Gardens, Here ?

Outdoor stone patio sitting area under Oaks next to modern glass hilltop home with California native plant garden, Santa Barbara,

Here in California, there have been some rumblings about gardens wasting water. Can we afford to have water for gardens in an era of limited resources?

California chaparrel and annual grasses habitat in summer at Mt. Diablo state park

California chaparrel and dry summer landscape

Isn’t our native habitat beautiful enough? Do we want to have gardens here?

Southern California spring landscape with Lupine wildflowers and oak trees. Los Padres National Forest, Santa Ynez Valley in Santa Barbara County.

California spring landscape with Lupine wildflowers and oak trees.

Well of course, I am biased. I am a gardener.  And yes, we certainly do want to have gardens; indeed, we need gardens for so many reasons. Not only are gardens urban and suburban oases that provide habitats, living soil, and carbon exchange, they provide so much peace for so many.  Gardens are important.

Deck garden room under California live oaks (Quercus agrifolia) in afternoon light

Deck garden room under California live oaks in afternoon light

So yes, we do want to gardens. Not only do we want gardens, we must have them. But in this summer-dry climate how do we sustain them?  Dry summers are not drought, it’s normal.  How much water can we afford to allocate to gardens in the summers when the plants need it?

Oak trees (Quercus lobata) on Mt. Burdell State Park, Novato, California

Summer-dry, spring green – Oak trees in California hills.

Californians have been suffering through years of drought, and while this winter we have had good rains (when we typically store water in the snowpack for the reservoirs), we need to be mindful that it only rains in the winter and we cannot waste water in the hot days of summer.

Fortunately, there are many plants that are adapted to dry summers. Not just our California natives but plants native to other summer-dry regions of the world such as the Mediterranean and Western Australia. In order for these plants to look good in gardens throughout the summer, many of them do need some supplemental water but the little bit they need is a fair use of our water resources.

Summer-dry, drought tolerant Australian native plants by stone wall in California garden using Chamelaucium, Westringia, Melaleuca, Callistemon

Summer-dry, Australian native plants by stone wall in California garden

There is an entire database of photos and plant descriptions for summer dry gardens at, of all places, the Summer-Dry website.

Agriculture uses 80% of California’s stored water, and is certainly a vital and key element of the economy, but I hope no one questions the need to allocate water for gardens too.  We do want gardens here.

There are many styles of garden that can fit comfortably and aesthetically with little water, assuming we choose plants adapted to summer-dry climates. However, not all of California can be classified as summer dry.

Joshua Tree succulents, Yucca Palm (Yucca brevifolia), Walker Pass Road, Mojave Desert in Southern California

Joshua Tree, Yucca Palm (Yucca brevifolia) in Mojave Desert in Southern California

Much of southern California is desert with less than 10 inches of rain a year. There can certainly be beautiful gardens in the desert (hooray for succulents) but it is an entirely different aesthetic from the coastal regions of California where most people live.  Desert gardeners should not be using the plant palette of the summer-dry regions.

Dasylirion wheeleri (desert spoon, spoon flower, or common sotol) in succulent border backyard garden with Aeonium 'Mint Saucer' blooming yellow and Lithodora and Echinocactus (Barrel Cactus)

Dasylirion (Sotol) in succulent border in California garden

I am a member of the California Native Plant Society and advocate for using our beautiful natives in gardens. I think these are our first choice for gardening, so long as the gardener chooses a native that is actually native to their region. Redwood trees are California natives to the north coast, but while they may be technically summer-dry, they receive significant moisture from summer fog.

Oak trees are native to many native oaks throughout the entire state and I am a huge fan of these most sustainable of trees.  A well sited Oak tree can be the signature of a good garden. In this garden of native plants, the oaks were precisely planted in the garden to frame the views.

Outdoor stone patio sitting area under Oaks next to modern glass hilltop home with California native plant garden, Santa Barbara,

California outdoor stone patio sitting area under Oaks with native Carex lawn

In this garden a small pond planted with reeds and rushes creates a lush oasis under the native oak.

Lounge chairs under shady oak trees in back yard habitat California native plant garden with bog, Schino

Lounge chairs under shady oak trees in back yard habitat California native plant garden with bog, Schino

Here native shrubs are pruned in a somewhat formal fashion that provides privacy in this front yard garden in southern California.

Small patio secluded by drought tolerant shrubs in Southern California front yard native plant garden

Small patio secluded by drought tolerant shrubs in Southern California front yard native plant garden

I think the most adventuresome gardens mix plants from the summer dry regions of the world. One of my favorites is  the nurseryman David Fross’ garden who heads in advocating for summer dry adapted plants for many years. And there are plenty of bold choices to using non-native plants.

Live Oak tree (Quercus californica) in California meadow garden with wild rye (Helictotrichon sempervirens), rye (Leymus condensatus) David Fross

Live Oak tree (Quercus californica) in California meadow garden with wild rye (Helictotrichon sempervirens), rye (Leymus condensatus) David Fross

This red flowering Grevillea is from Australia, the beautiful Leucodendron against the wall is from South Africa, and the magnificent Agave is an American desert native.

Grevillea 'Bonfire' red flowering shrub in California summer-dry garden with Agave and Leucadendron salignum by stucco wall; design Jo O'Connell

Grevillea ‘Bonfire’ red flowering shrub in California summer-dry garden with Agave and Leucadendron salignum by stucco wall; design Jo O’Connell

Many wonderful Mediterranean  natives are splendid in California gardens and we could hardly do without such herbs as thyme and lavender.

Lavender 'Provence' in xeriscape drought tolerant garden with grass Stipa gigantea.

Lavender ‘Provence’ in xeriscape drought tolerant garden with grass Stipa gigantea.

And of course anyone who knows me knows I love the grasses, here next with lavenders under native oaks.

Flowering grasses, Miscanthus sinensis, Lavender, Lavatera and Calamagrostis acutiflora 'Karl Foerster' in border garden under native oak

Flowering grasses, Lavender, and Lavatera in California summer-dry garden border

I have done two entire books about grasses, The American Meadow Garden with John Greenlee and Grasses with Nancy Ondra, so I best not to get started touting grasses for California gardens but there is no doubt they fit into the aesthetic of gardens here.

Ornamental grass Stipa arundinacea - (aka. Anemanthele lessoniana) Pheasant's Tail Grass with Stachys and Phormium in colorful drought tolerant garden

Ornamental grass with Stachys and Phormium in colorful California summer-dry garden.

So yes, gardens can certainly be adapted to California. I do think they require some supplemental water but every thing any of us do in California requires supplemental water. If we can use plants that are adapted to summer dry conditions then the gardeners share of our water resources is just as important to maintaining the beauty of nature we all need.

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Gardening Gone Wild has been nominated for a prestigious garden blog award by the folks at Better Home and Gardens. I hope you will consider voting for us. You need to go to their website  to the section about garden blogs, and once you’re there you will find the smiling face of our fearless leader Fran Sorin; and you can vote every day until March 7th.  😉

 

 

from Gardening Gone Wild http://gardeninggonewild.com/?p=29827

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