The main features of xeriscaping are simple: use less water by decreasing lawn space and replacing it with native and well-adapted plants that require less water, including perennial flowers, trees and shrubs.
“In our environment, yes, we see grass across the prairies, but it’s not the same variety that’s used in our lawns, which are mostly mixes containing Kentucky Blue Grass,” said Laureen Rama, owner of Eco-yards. “It doesn’t do well here. It requires a lot of water and fosters lots of weeds.”
Rama and her team at Eco-yards have been creating beautiful, environmentally friendly yards in Calgary for 14 years – a far cry from the stereotypical visions of gravel, tall grass and cacti that might come to mind. “There’s a lot of beauty available in the native prairie ecosystem,” she said. “It’s so diverse.”
Rama adds that xeriscaping is essentially landscaping that is easy to maintain and sustainable for the long-term. A big part of this is managing water, which also eases the burden on the City’s sewage and water treatment systems.
“We design dry riverbeds, basically ditches that look really nice,” said Rama. “These run through the property and, when it rains, the water naturally flows through and soaks into the beds.”
“In the long-term, a yard with just trees, shrubs and flowers is going to be much cheaper in costs and maintenance than one with a lawn.” – Laureen Rama, Eco-yards owner
When ditches aren’t an option, Eco-yards works under the ground or mulch, using permeable pipes and hoses to water plants and reduce waste through evaporation and run-off associated with sprinklers.
While the initial costs of xeriscaping depend on the specifics of each project, the benefits and long-term savings are vast.
“In the long-term, a yard with just trees, shrubs and flowers is going to be much cheaper in costs and maintenance than one with a lawn,” said Rama. “These yards also don’t require products like fertilizers and pesticides.”
A xeriscaped yard can look interesting and colourful all year long, combining different flowering times and leaf changes, as well as contrasting barks. Many Calgarians are also incorporating food-producing plants.
Anyone considering a new landscape project can access the City of Calgary’s Yard Smart program and website, which Rama encourages. The program includes workshops, eco-friendly yard planning tips, videos, design brochures, and lists of native and well-adapted plants.
“This program is important to our city, and Calgarians in general, because when you have a Yard-Smart yard, you use less water,” said Jennifer Makar, team lead of citizen programs with the City of Calgary. “People are interested in saving on their monthly water bill, and it helps us maintain a sustainable watershed over time. Calgarians can also spend their time doing things other than taking care of their yards.”
Xeriscaped yards are increasingly popping up around the city, particularly in newer subdivisions, but also in established neighbourhoods.
“Calgary is different from many cities,” said Rama. “Many people want to be environmentally friendly, but also want low-maintenance spaces so they can be out in the mountains, camping or biking.”