Waterwise Gardens bark

What is waterwise?

The term “waterwise” has been used for many years by gardeners striving to create appropriate gardens in climate regions where rainfall or water supply is limited.  Well-known advocates of this approach include The Mediterranean Garden Society and particularly one of its former presidents, Heidi Gildemeister, whose books provide a sound introduction to the concept.

Olivier Filippi, whose garden is featured in the "Inspiration" section of this website, has a nursery and demonstration garden dedicated to Mediterranean-climate plants from around the world, and shows just what can be achieved in an irrigation-free garden. These lines from the introduction of his excellent book "The Dry Gardening Handbook" explain the situation very well:

"Every month, gardening magazines make us dream of superb gardens, generally in northern Europe. Yet, in areas with a Mediterranean climate, these ideal conditions are a dream that can never be fulfilled. Instead of gentle light we have brutal sunshine; instead of rich soil we have the stony garrigue. The drier the climate, the harder it seems to make a garden. It is as if we are engaged in a ceaseless battle against a hostile environment.

Nevertheless, dry climates offer extraordinary gardening possibilities. We feel instinctively that water brings luxuriance and variety, and that dryness restricts our gardening possibilities. Yet exactly the opposite is true."

The flora of the Mediterranean basin counts with around 25,000 plant species. When we look at the Mediterranean climate zones worldwide, this increases to an estimated 75,000 species; all of them specifically adapted to cope with summer drought. However, many of them will not survive if watered frequently in summer. To quote Filippi once again:

"If you water your garden during the hot weather you will never be able to grow the full range of plants adapted to the Mediterranean climate. The beautiful Salvia candelabrum will be nothing more than a fantasy, the magnificent Fremontodendron covered in golden flowers won’t stand a chance. Don’t bother even to dream of the vibrant blue of Lithodora fruticosa or of the soft, silky pink flowers of Ebenus cretica - irrigation will kill them just as surely as a powerful dose of herbicide."

Being wise with your water does not necessarily mean giving it up altogether (though we firmly believe that is a goal worth striving for!), but rather using it at the right time, in the right place, and thinking about how much water you really need to spend. Some plants will need a little water through the summer while they establish, but this must be infrequent and thorough.

Plant at the right time of year – give the plants a chance to establish with the winter rains. Plant appropriate species – the choice is enormous. But most importantly: reconsider your lawn. The next page offers an explanation of exactly why and how you can do this.

It is our hope that these pages prove that being waterwise is the practical, labour-saving and, ultimately, more rewarding way to manage a garden in a summer-dry climate.