Xeriscaping

Xeriscapes have been used in dry landscapes since the 1980s. Photo by Zones Landscaping

Xeriscaping is a term coined from the Greek ‘xeros’ (dry) and ‘scape’ (the pattern of the landscape). It refers to gardens or landscapes that require little or no water beyond what the natural climate provides (Dudock, 2019). Plants are chosen for their resilience to the specific climate and are planted with the aim of requiring minimal maintenance. 

Xeriscaping is said to have started in the 1980s in Colorado, USA, where a desire to conserve water kicked off an education programme that taught people how to create and maintain healthy and regionally appropriate landscapes. A properly maintained xeriscape eliminates the need for harmful chemical fertilisers, and it is estimated to use up to 80% less water than a conventional landscape (Dudock, 2019).

Name of NbS

Xeriscaping

Type of NbS

Ecosystem protectio

Location

urban, periurban, rural. Xeriscaping works anywhere where a garden can be created and maintained. This strategy will be particularly useful in areas where water is scarce.

Case Study

Hālawa Xeriscape Garden

A self-sufficient xeriscape. Photo by  Doreen Wynja

Relationship to Indigenous knowledge

A xeriscape will typically use plants native to the landscape, so that they are naturally acclimatised to the climate and will ideally not need to be tended to. Indigenous knowledge of local plants will be invaluable when considering xeriscapes. Traditional knowledge of plants suitable for medicinal, health, and sustenance uses can be applied. Indigenous people’s belief in a reciprocal relationship with the land means they may be deeply attuned to plants, to their natural cycles, and unique benefits. For example, rongoā is the traditional Māori medicinal practice, where native plants such as kawakawa, harakeke (flax), kōwhai, and mānuka can be used for various healing purposes (Jones, 2007). Implementing Indigenous knowledge of plants into xeriscapes is an opportunity to maximise the garden’s potential for food, healing, and wellbeing. 

Climate change benefits
  • Changes in rainfall
  • Desertification
  • Drought
  • Increased temperatures
  • Loss of food production
  • Reduced freshwater availability / quality
  • Increased wildfire

Climate change is exacerbating already distressing water scarcity. Close to two billion people do not have access to safe drinking water (United Nations, 2022) and these numbers are expected to increase with climate change and population growth. Only 0.5% of water on earth can be used for drinking water and water supplies stored in glaciers will continue to decline. Higher water temperatures, frequent floods, and drought all affect water pollution. 

In Te Moananui Oceania, managing water scarcity is a critical part of resilience to climate change efforts. A new report from WHO and UNICEF notes that thousands of people in the Pacific Islands will not have access to safely managed household drinking water, sanitation and hygiene services by 2030 unless the rate of progress increases. 

We know that we need more green spaces to manage climate change effects; increasing biomass cover and the permeability of cities is essential to manage the urban heat island effect and rising temperatures for example. But with increased vegetation often comes complicated irrigation systems, and more water use. Xeriscaping creates an alternate method, where biomass growth is still achieved, but without using large amounts of precious water resources.

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Societal / socio-cultural benefits
  • Food security
  • Freshwater security and quality

As water scarcity becomes increasingly dire in Te Moananui Oceania region, it threatens social and economic development (UNDRR, 2022). An increase in extreme weather events such as drought, cyclones, rainfall changes, and desertification continues to damage food and freshwater security. Small island developing nations need to find ways to adapt to the impacts of climate change without using large amounts of water. Xeriscaping may offer a partial solution. 

Xeriscaping can also be a food source. Beyond physical nourishment, food plays an important social and cultural role in Pacific societies, as part of traditions, ceremonies and family gatherings. Loss of food security is an ongoing issue in Te Moananui Oceania, and there is a need for sustainable food sources. Xeriscaping can provide a way to reconnect with natural food sources, and work towards food security. 

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Ecological and biodiversity benefits
  • Aesthetic value
  • Food production
  • Habitat provision
  • Species maintenance

A xeriscaped garden can support birds and insects, protecting and supporting local ecologies. Native plants are likely to be used, because they are naturally adapted to the climate, which can support endemic plant species. Like any garden, xeriscapes are aesthetically valuable, with the added benefit that they require minimal maintenance.

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Technical requirements

A xeriscape will require some consultation, to understand which plants will be best in the climate and landscape context. As with all gardens, there are environmental considerations to be made, especially because the goal is for the garden to maintain itself with little water input. Positioning in relation to the sun, rain, and wind will be key. Additionally, a xeriscape will need adequate drainage and consideration of plant placement and species selection.

Issues and Barriers

Xeriscaping requires knowledge of plants and the climate, but that can be easily remedied with education and training.

Opportunities

There is an opportunity for Oceanic nations to adopt xeriscaping as a climate change adaptation strategy that increases biomass and green space, but does not use large amounts of water, which is an increasingly precious and precarious resource. Education and training could help people to understand the concept, and how Indigenous knowledge of local plants and climate conditions could create gardens that are a source of food, medicine, and wellbeing, and possible support Indigenous identities (Rodgers et al., 2023).

Financial case

The ongoing cost of a xeriscape is lower than a normal garden, or even a lawn, in terms of time, water and resources. There is a strong case for xeriscaping because it requires no expensive irrigation, no regular maintenance, and it essentially looks after itself.

References