Tag Archives: drought-tolerant landscaping

october coffeeberries

October can be the cruelest month. The first couple of days saw a return visit from Satan’s HVAC guy. Freaking hot. And same goes for Wednesday of this week. October was the month of the big wildfires in 2003 and 2007.

This October also brought the first measurable rain since May, when the month saw 0.02 inches of rain. According to San Diego weather enthusiast John S. Stokes III, “[t]his is the 19th time in the last 163 years June, July, August and September have been zero/trace.” But after a dry summer we got some rain, and change is in the air.

One of the California native plants that weathers the dry spell best is the coffeeberry, Frangula california or more commonly known and sold by its old name of Rhamnus californica. With only occasional supplemental water the plants stay looking green. Give them a little more water and they can look absolutely lush.

You can buy different clones of coffeeberry, and they do do slightly different things. The most “normal” looking plant, from a non-native horticultural standpoint might be the clone Tranquil Margerita that’s sold by Las Pilitas. If you read any British garden writing you’ll encounter the word “gardenesque,” and this clone could be used to define the word. Neat, dense and well-behaved, with long, somewhat glossy leaves, it would fit seamlessly into cottage garden landscape.

Eve Case is a clone that goes back to its introduction in 1975 by the Saratoga Horticultural Research Foundation, a group that was founded in 1952 through the vision of horticulturalist Ray Hartman to give Californians more climate-appropriate choices for their gardens. Compared to Margarita, Eve is a wild woman. This clone’s leaves are coarser, a little reflexed, and come fewer to the stem than with Tranquil Margarita. If Margarita was gardenesque, Eve might be called “woodsy.” Here’s one of my plants of it–probably not the best examples of what this clone can look like. But it’s a real-life example of what gophers can do in a garden to retard the growth of plants, with this plant going into the ground after the previous one.

Mound San Bruno is somewhere between the previous two clones. The leaves tend to be a little smaller, and not so recurved like in Eve Case. My plant of it is a really bad example. I put in the ground and assumed that the little drip emitter would keep it happy. But some evil critter–gophers again–buried the emitter so that the plant got next to no water for several months. If the plant had a chance to get established it would have weather the dry spell just fine, but this plant didn’t fare so well. But as soon as I fixed the emitter it came back, and should look terrific after it gets a moist winter to get it established.

People grow coffeeberries for the reliable green foliage. But they also grow this plant for its berries. True to its name the berries mature to a dark shade like dark-roast espresso beans. I mentioned change earlier, and this seems to be the month when you see the berries making their transition in a big way.

Some plants have a multicolor mix of fruits at this point in the season.

For me Eve Case is just starting the transition, showing colorful spots on the original green berries.

Next in the coffeeberry spectrum are warm oranges…

…quickly followed by pink-inspired reds.

The final color stage is this namesake coffee bean color. The birds are sure to show up once they find out coffeeberry is served…

a decade of neglect

When my parents retired they moved out of their house of almost twenty-five years in the Los Angeles area. Not wanting to pick favorites between their two children they decided on a modest house in a new development in Oceanside, halfway between my sister and me.

Like many new homes the landscaping that came with the place was bare-bones: lawn, with a single podocarpus sapling next to the front curb. The blank slate excited my mother, who was looking forward to putting her stamp on a new piece of property. I helped her plan the yard, construct the raised beds, move dirt and do some of the planting. In the end, though, almost all the plant selections were hers: oleanders, pittosporum, geraniums, roses, azaleas, agapanthus, bird of paradise, Japanese maple, citrus, stone fruit trees, plus selections from the other plants that were being promoted twenty years ago.

When my mother died in the late 90s it left my father with a yard that wasn’t exactly what you’d call low-maintenance. And Oceanside wasn’t a quick drive up for me so that I could help tend it. Several years later he moved out, leaving the gardener’s garden in the hands of renters, many of whom never watered or tended it.

One corner of the back yard, with some survivor plants and others that hadn't fared so well.

Last summer I had a chance to stop by the house for what will probably be my last visit. Many plants were still alive, thanks in part to what had been a moderately moist winter and spring, with more thanks probably going to the neighbors who watered their lawns and unknowingly kept the ground moist for thirsty roots from next door to sneak under the side fence.

A detail of the preceding photos, showing a bright green native Baccharus, coyote brush, that had colonized the bed. It looks much happier than most of the non-natives.

Lavender, crape myrtle and citrus are still hanging on. The lawn is long gone, however.

The side yard, with overgrown honeysuckle and pittosporum.

A rose and weeds in the front yard, probably surviving from overspray from the neighbor's sprinklers.

I'd always thought Japanese maples were water hogs. This one didn't seem to mind the abuse, though I suspect its roots wandered far next door looking for water. To the left behind it is asparagus fern, a plant that will survive long after the next zombie apocalypse.

Sheffleria, the fairly indestructable houseplant, turns into a fairly indestructable subtropical screen outdoors when planted next to the neighbor's well watered lawn. The adjacent azaleas weren't so resourceful and were pretty crispy-brown.

My mother liked her geraniums. This survivor was just about the only thing blooming that day.

A steep and weedy slope drops to the back property line. A narrow riparian corridor behind the house was thick with untrimmed willows, doing a terrific job of screening out condos and a Home Depot that have gone up beyond the fence.

The house is in the hands of new owners now. They’ll probably look at the ragged plantings and decide to start fresh, removing most of the scrappy plants and making the yard their own.

If I hadn’t seen the yard in its current state I might have felt protective or territorial. But this visit allowed me to let go. This was once a comfortable and beautifully maintained garden that gave my parents joy. I have those memories, but I realize that’s not what the garden is anymore.

I now feel at peace with whatever the new owners will want to do with the yard. I wish them well.

landscaping horror: where diy meets wtf

One of my friends recently turned me on to Regretsy, a blog that gathers together some of the more unfortunate objects that earnest DIYers have made and posted for sale at the Etsy craft site.

I really like Regretsy’s tag line, “where DIY meets WTF,” and I’ve borrowed it for the subtitle of this quick post on a new garden space that went up in my neighborhood, a bit of landscaping horribleness that seemed perfect for Halloween.

I thank John for noticing it first and pointing it out to me, knowing how well I’d appreciate it. “It’s on the right as you head down the hill. You can’t miss it.”

Ah, what a wonder: plastic grass-colored indoor-outdoor carpeting, one of my personal favs…placed naturalistically between the sidewalk and the side fence…

But it gets better! Ever six feet or so, next to the fence, the designer has planted big red silk roses. I’m sure they were meant to coordinate with the red curb.

A garden made out of dead things emulating live ones. Zombies. Plastic roses. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

One of the dangers of having lovely flowers next to a public walkway is that someone might want to pick them.

One of the roses planted in this plastic lawn. Note the price tag still attached.

Could this be the latest avant-garde garden designed by Martha Schwartz, who’s incorporated plastic plants into her designs, as in her [ Splice Garden, at Cambridge’s Whitehead Institute ]?

No, sadly, probably not. But I will force myself to say something nice about it: At least it doesn’t require watering, except maybe to hose off the dust.

our gardens after we’re gone

Ever wonder what your garden would look like if the human caretakers just vanished?

Maybe I’ve been inspired by all the disaster flicks like 2012 or the History Channel’s Life After People series. But envisioning gardens after gardeners is an interesting intellectual exercise that might help us answer that pesky question: What is a garden?

Would all the invasive species take over? Would the native plants reclaim their turf? For how long would you still be able to tell that a garden existed in a spot in the first place?

I looked at parts of my back yard and tried to imagine what would happen.

Within the first month, in Southern California’s dry climate, most of the potted plants would perish for lack of water. Some of the succulents might hang on longer, but without an extensive root system in the ground, they’d be doomed.

This little frog would be staring at a bog garden where all the bog plants have died back, once again for lack of water.

Within two or three months the fishponds would be dry: no waterlilies, no cattails, no sedges, no water for the local birds.

This pathetic patch of grass would go through boom and bust cycles, turning green with the rains, dying back to brown other times of year. Seeds of other plants better adapted to the conditions would eventually take hold. Maybe some plants from the local canyon. Maybe some hardy exotic or invasive species.

Behind the back fence of the house is this slope dominated by rampant iceplant. The the neighbor behind me and I haven’t been able agree on what to do with the space. I’ve planted a small collection of native plants to help stabilize the slope. These are species that with only once exception can be found within a five mile radius of the house, and include plants like this nightshade, Solanum parishii

…and Del Mar Manzanita, Arctostaphylos glandulosa ssp. crassifolia, an extremely rare plant that’s on the Federal endangered species list. The neighbor, however, loves their iceplant and can’t imagine of a slope without this gawdawful invasive species clamoring all over it. The local chapter of the California Native Plant Society has prepared a great pamphlet on getting rid of iceplant that you can view [ here ]. It goes into some great reasons to get rid of the stuff:

Planted on hillsides of thousands of homes in San Diego, it has since crawled off the original site and into neighboring Open Space parks, endangering unique plants by smothering them. Iceplant provides little habitat value compared to the plant community that it is replacing. Compared to the native shrubs, iceplant has very shallow roots that do not hold soil well; close inspection often reveals gullies underneath the twisted mat of vines. After rain, Iceplant engorges with water, substantially increasing its weight. As a result, iceplant can cause the deterioration of steep hillsides by encouraging slumping – potentially endangering the house above.

For people in suburbia, “habitat value” might mean plants that harbor scary wild animals and bugs, so that’s not always the most compelling reason to go native. The fact that iceplant might endanger their property values could be more persuasive.

So, returning to my main topic, the iceplant would probably overrun most of the native plants in a very few years and form a deep pile. Once we neglected the slope for a few years and found that the mat of iceplant was starting to push the back fence over. Within ten years the fence would begin to fail and the iceplant would begin its descent into the lower garden.

These plants along the back fence would stand a chance of surviving without water. The yucca, palm, protea would be tall enough to survive an onslaught of marauding iceplant from behind. They’re plants that don’t require much maintenance, and this wall of foliage would probably look unchanged for a number of years. But the lower aloes and other succulents would likely be smothered by the iceplant.

This apricot against the back fence never looks great without summer watering, but it survives. It’s tall enough that it would probably survive the iceplant invasion. Some of the adjacent native plants do great with the natural conditions. They might not cope so well with the marauding iceplant.

The neighbor on the side has Algerian ivy that requires constant clipping to keep it next door. Within two years it would begin to establish itself in the back yard. Taller plants that might survive the iceplant invasion might have ivy crawling up and smothering them.

This raised bed near the house is where veggies and irrigated plants live. Most of the exotic plants wouldn’t make it without water. The Dr. Hurd manzanita, the bougainvillea vine and maybe the Garrya elliptica would probably hang in there, however, maybe for decades, maybe for much longer.

Fifty to seventy-five years out the house would start to fail. Plants might begin to move in. The surrounding garden space would be overgrown with the hardiest drought-adapted species. I almost never plant in rows, but the mixed origins of the species–South Africa, South America, Europe, as well as from all over California, not just local species–would clue an investigator into the fact that a garden existed on the site. The relationships between the plants would be dictated by nature, not a gardener preserving order between plants with mismatched levels of vigor.

Chances are excellent that one hundred years out, maybe two hundred or more, the most persistent invasive species would still be here. Iceplant and ivy, plus fennel and black mustard that have invaded the local canyons, would feature in the neighborhood landscape. But while many invasives bask in the newly disturbed earth of a garden or the re-engineered grades around roads, they don’t always do so well long-term. Biologists have suggested that many native plants would return to a place where they’re not being pulled out or constantly mowed. My yard might be colonized by the local Mexican elderberry, or toyon, or lemonade berry, or prickly pear. And maybe some of the plants I’ve already introduced to the yard will persist and reproduce. The restoration of nature might spread from my house and from the wild edges of nature just a few houses away.

Even after nature returns, the occasional hardy exotic plant surviving amidst the natives, along with some of the neighborhood’s plantings of trees and shrubs in rows will make it obvious: There used to be gardens here.

not in the doldrums

It’s the end of summer and most areas of the garden seem to be in some sleepy botanical torpor, exhausted from the heat. Not much is blooming. Brown is everywhere.

August succulents with Crassula perfoliata

And then by contrast there’s this little over-performing corner, formed in large part by chunks of succulents that John has collected over the years…

Cascading over a back wall are the shocking red flowers of this crassula (I think it’s Crassula perfoliata var. minor, a.k.a. Crassula falcata). Its companions in this photo are a couple of other succulents, one of the goth-black aeoniums (Aeonium arboreum ‘Zwartkop’) and what’s likely Graptopetalum paraguayense. The three are pretty easy to find and like nice combined.

Crassula perfoliata with curled summer leaves

After the winter rains the foliage on all of these plants plumps up and looks pretty spectacular. But as summer settles in the aeonium and and graptopetalum drop their larger leaves in favor of a tight cluster of leaves packed at the growing end of the stalks. The bigger the leaf the greater the water loss. The crassula will retain its leaves, however, although they’ll look a little shriveled in the drought. The fact that the leaves are folded in half probably helps to shade the leaf, reduce transpiration and reduce moisture loss.

August succulents with Crassula perfoliata last year

The flowering of the crassula varies by year. The photo above is from this season, actually not one of the better years. To the left is a shot from last August. This year’s not quite as flashy, but in the slow heat of August and September, I’ll take it.

friday garden roundup

After finishing my coffee and reading some of the newspaper this morning I took a quick survey around the yard.


Honey bush (Melianthus major) is a South African species that I’ve had for a couple years now. Although it responds to watering with a lot of spunky growth, it’s also good with minimal additional watering. I have two sprinkler heads in the garden, and this plant gets by on the overspray from one of the heads after it’s made the sages and tangerine tree happy.

The maroon flowers unfurl from the branch tips in spring and dry to these brown spikes. I’ve left them on the plant to help me decide if I like the way they look or not. The bed they’re in in has a lot of mounding plants, so the spikes give some vertical interest.



The leaves are heavily serrated and are the main reason for growing the plant. Here they are, with shadows, and backlit by the morning sun. They look a little fierce, but they’re actually soft, like rubber. They do have a bit of an unpleasant odor if you brush by them. Combine that fact with the plant’s eventual size–six to twelve feet–and you’ll see that it has “dramatic background plant” written all over it.


The melianthus grows next to a bromeliad that truly is nasty and spiny. (I’ve mentioned this plant before…) Pretty though, even when it’s not flowering. And it takes next to no water when grown in mostly shade.


Next to the honey bush and bromeliad, in a planting that spans two or three continents, is a young manzanita, Actostaphylos Dr. Hurd, shown here in a detail highlighting its exfoliating bark. Although one of the faster growing manzanitas–it’s grown eight inches since February–this still isn’t a plant for the impatient. Currently it’s exactly one meter tall, and will hopefully hit its design height of ten feet before I’m back diapers. Eventually it’ll make it to fifteen feet or more.


In the front of the same bed, next to a sprinkler head, are some basil cuttings that I’ve posted on before. Six weeks after planting out, the largest plant is maybe eight by eight inches and is big enough for me to consider taking an occasional snip for the dinner table. In a month I should be ready to make batches of pesto.


The final photo isn’t my garden, but looking across the street, where they’re installing plastic turf. The neighbors are responding to our new water restrictions by mixing synthetic grass with palm trees. The look will be something like the wet Hawaiian paradise they had before.

But I do worry that synthetic grass, even if it looks something like the real thing, does nothing to address people’s fundamental expectations of what a garden should look like in a fiercely dry climate. And in my most uncharitable moments I think that installing plastic grass is like treating heroin addiction with methadone. And to this gardener, installing something as dead as plastic grass lands with a thud as loud as the one created by the infamous 1978 remodel of a Sunset Boulevard mansion by a Saudi sheik that featured planters full of plastic flowers.

But hey, they’re doing what makes sense to them, and they will be reducing their water use.

how the neighbors are coping

Water restrictions went into effect here in San Diego on June 1. So far there’s a short list of thou-shalt-nots, and the water district has primarily targeted landscape irrigation, the low-hanging fruit, with directives like: no watering between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m., watering only on specified days based on your address, sprinkler-watering limited to no more than 10 minutes, three times a week.

Walking around my neighborhood I can see a lot of people who’ve responded to the call. Some are just beginning to make changes, while others made changes years ago.


I was down a couple streets from my house when I saw this front yard makeover. Simple. Just a few big plants chosen for their countours. This is a house where the modern lines of the house echo the style of the plantings. The sago palm requires some water, but the other plants would do well going dry.

Walking around I saw a number of houses where more drought-tolerant plantings were making their way into the landscape. Each house seemed to have their own take on what a drought-tolerant front yard could look like.


Some relied on hardscape to replace a lawn…


…some went in for lots of mulch instead of a lawn, but not many plants…


…some for mulch with some plants, drought-tolerant or not…


…many of the yards that were reimagined as dry landscapes many years ago seemed to rely on gravel and some plants…


…several used gravel with just a few plants to image a desert theme…


…this one mixed gravel, junipers, and edible landscaping–a fig–right out front…


…many used what I’d consider a contemporary look, employing widely-spaced drought tolerant combining natives or exotics set in mulch or DG…


…here’s another of the style where a few plants are set in the middle of space they’ll never grow into. It’s definitely a look, as well as landscaping that embraces the fact that things don’t need to be densely planted to look good…


…many yards feature some more water-intensive plants mixed in with ones that require a lot of water, a kind of planting that a drip irrigation system can make possible. These people used some roses along with plants that’ll look good with less water.


Looking around you sense that this is a neighborhood in transition. Some people are just letting their lawns go brown. Some may be planning on redoing their plantings. Others are probably just waiting out the water restrictions to go back to their old ways.


Some houses are still attached to their old ways that feature conspicuous water consumption. Maybe at some point its was a status thing, showing everyone that you could spend resources on something that can’t be used. But these days it’s hard not to feel a little hot under the collar when these are resources that are being taken from the rest of us.

Still, before I get overly tough on the neighbors, I want to give people the benefit of the doubt for a while. These are tough economic times. Redoing your landscaping can be an expensive proposition. And there are people for whom dealing with a sprinkler timer would be like asking them to pilot the Space Shuttle. (My father could never figure out his timer.) And there’s a chance that people haven’t heard about the new restrictions.


But there’s one water-user that I’ll call out on the carpet. This is our local shopping center, which presumably is maintained by people who know what they’re doing. But watering the sidewalk and the asphalt…


…and then letting all the water run off into the storm drains, well, that does get my goat. But it’s not like I’m only grousing on a blog they’ll probably never read. They’ve heard from me already, and I hope they’ll get in step with the neighborhood they serve.

But overall I’m pleased. People are getting the message and they’re doing something about it. I think they get a sense that we’re all in this together, and we’ll find ways to deal with this water crisis. Not living in a neighborhood ruled by a homeowner’s association, you can see that we’re all finding different solutions.

Some choices will be better than others from the standpoint of water use, habitat, urban runoff or reducing the heat island effect. Still, it’s encouraging to see people people waking up from this fantasy of a lush, green, subtropical California of endless water resources.

herbs for a dry garden


Is there anything better than fresh herbs from the garden?

For years I had herbs in my fairly dry veggie garden. Some of the herbs herbs thrived. Others sulked. Some died.

Fortunately, if you’re trying to cut down on watering, you still have a huge number of herbs to choose from. For instance, many of the plants that you think of immediately when you hear the word “herb” originate in the Mediterranean, and many of them prefer less moisture than other garden plants.

Below, I’ve listed some common herbs that have done well for me dry spots, along with others that I’ve seen doing well in quite dry conditions. There are lots of other selections, but this list can get you going with more than a summer’s worth of recipes.

  • Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis): You can pick from forms that sprawl, form a shrub, or grow straight up in spires.
  • dryland-herbs_purple-sageSage (Salvia officianalis): European Garden sage comes in lots of versions in leaf color (green, golden, tri-color or purple) and flavor (“sage” flavor, pineapple, or grape).
  • Oregano (Origanum vulgare)
  • Marjoram (Origanum majorana)
  • Thyme (Thymus spp.): Some thymes, including many of those sold for ornamental groundcover use (such as T. serpiphyllum) are only slightly scented or not at all. The culinary bush forms generally have more scent and flavor, and they come in a wide range, including lemon and lime. They also tend to be more tolerant of dry conditions.
  • Lavender (Lavandula spp.): There are several lavender species, as well as plenty of hybrids and varieties. All are at least somewhat drought tolerant. Some extremely so.
  • dryland-herbs_rose-geranium Scented geraniums (Pelargonium spp.): Take your pick of rose, apple, cinnamon, nutmeg, pineapple, lemon, lime, apricot and others.
  • Wormwood (Artemisia spp.)
  • Mexican oregano (Lippia graveolens)
  • Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare): Beautiful and tasty plants, but they’re considered invasive in many locations (including the entire California floristic province). Research before you plant! There’s an attractive bronze version that’s reputed to be less invasive. Still, I wouln’t plant it if regular fennel is a problem in your area.
  • Nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus): With edible, peppery leaves and flowers, some people consider this an herb. As with fennel, above, it can be invasive. Don’t plant it if it could escape. (Many of the moister hillsides here in San Diego are covered with the stuff.)
  • Lemon grass, both West-Indian (Cymbopogon citratus) and East-Indian (C. flexuosus): Sources tell you these plants like water, but I’ve found that they don’t mind going dry occasionally, especially if they’re given some shade.


Good eats!

the dry gardening handbook

Olivier and Clara Filippi have been gardening in the south of France for well over a quarter century. Theirs is a mediterranean climate, and their nursery, Pépinière Filippi, located near Montpellier, specializes in plants adapted to the dry-summer/wet-winter cycles that you find in only five large regions on earth: the Mediterranean zone, proper; South Africa; the southwest corner of Australia; Chile; and much of California.

Cover or The Dry Gardening Handbook

When I picked up Olivier Filippi’s recent The Dry Gardening Handbook: Plants and Practices for a Changing Climate, I was expecting it to be a different sort of book than it is, maybe something about general drought-tolerant plants, or a volume dedicated to helping your garden adapt to using less water. What this is, however, is a straight book on mediterranean gardening and plants suited to mediterranean climates–something that probably shouldn’t come as a surprise since that’s the focus of the author’s nursery.

There’s a brief introduction to what constitutes a mediterranean climate, followed by notes on the strategies plants use to survive and thrive in it. Good advice on planning, planting, establishing and watering a new mediterranean garden comes next. Then Filippi gives us the heart of the book, a listing of over 400 mediterranean-adapted species, containing common and scientific names, approximate mature plant sizes, and notes on cultivation and propagation. (If you can begin to read French, you can check out the online catalog at the author’s nursery, which closely mirrors the list of plants recommended in the book. There you’ll also find some of the advice that’s offered in the book, although without the nice photos in the book.)

Olivier Filippi gardens in France, and the plant list definitely Eurocentric: lots of different lavenders, cistus, phlomis, for example, with relatively few plants from other the other great mediterranean regions. In fact, many of the non-Mediterranean mediterranean-friendly plants listed are drought tolerant selections from several non-mediterranean climates. For gardeners in dry climates that don’t undergo mediterranean cycles, these suggestions might be some of the best options to try. But those plants might not the be greatest of discoveries: Photinia, heavenly bamboo (Nandina domestica), red-hot poker (Kniphofia sarmentosa) and American gaura (Gaura lindheimeri), for instance, are probably already common offerings in many American nurseries.

One of the book’s most outstanding features is the use of a “drought resistance code” that assigns a number from one to six to each of the species in its plant list. Based on work by plant geographer Henri Gaussen, the number quantifies the number of months of the year a plant can be expected to survive under drought stress. The book also contains instructions on how to calculate the climatic profile of where you live. (I figured out that my coastal San Diego location exerts a 3.5 to 4 drought stress factor. (Edit May 20: I oopsed on my figuring for coastal San Diego. My revised number is a much dryer drought stress factor of 6.)) All that’s a really useful way to understand drought.

When you see plants sold in nurseries and catalogs as drought-tolerant, the description can be meaningless. A variety that would go fine for two weeks without water could turn into seasoned kindling if subjected to six or seven months of continued drying. Realizing that a “drought-tolerant” chamomile plant has a drought resistance code of 2 would begin to tell you that it wouldn’t thrive in the same conditions that would suit California’s more “drought-proof” Romneya coulteri, which has a drought resistance code of 6. Having that information could help you plan companion plantings, as well as help you avoid plants altogether that would only lead to expensive mistakes.

Coming at plantings from a mediterranean focus leads the author to say some choice things about lawns:

You don’t have to be a visionary to see that the traditional lawn is an absurdity in mediterranean climates. If you nurture a deeply rooted feeling that you can’t be happy without a vast, lush lawn, then perhaps you ought to consider going to live in Cornwall… People often imagine that they need a huge expanse of lawn, but all too often the only person who walks over a traditional lawn in its entirety is the unfortunate individual who has to mow it every Sunday.

The author’s solution? Landscaping that pays attention to where you live. For those of you in mediterranean climates, this book can help you develop a deeper understanding of what’s unique about your environment. It can help you come up with good plant choices compatible with what your location offers. Along the way, it could help you save water, reduce pesticide use and maybe even free up some of those Sundays you spend mowing the lawn.

gbbd: pretty purple

For this Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day I’ve picked some predominantly purple spring-flowering plants that are starting to do their thing in my garden. All but one of these are California (or Baja California) natives, and all would be seriously water-wise choices for the garden. Some would even make it through an entire summer without water, though they’d look just a little better with a sip once or twice a month.



Blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium bellum): What a great name for a great plant. This iris relative is happy coexisting in a moderately-watered garden with other plants, though they can stand drought. Here they are living alongside some chard and heliotrope.



Blue dicks (Dichelostemma capitatum) are common here near the coast and are one of our reliable signs that it’s spring. They self-sow and spread around the garden, but not obnoxiously.


Black sage (Salvia mellifera) is one of the local canyon plants that’s earned a place in the garden. In life the flowers are a slightly stronger pale mauve color than here in the photo. It’s just beginning to come into flower and should be a little more intense in a couple weeks. Though not one of the “look at me” sages, it’s still quietly beautiful.



Verbena lilacina originates in Baja. The plant shown here is just getting started. It should flower much of the year and require very little summer water.


This one’s maybe closer to blue than purple, the South African bulb Morea tripetala. I stuck it in a really dry spot, and it’s now probably just blooming on the reserves in the bulb. We’ll see how well it does after a season of tough love in the garden.


And with the last photo we come back to California with the justifiably ever-popular Penstemon Margarita BOP (sometimes sold as Penstemon heterophyllus ‘Margarita BOP’). The flowers are a wild mix of blue and magenta pink, giving the overall impression of purple. The open tubular flowers have something of the look of a foxglove which would require a certain amount of water, but this penstemon actually does just fine with almost no added water.

Thanks to May Dreams Gardens for hosting Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day. Check out the page with glimpses into what’s blooming all around the world.