What’s in a name?

In yet another dry summer in year 5 of a drought, I’m reminded how names influence perceptions and actions. Shakespeare’s Juliet argued That which we call a rose / By any other name would smell as sweet.Maybe for Romeo, but not for amorphous concepts to transform water-intensive landscapes.

Take ‘drought-tolerant,’ the industry-standard coinage for plants with biological adaptations to survive a drought until moisture returns. That implies temporary shortages, a delusion that can impact a garden’s long-term viability.

Consider ‘xeric’, conceived in the 1980-81 crippling drought by the Denver Water Board for plants that thrive in dry conditions with zero irrigation. That conveys such barren permanence of cacti and gravel that public perception the past 30 years and even Sunset shun xeric as a negative word.

Ponder ‘dry-adapted,’ ‘low-water,’ or ‘unthirsty.’ These phrases exude non-greedy plant material, right? How about ‘climate-appropriate,’ ‘climate-tolerant,’ or ‘native?’ These align with local weather conditions. All 6 terms, though, focus on plant selection without regard to critical irrigation and maintenance operations.

With 8 names coming up short, what else is holistic, accurate, and inspiring? I find both ‘waterwise’ and ‘summer-dry’ suit the bill. Much of California, Colorado, and Texas has no rain most of the year, and as Saxon Holt observed in Drought Tolerant is Irrelevant, “It’s not drought. It’s normal.” Such prolonged lack of moisture mandates rigorous waterwise gardening practices.

While all these designations reduce consumption, ‘waterwise’ and ‘summer-dry’ smell sweetest. With their span from design to plant picks to installation to maintenance, they set a course for robust gardens and lasting conservation. They have for me, and hopefully can for you too.