Maybe Utah could justify being the nation's No. 1 water hog if residents were drinking the water. But we're not: Homeowners use 65 percent of their purified water on their yards.
This is where the Jordan Valley Water Conservancy District's Conservation Garden Park -- and visiting expert gardeners -- can help.
From 9 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. every Saturday, a certified master gardener or apprentice is on hand to guide a trip through the garden, which has a new addition offering step-by-step advice on landscape design.
Saving water isn't just something to do during a drought. Demographic studies project that Utah will add 1.5 million people to its population by 2030. Experts at the Jordan Valley Water Conservancy District -- the state agency that supplies water to most of the Salt Lake Valley -- say that current rates of water use can't support that growth.
Urban residents and businesses are picking up on the need to conserve by changing the way they landscape. But too often, people who earnestly want to be water-wise don't plan before they go to nurseries and buy plants they think look good. The results can be disappointing. No one likes to work so hard only to make expensive mistakes.
A trip to the conservancy's demonstration garden is a good way to get a handle on a landscape project. The garden boasts several examples of water-wise landscapes divided into walk-through pavilions. For example, the pavilion called Harvest shows which fruit trees, shrubs, vegetables, vines and herbs can be combined with an eye to eating as well as just sitting around enjoying the outdoors -- not that there's anything wrong with that.
"It's beautiful," said Rebecca Gough, an apprentice master gardener-guide on duty this weekend. "And you get something out of it."
A pavilion called Waterwise Woodland incorporates a royalty crab apple, bigtooth maple, pink panda strawberry and western white clematis shading a wooden deck area to evoke a calm, compact mountain retreat.
Another pavilion, with a rich variety of shade trees, shrubs and flowers that need no watering after its two-year establishment period, shows that xeriscaping need not be Phoenix-style "zero-scaping" with just rocks and cactus.
The design area lays out the conservancy district's seven principles on decorative vertical art pieces. "There's a lot of education in this," Gough said.
A trio of friends from Salt Lake City were on hand for the tour, even though they already were knowledgeable and experienced landscape gardeners.
"Some people shop at Nordstrom. I garden," said Barbara Richmond. "There are pleasures in seeing your labor."
Rebecca Gough, an apprentice master gardener who volunteers at the Jordan Valley Water Conservancy District's Conservation Garden Park, says a couple of fundamentals most frequently bypassed can make or break garden success.
Her advice: Have your soil tested, and survey or measure the landscape space.
The valley's clay soil is notoriously difficult to dig and amend, as the clay is made of tiny particles that pack tightly. Soil, Gough said, should be 50 percent air.
The soil test tells a gardener what he or she can grow or what needs to be added to the soil to make it more amenable to landscaping, Gough said. And coming to the conservancy garden knowing the dimensions of future landscapes makes adapting the living examples easier.
The Jordan Valley Water Conservancy District's Conservation Garden Park is an attractive, relaxing demonstration of how to use much less water to build beautiful outdoor spaces.
Master gardeners are available for 90-minute teaching tours every Saturday morning and some evenings at 8215 S. 1300 West, West Jordan.