By Calvin Finch, Conservation Manager, Water Resources & Conservation Department, San Antonio Water System, and Horticulturist
Week of April 15, 2002
NEW ADDITION TO THE SAN ANTONIO BOTANICAL GARDENS
Whether you call it a watersaver garden, low-water-use garden, or a xeriscape garden, the new addition to the San Antonio Botanical Gardens is an important feature. The planting was funded by the San Antonio Water System to address several goals. It is a garden to demonstrate the seven xeriscape principles, a garden to provide ideas and inspiration to visitors, and it is a garden to test the suitability of discovered or rediscovered plants for use in our landscape.
The San Antonio area is faced with a water challenge. Access to the Edwards Aquifer has been limited, so we must seek new water sources. Most of the options for new water sources are expensive and controversial. The one source that everyone embraces is water that becomes available because of conservation. Conservation is our least expensive source of new water and it is the source to which everyone can contribute. Since 1984 SAWS customers have reduced water use by 34% from 214 gallons/day/person to 143 gallons/person/day in 2001. The goal is to reduce per capita consumption to 130 gallons/person/day by 2015.
Since landscape watering is the largest area of discretionary water use, a major part of further reductions must come from that source. The use of xeriscape landscaping can be the source of huge savings in water use. Xeriscape landscaping is based on seven principles. The new Watersaver Garden at the San Antonio Botanical Gardens will show everyone who views it the seven xeriscape principles in action:
· Good planning
· Soil enriched with organic material
· Reduced turfgrass use
· Efficient watering
· Extensive use of mulch
· Good plant selection
· Effective maintenance
The garden is planned to make use of its setting to show to best advantage the arrangement of low water use plants. Decomposed granite paths carry interested visitors close to the plantings where they can view the individual specimens and also see the use of mulch and irrigation.
In its plant selection, the garden will offer something for everyone. Xeriscape landscapes come in many styles. For those of us who like our low-water-use plants to be colorful, the garden offers year-round color. Most months the color will be from blooms such as lantana, coneflower, esperanza, yucca, poinciana, and salvia. Other color, however, is provided by foliage, bark, berries, and even seedheads. The garden offers a large collection of ornamental grasses that contribute their share of color and attract attention for their texture and form.
If you think ornamental grasses have nothing to offer the landscape, just wait until later this summer and next winter when the muhly grass, ruby grass, miscanthus, bluestem, and wiregrass selections in the Watersaver Garden have had time to work their magic. Look especially for my favorite, the muhly grass ruby mist, with its seedheads that resemble a pink fog.
The need for water conservation can be met in San Antonio without abandoning the idea of attractive gardens and landscape. The South end of the new Watersaver Garden is dedicated to testing new plant material for its appeal and toughness. Visitors to the garden will get to make their own judgements about the suitability of plant material from two cooperating research efforts. James Spivey and the Botanical Gardens staff are seeking new drought tolerant selections. Dr. Jerry Parsons of the Texas Cooperative Extension leads another team of volunteers and industry representatives examining plant material for the South Texas market.
If you have not been to the San Antonio Botanical Gardens recently or, heaven forbid, have never been, do so this spring. The Watersaver Garden is worth the trip in itself and it is only half an acre of the 33-acre facility.