Water-Wise Garden

Water-Wise Gardens

With the uncharacteristic drought we’ve had in coastal BC this year, it’s a good time to consider drought-tolerant, even drought-loving, plants.

Before I go any further, most drought-loving plants need to be established with benefit of water before they will be truly drought-happy. There are a few exceptions to that, which I’ll mention at the end, but in general the first year of a plant’s residence in your garden, they need to be babied.

I received this e-newletter the other day, Deborah Silver’s “Silver Leaves”, which inspired this post; really, I’m just going to link you to the blog post, and then explain a little about understanding some drought-tolerant plants. A lot of times you can guess with relative accuracy what plants will accept, even enjoy, really dry conditions. I’ll leave out the dry shade plants, another category altogether, and focus on dry sun plants. The quality of the leaves, and understanding what you’re looking at, will allow you to predict their cultural needs.

Size of leaf

Very thin leaves, like Mexican Feather Grass (Nasella tenuissima) and lavender (Lavendula sp) fall into this category, as do very tiny leaves, like the creeping thymes. Most strappy leaved plants, like dayliliy (Hemerocallis sp) and iris.

These haven't been watered yet this year. They are a bit of shade--well, quite a lot of shade actually.
Hemerocallis. These haven’t been watered yet this year. They are in a bit of shade–well, quite a lot of shade actually.
The foliage here is fading, but the flowers keep blooming and blooming. In full sun, with no added water at all.
The foliage here is fading, but the flowers keep blooming and blooming. In full sun, with no added water at all. You can see the raspberry bushes prospering like crazy–that’s because they have VERY deep roots.

Texture of leaf

Silver leaves often have a fine hairy surface which catches dew and helps prevent water loss. Lamb’s ear (Stachys byzantina) is a classic fuzzy leafed plant. Waxy leaves hold in moisture as well, like many of the sedums, succulents, euphorbias.

Stachys byzantina
Stachys byzantina. You can see how bone dry the other leaves around are. (I think it’s aubretia…)
Hens and chicks-- Sempervivums
Hens and chicks– Sempervivum tectorum
Sedum spurium
Sedum spurium

Colour of leaf

As Deborah Silver says in the article, silver leaves almost always indicate drought tolerance. So are many blue plants like Elijah Blue Fescue–Festuca glauca, Blue Oat grass (Helictotrichon sempervierens), some of the low-growing sedums like S. spathifollium. Definitely not blue hostas.

Last honourable mention goes to those drought tolerant plants that need special attention.  And really, I can only think of one right now, mainly because I’ve killed it repeatedly: Lewisia cotyledon: one of my favourite plants, but it just does not tolerate any moisture on its crown. So if you plant it in your water-wise garden, but plan to sprinkle the garden for the first season, make sure the Lewisia is planted a little higher than grade, with a handful of crushed gravel over the soil. It will thank you with thees long-lasting fabulous little flowers.

Lewisia cotyledon
Lewisia cotyledon

RLGS can help if you’re planning a drought tolerant (“xeriscape”) garden. Go to the Contact page for information.

2 thoughts on “Water-Wise Garden

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  1. Thanks for the tip on the Lewisia, Janet. I raised a tweedyi in my first rock garden and it was one of my all-time favorites.


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