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Want a high-impact, low-fuss garden? Try xeriscaping

In Toronto, a sustainable garden by landscape architect Janet Rosenberg features bold groupings of hardy plants, including Sedum ‘Angelina’ to the left of the path, bordered by a ‘river’ of sand and stone.

Jeff McNeill

The question

How is a xeriscape different from other landscapes?

The answer

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To xeriscape is to put plants with similar needs – all sun, all shade, etc. – together. Xeriscapes are also always drought-tolerant. In practical terms, this means that, after a good watering, they can survive for about a week before needing more hydration.

The question

What's the best kind of soil for a xeric garden?

The answer

Sandy soil, plus some compost, is ideal. Add horticultural grit to heavier soil with a lot of clay.

The question

How do you plan and lay out a xeriscape?

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The answer

First, establish a tabula rasa, eliminating all obstructions except natural elements such as large rocks, which can serve as anchors and defining features. All of the plants in xeriscapes need welldrained soil, so, second, backfill the space you are going to use with ordinary, fairly sandy soil. If you have clay, excavate to about 20 centimetres deep, add masses of compost and horticultural grit and make sure it drains quickly. (To ensure drainage is good, make a hole in the area you are planting, dump a bucket of water into the hole and see how long it takes to seep down.) Finally, lay out plants in pleasing combos or waves, keeping their heights and spreads in mind. Fill in blank spaces with ground cover or a stone/gravel mulch.

The question

Once it's in place, how do you water a xeric garden properly?

The answer

The best system, if there is no rain, is to water by hand, once a week and deeply. Alternatively, install a basic drip system and turn it on only when the plants really need to be watered – that is, when there has been a long break between rain showers.

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