Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Dry Garden

Scene from the driest part of my new garden

     I thought I was fairly well acquainted with plants that tolerated our dry summers here in the Pacific Northwest because in my old garden I had a large front border which I never watered.  I have found, however, that there are dry gardens and there are dry gardens.  The dry garden area that I used to have in my old garden was in a garden that existed over a fairly non draining clay sort of soil.  It actually got fairly wet in the wintertime, particularly a foot or so down.  Furthermore, the soil had been improved by me over a period of 20 years by the addition of compost,  so the soil retained some moisture well into the dry summer period.  In contrast,  in my new garden the soil seems to be a sort of sandy glacial till.  It is not the sort of sticky clay that was present in my old garden. 
     While the soil conditions seem to vary in my new garden, so that some areas are wetter than others,  in one part of the garden it is quite dry.  This part also does not receive any water from the sprinkler system, it is in full sun, and it is the most mounded area in the garden.  All these factors combine to make it very dry in the middle of summer here.  Last year I planted some Melianthus major and some Lobelia tupa in this area, since in my experience these were great, drought tolerant plants.  I learned, however, that they are not that drought tolerant.  While they are still alive, they are clearly suffering and stunted from lack of water.  Elsewhere in my garden where I have these same plants, they are doing quite well, but not in this dry area.  So I have resolved to remove them, and to concentrate on even more drought tolerant plants in this area.
     The picture above shows a portion of this area and it illustrates the sorts of plants I am putting here.  In the picture is a Yucca rostrata, one of the plants that I am relying on in much of my garden to provide evergreen structure to the garden.  As you can see, this plant does very well in our climate.  My main problem with it is that I have to search out specimens of the right size, and they are sometimes hard to find.  In other words, I don't want to pay for very large plants, but I don't want tiny ones either.  Five gallon specimens are just right.
     I am also planting lots of hardy opuntias in this area.  I have gotten a number of these from both Cistus Nursery,  and from Geoscape Desert Nursery, a mail order nursery in Idaho.  These should also provide some structure in this area. 
     In the picture you can also see some other plants that have shown they will do well here.  In the background you can see Monardella macrantha 'Marian Sampson' which I blogged about recently. In the foreground is Allium 'August Confection', a plant I got from Far Reaches last year.  This seems to be performing very well in this very dry location, and it blooms and provides interest at a time of year when many other plants are past their prime.  There is also an Eriogonum latifolium in the picture.  This is a seedling of a plant I got last year from Annie's Annuals.  None of the original plants I acquired last year are still alive, but I am hoping that this seedling will survive, based on the theory that sometimes seedlings survive better than their parents which were planted into the garden from a pot. I am also trying other eriogonums here, and some penstemons,  including Penstemon barrettiae, Penstemon newberryi, and Penstemon azureous.
     I have also planted lots of bulbs in this area, including Scilla peruviana, Dichelostemma Pink Diamnond, Calochortus tolmiei, and Allium Globemaster.  If you count Lewisia rediviva as a bulb, I have also planted lots of those here.  There are also some self sown Stipa tenuissima (or Nassella tenuissima, as I believe it is now called) here along with some self sown annuals, including various Phacelias.  I am hoping Phacelia campanulata will self sow here eventually.  All in all, I am looking forward to seeing how this part of my garden develops, because its dryness affords me a place to play with plants that I did not have as much success with in my old garden.


  1. This sounds like the soil in my garden. It is so dry now that I am amazed that my plants are sitll alive. I do water regularly. I am getting many ideas from your blog! I love it.

    1. Thanks, Phillip.I find the dry area of my garden is one of the most interesting to me.