Dry Gardens For Dry Places

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In many parts of the world, water is a scarce resource. This means that gardeners need to learn to create gardens that require very little water….or have no garden.

Dry gardens have a character all of their own and that character does not necessarily need to be scarce on foliage, colour and lush growth.

Dry Gardens Desert Landscape
Some of the most spectacular natural landscapes in the world are found in deserts. A desert landscape garden uses the arrangement and choice of materials to replicate the appearance of desert conditions. The design should be informal to create a natural look.

Use raised garden beds to promote good drainage and ensure that plants that are used to dry conditions do not become waterlogged. Cover pathways and garden beds with sand or gravel mulch. Features to include are a dry creek bed, or perhaps even a small pool or oasis. Stunted/smaller/gnarled trees will also create the appearance of an arid landscape. If paving is to be included, it should blend in to the garden and complement the colours of a desert landscape.

Contrary to popular belief, many areas we think of as plantless deserts are in fact filled with different types of vegetation. Although these plants have been toughened by the dry conditions, they can still be used to create a very ornamental garden.
They include:
  • Tussock grass clumps
  • Cacti
  • Desert succulents
  • Annual daisies
  • Natives of inland Australia (eg. Mallee Eucalypts, certain Acacias, Banksias)
Dry Gardens Xeriscape was a term coined to describe landscaped gardens that have low water requirements. It is a concept that has become popular in the drier parts of Australia and North America, where water is in short supply.

It uses many of the features of the desert landscape such as mounds and raised beds, but allows for a wider range of design styles. In fact, about the only thing you won’t find in a xeriscape garden is an irrigation system. Garden beds are often mulched with organic material such as wood chips. The plants can be arranged close together and plants such as oleander, with its glossy green foliage, are often included. Paving, furniture and even a small gazebo, can be added to the design.

Australian Bush Garden
Not all Australian plants are appropriate for a dry garden – but many are. Look for plants that come from the drier parts of the continent, rather than the wetter coastal areas. Many of these, such as Darwinias and Eremophilas, have spectacular flowers. Many well known native genera include both plants that do well in dry gardens, and others that prefer more moisture (eg. Melaleucas, Acacias, Banksias). In these instances, you need good advice from an expert to ensure you are planting the appropriate variety.

When setting out your garden, provide plenty of light to your plants. Avoid plants with dense vegetation and don’t place them too close together. This also allows you the space to create features with rocks, ground formations and old logs.

If you are including trees in your garden (every bush garden should have at least one gum tree), make sure they won’t shade out other plants that require sunny conditions.

Cacti and/or Succulent Collections
Just because you have a dry garden, doesn’t mean you can’t have plenty of colour. Succulent ground covers such as pig face and sedum can blanket the ground with a carpet of foliage or flower colour.

Many of the different types of cactus will give your garden that dryland look, while providing magnificent brightly-coloured flowers. Even if you only have succulents in one garden bed, there is still the opportunity to include a fabulous array of plant shapes, sizes and textures. Because of their architectural shapes, these plants suit both a semi formal or informal garden design style.

If you live in wetter climates, you can still enjoy cacti and succulents. Grow them in raised beds or under cover – under the eaves of the house or beneath the roof of a hot house.

Dry Gardens Minimalist Landscapes
Another style of dry garden is the minimalist landscape. These can be formal or informal in design, with an emphasis on hard landscaping features like paving and outdoor structures. When plants are incorporated, they are few in number, but stunning in appearance. For example, large palms, Yucca, Cactus, Cordyline or Agave in a pot.

Where are Dry Gardens Found?
  • In dry climates (low rainfall)
  • In very sandy soils – that don’t hold water well
  • Under the eaves of a house or against a wall (in a rain shadow)
  • In pots that dry out easily (especially terracotta).
  • Under the canopy of a large tree. The canopy stops rain, roots compete for water etc.
  • On a steep slope, where water is lost quickly.
  • In hot paved areas.
  • Coastal sites.
Tips for Water Conservation If you’ve got a problem with a dry garden or a dry spot in the garden, there are solutions. These include:
  • Improve the soil’s water holding capacity (add organic matter, water crystals, water deeper).
  • Decrease water loss (with mulch and shade).
  • Grow more dry tolerant plants.
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  • Quality ebooks written by our staff
  • Wide range of Horticulture titles by John Mason, author of over 40 gardening books, garden magazine editor, nurseryman, landscaper and principal of ACS.
  • Ebooks can be purchased online and downloaded straight away.
  • Read on an ipad, computer, iphone, reader or similar device.
  • New titles published every month –bookmark and revisit this site regularly
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Titles include:

Commercial Hydroponics 3rd edition

One of the worlds best selling hydroponic books, first published in 1991 by Kangaroo Press. Dozens of colour photos, unique and rarely published advice on how to grow over 100 different types of plants (vegetables, herbs, flowers, indoor plants) in hydroponics.  http://www.acsebook.com/products/2232-commercial-hydroponics-third-edition.aspx

The Environment of Play 2nd edition
A unique and inspirational view of designing play spaces for children. Full of photos, an inspiration for parents, child care workers, teachers, play leaders, landscape designers and park management professionals. First edition was published in the 1980’s by Leisure Press in New York.     http://www.acsebook.com/products/2247-the-environment-of-play.aspx

Growing Trees and Shrubs for Small Gardens 2nd edition
First edition published by Kangaroo Press/Simon & Schuster.    http://www.acsebook.com/products/1684-growing-trees-and-shrubs-for-small-gardens.aspx

Tropical Plants 2nd edition

Trees and Shrubs for Warm Places First edition   A valuable reference for growing plants not only in the tropics and sub tropics, but also greenhouses, inside the home or even hot courtyards in a temperate garden. Never before been published. The book contains colour photos of close to 300 plants and descriptions of many times that number (and largely different to the plants covered in our Tropical Plants book).  http://acsebook.com/products/2238-trees-and-shrubs-for-warm-placescoming-soon.aspx

Garden Design Part 1    1st edition
A huge book with around 300 inspiring colour photos; that explains how to design a garden in a way that is able to be understood by a beginner, but full of tips and ideas that can help even seasoned professionals.    http://www.acsebook.com/products/2242-garden-design-part-1.aspx

Garden Design Part 2    1st edition
Following on from Garden Design Part 1, this presents approximately 300 more photos, and a huge amount of inspirational reading to help you (in particular), understand the different styles of garden and the options open to you as a garden designer, or a home owner.   http://acsebook.com/products/2244-garden-design-part-2.aspx 

Starting a Nursery or Herb Farm 3rd edition
Another best selling print book, now available as an e book. Previously published by Night Owl (first ed) and Simon and Schuster (2nd ed).   http://www.acsebook.com/products/2241-starting-a-nursery-or-herb-farm.aspx

Starting a Garden or Landscape Business 2nd ed.
Previously published by Simon and Schuster; this is a must read for anyone wanting to set out on a career in horticulture.  http://acsebook.com/products/2239-starting-a-garden-or-landscape-business.aspx

Discounts offered for students of ACS Distance Education

The Colour Challenge.

The Colour Challenge.

Article from College of Horticulture home study course, for landscaping ideas. The smallest gardens are often the most difficult to design. There are so many possibilities, and such little space available.

Read more

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