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Beth Chatto Gardens, Elmstead Market, Essex, England by ukgardenphotosWater has been on our minds a lot here this week. We are currently working hard to set up a Roots & Shoots project in Abu Dhabi, where water conservation is a hot topic. Abu Dhabi has one of the highest rates of water consumption in the world, estimated at 550 litres of water per person per day compared with 85 litres in Jordan, a country with a similar climate. The current usage of groundwater reservoirs is about 15 times more than the natural recharge rates, so the difference has to be made up using desalination plants which use a lot of energy (hence contributing to climate change) and discharge highly salty water into the sea (bad for marine life).

So, we have been designing some classroom activities for schools in Abu Dhabi to help teach the children about the need to save water and how they can help. First we looked at how to save water in the home (UK equivalent activity here), then we turned our attention to saving water in the garden where we came across the concept of xeriscaping.

As well as being a great word (first coined in Denver, Colorado), xeriscaping is also a great idea. It is a set of principles to help landscape and plant gardens in such a way as to use as little water as possible. It’s already a popular practice in much of the western United States and we think it’s a technique that could benefit from greater exposure in the UK as well. Boiled down to its essentials, it is about choosing the right plant varieties (local species are often best, which is also a boon for local wildlife) and improving the efficiency of irrigation (landscape the area to reduce run-off, water in early mornings/late evenings when it is cooler, water closer to the ground or, even better, switch to using drip irrigation). Using these techniques water usage can be reduced drastically – by as much as 75% in hotter, drier areas.

There are a number of gardens in the UK that practice these techniques already – Beth Chatto Gardens in Elmstead Market, Essex (pictured) is one example, and this wonderful flickr gallery from ukgardenphotos shows plenty more.

If you’re feeling inspired to try out some of the techniques yourself this website takes you through the basics and your local garden centre should be able to help you out with choosing suitable species. Good luck, and keep us up to date on how you do in the comments below!

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