Weed & Water Wednesday: A Favorite Desert Garden

Reader Contribution by Jessica Kellner

We recently did the post-issue survey for the Natural Home and Garden November/December issue. The post-issue surveys are extremely important to us: They give us a chance to ask our Editorial Advisory Group (a group of more than 6,000 of our readers, both subscribers and nonsubscribers–join here) how they liked the previous issue, giving us guidance as we shape our editorial content. The November/December issue got great reviews overall, but a few people commented on our garden articles, which focused on preparing the garden for winter, saying they live in a hot climate where they can garden year-round. Lucky them! It inspired me to take a look at some of our past desert gardening features, and it also made me realize we need to feature more desert gardens! They’re so beautiful, and we can all take a lesson from their water-saving techniques. Fortunately, we have a gorgeous desert garden on the schedule for next year. In the meantime, I thought I’d share one of my past favorites!

This “Water-Wise Oasis” was one of our Editors’ Picks for Gardens of the Decade in our 10th anniversary issue. It’s at the home of permaculture teacher Brad Lancaster, who, along with his brother Rodd, uses low-tech, inexpensive strategies to transform his barren yard into an award-winning showcase for sustainable horticulture. Amazingly, Brad harvests more than 100,000 gallons of rainwater every year on his 1/8-acre urban lot in arid Tucson. If you want to learn more about how Brad did it, pick up his book, Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands.

The winter garden features sunken, mulched, water-harvesting basins. Brad grows more than a dozen varieties of edible cacti, which provide food throughout the year.

A public right-of-way joins Brad’s home with his neighbor Christine’s (pictured). The area used to be devoid of vegetation, and it washed rainwater and topsoil into the street. Now abundant native vegetation makes it a songbird habitat.

Brad also harvests the sun: Eight solar panels provide his home’s electricity, two batch-style hot water heaters provide hot water, and a solar oven keeps cooking heat outdoors in summer.

Brad keeps bees to help pollinate the garden, and he harvests their organic honey and wax.

Brad grows 15 to 20 percent of his food on his rainwater-fed garden. He also participates in community events celebrating the native foods of the Sonoran Desert.

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