Creating the Prairie Xeriscape

26 April 2013

Creating the Prairie Xeriscape
by Sara Williams
Published by Coteau Books
Review by Regine Haensel
$34.95 ISBN 978-1-55050-461-3
I dove into Creating the Prairie Xeriscape in the first week of April while snow drifted down outside.  With winter refusing to loosen its grip on the landscape, the book was like taking a drink of cool water after wandering a dry desert for days.  Though given the subject matter, perhaps I should say taking a small sip of water that I had hoarded and conserved carefully! According to Williams, “Xeriscaping is an environmentally friendly approach to your yard and garden that leaves your piece of the world in as good or better shape than when you assumed stewardship.”

     Well known and respected throughout the prairies, Sara Williams’ weekly gardening column appears in more than twenty-five newspapers.  For twelve years she worked as horticultural specialist at Extension Division, University of Saskatchewan.  In 2008, she received the Prairie Garden Award of Excellence, and will be inducted into the Saskatchewan Agricultural Hall of Fame in 2013.

     Creating the Prairie Xeriscape is a revision and update (the number of plant species mentioned has nearly doubled) of the 1997 book of the same name; it is well organized, rich with photographs and packed with pertinent information.  Xeriscaping can be applied to “condominiums, urban yards, farms, acreages, and public spaces.”  The book includes design advice and drawings, suggestions for mass plantings in rural yards, planting to attract birds, and an approach to rethinking lawns.  Five chapters describe and illustrate trees and shrubs, perennials, annuals, vines and bulbs that can be used in xeriscaping.  Whether you are a beginner or experienced gardener, the book will prove useful and spark creativity.

     I like Williams’ suggestion to “begin with the area of your yard with which you are most dissatisfied.”   From drawing diagrams of what you have, through using overlays to outline potential changes, to preparing beds, Williams guides you through the process and explains how to “think like a plant” for best success.  She discusses in detail how to prepare soil, gives tips for water conservation and grouping plants by water needs, while explaining how to arrange plantings for maximum attractiveness.  Ever wonder which type of sprinkler or sprinkler head you should use?  Williams discusses several options and their suitability for various situations.

     Although the whole book is loaded with glossy colour photographs and illustrations, the section on “Xeriscape Plants” is particularly attractive and helpful when trying to decide what to choose.  You can quickly get an idea of plant size, shape, colour, use, and care.  A sun-shaped symbol marks the most drought tolerant plants.  From maples and Saskatoon berry bushes, through drought tolerant perennials such as a yellow rose, peonies and yarrow, as well as bulbs, to annuals like the scarlet pimpernel and sunflowers, you will find old favourites and new friends.  The alphabetized “Appendices” quickly allow you to compare plant light needs, height, foliage colour, and flowers and fruit.

     Whether you buy Creating the Prairie Xeriscape for yourself or for friends and relatives, it will be not only a treasured reference for years to come, but also a lovely book to enjoy while waiting for the weather to change.

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