A guest rant by Stacy Moore, who writes Microcosm
As a gardener in New Mexico, I hate telling people that
I xeriscape. Despite the best efforts of garden writers, nurseries,
botanic gardens, and the like, to many people—even locals—xerixcape still
means one “sculptural” yucca, a yard full of artistically raked gravel, and a
summer full of unrelenting heat (what with the sun reflecting off all that
gravel and all). Such xeriscapes, especially as immortalized in
glossy Sunset magazine photographs from twenty years ago, or as the
one example of American gardening in British gardening books, are always Very
Serious in an ultra-modern, minimalist chic, no-pebble-out-of-place sort of
They give everything about xeriscape—from the responsible
use of natural resources to sculptural plantings—a bad name. I suppose the
only worse thing is the “zeroscape” alternative that too many people opt for
instead, which forgoes the yucca and doesn't bother to rake the gravel
artistically. Xeriscapes don't need to be that way! They can be lush, colorful,
varied, richly textured plantings that take little extra water (once
established), require only sensible amounts of upkeep, offer cooling shade,
provide natural wildlife habitat, and look good all year round.
I think one problem is that people hear “desert” and automatically
think “barren.” But even in the desert, nature is not barren or minimal. Thrifty, efficient, and incredibly ingenious, yes. But not minimalist!
If you stop your car on the barest stretch of road in New Mexico—and believe
me, there are some long, bare stretches of road in this state—and walk 10 feet
out into the desert, you will find yourself surrounded with life (some of which
will be happy to bite you, so be careful). You will not be able to set
foot on the ground without stepping on a plant that has some astonishing
adaptation to this environment, and chances are, it will be blooming its little
head off. (It may also have thorns ready to stick you, so be careful.)
Sure, the desert does have sculptural plants, and does have gravel, and does
have a long summerful of heat. But it is also a thriving ecosystem
bursting with enthusiastic, exuberant life. The desert is not Very Serious.
And it has all kinds of pebbles out of place. So when I say that I
xeriscape, I mean that I am trying to create an ecosystem suited to my urban
conditions that has the enthusiasm and exuberance of its surroundings. It will
have some sculptural plants and some gravel that you might be able to see once
you move the ground cover out of the way. It will also have shade
trees and blossoms and lizards and toads and hummingbirds. Because a
xeriscape, as well as providing for the other wildlife, should also provide
habitat for me.
Photos taken at the Rio Grande Botanic Gardens.