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What's growing in a drought-tolerant garden

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Is the drought over? Not by a long shot. My well is at the same level as it was this time last year, so I will continue to conserve water. How do I do that? By growing drought-tolerant, native, Mediterranean-type plants.

I have been gardening with such plants for many years. Last summer was a test of how well they would do with no summer watering. I did not water at all over the summer and lost only one plant.

I have nine swales in my garden. A swale is a shallow trench used to harvest rainwater and slowly release it into the soil. Plants tap into this reserve when water is scarce. Swales conform to the contour of the soil and have berms alongside that can be used for planting.

Several natives that have done well in my garden are sticky monkey flower (Mimulus aurantiacus), lavenders of many types, bottlebrush (Callistemon), native iris, red-hot poker (Kniphofia), butterfly bush (Buddleja), milkweed (Asclepias) and salvias. I have intentionally created a habitat garden with lots of room and bloom for birds, butterflies and bugs. Right now, my breadseed poppies are showing their beautiful red heads. I started these with just a few seeds, and they have re-seeded widely.

Some monkey flowers have sticky leaves; others do not. These plants are native to Oregon, California and Baja California. The flowers look like little monkey faces and come in a variety of colors. Many hybrids have been developed and the flower colors are outstanding. They bloom over a long period, survived all summer in my garden without water and are up and blooming now. The plants can reach 3 to 4 feet in height and can be trimmed back.

Lavender thrives in my garden. Last year some went to seed, and wind and birds spread the seed. Now lavender in many colors is sprouting in other areas. There is even a white one, and I guess I can thank the bees for that. I have never had white lavender before.

Bottlebrush is native to Australia. It can take the form of a large bush or tree depending on how it is pruned. I have a couple that I keep as low bushes.

The flower of the Pacific Coast iris (Iris douglasiana) is typically blue, but hybrids have many different flower colors. I have a beautiful white one. My Iris confusa “Chengdu” came from a Bay Area grower; it grows well in shade without any summer water. It is one of my favorites.

Salvias are native to many parts of the world. Every time I think I have all my favorites, new ones appear. One identifying feature of sage is its square stem. Some salvias tower over me (I am petite), while others stay low. There are more than 900 species worldwide, so I don’t plan on collecting all of them. I only have 1 acre. Sage blossoms are spectacular, and the leaves are aromatic. I love to rub my hands over the leaves and then smell the fragrance.

I have many milkweeds in my garden. They are mostly drought tolerant, and bees and bugs love them. Milkweed is the only food source for the larvae of the Monarch butterfly, and I want to encourage as many of them as I can. The Monarchs in the western U.S. evolved with native milkweed; they lay their eggs on milkweed. Most milkweeds die back in winter and come up in spring with big, bright flowers. Their milky sap make the larvae taste bad to birds, so they leave the larvae alone.

When I visited Turkey, I saw breadseed poppies (Papaver orientale) everywhere, their red heads waving in the breeze. I also saw them in some of the countries on the Dalmatian coast. The seeds from these poppies are sprinkled on baked goods.

My two large habitat garden areas are filled with native plants and take less time and water than the lawn they replaced. Gardening with natives is a great strategy for creating a water-wise yet beautiful landscape.

Workshop: Napa County Master Gardeners will hold a workshop on “Oaks and Native Plants” on Saturday, May 7, from 9:30-11:30 a.m., at Skyline Park, 2201 Imola Ave., Napa. Stroll Skyline Park and the Martha Walker Garden to view oaks in their native habitat. Discover what grows alongside and underneath oaks. Learn about planting under oak trees in your own garden, about caring for oaks and about Sudden Oak Death and other stresses. Online registration (credit card only); mail-in/walk-in registration (cash or check only).

UC Master Gardeners of Napa County ( answer gardening questions on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 9 a.m. to noon, at the UC Cooperative Extension office, 1710 Soscol Ave., Suite 4, Napa, 707-253-4143.


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