The Summer-Dry Garden

holt_782-158.tifSummer-dry gardens can be beautiful.  The art and science of gardening is learning which plant prosper in garden settings. Many plants are meant for summer-dry climates and don’t need lots of water, though careful irrigation improves their beauty.

I do water my own California garden in summer; and so does every farm and every garden – all summer.  It simply doesn’t rain.  The irrigation water has to come from somewhere, other than a faucet.

We hope for wet winters to recharge the groundwater and to dump snow in the mountains, storing water that will fill lakes and reservoirs and keep the rivers flowing.  Unfortunately we are in a particularly dry pattern, now in the third year of well below average winter rain.  Water is being rationed.

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So its use and allocation is hot political issue, but not just in California,  throughout the world.  It is increasingly important everywhere to use water wisely and efficiently.  For gardeners, that means the right plant in the right place.

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Here gardeners need to embrace the summer-dry climate and use plants that are adapted to it.  This does not mean drought tolerant plants, it means climate adapted and sustainable.  All plants are drought tolerant in their native habitats.

We don’t need plants that are simply tolerant of no summer water, we need plants that expect no summer water.  That’s not drought tolerant, that’s normal.

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The best garden plants are those that will accept some summer water to be a bit more fulsome, blending into an aesthetic that finds beauty in summer-dry climates.

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As a garden photographer I have spent many years learning to appreciate our summer-dry climate and looking for gardens to illustrate the best garden practices.  I really want to help other gardeners have success and I have launched a new website to promote the summer-dry garden – summer-dry.com.

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All photos on the site are taken from Plants and Landscapes for Summer-Dry Climates , the book I photographed for East Bay Municipal Utility District.

Many have called our climate a Mediterranean climate and for many years we accepted that description almost as an honor.  Many of the best performing plants we could find in nurseries came from the Mediterranean region such as aromatic herbs – lavender, rosemary, thyme; or tough perennials such as Erysimum, Euphorbia, Helianthemum; or trees and shrubs like Cistus, Oleander, olive, Italian cypress.  All useful plants but yawn, there is much more.

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Westringia ‘Smokey’ featured in a California garden with Australian native plants

Not only have California gardeners really embraced our own natives as garden plants, there are three other major summer-dry regions of the world outside the Mediterranean:  South Africa, central Chile, and Southwest Australia all have flora readily adapted to other summer-dry climates.  Let’s not call all five summer-dry regions of this big world “Mediterranean” simply because it was the first to develop a strong aesthetic.

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Chilean perennial, Alstromeria, in California wildflower garden

As gardeners, plant explorers, and nurseries become more sophisticated and knowledge about a broad range of plants from diverse regions, new aesthetics will emerge.  I think summer-dry is a better term.

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South African shrub, Leucospermum in California garden with blue Echium

It is an exciting time to be a gardener in summer-dry climates.  There are so many new plants to be used in untried combinations, so much to learn as we experiment with differing soil structures and temperature ranges, not yet knowing what plants will work with others in the many microclimates of a summer-dry region.

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I hope to expand the existing  photo database of plants in garden settings on the summer-dry.com site.  An ultimate target would be all plants available in the nursery trade in California.  I will be seeking out those adventurous gardeners who are experimenting and reporting with photos.

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Spring growth of Photinia blends beautifully with flowering Ceanothus

Now let’s hope for some decent rains.  A summer-dry climate is supposed to be winter wet.  Bring on some winter weather !

5 thoughts on “The Summer-Dry Garden

  1. Fantastic website idea Saxon. Hope it goes very well for you. I’m sure many gardeners will be inspired by your fabulous photographs – except the one with the water running off the lawn which is positively sick making!

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    • I cut long stems for best display. I also leave most flowers to go to seed because I like the architectural look of the dried flowers on the plant. Of course, leaving them on the plant encourages dispersal, so if you don’t want the plants to spread, cut the flowers off before they go to seed.

      Nora

  3. Pingback: THIS GARDEN LOOKS GREAT EVEN THOUGH THERE'S NO WATER - Garden Pics and Tips

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