Friday, October 21, 2011

Since You Asked...Pablo Solomon

Record-setting dry conditions continue to take an ever-growing toll on landscape trees and shrubs in large parts of the nation this year. So this week, we're having a chat with widely recognized artist and environmental designer Pablo Solomon, who lives in one of the most drought-stricken areas of the country. He has been a prominent figure in the environmental movement since the 1960s.

Break out your copy of Weatherproofing Your Landscape: A Homeowner's Guide to Protecting and Rescuing Your Plants, and you will find Pablo's striking photo of his "tumped tree"—with his wife, Bev—on page 5.

Courtesy Pablo Solomon
Q. Pablo, water has become an urgent global issue. But how much responsibility can and should we as individuals take in conserving water literally in our own backyards?

A. I am a big believer that everything of value starts with the individual taking responsibility for whatever he/she has some control over.

As a well-known artist and ecologist, I travel a lot. I find it annoying when people want these big plans instituted, while doing nothing on a personal level.

So if you want to save the planet, save your backyard, and then move on to bigger challenges.

Q. As outspoken as ever, I see. So what do you think is the most important tool for landscape owners who want to conserve water?

A. The most important tool is actually your mind. You must first want to conserve water. Then you must apply your time, energy and creativity toward that goal.

Q. Do water catchment systems, for example, have to be sophisticated or pricey to be effective?

Courtesy Pablo Solomon
A. The photo at the left shows a very simple water collection system—basically a garbage can collecting runoff from my 1856 long tobacco barn, which I use as a bad-weather workshop.

I also have an 8,000-gallon concrete storage tank which is at the other end of the cost spectrum.

And I put plastic dish-washing tubs in my hand sinks and showers to collect any water I can.

Gray water use can be as simple as using bath water for plants or to flush a toilet occasionally. I run a flexible drain hose out to plants from my washing machine (use biodegradable detergents). Some new and retro-fixed homes have more elaborate gray water separation systems. Just do what you can afford and feel comfortable doing.

[Note: For more rules-of-the-road for using gray water, break out Weatherproofing Your Landscape again.]

It really is a state of mind: if you want to save water and it is part of your value system, you will find ways to do it. If every one in America saved just one gallon of water a day, that would supply a city of one million for five days.

Q. How have you addressed the issue of excessive water usage by your plants themselves?

Courtesy Pablo Solomon
A. I live in the beautiful Texas Hill Country, where drought is recurring. Over the eons, the native plants here have developed remarkable tolerance to crazy, extreme weather conditions.

So we use native plants: cacti, mesquite, live oak, western juniper, wild flowers, wild grasses, wild shrubs, etc.

I love to shape plants—it's like doing giant bonsai trees. I studied Japanese flower arranging to understand Zen concepts of balance and harmony—the principles are the same whether doing a miniature tree or a complete landscape.

A. As an environmental designer, what does your crystal ball tell you about water conservation systems becoming standard equipment in new residential and commercial construction?

Q. Amazingly, my crystal ball readings have been somewhat accurate over the years. Unfortunately, the most accurate readings have been the most negative. People continue to waste water...continue to use drinking water to flush toilets...continue to plant Hawaiian gardens in Phoenix.

However, I think that separation of usable gray water from sewage water; rainwater collection systems; runoff retention systems; etc., will be standard features very soon. I am encouraged by how many commercial developments are doing very creative things in water collection, conservation and retention. As we improve desalinization methods, they will become standard for beach houses, resorts, seaside towns, etc.

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