For those of us in the Northeast, it has been a long, dry summer. Many towns have initiated water bans and we are being asked to be careful about the water we use. This is a fairly new concept for us, but in the southwest, it’s a way of life.
Rain is infrequent in the southwest and when it comes, it can rain hard. But it’s usually a fairly isolated storm and it’s not unusual for it to be raining in one part of town but be completely dry a block or two away. So it’s not something that can be counted on, and people must be careful with what water they have. In parts of Santa Fe, New Mexico, your water bill will go up by 80% if you exceed your 10,000 gallon a year water limit. If you use over 20,000 gallons, they can shut your water off until you have submitted a plan of how you intend to reduce your water use!
Despite the lack of rainfall they have lush gardens that are vibrant with color. How do they do it? With careful planning and thought. A landscape design begins with the question, ” Where shall we put the cistern?” The answer is as varied as there are homes; some are above ground, some are underground; some are almost features in the landscape, while others are hidden.
While in the Northeast, we tend to build our garden beds up from ground level to get as much drainage as possible, in the southwest gardens tend to be concave, in order to capture as much water as possible. Plants that can tolerate dry conditions are used. Some people have irrigation systems, but they are used with restraint.
This dry summer has brought us closer to southwest conditions than ever before, and there are many lessons to be learned from the adaptability of those who live and design there, and from the sustainable gardens that are created. If climate change results in regular droughts and in our needing to make some of the same adaptations, we will do well if we can achieve the success that they have achieved in the Santa Fe area. When you are thoughtful with the resources that you have, the sky is the limit!