by Katherine Greenberg

Water is essential for life on earth, and it is a limited and valuable resource in the mediterranean climate regions of winter rain and long dry summers.

Historically, nations with water had power, and that is still true today. In the last century elaborate systems of dams and water distribution facilities have made water available on a scale that was unimaginable in the past. Even with these advances, demand exceeds supply in many areas where water supplies are stressed by human activities. Humanity is facing a shortage of fresh water due to population pressures, droughts, depleted wells and aquifers, salt water intrusion and pollution.

Accessible fresh water in rivers, lakes and aquifers is less than one-tenth of one percent of the earth’s water, and this supply is decreasing. Water is being pumped out of the ground faster than it can be replenished. Agriculture and industry account for ninety percent of all water use, and less than ten percent of water is available for households. This leaves precious little water for developing and maintaining gardens.

The world’s leaders and over 10,000 delegates met in South Africa in August 2002 for the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, in order to consider ways to balance protection of natural resources with population growth and development. Recommendations for water use included conservation through improved delivery systems, more efficient irrigation methods, planting of drought- and salt-tolerant plant varieties, and better monitoring of growing conditions such as soil moisture levels.

According to Mark Malloch Brown, administrator of the United Nations Development Program, “When you approach sustainable development from an environmental view, the problems are global, but from a development view, the front line is local, local, local.” The message of the Mediterranean Garden Society is more appropriate than ever. We can make a difference by promoting waterwise gardening in harmony with the climate and available resources.

Plants native to the mediterranean climate regions thrive with winter rain alone, and there is a wealth of native flora to choose from. Traditional Mediterranean gardens show us the way to design gardens for the pleasures of outdoor living using paving to take the place of water-consuming lawns, trees and structures for shade, drought-tolerant plants, and a small pool or fountain. We are only limited by our imagination.