Plants and People

Xeriscaping Still Gets Bad Rap

Yet again, the art of landscaping with minimal watering takes a hit. In a lushly photographed New York Times article with the yummy title, A Sustainability That Aims To Seduce, author Stephen Orr paraphrases (note emphasis) a few landscape architects as suggesting that xeriscaping can result in "dusty summer yards full of scrappy native species".

I'm not bashing the landscape architects or Orr, per se. The article's thesis is that even people who can afford hiring landscape architects are increasingly environmentally sensitive, and even landscape architects (long-maligned for their lack of expertise/imagination in using plants) are integrating xeric principles and celebration of place into their designs.

What gets me is the lack of acknowledgement that the days of "scrappy native species" are also over. These days, people who love plants and live in hot, dry areas now have unbelievable choices. It's a revolution in gardenworthy species that began in New Mexico with David Salman's High Country Gardeners, and continues around the country and the world.

It's a solid-enough article for the NYT, but if you're not among the privileged and the monied — who often seem to lack the great, good sense that they have to share the planet — this last quote may stick in your throat.

... the message of conservation and environmental responsibility cannot be couched in punitive terms if it is to succeed. "People shouldn't have to make a choice between beauty and sustainability," Ms. Cochran said. "Our work is designed so that I am able to say to our clients during a presentation, 'Oh, and by the way, its also sustainable.' "



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

We seem to have a discussion going:

Sent by susan harris | 2:24 PM | 8-21-2008

Certainly the excerpt from that article reflects poorly on the landscape architects in question.

I wonder though, how one could bill themselves an expert in landscape anything, if they are incredibly ignorant not only of ecological issues in their region, but how to overcome those issues using *scrappy natives.

Someone who truly loved their job in this profession it would seem, should take pride in solving unique problems using unique, ecologically sound techniques and species.

A yard is more than a living coloring book.

Water is a resource we all need, its not just something that dribbles out of a hose or sprinkler system.

Soil erosion affects more than the side of the slope in *your yard.

And the chemicals one uses to keep tender plants alive in a hostile environment affect not only our entire watershed, but also is responsible for reproductive/hormonal disruption in the species that use that water--including humans.

Money wont make a person smart, only give them more resources to be selfish, stupid, and potentially dangerous.

Sent by sundog | 12:23 PM | 8-22-2008

Does it ever occur to you effete designer types that I (we) LIKE the ratty weedy look and are doing it on purpose? That is the case here. I want to re-create the left-over, undeveloped fields and stumplands of my youth. I want it to look like a mess in Aug., dead all winter and crazy wild in spring. I HATE the year-round "color" and "balance" and "bones" and crap that designers preach. I want change and decay. I want mess and disorder. I am sick of a planned landscape. That is all we have anymore, whether tasteful or municipal.

Sent by Megan Hughes | 3:20 AM | 8-23-2008

Nice rant, Megan. Here's hoping my damnable afeetism isn't going to stop you from digging me up some of that purple penstemon you said you'd give me...

Sent by Ketzel Levine | 3:30 AM | 8-23-2008

It is encouraging that the Denver metro has a few programs by local water boards to help transform the typical suburban landscape to a more water-wise approach. Boulder and even Aurora are taking steps to help. Erie, on the other hand continues to build monstrous housing with gushing landscapes, yet does little to encourage change except for irrigation audits and tree planting programs. More communities along the front range need more support in the xeric arena.

Sent by Dirt Nerd | 11:56 AM | 8-23-2008

I've saved this link so I can open it from time to time and be awed. Xeriscape extraordinaire:,0,

Sent by Michele LuValle | 3:53 PM | 8-25-2008

I was in Tri-Cities, Washington for a project back about 7 or 8 years ago when the big (well "Tri-Cities big") story was the big crackdown on homeowners that were xeriscaping their parking strips. By dang it, the ordinance said it had to be mowed grass and xeriscaping was not mowed grass! Call in the Code Enforcers!

And of all the places where a little water conservation would go a long way . . .

Sent by Denis Dooley | 9:05 PM | 8-25-2008

Landscape architects vary from extremely ecologically oriented, to the perpetrators of some horrible mall and parking lot strips. You can't lump them all together. In general they have so much to learn in their 4-5 years of school that they may get very little ecological training. People go into the field for a variety of reasons.

Sent by GardenGrrrl | 7:01 PM | 9-20-2008

NPR thanks our sponsors

Become an NPR sponsor

Support comes from