Xeriscape with native California drought tolerant plants in southern California

Been hit by a long drought and feeling a bit hopeless about your garden?

Camarillo garden
Nancy Worthington photo

Your water company and some media have been drumming into to you something about a Mediterranean climate and xeriscaping. Perhaps you don’t really understand what they are talking about, and you don’t think you like those plants, anyway.

Maybe I can help.

Plainly described, a Mediterranean climate has rain in the Winter and no rain in the Summer. Such a climate is rare on our planet. In addition to parts of California, it only exists in some places in the Mediterranean, in south Africa, and in parts of Chile and Australia. Those places have plants that are adapted to at least six months of dryness. On the other hand, the plants we have been growing, actually from the east coast and from Europe, are used to having rain all year. So to deal with our lack of rain, we water and water and water those plants to keep them alive. And it gets really expensive.

Willing to think about an alternative?

Nolina interrata
(Dehesa nolina)
Glenda M. Jones photo

First, you should know that Connecticut and South Carolina and Texas, for example, use native plants without even thinking about them. We in California, however, had founding nurserymen from out of state, coming less than 100 years ago, and so they thought of plants they were familiar with — from elsewhere.

Actually, it was an Englishman named Theodore Payne who recognized our California native plants and made a business out of them. Theodore Payne Foundation in Sun Valley still sells them. Several others do, too, and the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden, in Claremont, has a a huge, extraordinary, collection of everything from seeds to trees. You should see these places.

The biggest difference between your garden and natives, is that they seldom need water — or fertilizer, and almost never need cultivation, either. How can that be? The answer is: They live here. They don’t need us!

So what do they look like? If you purchase any one of the four segments, you will receive a list of three websites where you can see color pictures of California native plants. Here is one right now: www.renyswildflowers.com

I bet you will fall in love.