Waterwise Plants Save the Day in a Drought

Agave ovatifolia
Agave ovatifolia

It’s 75 degrees on a Saturday in January and I’m wearing a tank top and shorts while doing some winter pruning in the garden. The sunshine feels delicious on my pale skin, which just recently was cocooned in multiple layers against frigid weather. But still . . . no rain in sight, and the governor has declared a drought emergency.


I’m pretty freaked out about these endless dry days, but hopeful that they’ll convince a lot of folks to make 2014 the year to reduce or eliminate their lawns. Did you know that an 800-square-foot lawn that’s watered 3 times a week uses about 60,000 gallons of water a year? Personally, I’d rather use my water judiciously for growing edibles and making strawberry-lemonade than squandering it on a monotonous expanse of green.


But what can we put in our gardens instead of that centerpiece lawn? Imagine entertaining friends on a generous gravel patio with colorful glazed pots and that French bistro furniture you’ve been craving. Or having your own small orchard of fruit trees. How about a veggie garden and play area for the kids within view of your kitchen window?


Still want green and serene? There are plenty of groundcovers and low-growing grasses can make a restful place for the eyes while using considerably less water than a lawn. And why not get creative with a strolling garden featuring meandering paths, handsome stones, tucked-away seating areas and dramatic focal points?


Wait a minute. Can confronting our water shortage actually be . . . fun? Take a trip to the nursery and ask for plants that come from Mediterranean climates like ours. You’ll be amazed at the gorgeous varieties from South Africa, Australia and South America, and of course take a look at the California natives. Here are a few of my favorite plants that thrive here in the Bay Area—and look great with just an occasional drink of water.

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Bookworm January 25, 2014 at 10:21 AM
I was so excited to see the title of your post. And I was so disappointed to see that you were not recommending local native plants, but rather Mediterranean climate plants from all over the world. Yes, it is better than having a lawn but no, it does not support the local ecosystem. Please consider choosing from the broad palette of native California plants.
Anne Weinberger, garden designer January 25, 2014 at 05:03 PM
Dear Bookworm: I DO use California natives in all of the gardens I design, and you'll see me gushing about them in some previous blog posts. Combining our natives with other Mediterranean-climate plants is a great way to add diversity of form, color and texture to the garden--thus more incentive to get rid of water-guzzling plants.
Lisbeth Allen April 09, 2014 at 04:00 PM
Bookworm, in a world full of water hog Color Spot annuals sold by the truckloads at Home Depot and Lowes, I think these suggestions are wonderful. Let's get people to stop buying water sucking plants that get replaced every three or four months, before we worry about the drought tolerant plants from other regions.


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