September 30th marks the end of 2014's water year which was the 4th driest on record. I was having a discussion with a colleague who was expressing issues about not wanting to encourage new garden installations during drought because: even drought tolerant plants take water to establish. I have had one of the busiest seasons this year partially because of the drought and I encourage people to take action during this time. It may seem counter-intuitive, but here are my reasons why a drought is the BEST time to plant a new water-wise garden:
Times of Crisis are Catalysts for Big Shifts and new ways of thinking. Yes- it would be the most conservative route to just let the lawn go brown
and do nothing, but if people let their lawn go dormant and take NO
action, there's always the chance we have a huge El Nino year- drought
restrictions are pulled, and people just go back to watering the lawn
because it's "cheap" and "easy" (in the short run). Take the drought as an opportunity to really evaluate our consumption, our waste, the environment in which we live and how to co-exist with it and give back rather than fight it. How about using outdoor showers in the summer that water our fruit trees? Laundry to landscape? Re-working the earth to slow it, spread it, sink it; re-working our brains to reduce, reuse. As an opportunity to create new habits and new shifts as a society.
Economical Incentive: In California, there are numerous rebates available from water districts. Lawn removal rebates, conversion from spray to drip... as well as all sorts of free and discounted resources such as rain barrels, greywater workshops, on top of countless interior home rebates to reduce water consumption and raise awareness. In Santa Cruz, there are water use restrictions per person/ per household and people are getting taxed for going over their water allotment. Taking out the lawn and converting to drip reduces the water use DRASTICALLY.
I have a client that took out her lawn, replaced with a lovely front yard garden this Spring (she also took advantage of other water rebates for her home)- this summer, the water district came by to make sure her water meter was working because they couldn't believe it went down so much! For the record, all of my clients who installed new gardens this year remained BELOW their allowed water use... and in the long run, once plants take full root and establish, the water usage will only decrease.
Quality of Life and Space: Changing our surroundings to reflect our needs and aesthetics gets USE out of an otherwise flat water/energy sink. We can plant vegetables, herbs or fruit trees to bring back in the home- which not only is great for the soul, but also for the family/community- as food brings people together. If we have a beautiful garden with flowering sages and lavenders and hummingbirds chirping around- coming and going from the home is a pleasant experience- for the nose the eyes and the ears. Re-imagining our spaces might also include creating a new seating area that was otherwise unused- a new recreating area, vantage point or retreat zone. So you see designing and planting a new garden is really reclaiming your space- and why would you wait until later for that?
In regards to edible gardening, here's a great article on drought gardening: http://www.treehugger.com/lawn-garden/how-to-have-bountiful-water-saving-garden-time-drought.html