When I started with my native plant garden, saving water was one of my goals. I had a controller with 8 different zones installed and programmed it diligently, based on information from two designers. They had carefully computed how much my low-water and moderate-water plants would need, and how much my techline inline drip irrigation required. Each line was run on a different regimen depending on the type and location of the plants. Then, in late spring, some of the plants did not look too good, and I upped the water regimen a bit. Mr. Mouse did not even tell me how much water we were using that year, we just figured it would be better the next year.
The next year I made a mistake programming the front garden irrigation, and ended up irrigating that area, which used spray, twice as much as planned. In July/August we used almost a unit of water a day. That doesn't sound so bad until you realize that a unit is close to 700 gallons! We use 2.5 units a month in winter, so the garden was getting extravagant amounts. I fixed the programming problem, and things got better. Not great, better.
Next year I needed a new controller, and programmed that. I like to start the program in March at 40% of normal, then increase. The controller somehow managed misunderstand my programming, and increased the times I had programmed by ridiculous amounts. Unfortunately, I didn't notice that until the bill for July/August came in. Almost a unit of water a day. I felt cursed and vowed to put natives into the front garden, because the spray irrigation there was the biggest problem (It had been running 20 minutes three times a week, lawns can live on that).
In the fall, I finally replaced the lush front garden vegetation with natives. The design and remodel was great fun, as chronicled in the Great Front Garden Remodel posts. I asked the contractor to check that the front irrigation was working, but planned on not running it. Instead, I was going to hand water every 10 days or so in the first year, and cut back the years after.
To be safe, I called in my irrigation guy to check all the other lines. He found and fixed 4 small leaks in the back. For the front, I set the run times to zero on the controller. I set the other lines to a lower number than before because the drought was bad and I did want to do my part. Imagine my horror when the March/April water bill came in: 700 gallons a day! Again! I was aghast. I called the irrigation guy, who found that one of the front lines was gushing water into the ground, obvious when one looked at the meter. But how could that be? There were no start times?
Completely confused, I went through the controller programming and also set the start times to zero. Maybe the controller decided to run those lines for an arbitrary number of minutes at the designated start time? There was only one way to find out.
Every morning after I got up I walked outside, opened the concrete lid of the water meter, flipped the meter cover, and wrote down the number. To my great relief, I found that the numbers were well in line with what I had hoped for. Even when I had to hand water some areas after a few hot days, and even when I increased the percentage on the controller the numbers looked promising. Then came the May/June water bill. Finally! We were using around 200 gallons a day.
Now, that's still a lot of water, and I'd prefer to use even less. But the fruit trees and the Camelias need some water. The area under the redwoods needs water because drought-stricken redwoods can become unstable. The plants there are actually low to moderate water consumers (I never buy "regular" or "ample") but it's a pretty big area.
The Mediterranean mounds, shown in the first picture of this post, look attractive if a bit dry with the grasses, ceanothus, and manzanita in July. I'm handwatering new plants, the others are on their own. The salvias and agapanthus, are also attractive with minimal water.
The native current and elderberry further in the back are actually on a different line with more water, and I'm hoping for lush spring bloom.
Closer to the house, the Eriogonum fasciculatum gets afternoon shade and thrives, while the Salvia clevlandii has donned its grey summer foilage. I fill the water barrel fountain twice a week so the goldfish doesn't croak, but that's really very little water.
And I'm watering the pots by hand, enjoying the lush foilage of the ferns and other shade lovers.
Now that the first water bill indicates we've solved this problem, I've cut down the meter check to once a week or so. So far, no other problems have appeared, but I fully intend to stay on top of the water situation. I'll never trust that controller again, and waiting 2 months for the information about water use is just too long. So I'm hoping my vigilance will make it possible that I can enjoy beautiful plants in the garden while keeping water use at an appropriate level.