‘Drought tolerant’ misses the point. Yes, these plants and their gardens withstand a drought better than others do, but the lasting value is relatively low consumption. How about naming them what they are: ‘low-water’ or ‘waterwise’? ‘Dry-climate appropriate’ works too, but that’s a mouthful.
Now that we rectified that misnomer, three geographies offer diverse choices:
Definitions vary as much as the plants. The best in my view is Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center’s “a plant that occurs naturally in the place where it evolved.” Check out their Native Plant Information Network of 8,500+ species, 42,000+ images, and much more.
As these ecologically beneficial plants’ habitats are unlike private gardens, installation and care are unconventional. To help them thrive, look to books like California Native Plants, sites such as Las Pilitas Nursery, and relevant societies in California, Colorado, etc.
#2. Mediterranean climate
The Mediterranean Basin and parts of California, Chili, Australia, and South Africa with hot summers and wet winters offer an array of options for dry U.S. gardens. Peruse 1,100+ candidates in San Marcos Growers’ online database, or tour The Dry Gardening Handbook: Plants and Practices for a Changing Climate.
My garden’s species are 32% Africa, 20% Australia, 15% Mexico, 14% California, 10% Mediterranean Basin, and 9% Asian/southwest U.S./Brazil. Ranked by quantity, California is tops with swaths of low-growers and hedges, with lower plant counts for distant lands that originate species like aloe or coprosma.
#3. Arid climate
Regions with very little precipitation present more water-retaining succulents and unthirsty adapters. Prime examples are Mexico’s agaves and echeveria, Brazil’s bougainvillea, New Mexico’s xeric, and Arizona’s cacti. Learn more in resources like Designing with Succulents, High Country Gardens, or my Choose wise plants wisely.
Experts across the board recommend drought-tolerant plantings among ways to cut consumption during this drought crisis. Those experienced with prior shortages tell me that once rainfall returns, water-loving exotics and annuals will again become the preferred plantings. I hope not. Water scarcity and high costs are here to stay, and gardens populated from the 3 areas profiled here are sustainable and lush.
Let’s hear it for the wide and wonderful world of low-water…waterwise…dry-climate appropriate plants!