Xeriscaping

I think I vaguely got a story out of this. Very experimental, but I’m happy with how it turned out and I was able to maintain a rhyming pattern (if not rhythm or meter) throughout the poem.

*By the way, “xeris” is short for “xeriscape” or a dry, hostile landscape. I shortened it to rhyme slightly better with “is” but…meh.

“The A to Z of Death and Liars”

Brave New Gardening for Brave New Climates

“Awareness is changing in a way that is here to stay,” said Brian Sullivan, a vice president for landscapes at The New York Botanical Garden. “Yard by yard, region by region, the overall environmental impact of this trend, which I think is very positive, is substantial.”

With drought a very real threat for much of the country, and indeed the world, that classic English lawn is looking decidedly less appetizing, no matter how easy it is on the eyes. Water bills and fertilizing issues only exacerbate the problem. That said, ripping out your entire lawn and replacing it with hardy local plants and vegetables is quickly becoming a more reasonable option than the average H.O.A. is willing to admit.

Head through for a nifty article on the growing popularity (and environmental boon) of conscientious lawns, from using hardier grass cultivars to full on xeriscaping. —MN

Photo credit: Michael Savageau/Associated Press

4

What is greywater?

Adapted from Growing Food in the Southwest Mountains:  A guide to high-altitude, semi-arid home permaculture gardens, 4th edition:

Greywater is wastewater from sinks, showers and washing machines. There are different grades of wastewater:

  • Clearwater is clean, unsoftened tap water that normally goes down the drain when you are heating up shower, bath or sink water. Use it for any purpose.
  • Softened water and water softener backwash are high in salt and not suitable for reuse on plants.
  • Light grey greywater includes water from showers/baths, washing machines in which only plain soap is used and kitchen sinks in vegan households. Plain soap does not contain any additives that could harm plants or soil organisms. Light grey greywater can be used to irrigate fruit and nut trees and shrubs, as well as other food plants that do not have edible parts near the ground.
  • Dark grey greywater includes water from kitchen sinks where animal products are processed, and dishwashers and washing machines where detergents are used. Dark grey greywater should not be used in vegetable or herb gardens. Non-edible plants are the best choice for this water, followed by fruit and nut trees.
  • Blackwater is flushed toilet water, as well as water from washing machines contaminated by dirty diapers. It should never be reused. Blackwater can be treated in properly-designed wetlands such as the “living machine” designs created by John Todd. Avoid creating blackwater by installing a compost toilet.
  • Wastewater from utility sinks usually contains grease or toxic cleaners, paints, dyes and other substances. Never use wastewater on plants.

My greywater systems

Because the Southwest USA is experiencing a severe droughtone of the driest winters on record—we have started using our two very simple greywater systems much earlier in the year than we normally do. In the Southwest, spring is one of our two dry seasons (the other is fall, with monsoon rains in between if we are lucky). We normally start using greywater in late April or early May to water the two apple trees in front of our townhouse, four poplar shade trees along the west side of the house, and barberry shrubs on both the front and side of the house.

The beds will be watered almost exclusively with greywater until the monsoon rains arrive. Because of this practice, root vegetables, such as the Welsh (walking) onions and leeks I grow around my apple trees, cannot be eaten until at least a month has passed without any greywater use (bulbs are good fruit tree guild companions). Living in Arizona, I accept this condition in order to have lush oasis zone garden beds (the oasis zone is the most water-intensive zone in a xeriscape garden; more about xeriscaping in future posts).

(I have self-watering raised beds on the west side of the house that are watered exclusively with tap water for growing baby leafy greens, rhubarb, and other foods that should not come into direct contact with greywater.)

The top photos show the greywater outlet from our washing machine, which is downstairs. Water from the washing machine is routed through plastic PVC pipes into a clump of barberry shrubs on the western side of the house. At the washer, we have a set of two valves to control whether water flows to the outside plants (left valve) or to the city sewer system (right valve). If I am using hot water to wash raw wool fleece, felt thrift store sweaters or dye fiber, fabric or yarn in the washer, I close the greywater valve and open the waste water valve.

The downstairs shower drain is directly connected to a garden hose that runs out the front of the garage—meaning the shower cannot be used without greywater coming out of the hose. During the winter and summer monsoon rainy season we simply do not shower downstairs; as the downstairs is office space for us, that is not a problem. To reuse the shower water, we simply move the hose to a different tree or group of barberry shrubs each time we shower. In the bottom photo the hose is directed to one of the apple trees. There are auxiliary hoses along the west side of the house to connect the shower hose directly to each poplar tree (those trees shade the house in summer).

Using greywater safely and effectively requires some knowledge about soaps and detergents, soil and greywater microbiology and safe handling practices. Future posts will discuss what you need to know about greywater to get started on using it in your own gardens.

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Plant of the Week: Lambs Ears

Sorry for the hiatus. I’ve been busy. Back to business:

This week features Lambs Ears (Stachys byzantina), one of my favorites. As with all other past plant of the week selections, these fuzzy fellas are perennial evergreens that like full sun and need little water.

Each Lambs Ear plant grows about a foot high with a spread of 1.5 feet. The soft leaves resemble lamb ears in both their shape and texture, which, for those of you who don’t remember the last time you actually rubbed a lamb’s ear, feels remarkably like the smooth, delicate skin on the inside of a dog’s ear but covered in a soft, silvery fuzz.

This drought-tolerant perennial (yes, it comes back year after year (in theory)) makes great edging for a flower bed because it’s relatively low to the ground. From about May to June (late spring), Lambs Ears will send up spikes adorned with purple blooms. 

Photo Credit: www.mygarden.org

If you’re looking to spruce up the yard and need a low-maintenance plant in a drought-prone region, add Lambs Ears to the list of contenders. At the very least, find one at your local nursery, close your eyes, give one of the leaves a rub, and then wait for the smell of sheep shit to hit your snout. It’s that real!!!