The Summer-Dry Project

Portraits of Time

By: Saxon Holt

Saxon Holt is a professional garden photographer who contributes regularly to Pacific Horticulture and is widely published in books such…

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Hylotelephium spectabile ‘Autumn Joy’ (formerly Sedum spectabile ‘Autumn Joy’) flowering with Carex secta and artemisia in a summer-dry garden border.  Photo: Saxon Holt

Hylotelephium spectabile ‘Autumn Joy’ (formerly Sedum spectabile ‘Autumn Joy’) flowering with Carex secta and artemisia in a summer-dry garden border. Photo: Saxon Holt

Our climate is changing. We may not like climate change but as gardeners, we are well suited to deal with it. By observing our gardens and noting how they respond to a changing environment, we’re gaining a better understanding of microclimates. And we’re always looking for new plants to grow. Collectively we have the knowledge that will help the larger community adapt and create livable landscapes for future generations.

Everything is in flux. Weather systems are complex and interconnected; no one can accurately predict how climate change will affect specific ecosystems. Will it rain more? Less? The Pacific Coast depends on winter rains and mountain snow to sustain our ecosystem and recharge our reservoirs. Reduced winter precipitation results in drought like what we’re presently facing. But our climate is typically dry in the summer; this is not drought, it’s normal.

I prefer describing our region as having a summer-dry climate, rather than the more commonly used “mediterranean” description, because it’s more inclusive of the entire West Coast. Southern California might have eight to nine months with little or no rain; central California can experience six or seven dry months; and the Pacific Northwest typically has four or five months with no significant rain. All these areas share a winter-wet/summer-dry pattern, but they are not all mediterranean. Indeed, many don’t consider the cool summers of coastal California from Eureka to Monterey to be mediterranean at all.

The Melissa Garden, Healdsburg, California. Photo: Saxon Holt

The Melissa Garden, Healdsburg, California. Photo: Saxon Holt

I also find the term mediterranean limits plant choices for our region. I don’t mean to dismiss plants from the other summer-dry regions of the world, but relying strictly on plants from Mediterranean landscapes implies that our region’s native plants are not garden worthy. As changes in our climate accelerate, western gardeners need region-specific inspiration and information about an ever-widening palette of plants that will keep our gardens vibrant.

Enter the Summer-Dry Project.

Modeled after the book, Plants and Landscapes for Summer-Dry Climates, published by the East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD), the Summer-Dry Project will be an on-line, photo-driven, descriptive database of plants in summer-dry garden settings. Content will be based on the plant list from the Water Use Classifications of Landscape Species (WUCOLS) created by the California Department of Water Resources (DWR); a database of all 3,546 nursery plants sold in California, searchable by region and city, with plants categorized by type and/or water usage. WUCOLS is a well-researched and valuable resource, but lacking photos and plant descriptions, few gardeners outside of the horticulture trade use it.

The Summer-Dry Project builds on the work in the EBMUD book, which is going out of print, and expands to include the entire WUCOLS database

Gardeners want this information. If we are going to evolve with the climate and garden sustainably we need resources that target these changes and are easily updated. Watch for future updates at www.summer-dry.com and here in the pages of Pacific Horticulture.