It’s a common mispronunciation, but it’s also a bit of a Freudian slip: saying “zeroscape” instead of “xeriscape.” To xeriscape is to design a garden that conserves water through the use of drought-tolerant plants grouped according to water needs, water-collection systems, mulch, non-wasteful irrigation, and other rather commonsense yet once-radical gardening practices. To zeroscape — to my mind, anyway — means to spread a bunch of rocks across one’s yard, maybe plant one agave or cactus, and call it done.
In drought-prone climates like central Texas and in arid ones like Arizona, xeriscaping is a popular concept, promoted by city water utilities and conservationists and eagerly embraced by homeowners who want to save money on their water bills and do the right thing. And yet you still hear that word “zeroscape” used a good deal, hinting that many people think water conservation means essentially giving up on having a beautiful garden.
The Scottsdale Xeriscape Garden at Chaparral Park, in suburban Phoenix, is a perfect illustration of the wow factor a xeric garden can provide. My friend Noelle of AZ Plant Lady introduced me to this public demonstration garden in early April, and its design and beauty are captivating. If you’re able to visit, you really should go, especially in the spring when the garden’s at peak bloom.
It begins with an overscaled, rusty steel vessel brimming with water — a symbol of abundance in an arid climate, and a “sacred element,” as landscape architect Christine Ten Eyck, who designed this garden, has described such a gesture. On the submerged rim of the vessel is inscribed this reminder: “The frog does not drink up the pond in which he lives.”
An imposing 30-foot-high, 320-foot-long wall — the facade of a water-treatment plant — is blended into the garden with an installation of geometric steel panels, soft-textured palo verde trees and grasses, and gabion terracing.
The steel panels act as garden sculpture while distracting the eye from that big, blank wall. Bougainvillea cascades down the gabion terraced beds.
Ten Eyck loves to use gabion walls in her designs (see her Capri Lounge garden in Marfa, Texas), and gabions are taken to new heights here, framing doorways and molded into buttresses.
Xeric (dry-loving) plants are massed for effect, like these agaves. The ground was dusted with golden “confetti” from the flowering palo verde trees.
Mexican olive (Cordia boissieri) adds glowing white flowers against deep-green foliage.
Shade sails float over plaza-like gathering spaces along the trail, offering shelter from the intense desert sun. Aloes bloom in the foreground.
The gabion walls — heavy-duty, wire constructions filled with river rock — that curve throughout the park slow the flow of water when it rains, allowing precious rainwater to soak into planting beds. Ten Eyck describes the terraced garden as a “bio-sponge.”
Throughout the garden, signs illustrate how to save water in home gardens.
As you continue along the path you come to the Mesquite Bosque, spiraling concrete walls that wind to the bottom of a bowl-like space, creating a naturalistic amphitheater that also acts as a water-collection basin when it rains. Mesquite bosques, or groves, were once prevalent along streams and rivers throughout the Sonoran Desert, according to the garden’s website, and this design references that natural history.
A dead tree, or snag, is left in place to provide habitat for hawks, which in turn keep the rodent population in check.
Soft vs. hard — a tufted meadow of deer grass and rounded boulders
The terraced beds created by the gabion walls…
…hold an assortment of desert-adapted species, like ornamental grasses, agaves, brittlebush, and desert marigold.
Charismatic ocotillo, golden barrel cactus, and pink evening primrose too
Desert marigold (Baileya multiradiata)
The final and most stunning feature along the trail is heralded by the appearance of rusty orange walls marvelously constructed of stacked ledgestone and bands of round river rock.
I am in love with these walls.
They add texture and pattern to the garden, as well as structural “bones” that give the space year-round interest.
The walls lead to the main event: an environmental artwork by Lorna Jordan called Terraced Cascade, echoing the form of the human spine even as it evokes a cascade of water and collects water when the rains come.
At the bottom of the basin, metal bridges cross a dry creek.
Masses of birch-like palo blanco trees (Acacia willardiana), small grasses, agave, and desert marigold fill the terraces.
Simplicity of planting: a matrix of just a few species, repeated for impact
Sinuous retaining walls
The ledgestone stair winding downward between boulders evokes a cascading waterfall. It’s magnificent.
A broader perspective
I couldn’t get enough of it.
If you can’t get enough either, visit Noelle’s post about Scottsdale Xeriscape Garden. And if you live nearby and still need convincing that you can grow a beautiful garden that doesn’t waste water, go visit in person. You’ll see that there’s nothing “zero” about this xeriscape.
All material © 2006-2014 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.