If you and your family were setting out to sea indefinitely on a small ship that would receive limited deliveries of potable water once a week, chances are you wouldn’t plant a garden of hibiscus and bougainvillea on deck. Why not? Because it would be impractical: these ornamental plants guzzle fresh water. They would be pretty to look at, but you’d soon chuck them overboard when you had to decide if you or the bougainvillea got the water that week.
Jordan is one of the most water-poor countries in the world. The limited fresh water available is needed for human survival, maintaining household hygiene, and growing fruits and vegetables. Jordan’s indigenous desert plants can cope with sustained droughts, and therefore flourish with little maintenance in gardens. However, walk along a street in Abdoun or any other high-income area in Amman and you are sure to see luscious gardens full of plants better suited to a tropical climate. These gardens may be beautiful but they dominate much needed fresh water supplies. And the fact is: gardens don’t need plants with high water consumption in order to look lovely.
Xeriscape is an environmental term that refers to designing public or residential gardens for low water use. In addition to using amended soil and designing irrigation for minimal water use, xeriscaped gardens contain plants that are drought-tolerant or have very low water consumption. These do not have to be indigenous plants. Rather, xeriscaped gardens may also include species that have been introduced from other areas of the world with similar growing conditions. By using low water consumption plants in public and private gardens, countries like Jordan, Israel, and Palestine can use less water and thus help preserve natural resources like the Dead Sea and Jordan River.
Earlier this week, I visited the National Gallery of Fine Arts Park, previously known as the Jabal al-Weibdeh Park. Reclaimed in 2005, this public park was designed intentionally to save water and to educate visitors about plants and water consumption. The landscape is both graceful and modern. Benches line the outer edges, providing a quiet place in the middle of the city to sit and enjoy crepe myrtles, palm trees, and lavender. Sculptures commissioned by the Gallery of Fine Arts peek between cypress trees in one area of the park, while in another they serve as waterless plants in a bed of sand that needs no irrigation whatsoever. Tall glass vases in an educational garden are filled to varying levels to indicate the water consumption of each specific species of plant.
Educational placard in the National Gallery of Fine Arts Park explains, “This garden contains groups of plants that can sustain drought. The level of blue in the glass pots located near some of the plants shows their water consumption”
The National Gallery of Fine Arts Park sets a commendable precedent in Jordan in its both beautiful and conservationist design, and caretakers of both public and private gardens would do well to consider similar designs. Garden reform is one of Friends of the Earth Middle East’s strategies in Jordan for the Jordan River Rehabilitation Campaign.
This post is written by FoEME intern Emily Hylton. Emily is based in FoEME’s Amman office.