Magazine article Sunset

Water-Wise Design Guide: Everything You Need to Give the Hose a Rest, from Unthirsty Plant Picks to Inspiring Gardens

Magazine article Sunset

Water-Wise Design Guide: Everything You Need to Give the Hose a Rest, from Unthirsty Plant Picks to Inspiring Gardens

Article excerpt


Recently, on the heels of another dry spell in California, I surveyed a patch of brown grass in my backyard and wondered: What does climate change mean for gardeners? With experts warning that droughts will only get worse, should we bother planting anything at all?

Glancing at the red-flowered penstemons blooming lustily despite my neglect, I realized: absolutely. Hundreds of plants not only tolerate drought, but do so beautifully. And of course the water-wise garden has practical benefits--namely, less maintenance and lower water bills.

On the following pages, we offer ideas to help you make the shift this fall, and plenty of proof that unthirsty gardens can be as interesting as well-watered greenbelts--perhaps even more so.

--Kathleen N. Brenzel, Garden Editor


Striking & sculptural

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA'S rare rains provide the only water that Chris and Margaret Sullivan's front yard gets. Yet its barrel and columnar cactus, Mexican blue fan palms, and Yucca rostrata all thrive. Arranged among boulders in randomly spaced groups like pieces of art, the plants grow in a decomposed granite-cactus mix blend, top-dressed with 3/8-inch Palm Springs Gold gravel. "This garden is 100 times less work than a lawn," says Chris, who hoses off the barrel cactus in summer only if they're dusty, and uses long-handled tweezers to extract weeds. "Rabbits eat neighboring gardens, but they've shown no interest in ours."--Debra Lee Baldwin


Wild & romantic

How a basic lawn can become a garden full of flowers and life

FOR YEARS, Pam and Mark Goodman cringed at the sight of their struggling lawn from the living room windows. Dreaming of a thriving garden, Pam started clipping photos of plants. By the time the couple met with garden designer Rebecca Sweet, Pam "must have had a thousand photos," says Sweet.

Thumbing through the pictures, Sweet could see the couple loved a lush, colorful look. So she suggested planting unthirsty perennials with bright flowers and long bloom times, as well as replacing the lawn with low-water silver-blue Dymondia matgaretae, silver-blue Dymondia which can handle foot traffic.

Since then, the garden has come alive with the bees, birds, and butterflies that the flowers attract. Now it's hard to walk through the living room without lingering by a window, says Pam. "It's like a forever-changing painting."

DESIGN Rebecca Sweet, Los Altos, CA;


INVITE MEANDERING A winding flagstone path (large center photo) leads visitors through the garden. Its stepping stones are interplanted with dymondia and tiny sedums and edged with low, billowy Sedum rupestre (Sr. 'Blue Spruce' is pictured at bottom left).

CREATE A BIRD PARADISE The fountain, plants, and nesting-ready trees have drawn all kinds of birds to the yard. Hummingbirds zoom in on the red blooms of dwarf bottlebrush (Callistemon viminalis 'Little John'; large center photo).

BRIGHTEN BORDERS Lavender fringes the fountain with a patch of purple flowers (sprigs shown opposite). Lion's tail (Leonotis leonurus) odds bursts of velvety orange flowers to the border; it's deer-resistant and drought-tolerant.

PICK NONSTOP BLOOMERS Along the path to the seating area, yellow-and-orange blanket flower (Gaillardia x grandiflora 'Arizona Sun') blooms constantly. "It's so worth the S8 to buy it in a gallon," says Sweet. Elsewhere in the yard, Coreopsis (C. verticillata 'Moonbeam'), with pale yellow flowers, blossoms from summer to fall as long as spent flowers are clipped.

SOFTEN THE EDGES To create a sense of flow, Sweet used curving borders and plants that spill over the edges. Leafy reed grass (Calamagrostis foliosa), for example, creates little bursts of green foliage that blend the planting bed with the dymondia lawn. …

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