An excerpt from “Nature-scaping Your Yard” by Judie Steeves, Kelowna Capital News
The first summer Saskia Makela spent in the first home of her own, she resented the time spent watering her lawn. “I’d look across the street at Knox Mountain and it was beautiful. There were grasses and a variety of colour—and no one was watering over there,” she comments. “On our side of the street, it was all just green lawns,” she adds. “We had lots to do inside our new home, yet we were spending all our time in the yard watering and mowing the lawn,” she explains.
Makela grew up in Kelowna and learned that the lush green vineyards, orchards and golf courses can be deceptive, like the deep blue lake that is a feature of the Okanagan Valley. It’s actually a very arid climate, with little natural precipitation. As it happened, that north end home was bought in the spring of 2003, which turned out to one of the driest years in recent memory.
“I had no clue about gardening. My mom was a gardener, but I’d never done any” she explains. However, that fall, they dug up the green lawn they’d watered all summer, turned it upside down to compost over winter, and formed a berm with it. It was on the advice of an old family friend, Gwen Steele, who then owned Dry Valley Gardens. She’s well-known for her expertise creating colourful gardens with year-round interest, that require very little water. When the snow melted the next spring, Makela says she had a pile of composted soil in her yard and no idea what to do next.
“I didn’t have much money for plants, but I went out and bought anything that said it was drought tolerant. I accepted plants people had divided up and I found some irises in the alley. Since then, I’ve killed lots of plants, but I’ve learned a lot, and I just keep playing with it,” she explains. She calls it being cheap and lazy, but she says she’s found that it’s surprising how low maintenance the garden she’s built really is.
She now has two young children, so time is in short supply, but even in mid-summer, she only waters her garden a couple of times a month. New plants get a little more attention, but now even in pots on her porch, she uses drought tolerant ones which need little water through the summer.
In her back yard, she has a vegetable garden but she removed the poplars and put in a native Oregon grape hedge, and she left a patch of lawn for the kids. However, she’s quick to point out that the kids spend half their time in the front yard, enjoying the little gravel pathways and the tall plants. “It’s like they’re in a forest because the plants get so big,” she notes. “People think because there’s no lawn in the front that it’s not kid-friendly, but they love it,” she adds.
Something she didn’t think about when she embarked on this adventure was the return of butterflies and birds to her yard, with its new diversity. In fact, she admits the final product is not what she’s expected. “I just wanted to get rid of that lawn,” she says.
In the process, she now finds she’s done what everyone else wants to do: create a xeriscaped yard, which is low maintenance; uses little water; needs no fertilizer or chemicals, yet has few insect pests and diseases.
Saskia’s advice to others contemplating a similar move: “Go for it. Just jump in!”