Published by City Farmer, Canada's Office of Urban Agriculture


City Farmer's Waterwise Demonstration Garden

Six Steps to a Waterwise Garden

  1. Get a rain barrel.

  2. Mulch your flower and vegetable beds (with compost, leaves or straw).

  3. Let your lawn go brown in the summer.

  4. Install soaker hoses.

  5. Leave your clippings on the lawn.

  6. Consider drought tolerant plants.

Judith Cowan is currently re-developing the Waterwise Demonstration Garden at the City of Vancouver's Compost Demonstration Garden at 2150 Maple Street. (The garden was created by Ross Waddell in 1995.) Contact:

Our Coastal Temperate Rainforest

We dwell in the midst of a coastal temperate rainforest. As a result, our landscape expresses the abundance of water in the types of plants that grow here (a proliferation of mosses, ferns and herbaceous perennials), lush growth and a long growing season. Vancouver has cool, wet winters and warm, dry summers. The majority of the rain falls during winter and spring leaving the summer months in a state of drought like conditions.

waterwise garden

The Lower Mainland places the greatest demand on its water supply when the storage of the reservoirs are at their lowest. During the summer the GVRD implements sprinkling regulations in order to conserve water by limiting the watering of lawns. These restrictions are necessary as they control the demand placed on our water supply during the summer and heighten public awareness on the preciousness of this essential element. Using the principles of waterwise gardening will help to prevent unnecessary wastage, ensuring clean water for all and future generations.

What is waterwise gardening?

Waterwise gardening is not synonymous with xeriscaping. Xeriscaping is the term used for landscaping in areas that have extended periods of drought and dry weather (or xeric climates) such as the southern United States. Waterwise gardening is a more appropriate explanation for gardening in mesic climates like Vancouver and incorporates the collection and storage of rainwater, soil health, maintenance techniques and the choice of appropriate plant species to create healthy, beautiful gardens.

Collection and storage of rainwater

As rain falls onto city streets, it quickly flows along curbs and gutters down into the storm sewers. By capturing and holding the rain, it can seep slowly downward through the soil to be drawn up by the root systems of plants.

Contour the land to slow the speed of runoff.
Excellent examples are the terracing of hills and slopes and the creation of roadside swales.


Plant in Layers.
Layered vegetation intercepts a greater amount of rainfall than a single layer such as lawn. Plant a diversity of groundcovers, shrubs and trees.


Rain Barrels.
The City of Vancouver's Water Works Department has designed a rain barrel to collect rainwater from roofs to be used as an irrigation source for gardens in periods of dry weather rather than drawing on the City's reservoirs. The cost of the rain barrels is subsidized by the City and they are available for purchase by Vancouver residents.

Permeable Paving.
Standard paving systems are usually placed on a layer of sand which is impervious to the movement of water. Permeable paving is set on coarse gravel and water is able to seep into the larger air spaces through to the soil.


Soil Health

builds up the organic matter in the soil thereby increasing the soil's ability to retain water. By composting lawn clippings, leaves and other green waste, important nutrients, minerals, bacteria and microorganisms are recycled back into the soil.

covers and protects the soil from drying out, prevents the loss of nutrients through leaching, and the growth of annual weeds. Mulches (leaves, straw) should always be applied when the soil is moist as they keep the soil temperature and moisture availability constant at the time of application. Green manures such as winter rye grow as a cover crop over the winter to prevent the loss of nutrients through leaching and are dug under in the spring to provide a source of nitrogen for plants.

rock garden

Soaker hoses and drip irrigation
direct water to plant roots and prevent the loss of water through excessive evaporation. These methods slowly release water at or just below soil grade.

Water sparingly.
Roots that have to search for water grow deeper which helps them through extended periods of drought. Plants that are adapted to dry summers do not need to be watered during dry weather once their root systems are established.

Plant Selection

Waterwise gardening is responsive to the conditions throughout the year and uses plants that thrive in periods of both inundation and drought. Select plants that prefer acidic soil conditions, resist root rot from persistent winter rains and can tolerate dry summer weather.


Native plants are uniquely adapted to both our wet winters and dry summers and have little dependence on supplemental water during dry weather. They also express the ecology of our region and portray the beauty of the Lower Mainland's indigenous plant communities. Ornamental species from similar climates such as the Pacific Rim, coastal areas of Europe and wet regions of the Mediterranean Basin will also thrive in our landscape.

Maintenance Techniques

Proper planning can reduce the amount of time and effort expended on tending and watering gardens. Maintain a regular schedule of care and plant thickly to create shade and smother the growth of weeds. Restrict the amount of time controlling plants that aggressively compete for light, moisture and nutrients by using plants in associations where they coexist harmoniously such as Fragaria vesca (coastal strawberry) and Arctostaphylos uva-ursi (kinnikinnik) which combine to form a lush, evergreen water thrifty alternative to lawn. The low maintenance waterwise garden requires less water, has stronger plants and benefits from improved soil.

The principles of waterwise gardening respond to the local and regional conditions of climate and weather patterns, rainfall, topography and successional plant associations. By observing the landscape and working with it more sensitively, a deeper awareness for the natural processes that shape our surroundings develops and not only do we create an improved environment for our plants but also a healthier environment to be shared by everyone.

City Farmer's Waterwise Garden

Plants Currently Displayed (2004)

Juniperus scopulorum Rocky mountain juniper sun
Pinus parviflora 'Adcock's dwarf' Japanese white pine alpine garden
Quercus garryana Garry oak sun
Rhamnus purshiana Cascara sun
Tsuga mertensiana Mountain hemlock sun
Amelanchier alnifolia Saskatoon berry sun
Arctostaphylos columbiana Hairy manzanita sun
Arctostaphylos x. media Hybrid manzanita sun
Gaultheria shallon Salal part sun/shade
Juniperus squamata 'Blue star' Juniper sun
Mahonia aquifolium Oregon grape part sun/shade
Mahonia nervosa Dull oregon grape shade
Ribes cereum Sqaw currant sun
Ribes sanguineum Red flowering currant sun
Ribes sanguineum 'White Icicle' White flowering currant sun
Rosa woodsii Wood's rose sun
Shepherdia canadensis Soopolallie part sun/shade
Spirea betulifolia Birch leaved spirea sun
Spirea douglasii Hardhack part sun/shade
Symphoricarpus albus Common snowberry part sun/shade
Symphoricarpus mollis Trailing snowberry sun
Vaccinium ovatum Evergreen huckleberry sun
Achillea millefolium Yarrow sun
Anaphalis margaritacea Pearly everlasting sun
Anemone multifida Cut leaf anemone sun
Aquilegia Formosa Red columbine shade
Armeria maritime Sea thrift sun
Artemesia schmidtiana 'Silver mound' Wormwood sun
Aster species Aster sun
Carpobrotus chilensis Ice plant sun
Dianthus deltoides Pink
Dianthus plumaris Pink sun
Dodecatheon hendersonii Broad leafed shooting star shade
Erigonum umbellatum Sulfur buckwheat sun
Eriophyllum lanatum Wooly sunflower sun
Escholzia californica California poppy sun
Hebe 'Autumn glory' Hebe sun
Helianthemum 'Wisley primrose' Rock rose sun
Helianthemum 'Wisley white' Rock rosesun
Iberis sempervirens Candytuft sun
Lathyrus japonicus Beach pea sun
Lewisia cotyledon Bitterroot sun
Lomatium dissectum Desert parsley sun
Maianthemum stellata Star flowered Solomon's seal shade
Penstemon species Penstemon sun
Sedum spathulifolium Stonecrop sun
Sedum telephium 'Atropurpureum' Stonecrop sun
Sempervivum sp. Hens and chicks sun
Sisyrinchium douglasii Satin flower shade
Sisyrinchium littorale Blue eyed grass sun
Sisyrinchium idahoense Shore blue eyed grass sun
Blechnum spicant Deer fern shade
Polystichum munitum Sword fern shade
Arctostaphylos uva-ursi Kinnikinnik sun
Dryas octopetala White mountain avens sun
Fragaria chiloensis Coastal strawberry sun
Thymus vulgaris Common thyme sun
Festuca idahoensis var. roemeri Idaho fescue (Roemer's) sun
Allium cernuum Nodding onion sun
Brodiaea hyacinthine Harvest brodiaea sun
Camassia cusickii Cusick's camas (blue) sun
Camassia leichtlinii Great camas (white) sun
Camassia quamash Common camas (blue) sun
Dicentra Formosa Pacific bleeding heart shade
Erythronium oregonum Fawn lily part sun/shade
Iris tenax Iris shade
Narcissus 'Tete a tete' Daffodil sun
Tritelia laxa Blue dicks part sun/shade
Tulipa tarda Species tulips sun
Lonicera ciliosa Orange honeysuckle sun
Lonicera hispidula Purple honeysuckle (trailing) part sun/shade

Useful Resources:

Choosing Best Plants For a Dry Summer
"Gardening - A drought tolerant label may not be enough to guarantee survival. Judith Cowan getting ready to plant a Garry oak in the waterwise garden at City Farmer. It is a boulevard garden half a city block long, and Cowan favours mostly native plants such as Rosa woodsii."

Drought Tolerant Plant List for Vancouver City Boulevards
List compiled by volunteer Master Gardeners from Van Dusen Botanical Garden for the Prince Edward Street Waterwise Blooming Boulevard Project.

Native Plant Society of British Columbia
"The NPSBC Native Plant Society of British Columbia is an organization bringing together people from throughout the province who enjoy, study and work with native plants and habitats."

Guidelines for Planting City Boulevards "Boulevard gardens are now allowed within the following guidelines: There must be reasonable pedestrian access between the curb and the sidewalk. If there is no City sidewalk, access must be provided so pedestrians are not forced to walk on the road. Plants should be perennials or shrubs that will grow less than one metre (3' 3) in height to ensure good sight lines. ... etc."

Drip Irrigation
"There are How-To articles, FAQs and online wizards for calculating which parts are needed for different types of gardens. There is also a simplified version of the 'How much water does a plant need on a summer day?' formula."

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Revised June 11, 2004

Published by City Farmer
Canada's Office of Urban Agriculture