What comes to your mind when you hear the term ‘xeriscape landscaping’? Drab, color-less expanses of thin blades, sharp spines, gravel and dusty mulch? Blue-gray foliage with some pale shriveled-up flowers?
I exaggerate of course. But have you noticed how in our lovely county, when it’s summer in earnest, and especially around noon, many plants seem to “hold their breath”? Their colors look faded and washed out in the glaring sunlight; some stop blooming, curl their foliage or actually shed it. In my garden, my very controlled watering régime is only half to blame (after all, I’m gardening with drought tolerant plants); for many of my Mediterranean plants it’s summer dormancy, their genetic response to the intense light, extended drought and heat.
So I was excited when I got an invitation from Waterwise Botanicals in Bonsall to visit their growing grounds: Tom Jesch introduced us to some traditionally considered “tropical” plants with their expected attributes: Lush foliage, glossy leaves and brilliant, intense color, but that perform, with clever irrigation practices, like drought resistant plants: After planting, you water deeply and then repeat the cycle on the same day or the day after. Re-water about 10 days later (or earlier, depending on how much water your soil retains). When the establishment phase is over (usually 6-9 months), you can stretch the period between waterings to greater lengths (again, this depends on how well drained your soil is or how much water your soil can hold; a good amount of organic matter increases its water holding capacity…)
If you are looking for some strikingly colorful additions to your low water landscaping, check these plants out. I, too, look forward to incorporating them into my landscape designs:
Royal Queen is an attractive answer to our water crisis. With glossy evergreen foliage (that hides its thorns – it’s in the cactus family after all) and clusters of orchid-like purple flowers from late spring to fall, this shrub lends our low water landscaping a colorful and “royal” touch. It likes regular watering but is equally tough in dry conditions, partial or full sun. It’s partially deciduous in winter and tender to freezing temperatures.
Uses: With its size of 3 to 4 ft in height and width, I’d use it as center of a flower bed design, as specimen, (in winter, when it’s partially deciduous, I’d distract from it with other green or flowering plants); or I’d use it in mass plantings where its sparser look in winter is not a problem. I’d also use it in a container if it can be rolled out of sight in winter.
Shiny leaves with bright green and cream variegation, drooping clusters of lavender blossoms in spring to summer make the Brazilian Skyflower an attractive large shrub that grows to 12 – 15 ft tall by 8 ft wide but can also be trained into a small tree. It thrives in the heat, sun or part sun. It needs regular water (as in every 10 days or so), and it’s hardy to the high 20’s. A note to gardeners with children: This plant produces yellow berry-like fruits (the plant is also called “Pigeon Berry”) that are toxic if ingested.
Uses: I’d use it as screen, or train it into a small attractive evergreen patio or container tree.
I’m excited to have found more plants that are suitable for the drought resistant landscaping, and I look forward to using these when I need to give my xeriscape designs more punch. And there are quite a few more to cover – look for them in my next post.