Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Creating a Drought-Tolerant, Water-Wise Garden

Planting the new Drought Tolerant Demonstration Garden
Almost every year at this time, we gardeners cry out a familiar lament wondering aloud how much time, money, and energy we waste watering our gardens. Some years are better than others, of course, and good cultural practices like mulching, can reduce the effort, but when temperatures soar into triple digits, and Nature withholds her rain - weather conditions we're experiencing now - then we have little choice other than to supply what's lacking, or risk losing some prized specimens.

Franklin County Master Gardener Donna Berard, however, can sit back and indulge in air-conditioned comfort wearing a well-earned Cheshire Cat grin, while the rest of us chafe at the chore.  Back in 2003, after experiencing a second year of drought conditions and tired of having to deal with all the watering work as a consequence, Donna researched Xeriscaping, or the science of water-wise landscaping and then replaced a perennial bed, applying all she had learned.

Donna regularly teaches the principles of xeriscaping at a spring workshop, but until this year, attendees had to engage in a road trip to Donna's Garden, to see what one looked like. This is how Donna described her drought tolerant garden for an item in the news column last year:
A sturdy boxwood hedge, with its waxy leaves, provides the structure for the garden and several ornamental grasses, including, small blue festucas, maiden grass, little bluestem, and porcupine grass, anchor the other plantings. Both the grasses and boxwoods are well established and show great tolerance for the dry weather.

Because new drought tolerant plantings do require watering the first year to insure a strong root establishment, I have had to water the new catmint, Nepeta Blue Dragon. The older Walker’s low catmint blooms continuously, never fazed by lack of moisture.

There are several varieties of sedums and the prickly pear cactus which have fat, fleshy leaves to help with moisture storage and they show no sign of stress.

I have many varieties of fine, thread leafed plants including, penstemons, coreopsis, meadow sage, dianthus, and Allium Blue Twister, whose leaves have a very small surface area and allow for less evaporation.

The dwarf silver leaf sage, sea foam Artemisia, and lavender have silver foliage which reflects the sun. Poppy mallow and dwarf silver leaf sage grow close to the ground giving them a reduced rate of evaporation.

The leaves of Salvias, Gaillardia, Rudbeckia, and Coneflowers all have tiny hairs on them which, when moved by a breeze, provide a cooling effect to the plant. All the Rudbekia, Salvias, and Coneflowers look wonderful but the Gaillardia (Blanket flower) looks sad and droopy. It is the only plant I have been tempted to water.

But my very favorite drought tolerant plants are the Agastaches including Golden Jubilee, Blue Fortune, Acapulco Salmon and Pink, and Cotton Candy. They have a deep tap root, searching for water and the most wonderful minty smell. Growing tall and colorful, they are magnets for the bees and butterflies.
Watch a video of Donna's garden recorded in 2010 here. Follow up story here. And here is an article, with sidebar, from 2007 from the archives of the Hagerstown newspaper, The Morning Herald.

Placing Specimens
This year, Donna recruited a team of fellow Master Gardeners to install a drought tolerant demonstration garden here on the Franklin Farm campus, in front of the fence surrounding the Victory Garden, and adjacent to the Perennial Demonstration Garden. Although the first year probably requires a fair amount of watering to establish the plants, you too can wear that Cheshire grin in the future, if you adopt a water wise way to garden.

Plant List for the Drought Tolerant Demonstration Garden

Gemo St. John’s Wort Hypericum kalmianum ‘Gemo’
Bangle Greenwood Genista lydia ‘Bangle’
Catmint Nepeta faassenni  'Alba’
Columnar Mugo Pine Pinus mugo ‘ Columnaris’
Threadbrach Arborvitae Thuja occidentalis ‘Filiformis'
Juniper Juniperus squamata 'Blue Star'
Dwarf Norway Spruce Picea abies 'pumila'
Blue Spirea Caryopteris Caryopteris X clandonensis 'Dark Knight'
Threadleaf Coreopsis Coreopsis verticillata 'Zagreb'
Amsonia Arkansas Blue star Amsonia hubrichtii (2011 perennial of the year)
Penstemon Penstemon strictus 'Rocky Mountain Purple'
Yucca Hesperaloe parviflora 'Perpa Brake Light'
Blue gamma grass Bouteloua gracilis 'Blonde Ambition'  - more pictures and info here.
Festuca 'Elijah blue' - more pictures and info here.
Panicum virgatum 'Cheyenne Sky' - more pictures and info here.
Agastache 'Blue Blazes' Hyssop
Agastache Anise hyssop 'Purple haze'
Agastache Texas hummingbird mint
Russian Sage Perovskia atriplicifolia 'Blue Spires'
Salvia Salvia nemorosa 'May Night'
Salvia 'Wendy’s Wish'
Sedum 'Purple Emperor'
Jupiter’s Beard Centranthus ruber var. coccineus

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