The Drought-Defying California Garden

230 Native Plants for a Lush, Low-Water Landscape

drought defying california gardenCalifornia is heading into its fifth year of drought. At the close of 2015, many climate experts were talking about a “Godzilla” El Niño warming current in the Pacific that was expected to funnel storms into Southern California in particular, and the West Coast in general. While Northern California has been hit by strong storms, the southern half of the state is way behind average in rainfall. All this goes to prove that the only thing we can count on in California is drought. (And we’ll be right most of the time). Lush landscapes mirroring English gardens and vast lawns that are never trod upon except to mow are harder and harder to justify.

Homeowners are faced with a confusing number of options about how to have a beautiful landscape that uses less water and many are turning to California native plants as the obvious answer. This is wonderful news, but there remain many misconceptions about how to cultivate a native garden. Even basic terminology, like plants from a “mediterranean climate” can be confusing. (Saxon Holt, a professional landscape photographer is championing the term “summer-dry” to help clarify the matter.)

Easy, approachable information is key to gaining lifelong proponents of native gardening. In 2013, authors Greg Rubin and Lucy Warren authored a book titled, The California Native Landscape addressing basic ideas and practices behind designing, installing, and maintaining a California native plant garden. Their latest book, The Drought-Defying California Garden, builds on their first and provides updated content. The new book includes profiles of 230 native plants that can be combined to create a garden that looks great all year. These plants use less water and materials, while saving time and effort, and reducing the use of noisy, polluting machinery, all while supporting native birds, bees, and other creatures.

The book’s plant profiles have been gathered into sensible, easy-to-understand categories (ground covers, small shrubs, trees, etc.), further categorized by simple plant communities like full sun, dry shade, etc. This approach provides the necessary fundamentals for grouping similar plants in the landscape and will help beginners, and even seasoned gardeners, make better choices when designing their California native plant landscape. With each plant covered, there are also tips on cultivation and ongoing care. The photos of the plants are useful, particularly those shots taken in existing gardens. The book includes basic, easy-to-use information on lawn removal, garden design, and the best practices for installing gardens to establish a thriving, California native plant landscape. With the publication of The Drought-Defying Garden we now have another welcome tool for creating a future landscape that benefits people, as well as nature as a whole.

Steven Gerischer, garden designer and PHS board president
Los Angeles, California