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Garden for a Dry Planet
A playful landscape inspires water conservation.
By Kim Sorvig


Across the Western United States, landscape architects are worried. Everyone suffers during water shortages, but parched landscapes threaten this profession all too directly.

As reservoir levels drop and forecasters predict a decades-long dry spell, water conservation enforcement is going on heightened alert. Ordinances are usually voluntary until a drought emergency is declared, but many Western jurisdictions have already moved to mandatory restrictions. New landscape plantings may be curtailed, even prohibited for a whole season. Irrigation is cut back to once a week, and unless conditions improve, stopped altogether. All but native plants, and even some of those, start to die around homes, businesses, and parks. Drought-caused wildfire inspires fear, with officials encouraging or requiring the destruction of vegetation as the solution. Development moratoriums are debated but are usually killed for economic reasons.

Oddly, San Diego ornamental horticulturist Jan Tubiolo calls drought "a win—win situation."

A major reason for Tubiolo's positive outlook is the Water Conservation Garden (WCG), an educational site she helped two regional water agencies to establish at Cuyamaca College in eastern San Diego. "I've been beating the Xeriscape drum for over 20 years," says Tubiolo. "Drought makes people pay attention." The Water Conservation Garden gives that attention a tangible, adventuresome focus.

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