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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Cats Again (Lost In Racine)


Because I now have my Substack site where I can publish my stories, its more exciting to write fiction. I’m working on a story now.

Meanwhile, here’s a newspaper column of yore. If you like cats, you will probably like it. If you don’t like cats, well, you are missing a lot of grace, humor, and vacuuming opportunities.

We don’t currently want to adopt new cats, but since we’ve now lived with twelve of the world’s finest, we are rich in memories that make us laugh.

Len’s Birthday


Last week I mentioned that Monday of this week would be Len’s birthday. A friend remarked to me ever so kindly later that day, “I thought his birthday was the 30th?”

It is. Len’s birthday is the 30th. This same friend has commented to me, over the years, about how much I remember.

Covid Diary #1350 Thanksgiving


Today is 1350 days since the that March Friday in 2020 when we all went into quarantine.

Today is 60 years since JFK was assassinated on November 22, 1963. I remember that day, so does Len, so do many of you. Here’s a scary truth. We are as far today from that day – as that day was from the Wright brother’s first flight at Kitty Hawk on Dec 17, 1903.

Quarantine Diary #1349 Sci-Fi & Prophecy


We both took Covid tests this morning and both of us still have pink lines. I asked the internet what this means and it says I might be pregnant.

I have a call into my doctor’s office to discuss. I feel so much better that if I didn’t know I have Covid, I wouldn’t know it. I’ve been sicker than this after too much pie.

Covid Diary #1347


A few of you might realize yesterday we were 1345 days since March 13, 2020, and today we’re at 1347. Yup, I used a different calculator. Just a fun reminder that precision depends as much on asking the right question as doing perfect math.

I’m in day #4 of having Covid. No more chills. I have a fever of 100.4 which is more impressive than the 100.2 that Len achieved on his Day #4.  I’m taking various OTC meds and I keep track of them in my phone’s notes because, wow, it’s so easy to have no memory of the last time one took something. I’m good. Enough.

Covid Diary #1345


I thought I was done with the Covid Diary but guess what? Len and I caught Covid this week! Actually, Covid caught us. We have continued to wear masks in stores, library, meetings, and our church so we will never know for sure where Len encountered Covid. And since I got it four days later, I guess we know where I got it…

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