The term “xeriscaping” defines the process of designing landscapes for water-efficiency. The term was first coined in Colorado in 1981, but has existed throughout cultures for many centuries. Xeriscaping is achieved through the practice of designing with 5 basic principles:
- Minimization of high water demanding ground covers, i.e. lawn areas (using turf only when it provides function)
- Efficient irrigation techniques
- Protection and improvement of planting soils
- Suitable plant species selection for the specific environment (natives and naturalized species)
- Continual maintenance to reduce water requirements over time
Although the term was first used here, the concept has been implemented throughout the world. Historically Iberians, (i.e. modern day Spain and Portugal) before modern irrigation techniques were very innovative in this field, cultivating fame for their agricultural innovations in dry climates. (As a nifty side fact, this agricultural skill set is the reason the small nation of Bermuda has such vibrant Portuguese subculture today, as they immigrated thousands of Portuguese farmers during the American revolution because they feared an American embargo and needed help becoming agricultural self sufficient.)
Upon arriving in these countries it is clear that there is an embracement of the demands of the environment. There is an acceptance of the existing climate and an adaptation to the natural environment is made rather than fighting the elements at high expense. From this acceptance arises a unique aesthetic that we here can learn from as we move towards sustainable design as a country. A way of rethinking not just our landscape choices but our use of art, hardscape and architecture to match the existing environment rather than battling the natural setting.
Permaculture, as it applies to the landscape, is an attempt to mimic symbiotic relationships found in nature in the practice of agriculture, in order to create self-sufficiency and sustainability. America remains one of the highest consumers of energy, largest producers of waste, and most excessive consumers of artificial fertilizers.
In Iberia, as the colonial empires fell apart, the Spanish, and more extremely the Portuguese, became very poor. Much like many countries that have gone through financial hardships, land became abandoned throughout the major cities, currencies fell apart, and families began to need a means to lower expenses. Through this combination of events, these cultures reverted to the historic practice of self sufficiency in micro farms. All throughout these cities today you will find brilliant little farms using found materials to grow crops in abandoned lots. Because these are personal farms, unlike American mega farms, they lack major irrigation, industrial fertilizers, and monoculture production. Instead, they mix crops and use the symbiotic relationships of the plants to sustain each other, have crop productions all season long, and keep water requirements lower.
In the United States, this has already become a major planning innovation in Detroit as it begins to recover from economic hardship. Entire city blocks have begun to transform into functioning urban farms. Even in areas that may not have the economic hardships, we can still see the value in the environmental sustainability these practices hold.
By reducing the need to transport crops over great distances we can reduce the environmental destruction of the energy usage, but it is more than that. When designed with aesthetic intention, we can turn what would be a landscape that just consumes time, money and water into beautiful, consumable resources that actually save you the owner money at the grocery store.