Choosing the Right Plant for the Right Conditions, including Drought!

drought garden

Drought tolerant gardens don’t have to be boring! Photo is from Lambley Nursery and Gardens in Victoria, Australia; photo via

As I travelled through much of the USA this summer (in fact I have logged about 3,000 miles with my colleague Justin visiting growers, retailers and gardens), one of the key topics that has been in the news is the drought conditions which much of California and Texas are experiencing.

I have blogged previously on gardening in drought conditions and speak from experience in coming from a country like Australia where cyclical droughts are the norm. I know many of the messages coming over the news during periods of drought raise concerns about water use and limiting wastage.  However, most people interested in gardening are very conscious about maximising the efficiencies and effectiveness of watering regimens so that waste is minimal.

The top photo is from Lambley Nursery and Gardens in Australia, where watering is often a challenge. Below are a few photos of drought-tolerant gardens that I’ve taken in my travels, just as an example of how delightful they can be.

drought tolerant plants

Cactus in glorious bloom – Huntington Gardens, CA


types of mulch

Australian Grass Tree at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Cranbourne, Australia where inorganic /stone mulch is an ideal option.


drought-tolerant plants

Succulent garden at Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania.


drought gardening

This Mediterranean style landscape is drought tolerant yet colorful

Desert garden

Desert Botanical Garden entrance

As gardeners we acknowledge that water is a precious resource and we very much value the contribution it makes to our gardens.  We are often the first to consider how we are able to maintain the environment we love when a key element is in short supply. Options for effective / efficient water use are certainly not only limited to the capture and re-use of grey water in our gardens but extend to things like the installation of automated irrigation or drip irrigation systems, using mulch to capture moisture for the plants, considering the time of day watering should occur (late evening or early morning) and the selection of the palette of plants we use in the garden.

In travelling through the country and looking at many of the retail garden centers, I’ve been surprised by the lack of consistency or in accurately (and the key word here is accurately) communicating to gardeners which plants are / are not low-water-use or efficient. Surely there could be a uniform system as we have with electrical appliances to clearly indicate if a plant is truly low- water-use or not.  In my extended travels in the US, I’ve seen many items labelled as low-water use when I know from experience that they are not.

plant labels

It is not enough to generalize and say that things like succulents are all low water use, as some are not.  I have seen some architectural plants like Phormiums at retail being presented as low-water items when they definitely wouldn’t be.  We’ve found from our own experience in Australia that many people assumed that plants which flowered had to be high water users. In reality, some are but there are also many that are not.

This is why I think we have to have a clear labelling system to ensure we do have a clear understanding of what we are putting in the garden based on what we are trying to achieve when it comes to managing a resource like water. I know from my own experience (and I do have a vested interest in this so declare this now) that plants like Roses, whilst requiring water when young / first planted, are very low water use compared to other items when they are established.

drought gardening

These Flower Carpet ‘Red’ roses at Ladera Ranch in CA thrive despite high heat and drought conditions.

drought gardens

The roses in this very old cemetery continue to thrive, despite lack of care or water.

That is why you see many roses still surviving in abandoned cemeteries and other sites when most of the other plants have perished, through a combination of lack of care and water. There are some great resources available to assist in choosing your plants for the garden.  So, before buying your plants, I encourage you to do some research and ensure you are not limiting your choices on what you do / don’t plant based on assumptions or limited assistance from the garden center.

Anyway, until next time – Garden on Good People.

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