The StarPhoenix Review - Creating the Prairie Xeriscape
Reviewed by: Bill Robertson
When my wife and I moved into a newer house in a newer neighbourhood in 2005, we were ready for a change. Not just in location and housing style, but also in the way we created and maintained our yard. And right there I've fudged the truth a bit. In no house I've ever moved into, either rental or my own, have I ever had anything to do with creating the yard. I accepted what was there, without thought, and in all cases that meant the care of a lawn. The house we moved into had a lawn out front, but it was the lowest-maintenance thing I've ever seen and crowded with trees transplanted from a northern lake. The backyard was a combination parking lot and dog run with another gathering of huge trees crowding each other for space. Now here was something to work with. And that's where our early practice with a book my wife had bought back in 1997 came in very handy. The book was Creating the Prairie Xeriscape by Sara Williams, and for a while it seemed as if it was all the gardeners in our circle were talking about. Rather than being held hostage to the high priests of lawn maintenance, with their regular demands of watering, cutting, trimming, fertilizing, and noxious weed killing, either by hire or ineptly by me, we could turn our lawn into a garden of local plants, grouped according to water needs, and let go of all the bother and worry. No more quest for the perfect lawn. In my case, it never existed - neither the quest nor the lawn. At our previous house, we tried a few experiments using Williams's book as our guide. I chopped off about a metre of lawn on one perimeter that had never taken to grass very well and planted a row of cotoneasters as a drought-tolerant border between our yard and a busy alley. Within a couple of years we had a hedge, enough to string lights in at Christmas . We cut into the holy lawn in the backyard as well, laying in local plants, and variety swelled. With these radical experiments under our belts, we were ready to try something revolutionary in the new place. We took out the dog run and all its rocks, hired a crew to come take out the inappropriate trees then ought in the guy with the Bobcat to gouge out the tree roots, re-landscape the whole yard, adding in a number of loads of topsoil as he went. We had a clean palette. Naturally, I worried that one or two good rains would turn the place into a sea of mud and wash away all our soil. I wavered. Why not call the sod place? But no, the xeriscaping book in our hands, some suggestions from a master gardener in our heads, we went cruising the prairie lanes for rocks and the greenhouses for local plants. After we'd laid out paths we covered in crusher dust, made a patio of flat rocks, and bordered paths and select garden beds with feature rocks, we turned to the Prairie Xeri-scape book for suggestions. We left a couple of cedar in the back that we couldn't part with, and a clump birch in the front that looked great, but, true to what Williams says, they really suck up the water. This new edition of Creating the Prairie Xeriscape is larger than its predecessor, has a big section on designing a garden and has a very large section on xeriscape plants, including a little sun icon beside the most drought-tolerant varieties. With these plants working for you, you don't have to fear the city telling you there are water restrictions in place.