We much prefer compositions to one show-stopper plant placed haphazardly with other show-stopping plants. Form and texture are equally as important as the fleeting blooms a plant might produce. These same principles apply to the container landscapes we have begun designing in Los Angeles. Rather than favor three decorative pots fillled to the brim with plants of every color and shape under the sun, we take a more compositional approach. Containers tend to be simple, plants and colors repeated throughout, and the landscape’s three-dimensional form is always designed as a compliment to the horizontal and vertical planes it sits on and against. As always, the plants we choose are low-water and tough, so a trip out of town never requires finding someone to water; these plants like a little neglect. Stay tuned for more photos of others.
Los Angeles has long been touted as a place you come to plant the garden of your dreams, a garden that is green year-round and fed by an endless supply of cheap water. Arid Mediterranean climate no matter, you dig verdant English Garden complete with topiary? No problem. Lush tropical, sure. You’d like to bring all of the plants you used to plant in New England over hither, and maybe mix them in with a Moroccan theme? Feel free. And feel free we have; the average SoCal landscape uses 80 inches of water annually. Average annual rainfall in SoCal is 13 inches.
Despite the copious amounts of water we have lavished our fantasy landscapes with, they still never achieve the electric verdance of early summer in the Midwest or New England. The tropical-themed landscapes never achieve the eye-swooning green of a Hawaiian rainforest. The English ones, well, never look English. We have created a region of landscapes whose evolution across the seasons is virtually nonexistent, and whose color palatte consists of various shades of dull greens desperately trying to emulate the fresh greens of the landscapes they are borrowed from. It all amounts to an impression that we have a landscape inferiority complex and are unwilling to celebrate the mild Mediterranean climate we live in.
Truth be told, many a gardener in the world would kill to be able to plant the range of Lavenders we can, the Echeverias we can, the Aloes, Fountain Grasses, Cistuses, and Euphorbias. They would kill to have the option of planting this huge diversity of plants that only exists in a few regions of the world. Meanwhile we are content to just plant some more Azaleas and try to emulate the look and feel of a landscape we can never call our own. It is high time that we gloated a bit, dove head-long into the wide, wide world of Mediterranean, desert, and prairie plants, whose water needs, colors, and textures will firmly ground the landscape in its place, in Southern California. These would be landscapes to show off.
Field of Lavender, with Carob Trees
One of the most rewarding, eye-candy-filled reads for the budding drought-tolerant gardener/designer has to be the recently published Dry Gardening Handbook, by Olivier Filippi. While the book focuses on gardens located in Mediterranean-type climates of the world, the emphasis on landscape composition and planting techniques for true drought-tolerance are instructive for those living in most any climate zone. Rather than merely recommend an assorted list of drought-tolerant plant species, the book goes in-depth – via extremely beautiful photos of dry landscapes – into particular planting techniques, and methods of site preparation that can pave the way for a garden that requires virtually no irrigation. The book doubles as technical primer and coffee-table mainstay that will attract even the most jaded of eyes. Highly recommended.
PRAIRIEFORM believes that going drought-tolerant should not be synonymous with punishment. Using less water in a landscape should not require one to give up their desire for a full-looking landscape and to buy into a depressing, scrubby aesthetic. Why people insist on this as a strategy for winning over converts to the low-water landscape is beyond PRAIRIEFORM. Going drought-tolerant should be presented as a true opportunity to discover and explore whole new worlds of plants – a 21st-Century makeover to one’s landscape, and water bill. Yes, you are perhaps saying goodbye to Azaleas and Cala Lilies, but you are saying hello to Kangaroo Paw, Indian Grass, Silver Buffaloberry, Little Bluestem, Ginkgo trees. And the list goes on.
In a recent episode of The Outdoor Room, Aussie Jamie Durie offers up an relatively instructive approach to the low-water landscape, one that merges the client’s wishes with the overarching theme of water-conservation and visual splashiness. Some good old-fashioned weekend entertainment for the drought-tolerant and -curious.
A couple in Orange, CA had been set to be taken to court, with a possible six-month jail sentence, for ripping out their lawn and going low-water. The yard does look like a bit of a tragical botanical mess-up at the moment, but jail time + $1000, really?
As it turns out, the City of Orange may have had a change of heart, as post-hearing they have considered dropping the charges.