30 am.  I’ll never forget what they called “The March Miracle.” It was a rainfall miracle for the weathermen and a “welcome to parenthood” miracle for my husband and me.


Nan’s Garden Tip #101: Mulching Vegetable Gardens

Thursday, July 22nd, 2010

Want to make your vegetable garden more waterwise?  Here are two suggestions:

  • Switch to drip irrigation

Most vegetables dislike having wet leaves. In fact, wet leaves often become mildewed leaves.  Drip irrigation is far more efficient than overhead spray and it keeps leaves dry and mildew free.

  • Mulch with a three-inch thick layer of home-made compost.  If  you don’t have enough compost, use seedless straw.
  • Straw is the perfect vegetable mulch. It is lightweight, but keeps weeds down and soil moist

    Straw is the perfect vegetable mulch. It is lightweight, keeps weeds down and soil moist

Wood based mulches, stone and gravel mulches are fine for ornamental plants, but in the vegetable garden, home made compost and seedless straw are better choices.  Both insulate the soil from water loss and both are light enough for seeds to push through.

Zinnia seedlings poke up through the straw

Zinnia seedlings poke up through the straw

If you opt for straw, be sure you don‘t get hay or alfalfa or anything  that has lots of seeds.  Why?  Years ago, I mulched with straw and grew a lovely bed of wheat…. instead of tomatoes!

If you can get old straw, that’s even better.  As straw ages, the  fibers start breaking down and residual seeds begin to rot.   That’s a good thing.

And, old straw can’t be sold for animal bedding, so feed stores (the best places to get straw) often regard them as waste.  In fact, they may even give you the straw for free!

If you don’t have room to store an entire bale of straw, ask for a “flake.”  A flakes is simply a section of a bale.

This bale of straw will last me two or three seasons

This bale of straw will last me two or three seasons


Bye Bye Grass!

Saturday, July 3rd, 2010

Its the “default landscape,” the “worry-free garden,” “the easiest thing in the world” – or is it?

More and more, people acknowledge they are tired of having to mow, water, fertilize, weed, and pesticide (is that a verb?) lawn that they hardly ever use. Fortunately, there are lots of options for replacing lawn with gardens that are beautiful and far easier to care for.  (read more…)

This lovely patio, fire ring, seating area and water feature replaced our old lawn

This lovely patio, fire ring, seating area and water feature replaced our old lawn


My Greener, Waterwise World

Wednesday, June 9th, 2010

I had a delightful morning as I welcomed the crew from Growing a Greener World into my garden.  Growing a Greener World is the new PBS television gardening series hosted by Joe Lamp’l, one of my co-authors on my latest book, Waterwise Plants for the Southwest.

My reaction to working with Joe Lamp'l and his crew on Growing a Greener World

Theresa Loe, associate producer for Joe’s show, contacted me about being the guest expert for an episode on saving water in the garden.  Since that’s exactly what I spend most of my life talking,  writing about, teaching people to do, and doing myself, I was delighted to participate.

Me and Joe Lamp'l in my garden shooting an episode of Growing a Greener World

Me and Joe Lamp'l in my garden shooting an episode of Growing a Greener World

Joe and I discussed low water gardening, why it is important, and why I started doing it.  Being a California native, I have known forever that water is a precious resource.  One of my major gardening goals is to create maximum beauty with as little water as possible.

We toured my garden, looking at my new, low-water meadow, now six months old.

Part way through planting my new meadow

Part way through planting my new meadow

We talked about how to select plants that are waterwise, whether you live in Maine or Miami.  We most talked about efficient irrigation technologies, and ways to grow vegetables with as little water as possible.

Joe and his crew were a delight to work with.  The show will air on or around September 11th this year.  I can’t wait to see it!

Carl (or maybe Kilroy?) sets up a shot

Carl (or maybe Kilroy?) sets up a shot

Leo decides between iPhone and video camera

Leo decides between iPhone and video camera


The Water is ON

Tuesday, March 24th, 2009

I just turned the water on.

Is that a big deal?

I’m talking about irrigation water. And YES its a big deal because it has been off since  October. Yes OCTOBER.

How did I manage to avoid watering for nearly six months? Easy! I grow low water plants.

When I started working on this garden in 1992, all the other gardeners I knew labored to create the perfect, flower-filled English garden.  I was planting my back corner with natives. While they toiled over roses, I planted aloes and agaves. When everyone wanted a lush lawn, I went for ornamental grasses set amidst un-thirsty flowering shrubs from Australia and South Africa.

My goal was, and still is, to see how much beauty I can create using as little water as possible.

So how did I do? Judge for yourself. Most of the photos decorating the pages of this website are photos from my garden.  Previous blog entries have photos of my garden as well.

A low water, high flower combination: golden orange South African annual Ursinia anthemoides  with 'Dusky Rose' California native poppy

A low water, high flower combination: golden orange South African annual Ursinia anthemoides with 'Dusky Rose' California native poppy

I can’t take credit for it all, of course. I am fortunate to have good advice from designer Linda Chisari who helped with the original design for my backyard (in 1992) and became a valued friend in the process.  Nearly a decade later, designer Scott Spencer, another of my favorite people, got me going in the front yard. I have learned and continue to learn a tremendous amount from both of them.

And then there are the dozens of nursery folk who endure my never-ending questions as I search and research plants to write about, talk about, and of course, try out in my garden.

Not that my garden is entirely low water. I couldn’t live without a vegetable garden (I have a hard time understanding how anyone can live without a vegetable garden).

Late summer harvest in the vegetable garden

Late summer harvest in the vegetable garden

Vegetables take a considerable amount of water, but I use drip irrigation to target the water to each plant and drip it directly into the ground above the roots, so it is used very efficiently.
Fruit trees take more water than natives, but probably not as much as you’d expect. Deciduous fruit trees – those that are bare in winter – need water only when they are actively growing in spring and summer.

Evergreen fruit trees need water year-round except when it is raining. Still, their well-established roots are less thirsty than, say, an equal area of lawn.

And besides, if I am going to spend water, I want to spend it on plants that give me something back – like food!