Drought tolerant flowers

Here in California and other arid states, we're really having to watch our water.  But that does not mean that we have to forego lush, colorful, flowery gardens!  Thanks to California native plants and many varieties from other dry climates like the Mediterranean and Australia, we have a huge selection of drought tolerant flowering shrubs and perennials to choose from.


I.  REDUCE YOUR LAWN:  Lawns are not a key feature for a cottage garden anyway, and making them smaller will give you more room for those gorgeous colorful flowers.  There are three basic techniques to do this:

-- Turn the big square lawn into a small, free form shape surrounded by planting beds, or perhaps a grass path between the plants.

-- Use native grasses such as Blue Grama, Sedge, or Buffalo grass.  These give a soft meadowy look, and do not need to be mowed.  Once established, they need no water during the winter, and only occasional water in summer.

-- Try the new artificial lawns.  This ain't your daddy's Astroturf!  It looks great and although a bit pricey to install, it makes up for the cost in zero water, maintenance, and fertilizer use.

II.  USE RAISED BEDS:  You can edge the beds with cobbles, bricks, wood, broken pieces of concrete (a great recycling use for an old concrete driveway being torn up), or keystone.  Try to match the material to the style of your house.  Or, you can simply mound a few yards of good planting mix and plant in that.  Add compost and a balanced organic fertilizer, and the good soil will reduce water runoff and waste.  Make sure that the beds are at least three feet wide so that you can plant in three layers:  high, medium, and low.

III.    ADD FOCAL POINTS like birdbaths, benches, fountains, statuary, or mirrors on the wall.  This is a design, rather than drought tolerant, tip.

IV.    PLANT IN A 'NATURAL' STYLE, combining flowers, vegetables, shrubs, herbs, and climbing vines.  Let the colors mingle and alter the heights of the plants in a non-formal way.  Add tuteurs or topiary shapes to give some vertical lines, and mix in some spiky plants (flax, kangaroo paw) to contrast with the broad leaf plants.



Tall plants:  Ceanothus, Manzanita, WaxflowerWaxflower

Medium :      Sweet lavender, Indian Hawthorne 'Jack Evans' or 'Pink Ballerina', Penstemon, Rockrose.

Lavender Quasti
('Quasti' dwarf Spanish lavender)

Short :  Rosy buckwheat, Pelargonium, Monarda, California wild Strawberry, purple Alyssum

Monarda 2 Buckwheat  Buckwheat

(Monarda)  BLUE:

Tall:    Ceanothus 'Dark Star,', Blue Juniper


Medium: Perovskia, Salvia 'Indigo Spires', 'Waverly', or clevelandii, Westringia 'Wynnabie Gem'

Perovskia PerovskiaSalvia waverly Salvia 'Waverly'

Short :  Scabiosa, trailing rosemary, Convolvulus groundcover, Cranesbill 'Johnson's Blue.'

Scabiosa_cauascia2 Scabiosa


Tall:  Grevillea 'Long John', Bottlebrush, Cotoneaster, Arborvitae 'Aureum'

Grevillea-long-john Grevillea 'Long John'

Medium:  Tagetes, Leonitis, Penstemon, Salvia 'greggii', Jerusalem sage

Tagetes TagetesPenstemonred Penstemon

Short:  Gazania, Mimulus, Lantana, Grevillea 'Golden Dragon'

GrevilleaGoldenLyre2 Grevillea 'Golden Dragon

Mimulus_peach_hybrid Mimulus


Tall:  Pittosporum tenufolium 'Marjorie Channon' or 'Silver Magic,' Matilija poppy, white Waxflower

White-wax-flower Waxflower (white flowers)

Pittosporum channon Pittosporum 'Marjorie Channon'

Matilija_Poppy Matijila poppy

Medium:  Salvia apiana, Westringia, dwarf fruitless Olive bush, Tansy, Morning Glory bush

Westringia_fruticosa_2 WestringiaSalvia_apiana-640W Salvia apiana

Low:          Yarrow (white flower), Euphorbia 'Diamond Frost', Heuchera 'Lime Rickey,' Euphorbia 'wulfenii'

 'Euphorbia wulfenii2_lrg Euphorbia wulfenii

Heuchera lime Heuchera 'Lime Rickey'Euphorbia Diamond Frost Euphorbia 'Diamond Frost'


Phormium (flax), Kangaroo Paw, Sedge

FLAX Rainbow Queen Phormium 'Rainbow Queen'

K paw Kangaroo Paw

Sedge Sedge

BURGUNDY ACCENT PLANTS:  Lophomyrtus, Coprosma 'County Park Red,' Euphorbia 'Blackbird', Heuchera 'Purple Ruffles'

Lophomyrtus_redwing_small_01 Lophomyrtus

Coprosma_Karo_Red-01 Coprosma

Cordyline purple tower Cordyline

Euphorbia black Euphorbia 'Blackbird'

 Linking up to: Fishtail Cottage's Flora Thursday
 Cottage Flora Thursday\



Its really not that hard to keep your garden beautiful.  Here's some basic tips:

  • MULCH.

  A few inches of mulch, whether its bark, compost, gravel, or stone, will keep moisture in the soil and cool the roots.  This alone can help many of your plants survive having less water.

  •  REMOVE UNNECESSARY PLANTS. For example, you really don't need plants on the side of your house where you store the garbage cans.  If there is a window with a view on that area, plant a dramatic Euphorbia like "Blackbird" in a pot and hand water it once a week.  Then, cap off the sprinkler heads where you've removed the plants. 

  • RESET THE SPRINKLERS FOR LESS OFTEN AND LONGER.  If you're watering every day, or every other day, for three to five minutes at a time, switch to every third or fourth day for 10 minutes.  This is how you should be watering, anyway.  You want the water to penetrate deeply so that the plants send their roots deeper, which helps them cope with dry conditions.

  • REPLACE 'THIRSTY' PLANTS. Here's a list of common 'thirsty' plants and suggested replacements:
    Impatiens:  Substitute ivy geranium, thyme, gazanias.Gazania

  • Ferns/coleus:   Substitute coral bells, kalanchoe, tansy.Heuchera lime

  • Roses:  Substitute salvia, tagetes, waxflower, pentas, mallowSalvia waverly2

  • Camellia/azalea:  Substitute dwarf bottlebrush, viburnumViburnum

  • Willow:  Substitute agonis, leptospermum 'Dark Shadows"Agonis after dark

    • CREATE SHADE:  Be creative and decorative!  Use pretty umbrellas, arbors, or potted trees to add instant shade pockets in the garden.  Don't eliminate sunlight, but arrange it so that the plants get shade in mid-day.

    • REMOVE LAWN:  Lawns are water hogs!  So unless you really use the lawn for recreation, you can at least reduce its size. You can substitute artificial grass (it looks great!), or drought tolerant ground cover like gazanias, myoporum, or sedum.  You can also create a "stroll garden" of gravel or shredded bark winding through drought tolerant shrubs and flowers like rosemary, salvia, manzanita, ceanothus, and hawthorne.  (See my previous post, 'Drought Tolerant Coastal Garden.")

    GOOD INFORMATION SOURCES:  Your local nursery and water company are a great source of advice and suggestions.  Some counties even give homeowners free drought tolerant trees! 

    Hope this helps out.  And pray for June Gloom!



    I am a Californian, and feel fortunate to live in this amazing place.  I respect its bounty and its limitations. And as a gardener, though I'd love to have plentiful water, I am happy to work with Mother Nature and go 'water wise' in this prolonged drought.

    Besides, I'd rather have flowers than lawn anyway! (And the birds and bees are happy...)

    I've converted to 'water wise' plantings in my back yard and am about to do the same in front.  My neighbors are getting on board as well,  To encourage and inspire them, I've done a bunch of photo mockups showing what their homes will look like with drought tolerant landscaping.

    Since I'm a firm believer in pictures speaking louder than words, here are some of the transformations.  Hope it inspires you as well.