Ask the water-saving experts

Water-systems expert Josiah Cain and landscape architect Christy Ten Eyck  share their water-saving knowledge and easy tips

Christy Ten Eyck
Photo: Jennifer Cheung


Southwest-based landscape architect Christy Ten Eyck shares advice on shaping an arid garden.

When you design an arid garden, where do you start?
A lot of thought goes into making the path of water sacred. That is, to not let the rain that runs off the roof spill out into the street. Slow it down. Create places for it to collect.

How do you manage rain-water?
You can do a lot with grading ― swales, berms, basins. Or you can install a series of gentle terraces. I like permeable ones such as dry-stacked stone, gabions, living walls. They behave like check dams but look more artistic.

What else can we do?
Shade, shade, and more shade. Don’t stop with the patio. You want some tree canopy to soften that transition area between deep shade and harsh sunlight. If you provide enough natural shade, you won’t need to add thirsty plants (like hydrangeas) or fountains and ponds to feel cool.

How can we add water features without being wasteful?
I like the brimming effect ― water spilling quietly over the edge of a simple basin and recirculating. It’s using the least amount of water for the most effect.

Glossary

Arid Garden A landscape with plants suited for a dry climate. Shade structures and water create cooler, more comfortable microclimates. Basin A bowl-like depression in the soil’s surface.
Berm A mound or low wall of earth.
Check dam A small dam across a swale, channel, or dry streambed that slows rainwater runoff.
Gabion A rock-filled wire cage, often used to make walls.
Swale A low-lying stretch of land that gently moves water from point A to point B.

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