Book Review: The Water-Saving Garden

The Water-Saving Garden, by Pam Penick

[Note: This book was provided free of charge by Blogging For Books/10 Speed Press in exchange for an honest review.]

As someone who has read my share of books on gardening [1], it is intriguing to see the parallels between one book and another. Especially since this is the third gardening book I have read from the same publisher, there are some definite parallels between this book and the other two, namely that what this author sees as gardening with water in mind is useful as well to those who wish to grow on rooftops in containers (which is discussed in this book) and also involves the use of bee and bird-friendly natives and well-acculturated other plants. That said, this is a book that is written from a clear agenda, namely a high degree of concern about droughts, water restrictions that harm traditional turf-heavy lawns, and the supposed threat of dreaded climate change, which give the author a great deal of encouragement in writing this particular volume to those gardeners who want to reduce their labor or garden with reducing water consumption in mind.

In terms of the contents of this book, there is a lot to appreciate. The book is full of photographs to illustrate its point that gardening does not need to use a lot of water to look gorgeous. The book itself, which is just over 200 pages, is divided into five parts. After a short introduction introducing the author’s panicky message of environmental trouble, the first part consists of seven sample gardens that show off water-saving techniques: a dry garden, a zen-inspired concrete garden, a desert-themed garden, a garden that holds onto every drop of rain not letting any runoff, a colorful dry slope, a garden with bold foliage, and a dry garden that evokes water. Part two consists of the first five chapters of the book, and focuses on techniques that make a garden a water saver rather than a water guzzler: holding onto water, choosing permeable paving, efficient irrigation techniques, soil and mulching, and using shade to lower evaporation. The third part of the book looks at how someone can plant a water-saving garden containing five chapters on such issues as reducing lawn space, growing native and well-adapted plants, ripple-zone planting and taking advantage of lush areas of naturally high water content, properly timing planting, and saving water in container and balcony gardens for urban dwellers with limited space. The fourth part of the book consists of three chapters that help gardeners create the illusion of water by encouraging zen gardens, evoking water through wavy plants, and squeezing water from stone, so to speak. The fifth and final part of the book consists of 101 plant recommendations to save water, some of which are very lovely indeed.

Although there are some areas where this book is worthy of great praise, such as the way it promotes a great deal of Portlandia gardening expertise, this book is not free of blameworthy aspects. For one, the book contains the usual internal contradiction that makes fallacious appeals to the evolution of native plants while promoting unrecognized and deeply intelligent garden design. For another, the book’s strident political tone and uncritical adoption of environmentalist rhetoric is off-putting and alienating, about as irritating as kudzu. Fortunately, there is enough that is beautiful about the book that the author’s endorsement of heathen Buddhist zen garden design and bogus political worldview is only a minor irritant, and that one can largely ignore the book’s philosophizing and take its practical tips and well-photographed pictures of elegant and water-efficient gardens at face value, which is far more worthwhile and enjoyable. Whether one agrees or not with the author’s politics, the fact that water-saving gardens save money and effort in watering and mowing plants, and can create beautiful and elegant gardens is worthwhile enough for readers to consider, especially if they like to create distinctive spaces with strong local color.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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