Stay Green At Home

Earth-friendly solutions for home and garden.


"We'll never be out of the drought," Bob Pennington, owner of Agua Fria Nursery, says to a customer pulling a wagon-crammed jumble of low-water, xeric perennials and water-greedy annuals.

Overhead, a towering bank of thunderhead clouds gathers ominously over the mountains. "What about all this rain, all the snow we had this winter?" the skeptical customer asks.

Pennington acknowledges that the moisture makes for a great planting season, "but the demand for water here, which just keeps growing, far exceeds the supply," he says, "even though Santa Fe's one of the most water-thrifty places anywhere."

On the wall at the nursery is a Grandma Moses-style poster of a guy in overalls with a watering can and the words scrawled out: "We love learning from Botanical Bob." The thank-you card, from the students at Chaparral Elementary School, is right at home amid the prolific chaos of the place. When Pennington jokes that he's not the owner, but that the business owns him, there's a sense that it's as much a true statement as a quip.

Pennington's take on the new water regulations adopted by the City Council, which went into effect Jan. 1 (sometime around that 3-foot snowfall), is largely appreciative. "The restrictions on surface watering fit historical water consumption patterns," he explains. "It's a logical setup, based on the seasons, but people should realize we're not getting any new water."

The customer sighs and says, "Well, I guess that's life in the high desert."

Botanical Bob snickers. "We don't live in a high desert. Albuquerque is high desert. We live in juniper-pinon savannah. But that doesn't have any sex appeal; 'high desert' has sex appeal. That's another reason for the new watering laws. It's not that great for tourism for a town to be in a drought emergency for five straight years. It's better to promote it as ongoing, plain-old permanent conservation."

The city's new water ordinance replaces the Stage 2 Water Shortage Emergency regulations. For the ordinary home gardener, there are two important aspects of the new law: No outdoor irrigation is permitted between 10 am and 6 pm from May 1 to Oct. 31 and all hoses used for hand-watering must be equipped with a shut-off valve on the nozzle. A few of the other requirements in the new law are no-brainers, such as using grass seed or sod that's 25 percent or less Kentucky bluegrass (zip, zero, nada is best), not using water to wash driveways or sidewalks, not using overhead spray watering for trees and shrubs and covering outdoor pools when they're not in use.

Some aspects of the regulations seem either cumbersome or unenforceable, such as the "once a month" restriction on washing vehicles residentially or on government or commercial car sales lots. The exception: "A demonstrated public health or safety reason for more frequent washings." One imagines a vehicle so filthy that it poses a public health risk above and beyond its frequent use as a recklessly careening, pothole dodging, turn signal-less battering ram. Also onerous for the more than 100 private landscaping contractors in town: All new irrigation systems require a permit, even if the setup is a single drip line to a couple of rose bushes.

But the first step for any wise gardener is to choose low-water plants. Pennington also advises attention to mulch, which not only cools the root zones of plants but reduces evaporation. "Mulch washes away, blows away in the wind or wears down," Pennington says. "Renewing mulch in the summer is a simple way to save water."

More complex is designing a watering system, but any semi-serious garden will need one. If you've installed a system in the spring, your summer will be much less labor intensive. "Summer, in general, is a great time for reaping the benefits of a well-designed water-wise setup," he says.

Non-watering tasks are limited to weeding and deadheading. But Pennington believes that summer also is a great time for planting, better than fall because temperatures dip so quickly.

Agua Fria Nursery,

1409 Agua Fria St.


Homewise Recycling at ReStore ***image2***

In between all that weeding, deadheading and benefit-reaping, you might find time to pull out windows, paint trim and replace doors. Instead of buying new products at the home improvement mega-mart, consider shopping for recycled supplies and fixtures at ReStore. Voted in the top three building supply stores in Santa Fe by SFR readers in 2006, ReStore is a new and used building materials source that raises money for Habitat for Humanity.

"We serve three basic goals," Simone Ward, director at Restore, says. "The first is to offer the opportunity for low-income families to upgrade their homes. The second is to keep building material that's in usable condition out of the landfill as much as possible. The third is to raise money for new Habitat for Humanity homes here in Santa Fe." Just a glance around the store proves that the first two goals are being met. "Last fiscal year we raised enough to support the building of three new homes," Ward reports.

ReStore's shelves are neatly stocked with new and recycled sinks, plumbing supplies, lighting fixtures, tiles and paint. There is also a huge selection of doors, screen doors, bathtubs, indoor and outdoor furniture and appliances. A visit to this building-supply bonanza is surreal, especially when one considers that all of the items would have otherwise simply been discarded out at Caja del Rio. "People interested in donating usable materials should call or stop by. Some contractors expect us to take the whole load they bring to us, sometimes a mix of good supplies and trash, but we try to make it as easy to donate as possible."

ReStore's lease is up in October 2008 and the business is looking for a new home. "We could use more space," Ward says. "And of course, we want to have a green building."

Habitat for Humanity ReStore

1143 Siler Park Lane