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Diggin' It

Water and how we use it in the garden

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Surrounded by the sere scents of California’s straw-colored fields, I first learned to garden. The vegetables survived on gray water. We hauled the shower buckets to our plot and, with a foot-thick straw mulch between the rows, we discovered just how little water we could use and still keep plants alive.

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There was not much to spare for ornamental gardening, but I came to admire the drought-tolerant native plants, like California lilac (Ceanothus ssp.), which spangles the hillsides with blue flowers in spring and then hunkers down in summer, neatly curling its dark green leaves sideways to avoid the sun.

Out of this background of opposites, I’ve come to possess a strong water sensibility. I now live outside Eugene, Ore. The weather here combines the overflowing saturation of Pennsylvania — our average rainfall is 45 inches, arriving mostly in the winter months — and California-dry summers.

I believe that because water is a relatively cheap commodity, we, as a society, tend to not recognize its true worth. In my blog posts I will explore ways we can use water, conserve it, value it and enjoy it for all the wide-ranging gifts it brings.

Mary-Kate Mackey, co-author of Sunset’s Secret Gardens—153 Design Tips from the Pros and contributor to the Sunset Western Garden Book, writes a monthly column for the Hartley Greenhouse webpage ( and numerous articles for Fine Gardening, Sunset and other magazines. She teaches at the University of Oregon’s School of Journalism & Communication.

Editor’s note: For more on gardening, see the Monitor’s main gardening page, which offers articles on many gardening topics. Also, our blog archive and our RSS feed. You may want to visit Gardening With the Monitor on Flickr. Take part in the discussions and get answers to your gardening questions. If you join the group (it’s free), you can upload your garden photos and enter our next contest. We’ll be looking for photographs of fruits. So find your best shots of summer’s blueberries, peaches, plums, etc., and get out your camera to take some stunning shots of early fall apples. Post them before Sept. 30, 2009, and you could be the next winner.

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