Tena Morkeberg may be an accidental gardener, but that didn’t stop her from winning a waterwise garden recognition award last year.
“I’ve often said I think I kind of stumbled into waterwise gardening, I didn’t deliberately go out to do it,” Morkeberg chuckled. “I call myself a lazy gardener, that’s why I put in a lot of mulch, so that I didn’t have to weed heavily or drag the hose out regularly.”
Since the city first initiated its Waterwise Landscape Recognition Program in 2010 in partnership with Brantford Master Gardeners and the Brantford Garden Club, 24 residents have been awarded for their water conservation and property beautification efforts.
“What makes the program unique is that I didn’t want this to be a contest,” Brantford environmental engineering technologist Leanne Knuckle said. “The whole goal of our program is to encourage the wise use of our municipal water supply. If you made the effort to be waterwise, you should be recognized for that.”
The program was introduced as a pilot project in 2010 when Knuckle was searching for ways to encourage water preservation in the city as well as complement existing rain barrel programs and water restriction initiatives.
“One of the biggest uses of water that creates peak demand in summer is outdoor water use,” Knuckle said. “We see water use go up by 50 per cent in the summer. We recognized that we need to sort of encourage people when landscaping to keep it dry.”
Waterwise gardening, or xeriscaping, has been encouraged in areas like Colorado, California, Australia and Texas since the 1970’s.
While those areas often see limited rainfall throughout summer months and need to search for ways to preserve precious water resources, Brantford, too, can benefit by being water conscious, Knuckle said.
“We spend a lot of money on our drinking water and just underwent a $50-million upgrade at our water treatment plant to address taste and odour issues,” she said. “Now we have ozone and UV to help with that. We treat it and make it safe to drink, and then we go and throw it on our lawns. It is our municipally treated water supply that we want to conserve.”
To be recognized as waterwise, no more than 50 per cent of available greenspace can be lawn, the property should have more plants than grass, plants should be perennial, native or drought-tolerant, gardens should be well mulched and rain barrels should be used.
“We look at the water conservation aspect, the waterwise design aspect and the maintenance,” Knuckle said. “We want to balance water conservation with esthetic appeal.”
Morkeberg’s garden has been a work in progress over the past 10 years. After utilizing free mulch and compost from the city, she built her garden utilizing perennials like coneflowers, blanket flowers, self-seeding sunflowers, day lilies and sedum.
“It’s a whole conglomeration of things,” she said. “My peony is my antique plant. I got it from my great aunt’s garden and it is very well established so it will tolerate a lot of drought.”
Shirley Gates also caught the xeriscaping bug when she put a pond in her backyard 10 years ago.
“That kind of gave me the gardening bug and I started expanding by putting in patios and whatnot so the backyard became grass-free,” she said.
Gates tackled her front yard three years ago, killing off grass by layering it with seven layers of newspaper and then covering it with topsoil and mulch offered by the city.
“When I turned 50 my husband suggested to my friends and family that rather than give me gifts, to give me perennials from their own gardens,” Gates said. “That’s why I call it my friendship garden. Now my front garden is grass-free too.”
People can learn more about waterwise gardening by visiting demonstration gardens at the corner of Powerline Road and Frances Street, or by attending free waterwise gardening workshops hosted by the city in the spring.
For more information, or to nominate a property for recognition, call 519-759-1511, or visit www.brantford.ca/waterwisegardening. Nominations close Aug. 22 and recognized properties receive a waterwise award created by Rose Ricci of Smakdab Pottery.