Originally published in The Watering Can, Western Water’s sustainable gardens e-newsletter, March 2017.
Understanding how water moves through the micro-landscapes in your backyard is key to successful garden design. Be a garden detective, on the hunt for clues to planting and garden success.
Next time it rains, grab your umbrella and observe where water flows, where puddles form, and where the rain doesn’t hit the ground at all (such as under the eaves of your house). Kids will love to join you in such a caper.
Before designing my own garden in Castlemaine, I observed water flowing off my pathways and driveway during heavy rain. I soon realised that these water-shedding surfaces were a resource I could use. I’d often dreamed of creating a tiny, native meadow that stayed green throughout Summer without the need for additional watering. I made use of the hard surfaces in my garden to realise this dream. My meadow is located alongside a compacted pathway that sheds water directly onto it; as does my driveway, via a subtly landscaped channel. The meadow is planted with deep rooted, drought hardy, perennial species (including Weeping Grass and Wallaby Grasses). While many of these indigenous grasses would survive almost anywhere in my garden without water, they certainly wouldn’t thrive like they do in this zone where water naturally accumulates and penetrates after a downpour.
My daughter catching butterflies in our little, native meadow.
Every moist zone in your garden is an opportunity to grow something that’s just a little more water hungry. Even subtle differences in water movement and exposure to sunlight make a big difference to the soil moisture available to plants for growth.
In my garden, I made use of a moist microhabitat created by a low, east facing stone wall. It’s here I’ve created a small but cheerful border that only rarely needs watering. Plants growing below the wall are protected from the hot afternoon sun and their roots can access water that has percolated down from the garden above. I planted the border with indigenous favourites such as the Digger’s Speedwell, with long sprays of purple flowers in spring; Clustered Everlastings for lasting golden cheer, colourful carpets of Cut-leaf Daisies and cooling, green ground covers of Kidney Weed and Native River Mint. While these species are relatively drought hardy, they certainly achieve a more beautiful Spring display without additional watering, than they would in more exposed areas of my garden. Above the wall, I grow species with evergreen foliage that perform well in slightly drier conditions, such as Rosemary, Ballota and Ruby Saltbush.
A colourful, low water-use border of indigenous flowers, thriving below a stone wall.
By observing the micro-landscapes in your own backyard and creatively responding to different conditions with thoughtful plant selection, even the harshest backyard may inspire you to create an innovative, beautiful and sustainable garden that will thrive throughout the summer months.