Mary Beth Writes


Xeriscape is pronounced ‘zeer-eh-scape’ and it means landscaping with little to no irrigated water. Readers in the west already know about this. Those of us who don’t live in arid or desert places need to wake up to the incredible resource that water is - then begin to accommodate ourselves to “water all around and beneath us all the time” is no longer our reality. Nor is it our right. We’ve got to get smarter and do better.

Such as, do you know that the most grown crop in the US is LAWNS? Seriously! American lawns occupy 30-40 million acres of land. Lawnmowers account for 5% of the nation’s air pollution. Each year more than 17 million gallons of fuel are spilled during the refilling of lawn and garden equipment—more than the oil spilled by the Exxon Valdez.

Homeowners typically use 10 times the amount of pesticide and fertilizers per acre on their lawns as farmers do on crops, so lawn chemical runoff is a major source of water pollution. Last but not least, at least 30% (some estimates go as high as 60%) of urban fresh water is used on lawns. (These stats are from Columbia (University) Climate School )

Xeriscaping is a path to more sustainable landscaping around our homes and in our communities. It’s time to acknowledge that most of us do not live at Downton Abbey.

So how does one begin to do this?

I’ve read these Seven Steps in lots of places. 1) Plan and design  2) Soil amendment  3) Efficient irrigation  4) Appropriate plant and zone selection  5) Mulch  6) Limit turf/lawn areas  7) Maintenance

The internet is AGOG with info about how to reclaim deserts with rocks and swales. (There were plants and birds and rocks and things. There was sand and hills and rings…) I dare you to YouTube ‘how to xeriscape’.

This is the smallest xeriscape story I have but it illustrates what we are talking about. In August I moved some of my plants around, including moving some catmint to a dusty spot between the driveway and the neighbor’s fence. I figured lackluster catmint could anchor the space because it’s a tough plant that bees like.

We are in a drought so even though the plant is tough I still was needing to water it every day because the roots weren’t established. How crazy it is to drag hoses to water catmint with city water? I started perusing online videos about re-greening desert properties by assembling low barricades of rocks to catch water long enough to let the water soak into the ground.

I carried three rocks to the catmint and set them in front of it to hold water a bit – and I have rarely watered the plant since. Three rocks in the right place, that’s all it took. There are bees writing me thank you notes right now.

I live a block from Grand Avenue. In the 1990’s downtown Waukesha had a terrible flood and I wonder if the median on Grand was designed in response to what happened back then. The street incorporates a rain garden, a slightly lower than street level garden bed right down the middle of the street in this one long block. Tough native Compass plants (I think) grow there and right now, in September, they are magnificent. Tall, blowing in breezes, buzzing bees, butterflies, deep taproots that drink in rain when it falls.

I took these photos yesterday. See that break in the curb? That’s where rain flowing down the incline of the street can swerve into the dirt to sink into the earth so the street doesn’t flood. This is an example of midwestern xeriscaping.

Probably we should have added Xeriscape to Vocabulary List. It’s a relatively new and challenging word to many of us.

Xeriscape landscaping reminds us we are all in a new world now. We need to stop assuming we get to do things the way we always used to do them. We need to look around at what is already flourishing. Figure out how that is happening. Learn that technique. Respect goodness that thrives naturally. Respect and protect it.  

The next time we see a gardening/municipal landscaping technique that seems odd to us, let’s not say how crazy the young ones are. Let’s ask them what they are doing.

“Water is the most perfect traveler because when it travels it becomes the path itself.” ― Mehmet Murat Ildan who is a contemporary Turkish writer.


Franc wrote a comment below. I found the post fwith the PDF of photos of the front of his house. 



Bravo - good work describing the concept and why it's important. Here in my part of the west xeriscaping is the prevalent way of maintaining our properties. Water is in short supply and therefore expensive. I have lived here long enough that I consider lawns unattractive and irresponsible. Native plants, shrubs, and trees, minimally irrigated via drip irrigation, and surrounded by rocky ground cover is what I consider normal and beautiful. As a bonus it's easy to care for. Good landscape fabric under the rocky ground cover short circuits most of the weeds. So no watering of grass, no lawn mowing, no lawn mower -- what's not to like?

When I first moved back to my family home I dug up most of the grass in the backyard, stacked it upside-down with layers of leaves and compost in-between, dug holes in that, placed the full sized plants from the old house in them, I watered that deeply, and then layed three inches of mulch (Shredded leaves and twigs in in a wood shredder) over the whole garden.. I let the dirt and grass compost itself as the plants adjusted to their new backyard garden.. In the front of the house I dug up the entire lawn, did the same process there as well, paved and built a wall.. Planted wisely with ground cover and plants suitable to the location and other than some occasional weeding I leave them on there own to survive without much help or water from me..

I had native plants in my Racine gardens, and also put in a rain garden. Loved it all. Now that I am a desert dweller, and was pretty clueless about xeriscape, I hired a landscape designer to plan my gardens. The plants are all drought tolerant and I have a drip irrigation system. In the hot summer, it is set to “drip” daily. In the winter, it only waters 2 days a week. In monsoon, I can turn it off when we get a lot of rain. The City of Tucson and our water utility have a high level of awareness around all water matters.

This is very interesting and something I know nothing about! I will be reading more.

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What the Dickens?

The photo is from Barnados, a childrens charity in London in the 19th century. 


Argh! I have a new phone because the old one stopped staying charged plus a few more foibles. My phone cost $400 five years ago so it makes sense that it stopped working reliably, right? If an appliance worked like this we would burn that manufacturer to the ground.

Swan Story


I’ve been reading a lot of other people’s writing lately and I have decided there is too much to read. Much of it is very good but there is JUST TOO MUCH!

So my goal going forward is to write shorter posts, more often, that might remind you of the glory, power, and goofiness of your life as well as mine.

So, let me say again what’s always very true. Thank you for reading what I write.


About My Memorial Day Story


Today my story ‘Memorial Day’ is posted at Substack. Read it here. 

Courage, Big & Little



I’m writing fiction this week. I started a story in December that, along the way, turned into a Memorial Day story. It will be my Substack story this Saturday.

This morning I looked for an old newspaper column to rerun and found this one about a time when one of our kids needed to have four teeth pulled.

Cholesterol Numbers & Squirrels


Years ago I was out to dinner with friends. We were all just entering our 40’s and thus were all beginning to get the fun medical tests about this and that and cholesterol. I said, to a friend next to me, that I’d started eating oatmeal everyday for breakfast and my cholesterol had dropped …..

The room went silent.

Everyone heard “cholesterol dropped” and stopped speaking. Everyone wanted to hear how much it had dropped – which was about 8 points. In our twenties the conversation stopper was gossip about sex. Now the secret sauce was HDL and LDL

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