Xeriscaping – Dry Landscaping Going From Freaky to Increasing Property Value
I grew up in a suburb in Milwaukee, where everyone had front lawns with grass, bushes and trees. Well almost everyone. There was one girl’s mother who changed their front lawn into a prairie – with tall wild grasses, flowers, and tall plants. This filled the half circle of lawn inside their driveway, and you could not see the front door of their house. We used to stare at the “freaky lawn” as we passed by on the bus and some people used to make fun of the girl because of her crazy wild grass front lawn.
Today there is a name for this type of alternative landscaping which is gaining momentum, called xeriscaping. The word xeriscaping comes from the word xeros, which is Greek for the word dry combined with part of the word landscaping. Xeriscaping refers to a method of landscape design that minimizes water use.
The term was started in Denver in 1978, where employees from the Water Department made up the term for landscapes that conserve water. This approach of landscaping emerged when there were severe water shortages in Colorado. Generally, plants that are considered local native plants are used in xeriscaping, and the landscape design works to avoid water evaporation and run-off. The xeriscape garden uses plants that usually have low water requirements, and are able to handle short periods of drought.
Some of the benefits of xeriscaping is that it saves water, requires less maintenance then traditional grass lawns, does not use fertilizers or pesticides, provides habitat for wildlife, and can sometimes improve property value.
The plants used in xeriscape projects vary based on the location. In the Midwest, prairies, or native plants with heavy mulching might be used. In the southwest, cactus, yucca, and sage might be planted with boulders and rock mulch around.
On my street, there are a few houses that have front yard gardens, or have partial lawns with native plants and grasses in the front.
My parents still live in the same area outside of Milwaukee, so I have biked by the house where I first saw a wild prairie in the front lawn. It still exists, but today looks like a contemporary landscaped front lawn, with birds, larger trees, and flowers.
Each Summer at my house in Cleveland, we decide not to water our lawn – and let it get brown if there is a drought. I do plan eventually to have a lawn with alternative plants and landscaping. The idea of retiring the lawnmower is appealing.