Arbors and Dividers
Creating an appealing plant composition , especially when aiming for a low water needs design, can be tricky in the shade. Dry shade plant design poses more challenges: Plants grown here have different irrigation needs than their colleagues in the sun; the competition for light and nutrients from trees or large shrubs can be strong, and the choice of suitable plants that are not the “tried and proven” Agapanthus, Indian Hawthorn or Clivia is limited.
Pink Gaura Gaura lindheimeri ‘Siskyou Pink’
Adventurous gardeners will have discovered that a surprising number of drought tolerant plants that we might only expect to see in the full sun can tolerate and even welcome a good amount of shade, adapting to the lower light, (although they might respond with reduced flowering and sparser growth), but who can do all that experimenting to find out which ones work and which ones just won’t? It’s therefore great to know that a few growers of tough and beautiful plants for our climate, soils, and limited water supply have done this work for us and that they make their findings freely available. Here are the ones whose plants I use most often in my designs, and whose search tools make the selection of shade-tolerant plants easier!
One of the first to come to mind is San Marcos Growers in Carpenteria, CA. Since 1979 they have been growing “plants appropriate to California’s Mediterranean climate, including many California native plants, as well as vines, trees, shrubs, ferns, perennials, succulents, ornamental grasses and grass-like plants from other areas around the world.”
Their website offers a full plant inventory with photos and descriptions; it includes an “Advanced Search” tool that helps you zero in on their plants that tolerate shade: Check, say, ‘shrub’, and ‘tolerates drought’, and ‘shade’, then click on ‘submit’, et voilà! You’ll get a list of 348 shrubs tolerant of various degrees of shade, with their full descriptions.
This is an impressive number of dry shade tolerant shrubs! Here are a few that I found exciting because of their either unusual foliage or appealing form:
2-3 ft tall and 4-6 ft wide, its amazing foliage in low undulating mounds has an unusual, grass-like appearance, and I appreciate its appealing texture contrast to plants with fleshier foliage such as Honeybush, Aloes or large-leafed Bromeliads, or the rounder, hardy foliage of Coffeeberry or Creeping Barberry. As the grower says, it’s a “great plant for informal mounding along a dry stream bed, rock garden, tumbling down a slope or as a large potted specimen.”
Here are a few more shade-tolerant, water-wise shrubs and perennials:
A “fast-growing, durable groundcover.. 2 to 3 feet tall and spreads 8 to 12 or more feet … glossy, dark green leaves and bright blue flower clusters in winter through early spring. .. will grow inland with no watering once established when sited in partial shade. Especially effective as a large-scale groundcover where salt-laden ocean spray is a factor. Hardy to about 15° F… Judicious pruning is recommended to maintain a dense form and promote vigor. “
Yankee Point can also be used as a formal hedge and tolerates shearing with a hedge trimmer well. (It doesn’t like hacking though, a couple of hard prunings can kill it. Keep the garden hacks away from it.)
Here’s the “backbone” shrub that I described above, and what a versatile shrub it is! Evergreen, adapted to sun and shade, with an upright, slightly arching form, not too tall (5-7 ft), dense small-leaved foliage. It is a welcome backdrop to colorful and more ephemeral perennials planted in the foreground. It could be hedged if that fits your design.
Here’s a large evergreen shrub or small tree, 8 to 10 feet round (could get larger in perfect conditions.) It is useful as background or specimen drawing the eye. Catkins of creamy white flowers with a maroon tinge appear each winter. Full sun or part shade, quite drought tolerant although it can handle summer water. Salt and wind tolerant. Use it as an excellent screen, informal hedge, or espaliered. It’s a Bay Area native.
This is a tender South African perennial that forms bushy 10-inch tall mats of delicate wiry leaves and pale mauve flowers that appear from spring to fall. Trim plants after bloom flush to prevent seeding. Cut to the ground every other year to tidy up the clumps. A very tough plant in the coastal garden, tolerating drought and neglect. It makes a good groundcover in full sun. It is hardy to about 20 degrees F. A most beautiful weed!
Pink Gaura Gaura lindheimeri ‘Siskyou Pink’
What’s not to like about this airy and delicate native from Mexico/Texas? In the spring it sends up arching sprays of small orchid-like blooms and continues to flower throughout the summer. It loves the sun but is also ideal for planting beneath desert trees. Just remember to give it enough room so you can enjoy it fully (3-4 ft spread).
Mountain States Wholesale Nursery, in their work of over 43 years, they have grown desert-adapted plants that “include hues and forms which far surpass our earlier hopes of adding texture, refinement, brilliance – pizzazz, if you will – to already proven durability…. To assist you in your selection process, Mountain States Wholesale Nursery offers over 450 taxa of desert-adapted trees, shrubs, ornamental grasses, accents, flowering perennials, groundcovers, and vines. We specialize in providing landscape plants that combine beauty and water economy.”
Deer Grass Muhlenbergia rigens
I love ornamental grasses. Nothing else softens boulders, sturdy cacti, and fleshy succulents more naturally and evokes water having just vanished in a seasonal creek… As MSWN describe it at their website: “ Dependable and adaptable, Deer Grass is the backbone of many desert gardens… Native to the Southwest at elevations up to 7000 feet, Deer Grass thrives in varied conditions. It flourishes in full sun, difficult reflected heat exposures and tolerates quite a bit of shade. Deer Grass is extremely drought tolerant, although the foliage browns out if adequate water is not available in the summer. It also handles high rainfall, virtually any soils, and is hardy to -10ºF, USDA Zone 6.
Here’s what Wendy Proud, MSWN’s California Sales Representative wrote in her recent newsletter:
“Changing over from a water loving landscape to one which is less thirsty can be tricky in the shade. Dry shade probably has the least amount of plants available compared to other possible zones in the landscape. Specific irrigation needs are key along with reasonable expectations about the speed of growth, blooming and eventual size of the plants being chosen. Mountain States certainly offers plants that can handle some shade and actually many would say they like it…. if they could speak. 🙂 Attached is a list of those plants who like shade, which can also be found on our website.
There’s a tab labeled “Information Sheets” on the left side of our homepage that will direct you to more groupings of plants for specific issues or areas of interest such as, Salt Tolerant, Rabbit Resistant or Hummingbird Paradise. Really helpful lists when you’re needing suggestions. “
And here the entire MSWN plant list for dry shade.
Although MSWN is a wholesale grower, their plants are either available through local retail nurseries or can be ordered here. And here’s the list of retail nurseries that MSWN delivers to: http://www.mswn.com/links/more
A retail & wholesale nursery that is a delight to visit (with a much shorter drive) is Waterwise Botanicals in Bonsall (WWB). The “acres of beautiful nursery and growing grounds, including demonstration gardens, ponds, and a shade house full of creative treasures to inspire you“ will put any plant lover to the resistance test; the signage on their plants is excellent, as is their online plant catalog with photos and descriptions.
Here I found lots of dry shade tolerant plants, and I was especially surprised to find a shrub here that’s a smaller version of the very popular Tea Tree, growing in the shade!
I like its dainty appearance, its convenient size (only 2 ft tall by 2-3 ft wide) and delicate foliage of tiny burgundy leaves, all attributes that invite to combine it many other colors. Imagine how appealing it would look placed next to a fleshy purple/burgundy succulent such as Aeonium ‘Silk’.
Don’t wait to visit this nursery! Regular events for the garden enthusiast also make this a great place to visit. Most entertaining are their ponds that the manager Tom Jesch built himself without filters, without pumps, beautifully balanced with aquatic plants, fish, and turtles. These ponds draw lots of wildlife and invite to take a seat alongside and observe the goings on.
The WWB blog contains entertaining and useful information. Here’s one that I especially appreciated: Summer maintenance of ornamental grasses!
I hope that putting a satisfying low-water-use plant composition together for the shady parts of your garden is a bit easier for you with the above-listed websites and tools. Even here, I’d suggest to strive for balance of size, texture, form and color. I myself start “from the top”: After making sure that there is an overhead shelter or roof of sorts (the eaves of a house, or the canopy of a tree or large shrub), I start with one or more woody shrubs as background structure (Myrsine f.e. – see above) that sort of glue and hold all together. To me, woody plants also add the sense of longevity and permanence. Then I consider the midground, if there is room, such as a mid-size shrub. Finally, I work on the foreground where I place a shorter perennial or succulent (by nature the more short-lived plant – for ex. Gaura – see above). Lastly, color is often something I find least important in these compositions, as it always seems to fall into place, and insisting on the perfect color simply reduces the number of available plants to nothing.
It feels good to recommend these growers; their dedication to offering a wide range of water-wise plants that are well suited to our soils and environment, be they in the sun or the shade, on the coast or in the desert, helps me contribute a small part to the preservation of our natural resources, without sacrificing the delight in our gardens.
I hope spring has revived your gardening interests to rediscover your connection with nature, and that you have been well. My spring clean-up is not done yet; I’m still finishing bird netting over my strawberries, refreshing mulch, and getting my irrigation in shape.
In my last two posts, I was considering how hardscape has come to dominate many of our landscapes, and how the beauty, intimacy and romance has gone out of them. Today I want to show how well-selected plants can balance out the hard structures making our gardens softer and more welcoming.
[I’ll be speaking about this topic at the Water Conservation Garden on June 11, from 10-12 a.m. Come and join me and see more in-depth information and examples. I’d love to see you there!]
This design looks like many prized landscapes that boast a lot of flawless architecture; an artful pool, perfect stucco’ed retaining walls, a big deck with BBQ and Palapa dominate this backyard. Naturally we are proud of the beautiful materials used in these designs, but to me these landscapes look overdesigned and lifeless; I feel that they miss the opportunity to provide a true connection to the land, our family, even ourselves.
However, our gardens can be ideal vehicles to give our lives greater depth when we give plants greater importance and let them enchant us, when we let them make our gardens softer and more welcoming. Here is a list of plants that have presence in the garden, have in their combined use strong emotional impact and fulfill many of the functions that we have handed over to the “hardscapes”. Most of these are very drought-conscious or drought tolerant, so not only do they serve our immediate needs, they also help conserve water…
Most gardens, even the smallest ones, need at least one or two trees. Trees shelter a garden space; anchor a home to its site by giving it the right proportions; they can frame a view, impart age and “wisdom” and provide needed shade and well-being. As architectural elements, they provide a “vertical element”; give a sense of place.
The following lists are by no means exhaustive; they only give a glimpse of what’s possible.
Obviously, a good choice unites the site conditions with the tree’s character as well as the likes and dislikes of the person who will live with the tree.
Also, consider that a tree that naturally suckers can be trained into a “multi-trunked” tree that offers the opportunity to enjoy its trunks better, show off its shape and create an open, airy screen. A multi-trunk Crape Myrtle comes to mind…
Medium to large deciduous trees: canopies for shelter and shade
Chinaberry Melia azederach
White Empress Tree Paulownia fortune
Chinese Pistache Pistachia chinensis
Chinese Flame Tree Koelreuteria bipinnata
Mesquite Propopis spp.
Mimosa or Silk Tree Albizia julibrissin
Strawberry Tree Arbutus ‘Marina’
Texas Olive Cordia boissieri
Sweet Bay Laurus nobilis
Phoenix Date Palm Phoenix
Oak (many species) Quercus spp.
Acacia & Wattle (many) Acacia spp.
Primrose Tree Lagunaria patersonii
Small deciduous, attention-grabbing speminen trees
Paperbark Marple Acer griseu
Chinese Fringe Tree Chionanthus retus
Crape Myrtle Lagerstroemia indica & Lagerstroemia hybrids
Palo Verde Parkinsonia aculeata
California Buckeye, Horse Chestnut Aesculus californica
Trees with distinctive foliage and/or attractive fall foliage; or with great winter silhouette
Crape Myrtle Lagerstroemia spp.
‘Forest Pansy’ Redbud Cercis Canadensis ‘Forest Pansy’
Locust Robinia pseudoacacia
Mesquite Prosopis spp.
California Buckeye Aesculus californicus
Cork Oak Quercus suber
ENCLOSURES & SCREENING (TREES & SHRUBS)
Let plants do the screening and enclosing (or at least hide the hard materials). The enclosure responds to an ancient desire for protection, and screening out an unwanted view or our neighbors’ homes and windows creates the best environment in which we can feel completely at ease, relax and connect with ourselves.
Camouflaging the boundaries to our private “universe” creates the sense that we are surrounded by nature which can make our gardens feel larger. Hedges of mixed plantings can provide a good screen or enclosure that requires only minimal pruning and shows off a variety of textures and colors.
Screening Plants (some might need gentle pruning to integrate into the hedge)
Toyon Heteromeles arbutifolia (a California native)
Yew Pine Podocarpus macrophylus and P. macrophyllus maki Shrubby Yew Pine
Oleander Nerium oleander
Bamboo Bambusa spp.
Lemon Bottle Brush Callistemon citrinus
Bay Laurus nobilis
Boxwood Buxus sempervirens (when left unclipped as it is rarely seen, it develops a form that is sensuous and curvaceuous)
Exclamation points & Beacons; “Power Plants”, & columnar/fastigiated plants
These are plants with strong presence that replace gate columns or other devices of directing traffic; they also impart a very personal character to the garden.
Cedar Cedrus spp.
Boxwood Buxus sempervirens
Greenlee’s Blue Rocket Cupressus guadalupensis ‘Greenlee’s Blue Rocket’
Tecate Cypress Cupressus forebesii
Italian Cypress Cupressus sempervirens
Bottlebrush ‘Sim’ Callistemon vimiminalis ‘Slim’
Icee Blue Yellow-Wood Podocarpus ‘Icee Blue’
Kohuhu Pittosporum tenuifolium (various)
Some form of pavement might be welcome for certain activities in the garden, such as dining, lounging or hanging around a pool. However, many plants can be employed to soften the edges of pavement, to connect spaces, and to break up large expanses of pavement.
They can also guide our paces and allow rich encounters in the garden. Their closeness to the visitor demands a variety of textures and colors.
Low-growing, softening perennials
Trailing Buttercups, Sundrops Calylophus drummondii (or Calylophus hartwegii)
Little One Verbena Verbena bonariensis ‘Little One’
Stalked Bulbine Bulbine frutescens
Ground Morning Glory Convolvulus mauritanicus (C. sabatius)
Woodland Strawberry Fragaria vesca F. vesca californica (fruit bearing, excellent groundcover for shady situations)
Pink Spice Cranesbill Pelargonium ionidiflorum
THE MID GROUND
Mid ground shrubs anchor the design, provide longevity and structure; they serve as also fillers; some can do double duty as accents. For these, I like to use shrubs with woody character; they are needed to “ground” the soft and inherently ephemeral perennials. In most designs, I prefer evergreen shrubs; they need not be shrubs with attractive bloom.
In landscapes with more succulents, I like to use shrubby succulents that keep their form and their ‘leafy’ or fleshy foliage (Senecio, Aeonium haworthii).
Dwarf variegated Myrtle Myrtle Myrtus communis ‘Variegata’ compacta
Creeping Barberry Berberis repens
Hummingbird Sage Salvia spathaceae (California native plant)
Rockrose ‘Sunset’ Cistus ‘Sunset’ 2-3 x 6-8 ft; evergreen, magenta flowers
Geraldton Waxflower ‘Purple Gem’ and ‘Purple Pride’ Chamaelaucium uncinatum
Blue Bells Eremophila hygrophana
Grevillea rosmarinifolius ‘Scarlet Sprite’ , foundation shrub, 4-5 ft,
Cacti, succulents, yucca-like plants: Plants with striking foliage and/or form
Century Plant Agave spp.
Candelabra Cactus Cereus peruvianus
Sotol Dasylirion spp.
Dragon Tree Dracaena draco
Barrel Cactus Echinocactus spp.
Beargrass Nolina spp.
Prickly Pear Opuntia
Clumping Bamboo Bambusa spp.
Sago Palm Cycas revoluta
Chamal Dioon spp.
THE LARGE STUFF: Accents & “signature”
Sometimes it’s useful to employ shrubs that draw the eye, perhaps in order to distract from an unwanted sight behind it… These shrubs can be “signature” plants that enhance or underline the character of the garden: Subtropical, or Mediterranean, or California native, or Urban/modern.
Tecoma ‘Solar Flare’
Texas Ranger Leucophyllum frutescens
Baja Fairy Duster Calliandra californica
Brazilian Copper Tree Euphorbia cotinifolia
Arabian Lilac Vitex trifolia ‘Purpurea’
Large backround shrubs
Some shrubs are needed to simply give the illusion of being surrounded by endless nature, as back ground plants.
Griselinia Griselinia littoralis
Sweet Olive Osmanthus fragrans
Toyon Heteromeles arbutifolia
Bay Laurus nobilis
EMOTIONAL IMPACT, NOT ARCHITECTURE
I believe a garden, in order to enhance our connection with nature, to nurture us and to be memorable, needs to appeal to our emotions, whether is has a modern geometric design or is more free-form, naturalistic in character. I’d do this by making the garden look “grown” and casual, not forced, like in this example: When creating a southwest garden and imitating the desert floor, consider a mix of several sizes and textures of that hard material: A desert floor is made up of fine textured sand, coarser gravel, and small and large pebbles interspersed with rocks. A groundcover therefore made of a uniform cover of gravel would look unnatural.
Placement and size of plants: When placing a bold grouping of, say, Barrel Cacti, make sure the placement is asymmetrical, in order to achieve a nature-made effect. Introduce these plants in different sizes, not all the same which would look contrived.
Mix textures: Avoid making a garden with only strong textured plants; in nature, those plants are always surrounded by more ephemeral, fine textured plants.
In other words, study how plants and landscapes grow… disguise the hand that is designing the garden, and aim for the emotional impact that a naturalistic garden can impart, even when it is a geometrically organized, modern design.
Look to my next post for more on how plants can help us create living designs.
Don’t allow the hardscape to dominate the planting
In my last post I endeavored to put plants in the forefront of our gardens in order to make them softer and more welcoming: Under our southern sun pavements, structures and other built structures create glare and very deep shadows. How can we reduce the harshness of this bright white light in residential landscape design?
I think the primordial quality of a well-designed garden is its ability to let our eyes and minds rest. To that effect, I want to employ shade, light-absorbing textures, coolness, perhaps even the sound of water. I try to balance out the hard structures with drought resistant landscaping and let the plants play an equal if not greater role in the organization and feel of the design. Here are a few tricks how to employ plants to that effect:
Plants have many roles: They create the visual pleasure that changes through the seasons because of the seasonal bloom, and they offer a juxtaposition of delicate textures with the outlines of strict architecture or rugged boulders. Plants can repeat the dynamic contrast between horizontal and vertical lines already present in the architecture of a house. Leaning pine branches intersect with vertical grass blades, while vertical flower stems stand at a right angle to a boulder’s edge.
Here, the stone flower beds will start to look less heavy when the vines start to take over the arbor and the perennials and shrubs gain their mature height, cascading over the sides to soften them. While distinctly dividing the side of the house into different areas, each area becomes its own secret garden.
Soon, the three Podocarpus trees along the back wall will be tall enough to screen out the neighbor’s house and all boundaries will be obscured, thus creating total privacy in a natural setting.
This design also creates the illusion of distance, giving the front yard a larger feel. The small deciduous shrub will provide more shade and privacy as it matures, and give an excellent opportunity to use creative landscape lighting to add drama at night by revealing its beautiful branch structure.
Getting away from hardscapes is a challenge; there are sexy materials that don’t need watering or maintenance, and will last close to forever. Stone, wood, glass, metal, and even fiberglass or plastic are very versatile and lend themselves to a variety of different uses. Be it fencing or furniture, these materials can help us give places to ‘hang’ our plants, much like in a big wardrobe.
Many landscape architects and landscape designers in San Diego (and elsewhere) have been trained to use these materials as the back-bones and foundations to build around – and upon – with plants in secondary filler roles. But plants can also serve this purpose; let yourself fall in love with the texture and structure of a plant, or your favorite tree, or a color, and design around that.
Tell your designer that this is the plant you want to showcase or use. Say you want a great big hedge of something to serve as a fence. Think about using our native Toyon Heteromeles arbutifolia, or a Silverberry Eleagnus pungens. Both are tough shrubs with attractive foliage, colorful berries (Toyon) and fragrant flowers (Silverberry) that are very undemanding in soil, water or light and that can be sheered, pruned or trained into small trees or an evergreen screen. If you prefer beautiful craftsmanship, think about how a simple perfect circle carved from stone, laid in brick, or made of wood can’t help but stand out best when surrounded by the chaos and asymmetry of plants.
Right now is a great time to look for California natives, drought-tolerant succulents and waterwise perennials, shrubs and trees at your local nurseries!
I believe this is a topic that will interest many gardeners, and I’ll talk about it in greater detail and colorful examples in a presentation at the Water Conservation Garden in El Cajon on June 11, at 9:30 a.m., in a class entitled “Balancing hardscapes with plants”. Look for a detailed description in the coming weeks at the Garden’s website. I’d be happy to greet you there!
Integrate your garden into the larger xeriscape that is our San Diego County.
(It could spell more fun and savings than you expected.)
With approaching retirement and more time to travel, Jeanie and Jim realized that their traditional garden didn’t seem to allow them much time away; it just didn’t respond well to weeks of absence. When they called me, I found that they begun to add to their traditional home landscape design many new-found loves: Various Aloes and Sticks on Fire Euphorbia, Organ Pipe and Barrel Cactus, ‘Bells of Fire’ Tecoma, Crown of Thorns and other xeriscape plants.
With their list of collected plants I was handed a clear mandate: Remove the old lawn, the worn-out shrubs and even the Queen Palms; create a drought resistant landscape, lively and evoking our local Anza Borrego desert, yet not too spiky and withered looking, that would be easy to maintain and allow them weeks of absence without needing human intervention.
Here’s their testimony about our adventure together:
What was the biggest motivator to transform your garden?
“We have always enjoyed succulents and the desert landscape, so we wanted both our front and backyards to look like the desert that we love. Also, due to our continuing drought situation, it made sense to convert to a low water landscape to save water. Additionally, the biggest motivator was to reduce our work in the yard: mowing would no longer be necessary. As we travel and are gone for extended periods of time, we wanted a landscape that was virtually maintenance-free during our absence.”
So where do I begin a landscape design renovation?
I imagined the entire garden as ‘playground’ for all the exotic drought resistant plants that Jim and Jeanie dreamt of. To display these plants to their fullest, the tilted surface of a mound would be useful; also, the mildly undulating terrain would bring some movement into the “flat” scene.
During our brainstorming the desire for ‘more entertainment’ were mentioned, so for the backyard I designed an extension of their patio, surrounded by seat-walls for casual overflow seating. Behind these walls, the terrain was also be mounded to give the planter bed here greater movement. Many of their desert plants were put here to which I added a few well-tested perennials and grasses: Sundrops Calylophus, Verbena ‘De la Mina’, California Fuchsia Epilobium and Angelita Daisy Hymenoxis. While the textures and forms of the desert plants are more permanent, the perennials and grasses would add a notion of seasonal decline and re-growth.
To these I added various Agaves, Rushes, grasses and Red Yuccas; also fluffier and softer foliage plants, such as Emu Bush Valentine Eremophila, and Texas Ranger Lynn’s Legacy’ Leucophyllum, chosen for its silvery foliage and light purple flowers that would offset well against the yellow and orange flowers of Senna, Tecoma and Palo Verde. I used creeping Elephant’s Food Portulacaria as an attractive groundcover and the grass-like Bulbine because of its flowers that attract bees year-round.
For me, Jim and Jeanie’s project was very satisfying; having clients who so clearly appreciate where they are, love region-appropriate plants and are open to a professional landscape designer’s suggestions makes always my job most pleasurable.
Here’s how Jeanie and Jim think about the experience:
What was your biggest and best-appreciated result?
“With careful plant selection, hardscape, lighting and other elements of the garden, we feel it was a success and we’re proud of having a really great yard. An unexpected bonus is the many compliments received from neighbors.”
To this I would add: With the boulders and the mounds as top dressing Jeanie and Jim have expressed their appreciation for our dry environment, but foremost they linked their garden with the rugged hills of Mission Trails Park across the canyon. The plants they love and the chip seal (a coarse DG) do another to give their garden a strong regional and authentic character.
What is your greatest pleasure now, or the thought or feeling most often felt when walking through your garden?
“We really enjoy the variety of our plant selection with the many colors, textures and shapes. Using DG (decomposed granite) as topdressing mulch allows the plants to really “pop out.” Over the last year we have witnessed the growth and color changes of the plants realizing that the landscape feels more alive and ever-changing than just a static lawn. We also appreciate the hummingbirds and bees that visit regularly.”
Any lesson learned or any other thought that you care to share with the readers?
“We learned: In drought situations, drip irrigation is the best way to conserve water. Landscape lighting is extremely important. Anyone undertaking this type of project should get the best lighting they can afford since it makes the project exceptional as the landscape is not only admired during the day, but it is just as impressive in the evening. (We highly recommend Volt LED lighting (available on the internet.) Also, it cost us twice as much as we originally thought during the early planning stages. Hardscape, lighting and other changes made during construction drove our costs up, but we are so pleased with the results that we would do it again. “
Looking back at this project and considering the short time in which this garden has continued to grow, another idea comes to mind:
In southern California, it is sometimes hard to remember what time of year it is, but it is especially important to do so now: days are getting shorter and cooler: we need to remember how our bodies respond by storing more food, by changing sleep patterns and energy levels, by changing moods. A garden should be a natural environment, one that changes with the seasons and reminds us of our place in the web of life and of its cyclical nature. Those clipped lawns and shrubs surrounding our office buildings may provide us with a glimpse of green, if we are fortunate enough to have a window to the outside, but they leave us with little comfort and warmth when our lives change. If we get married, or divorced, have an accident, grow old, start a new career, buy a house, lose a friend etc., a static landscape may feel even more alien and uninviting if it mocks our changing natures.
What we seek in a garden is a reconnecting with the relish we relive every year, in the first days of spring when plants are just beginning to flower again, or on a warm day in fall, out at the edge of a clearing in the forest, that fills us with peace and amazement at how beautiful even small things can be: it can be a great comfort in times of change. Building a drought tolerant landscape is an opportunity to connect with the beautiful natural environment of San Diego County, and to let the seasons and change back into our lives.
A journey to transform a garden and find beauty, serenity and sustainability.
An East-Coast garden under a California sky; Soulless, uninviting, and thirsty.
Start with a blank slate.
Welcome with a lively tapestry of fascinating, region-appropriate plants that put nature back into the garden and help rediscover its soul.
At some time after purchasing this Southern California home, it occurred to the homeowner how unwelcoming its existing landscape was:
The East-Coast landscape with lawn and roses didn’t work for this Ranch-style house, nor did it respond well to the need for water conservation.
This home, whose architecture, materials, and siting have more of a Frank Lloyd Wright feel to them, invited a simpler and serene landscape that would thrive even with parsimonious amounts of water and would incorporate California landscape elements: Clear skies and brilliant light, rugged nature with canyons and arroyos, boulder-strewn mountains, deserts, and a host of interesting native plants that are known worldwide.
Designed by Ken Ronchetti, whose architecture has “a soft strength in its simplicity”, the homeowner was ready to explore how to make her garden more inviting and how to capture its soul: Could succulents, California natives and other water-wise plants, until then unknown to her, complement and hold up to this architecture?
The first priority was to integrate the existing Live Oak and Paperbark Trees; both have reached a beautiful maturity. The stone cladding of walls and pilasters create a strong element, and we knew that incorporating boulders would play up their strength and be part of the landscape.
Knowing the client’s love for plants, I subdivided the area into separate spaces to be discovered on a path. This path is important to put the visitor into the landscape, not just view it from the edges.
She’d be able to wander through individual garden rooms and planting scenes or stop at the bench under the Oak tree, inviting rest and discovery of a tapestry of perennials, woody California native shrubs, and succulents that are endlessly entertaining and consume very little supplemental water.
The courtyard is walled in, resulting in the need for the landscape to be open and allow a feeling of depth. Therefore the plant compositions stay mainly low so that the can eye can wander across the tapestry of interesting plants.
Visible here are Sundrops Calylophus drummondii, Agave ‘Blue Glow’, Blue Bedder (Beard Tongue) Penstemon heterophyllus ‘Margarita BoP’ , against the foliage of Velvet Elephant Ear Kalanchoe beharensis, and Golden Breath of Heaven Coleonema pulchellum ‘Sunset Gold’.
Many beautiful boulders now echo the rugged stone element used for walls, walkways, and pilasters. Among them a bubbling boulder is the focal point upon arrival. It is surrounded by plants that highlight its beauty and ruggedness.
The heavy downpour during a recent thunderstorm tricked a Mountain Lilac here into re-bloom several months after its first bloom this spring. It makes a lovely companion to other drought tolerant plants: Agaves, Sundrops Calylophus drummondii, Crassula coccinea ‘Campfire’, Echeveria Ruffles, and Blue Oatgrass Helictotrichon sempervirens, Silver Spurge Echeveria rigida, Aloe Little Gem Aloe rudikoppe.
It is a balancing act to create harmony and cohesion with a limited plant palette, but limiting it is important to avoid a hodgepodge and mere plant museum. Here, drought resistant ‘Pink Spice’ Geranium Pelargonium ionidiflorum mingle with Echeveria ‘Ruffles’, Verbena ‘Little One’ Verbena bonariensis ‘Little One’, and Sundrops Calylophus drummondii.
Always conscious of sustainability, the existing picket fence was kept; Although more befitting the previous Victorian landscape style rather than the new one, it was found useful to accentuate the feeling of intimacy and keep rabbits and raccoons out as much as possible.
This garden is very much an experimental site: It is growing, evolving and confirms our trust in the future as the plants mature. Some of these plants, such as Blue Sedge Carex flacca have shown to be the wrong choice for this garden (they never stopped sprawling).
Finding the right amount of supplemental water is a bit of a challenge as with varying sun exposure, tree canopies and roof overhang there are more individual watering zones than one might expect.
I’m passionate about juxtaposing different textures and forms to create tension and interest, so placing a wispy grass or delicate perennial next to a heavy boulder is a knee-jerk gesture.
Also appealing to me is placing a fleshy succulent next to the rugged mass of a boulder; I feel that both complement each other, and although the Sunset Jade Crassula argentea in this picture can’t hold up to the sturdiness of the rock, its equally robust and ‘weighty’, and both plants heighten up their individual qualities.
Evoking the mountains and their delicate windswept plant companions, Agave ‘Blue Glow’ and Foothill Penstemon Penstemon heterophyllus ‘Margarita BOP’ nestle between these boulders.
Against the canopy of the Paperbark Tree Melaleuca quinquenervia the perennials,grasses and succulents, this feels like the relief of a sunny clearing in the forest.
I am very happy that the owner has asked me to keep an eye on this garden and help it mature with monthly maintenance. Looking at these photos and considering the time that has elapsed since the garden was first planted, I’m struck again at how exciting it is to care for all these plants.
What will the garden mature into? Will the plants keep their promise?
I’m delighted by the garden’s serenity, and the homeowner’s words give me great joy: “You couldn’t have captured my vision any better.”
Photography courtesy of Emma Almendarez.
A recent visit to the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden brought me much delight and revived my old love for a landscape type that we rarely see here in Southern California: An urban haven entirely dedicated to the cultivation and exhibition of a California native-scape.
This is a jewel of a garden situated south of the San Gabriel foothills which offers a great example of xeriscape landscaping. The 86 acres are beautifully designed and entirely planted with cultivars and wild species of native plants, whose exploration leads you through various habitats and a mosaic of vegetation patterns, such as desert, chaparral, grasslands, forest, and riparian (areas on the banks of fresh water).
I had come to the Garden with several designer friends who, like me, were interested in refreshing our knowledge of California natives and finding inspiration for new landscape design ideas. And those we found! Conifers and oaks, Manzanita and Buck eye… Sage and Monkey flower, Anemone and Woolly Blue Curls, and on and on…
After wandering through the gardens the entire day, I was convinced that here are the drought resistant plants that can thrive in all of our gardens, no matter how tricky the situation. With these I can create any type of home landscape design, whether formal Mediterranean or California “eclectic”, whether modern restrained or flowery-cottage-y or romantic country, and create a feeling in them of satisfaction and being ‘at home’.
Here’s a selection of the Natives that I noted for their beauty, versatility and design interest:
California Buckeye Aesculus Californica
Type: Deciduous tree. Mature trees can reach 15 to 45 ft with greater spread. Sun. Soil: Adaptable.
Water: Drought tolerant to regular.
Natural habitat: Woodland mostly away from the coast and below 4,000 ft.
This tree responds to heat or drought stress by dropping its leaves which reveals the pretty trunk structure and silvery smooth bark. In spring, branches clad with bright apple green foliage carry bottle-brush flower white (rarely pink) clusters, 4-12 inch long. The heavy round fruit ripens in late fall and splits to reveal shiny, 1-3 inch chestnut-brown seeds that gave the tree its name.
Design interest and uses: One of the showiest flowering trees: Grown as single or multi-trunked tree or large shrub with rounded crown which makes a complement or counterpoint to coast live oak, foothill pine and California Bay. It is an excellent choice to shade south or west side of a house.
Hummingbird Sage Salvia Spathacea
This herbaceous allergenic perennial is a pretty work-horse. It is chiefly noticed for its whorls of showy bracts and flowers with hairy, softly sticky pointed leaves that all exude a spicey and fruity fragrance.
Water: drought tolerant to occasional.
Goundcover: Only 10 to 30 inches tall, it spreads in a dense colony and is easily controlled by pulling up the new plants at the end of the rhizomes. In the warm season it flowers almost continuously with pagoda-like stalks bearing several dense whorls of dark maroon or ruby red bracts that offset the 1 to 1 ½ inch long magenta to salmon flowers. Deadheading the dried flower stalks keeps this plant tidy if desired (and the bloom coming).
Design interest/uses: Successful in the sun or shade, as groundcover or erosion control on banks or under the canopy of oaks and other trees where it contends with root competition and lack of direct sunlight. It draws bees, other insects and hummingbirds and works also as container plant. It mixes well with plants that won’t be smothered by its large leaves, such as bunch grasses, irises, manzanitas and coffeeberries.
Salvia Clevelandii ‘Bee’s Bliss’
Water: Drought tolerant to occasional.
When in bloom with lovely periwinkle blue flowers on 1-foot-long stalks, Salvia ‘Bee’s Bliss’ (hybrid of Cleveland Sage and purple Sage) draws insects and birds. This cultivar (hybrid between Cleveland and purple sage) reaches 1 to 2 ft tall and spreads quickly to 8 feet wide. It is subject to powdery mildew during cool weather, but the mildew disappears as temps heat up.
There are a couple of hybrids available in nurseries. Other cultivars are ‘Allen Chickering’ ; ‘Pozo Blue’, ‘Aromas’, ‘Mrs. Beard’ has masses of plae blue flowers and a similar form, and more reliable than ‘Dara’s Choice’ which grows in partial shade.
Design interest: Low, sturdy and attractive groundcover for sunny slopes where it is used as erosion control; rarely browsed by deer.
To plant or not to plant (now) – that’s the question
Working with California native plants, I’ve learned that in some ways they are not that different from non-native species. Find the right plants for the garden’s soil, sun, and water, and they are easy to grow and maintain. The further you stretch out of a plant’s comfort zone, the higher maintenance it will require.
Here’s what the experts at Las Pilitas Nursery say:
“In years like 2013, if you have the water, plant from about December to February in the hot interior, plant all year in the rest of the state, particularly if you’re replacing a lawn or something else that needs a lot of water. If you’re replacing the lawn you’re going to save a lot of water in just a few months so do not feel guilty about using that water for change. New plantings need to be watered once a week for the first season in a dry year like 2013. So as long as you can do that, you can replace that dead looking non-native landscape.”
We are lucky that several local nurseries not only grow California Natives, but that they offer help with diy landscape design offering expert instructions and workshops. At Tree of Life Nursery, you can find many clear and useful planting and maintenance guidelines. Moosa Creek Nursery also makes guidelines available. Recon Native Plants grow California native plants for the landscape and the habitat restoration industry.
Back in the Garden, as I was soaking in the sunshine that was bathing a large stand of Matilija Poppy, my eyes were drawn to the brilliant color splashes of yellow Palo Verde bloom, deep pink of Desert Willow trumpets and vibrant-orange blossoms of Desert Cholla. It struck me how harmonious the composition was, in color, texture and form, and I marveled at how appealing this scene was to me.
What is then the essence of this landscape that so draws me? Is it the idea that this landscape has thrived without our pruning, watering and fussing, for millions of years? Is it because of this California flora providing such a rich source of beautiful, diverse and durable garden plants? Or is it that it is the only sustainable landscape design that feels “right” in our bright light, growing out of our rustling leaf litter under oaks or Sycamore, or in the fragrant shade of pine trees, or the between the crunchy leaf litter of our chaparral? For me, it is the only landscape type that I feel nurtured with, and that gives me the strongest ‘sense of place’.
Photos courtesy Koby’s Garden Alchemy and Christiane Holmquist
With my latest edition of “Garden Design” in hand and another beautiful spring just begun, I thought I’d let you know about this exciting magazine and share some ideas and finds that I hope will energize and enthuse us for many months to come.
(Pitcher Sage in full glory at Santa Barbara Botanic Garden)
After a break of several years, Garden Design has been re-launched in a much improved version. The sheer volume of the latest and hottest plants, examples of contemporary outdoor furniture and amazing garden art, must-reads about design- or plant-related literature, fascinating interviews with design experts and beautiful photography makes me enthusiastic about my profession, and many ideas in this magazine can be applied in the garden or spring landscape. Here are a few that I picked up this time:
(A working concept drawing)
Landscape designer Rob Steiner muses about the “Rules of the Game” of garden design. He makes the point that although we all have very individual ideas of what our dream garden should look like, and that although one could assume that garden design is too much a personal expression of one’s likes and dislikes, there are fundamental rules of how to organize the space, enclose it, find the right proportions, determine the right size of plants, and take into consideration that gardens evolve.
Although I myself was taught these rules, it is easy to treat them in a theoretical way, or assuming that we can tweak or ignore them, and so it’s helpful to reflect on them again once in a while. His first rule is “Obey the ‘law’ of significant enclosure”, and he calls it not only a rule, but a law: It “is absolutely critical in creating a sense of refuge and of feeling oneself within nature’s embrace”.
(A working concept drawing, in colored version)
For me, this rule is very important as it’s rooted in my personal experience: It was in the tall hedged seclusion and privacy of my parents’ garden that I fostered the deepest emotional connection with nature that allowed complete abandon to a fantasy world.
Rob goes on to postulate that “we feel enclosed when the vertical height of an elements is at least one third the length of the horizontal space”. He then describes how he applies this rule to a patio that needs screening from a play area: As the patio is 17 ft wide, he determines that the screening hedge needs to be at least 6 ft high.
Another few pages that I flagged in the latest edition showcase “Great Gardens Across America”. Here I find plenty of examples of contemporary design style: Outdoor spaces used as extensions of the home and seamlessly connecting them; “simple and refined” spaces; emphasis on beautiful accents and details, in materials and garden art; distinctive and unfussy furniture and accessories, and successfully blending different styles.
(Great flowering meadow at Santa Barbara Botanic Garden)
For those shopping for exceptional, modern, perhaps whimsical furniture, there are plenty pictured here: The almost retro-looking /mid-century modern chaises by William Haines Designs; also Hive Modern; or Design Within Reach.
I also enjoy the “unfussy”, succinct interviews with designers from different parts of the country who talk about their design inspirations and share their favorite new things, what to read, or what’s going on in their part of the gardening world.
There’s an Earth Day at Descanso Gardens in La Canada Flintridge on April 25; there’s the Butterfly Festival at the Water Conservation Garden El Cajon on May 9; also the Spring Garden Festival on April 25 at Cuyamaca College across the street.
Over 40,000 blooming bulbs will be on display including Allium, Camassia, Cardiocrinum, Cyclamen, Muscari and more at the Blooms and Bulbs Festival in Salt Lake City, UT, April 10-26. These are only a few picks from a much longer list of fascinating events in the design and gardening world.
To me, most thought-provoking in this edition was the article, “Professor of Biodiversity; Doug Tallamy teaches America how to restore habitat for wildlife – start in your garden”. The main photo shows a sun-lit pond where the surrounding trees and wildflowers at the water’s edge are reflected. This is a scene in Mt. Cuba Center in Delaware, where Doug Tallamy has created a habitat for wildlife.
Trees of varying heights create a protective, delightful canopy under which chairs have been placed, in viewing distance of the shore, where water tumbles, through a stone bed, into the lake, past stands of wildflowers and patches of meadow. The hand of the designer is definitely visible, but the setting is so carefully created that is feels like each design element has been carefully investigated before execution to assure the least interference with nature.
(Beetles on California native milkweed)
Here, Mr. Tallamy has restored several acres to their natural beauty, by removing all “aggressive alien plants” and replacing them with local, native trees, shrubs and wildflowers that, within a decade, have lured back a thriving population of graceful, boldly striped swallowtails and native birds, their songful predators that in our traditional gardens, filled with many exotic and nonnative ornamentals, provide neither food nor shelter for animals.
(A bird perched on a branch of Rhamnus Redberry)
The message is clear, and Mr. Tallamy repeats it on lectures and even in his writing: You can do a lot to conserve and restore biodiversity in your own garden.” The secret is the recognition that it is the native plants that are eaten by the local native insects, and once their food sources have been restored, the birds will follow!”
Mr. Tallamy’s current research focuses on the “impact of non-native plants on the terrestrial food chain”, quantifying how much alien plant species are reducing populations of native insects and the creatures that depend on them. “Grow the native plants that insects in your area depend on”. (See also his book ‘The Living Landscape: Designing for Beauty and Biodiversity in the Home Garden’, Timber Press 2014, co-written by Rick Darke).
(Bee on Live Oak flower tassel)
(Monarch Butterfly on host plant)
His ideas make complete sense, and I feel motivated to make my message about designing with California natives stronger and more convincing. But that’s food for another article.
With the recent rains, it’d be easy to forget last year’s water worries – if it weren’t for the memory of our ever rising water bills! Winter isn’t over yet and more rain is in the forecast, but our overall water shortage and Southern California’s water dependence are a serious problem that is not likely to go away any time soon.
This challenge shouldn’t fill your hearts with dread however: In the following I’m going to show you how water conservation can be turned into a pleasurable task that makes you fall in love with your garden again.
Martin J. Wygod, a racehorse breeder, and his wife, Pam, in their Rancho Santa Fe garden. With more than 100 acres, they have replaced much of their landscaping with succulents, cutting their water consumption in half from what it was in 2004.
Credit Sandy Huffaker for The New York Times
The New York Times recently focused on Rancho Santa Fe in a report on efforts to reduce water use during the drought. The initiative taken by Martin and Pam Wygod is highlighted. I’ve worked with the Wygods since 2012 and accepted their challenge to redesign their landscaping to achieve a significant reduction in water use.
When I started the collaboration with Mrs. Wygod, she had selected the entrance courtyard because it seemed particularly well suited to her goals. With great determination she had already removed all previous plants so that the empty space would allow her to better visualize the alternative: A garden that would express her love for a more naturalistic and intimate space and her dream of repose and calm; one with a rich variety of textures and colors, of more wildlife and quiet stimulus for the senses, every time you walk through it.
Moreover, creating a symphony from the great variety of beautiful water-conserving plants that our climate allows us to grow would be so much more exciting than the traditional lawn-cum-roses that had been there before; and importantly, this garden would also satisfy her desire for greater water conservation.
Above a ”teaser” concept sheet used to help the client visualize the general feel and theme of her garden
In the following weeks, I collaborated with my client on several drafts and concepts to help her capture her vision. Initially, inspired by the beautiful rock veneer on the house façade and perimeter wall, I drafted a naturalistic landscape with several low mounds, boulders and a rock fountain, and with stone-edged gravel paths winding through the garden, inviting discovery and contemplation.
Above, one of the draft concepts showing gravel paths and gently mounding planter beds
This undulating landscape would be alive with exceptional drought tolerant plants from Mediterranean-type climate zones. The existing mature Live Oak would need to be preserved as well as the big Paper Bark Tree. For the latter finding companion plants would be a bit of a challenge because the root competition under its canopy is fierce. On the other side of the garden, under the Live Oak Quercus agrifolia, the plant selection would have to be extra careful: Already stressed from the lawn removal and the shut-off of the regular lawn water we needed to avoid disturbing the Oak’s roots even more and provide the irrigation solely timed to the needs of this California native.
Initially very fond of this first concept and after a few weeks of consideration, my client realized however that she preferred a quieter, more dreamy and calming landscape. I suggested to play the stone element down a bit by removing gravel and rock edging, thereby calming the scene. Also, we agreed that the mounds made the landscape design “too busy”, and that they took away from a generous sense of space.
We did retain the large boulders and winding path ways, while putting the paving selection for the pathways on hold; my client couldn’t “feel” yet what material she’d want to walk on in her garden.
A walkway, still undefined, winds through this xeriscape design.
While I was working on the re-design, Mrs. Wygod found a beautiful bench; placed invitingly in the shade under the Oak, traveling the garden paths would be even more irresistible.
Above, the same garden scene, photographed a year later: The pathways havs become more defined by adding a narrow black edging and a soft, small-pellet fir bark.
Once we had communicated and understood the layout of the garden beds and determined most of the hardscape elements, creating the planting plan was exciting: Putting together a plant list that attempts to incorporate the client’s very personal preferences for textures and colors, and that is suitable for the various micro-climates in this garden (shade under overhang and under trees; root competition, seasonal sun exposure in other places etc.) is a like a challenging piece of music, and you’re thrilled when you have done well.
Of course it helps when your client is as fond of plants, too, and open to a certain measure of experimentation where you hope that a certain plant will like the situation you place it in and then wait to see how it performs.
I couldn’t have been luckier than with this client: Experienced and fond of her gardens she is aware that gardens need time to grow in and that each plant choice is an investment in the future that requires patience.
The garden in its third year; it’s coming together
Now in its third year, the garden is still evolving: Plants are growing in and need to be pruned and gently directed; some haven’t liked the micro-climate and needed to be replaced (it’s too hot in this garden for Blue Oat Grass Helictotrichon sempervirens); Blue Sedge Carex flacca proved to be too much of a spreader and started to engulf the neighboring plants. The perennial Penstemon heterophyllus ‘Margarita BOP’ is a delicate plant that is not easy to find the right amount of irrigation for, so it often displays dried leaves around the base and is in my mind too ‘unkempt’ looking. Perhaps ‘Little One’ Verbena will be more satisfying?
And the long-considered fountain will be added next; it will be a stunning addition to this garden.
Penstemon heterophyllus ‘Margarita BOP’, a temperamental perennial
As the NYT article points out, the water savings achieved in this garden are considerable. Moreover, the homeowners’ pleasure that they derive from this garden is real:
“We are thrilled with the front garden. You were able to take my thoughts and transfer them to a stunning garden. A friend of mine from NJ who is head of the Garden Club was so impressed with the garden she took photos to share with her members.
The fountain will be a project for when I am here to look at the stone with you. Step by step we are building the garden."
The bench is still an important focal point of the garden, but not much longer: We are about to add the long-awaited boulder fountain. Soon!
In my previous post, I wrote about very enticing plant discoveries that will make our drought resistant landscape designs more varied, interesting and satisfying. Here are more of these plants:
On a recent visit to Waterwise Botanicals, respected nursery/grower of California friendly plants in Bonsall , I noticed the delicate form and pretty flowers of a small tree crowning a planting vignette of succulents and waterwise perennial grasses , on a small mound. Here’s how the grower describes it:
“This shrub/small tree, growing to 6-8 ft tall and wide [I saw it as an about 10 ft tree] is a perfect water-wise choice for a landscape. It is prettiest when pruned out as a very small, multi-trunked tree. Soft, lacy, fernlike foliage provides the back-drop for exotic yellow flowers with long, protruding red “feathery” stamens that bloom repeatedly for most of spring through fall. Loves full sun; drought tolerant when established. Hardy to 10s. Excellent as a mountain, valley or desert plant. Attracts butterflies; distasteful to deer. Will go winter deciduous in cold climates.”
This little tree is also offered by Mountain States Wholesale Nursery, whose great desert adapted plants are well suited to our local climate and are being sold at local nurseries. Their website describes this plant:
“Caesalpinia gilliesii Yellow Bird of Paradise
This upright, fast growing deciduous shrub originated from Argentina and Uruguay, and has naturalized in sub-tropical areas of America. Clusters of bright yellow flowers with long red stamens are produced in the summer. Its natural growth habit is irregular and open, but pruning will encourage dense growth. Older plants may attain a height of 10 feet and nearly as wide.
This long-lived and durable plant is tolerant of cold, heat and drought, and performs best in full sun exposures. All parts of this plant are toxic. It is root hardy to -10°F. “
I’d use this plant as patio tree in small spaces, or as accent in a xeriscape design with other drought resistant plants. Its canopy would allow more delicate succulents such as Echeverias and Aeoniums to profit of its dappled shade; it could also be planted against a hot wall and soften it.
Here’s another promising plant that caught my eye at the September meeting of the San Diego Horticultural Society: Adenanthos cuneatus ‘Coral’ Drift Flame Bush.
The speaker at this meeting was plantsman Randy Baldwin of San Marcos Growers in Goleta Valley, north of Santa Barbara. He presented a selection of their fantastic “Plants Appropriate to the California Garden”. (I’ll be writing more about these exciting plants in my next blog post.) Here’s what their website says about Flame Bush:
“Adenanthos cuneatus ‘Coral Drift’ (Flame Bush) – A low-growing shrub to 2 to 4 feet tall by 3 to 5 feet wide with wedge-shaped silver-gray leaves that flush bright pink when in new growth and small red flowers with green at their base. The species is a common coastal plant along the south coast of Western Australia and this selection was made for its outstandingly bright pink new growth and compact low spreading habit. Plant in full sun in a well-drained soil. Drought tolerant once established. Though a coastal species, it has been grown in England since 1824 and is listed as hardy to winter temperatures – we speculate that it will likely prove hardy to at least 15 to 20 degrees F. A nice low plant for a rock garden or in a mixed mediterranean climate garden – very useful in beachside conditions.” Also described here as evergreen and deer tolerant.
San Marcos Growers’ have a well-known track record of providing the most interesting, climate-adapted and diverse plants that are sturdy and long lasting, and that I can purchase at a local nursery. With its rounded form and medium size, I think it would echo the rounded form of the boulders in my garden and make an attractive companion to the more delicate succulents or ephemeral perennials in my garden. Can you imagine how pretty it could look as under-story shrub under the canopy of the Desert Bird of Paradise?
Randy showed many more exciting drought resistant plants suitable to many different landscape styles, and I’ll continue to list them in my next blog post; keep looking out for it!