The Sacred Garden. Photo courtesy of San Antonio Water System /
The Sacred Garden. Photo courtesy of San Antonio Water System /

Turns out it’s far easier to keep a garden green than a lawn. The trick is simply figuring out what plants to use and how to lay them out in a way that’s visually interesting.

Most xeriscapes use combinations of native plants to create texture and variety, but if you’re determined to use classic garden plants, one way is to install a sacred garden.

Many plants that found their way into scriptures were grown successfully long before modern irrigation — meaning they were watered in to establish, and then left to grow on their own in the Mediterranean climate that gave birth to Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

San Antonio Botanical Garden has a terrific mature Sacred Garden that provides a useful starting point and a simple lesson in the use of hardscape to create usable walking space. At its center, a fountain allows the enjoyment of water while sharing it with local wildlife. Your fountain can be anything from a simple birdbath to a flowing fountain powered by rainwater collection.

Across from the fountain, the adjoining landscape beds are grouped around big, evergreen shrubs that were prized in Abrahamic scriptures, like bay laurel, Greek myrtle and olive.

In the foreground, herbs like rosemary, santolina, garlic, lemon balm and lamb’s ear fill out the landscape beds, providing color and fragrance at every season of the year. Aloe and bearded iris give upright texture; seasonal interest is provided by plants like moonflower, Italian parsley, and, in winter, Tuscan kale.

Adjoining rows of pomegranate, oleander and olive create a hedge-like border and dense edge along an adjoining ridge, to keep visitors from wandering off-path. If your own garden is too shady for fruit trees, you can use more of the evergreen shrubs previously described or throw in a calamondin orange or an elderberry, both of which tolerate a bit of shade.

Where the garden fades into the background buffer, the classical garden plants are paired with herbs and natives like passionflower, tropical sage, sunflower and suncatcher. Together they keep the garden hopping with goldfinches, butterflies and hummingbirds throughout the year.

The garden is watered by hand-held hose; in-ground irrigation is not needed to grow the plants here. It’s a strategy that provides a great suite of classic xeric plants and a way of arranging them to quickly fill up a large space — and still with plenty of room and visual interest.

Sacred Garden Design

The Sacred Garden. Photo courtesy of San Antonio Water System /
The Sacred Garden design. Photo courtesy of San Antonio Water System /
KeyBrad’s PicksAlternatives
European OliveCalamondin Orange; Bay Laurel; Common Fig; Rose ‘Mutabilis’
PomegranateCommon Myrtle; Rose ‘Knockout’
Jerusalem SageTrailing Rosemary; Artemisia ‘Powis Castle’
Aloe VeraSedge
Common RosemaryBush Germander; Italian Cypress
MoonflowerSunflower; Hoja Santa; Henna
SantolinaTrailing Rosemary; Lamb’s Ear; Oregano; Italian Parsley; Tuscan Kale
Mediterranean Fan Palm
Tropical SageMealy Blue Sage; Passionflower; Suncatcher

This story has been republished with permission from San Antonio Water System‘s

*Featured/top image: The Sacred Garden. Photo courtesy of San Antonio Water System /

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Brad Wier

Brad Wier is a SAWS conservation consultant. Years in South Texas landscaping and public horticulture gave him a lasting enthusiasm for native plants that don’t die when sprinklers -- and gardeners --...