A xeriscape garden or landscape combines some of the biggest buzzwords in the landscape industry: pollinator-friendly, low-maintenance and drought-tolerant. Xeriscapes often incorporate all kinds of eco-friendly components like native plants, pollinator-friendly flowers, rain barrels, compost and more. But the defining feature of a xeriscape is that it's designed with plants that don't need much, if any, supplemental water.
Although the concept was originally designed for arid or semi-arid climates, there are lots of benefits in northern climates as well. There's the lower water cost, less runoff, decreased disease, lower maintenance and increased pollinator support. But the results can also be uniquely beautiful.
While many think that eco-friendly gardening is a sacrifice, Sean James, president of Fern Ridge Landscaping & Eco-consulting in Milton, Ontario, sees it as an opportunity. He's passionate about the idea that xeriscaping should be just as beautiful as any other type of garden or landscape.
“If you have a dry hillside or a low, wet area, you can plant plants that nobody else can, and you can make your landscape shine out from everyone else's, which is really what a lot of gardeners are trying to do,” he says.
Aside from the lower or nonexistent watering requirements, the plants tend to grow healthier with deep roots. And less water means fewer opportunities for disease to set in. For example, a summer phlox grown in a traditional landscape is an easy target for powdery mildew. But in a xeriscape, the plants grow shorter and more compact, but also thinner, so there isn't as much of a cluster of stems, which allows for air movement.
Plus, with deeper roots, plants are soaking up more micronutrients, which helps keep them happy and healthy. “If you're matching your plants to the soil and the conditions, then it's less work,” James says. “I know in my business, no one ever calls me for something like the Palace of Versailles. The first thing everyone says is they're looking for low-maintenance.”
Show customers the benefits.
Low-maintenance and eco-friendly are huge selling points for a xeriscape. According to a February 2014 Pew Research Center survey, 39 percent of Americans consider themselves environmentalists. But in James' experience, they often don't say so.
“If you ask them, they'll say ‘no, no, no' because they don't know much about it as far as landscaping goes, so they often don't want to look like they don't know what they're doing so they just say no,” he says. “But if you show a xeriscape to customers, they get interested.”