Supplement Feature - April 2008
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Trends in Park Landscaping

By Sue Marquette Poremba

"In 2003, we created a drought plan," Casey explained. "We looked at how we were using water and asked if we were being efficient."

The parks department partnered with local utilities, the Bureau of Reclamation, and the water authority, so the changes being made in the Henderson parks come at virtually no cost to residents.

One result of the drought plan was a turf conversion program. The town converted more than 1 million square feet of turf to other landscaping options, which saved over 500 million gallons of water. "We've been able to stay at a 5 percent reduction in water, even adding all the extra acreage," Casey noted.

The formerly unused turf areas were replaced with drought-tolerant landscapes. "You can use a myriad of different annuals and colors and trees that bloom and flower," Casey said. "It doesn't mean that it's no plants."

In some areas, the parks are using native revegetation, but for the most part, they are planting drought-resistant trees like mesquites and chaste trees (vitex agnus-castus), trees that are accustomed to native desert areas.

"We're really trying to use a palette that mixes colors," Casey said. "We don't want to just take away a green area of turf, but the areas are much more attractive after we made the change."

Xeriscaping requires a different type of maintenance. "Obviously, we're saving water," Casey said. Henderson now uses a drip method of irrigation, rather than the typical sprinkler-style systems. "The water goes into the ground much slower."

There is, however, more manual labor that comes into play with xeriscape. "You have to rake it, you have to treat it with herbicides, there's more pruning," he said. "But with the water savings and the drought conditions, it's well worth it."

Despite taking the approach that was best for the community as a whole, it did take the parks department time and effort to convince the citizens of Henderson that xeriscaping was the best option. "Initially people were upset," Casey said. "We promoted it and showed people the contrasts. We explained what we were doing and why. People then saw that it could be attractive when done right."

In the long run, with the drought, Casey knew that the parks management team needed to change its way of thinking. "We had turf grass wall to wall in every park. With the drought, that was not favorable for us."