Plants for a Thirsty State

Public interest in plants with relatively low water requirements has come and gone several times over the past few decades. Each new dry cycle seems to bring a new awakening, a new missionary movement, and the “learning” of new approaches to gardening. All of these seem to be quickly forgotten soon after the wet years return. In the long run, however, it is clear that with a growing population and (at least in our lifetimes) declining rainfall averages over much of the state, Californians will be gardening with less water, like it or not, even in the best of years. Fortunately, there is already a large body of information on which to draw, some of it–like new developments in drip and spitter irrigation–being compiled continuously in the interest of more economical garden maintenance. Some of the best information on particular plants comes simply from observing neglected or abandoned gardens, regardless of current weather patterns.

Partly by design, partly by pursuing other fancies with plant groups from California, the Southwest, Mexico, temperate South America, Australia and South Africa, we at Suncrest have gradually accumulated a collection of several hundred plants with a record of at least moderate tolerance of summer drought. This means simply that they can be maintained in good condition with substantially less summer irrigation than the average popular garden plant (and vastly less than the lawns that still fill major portions of many California landscapes). The fact that many of these plants are also beautiful, fill nearly every possible garden niche, and collectively provide year-round seasonal interest, would make them desirable garden candidates even if water were not an issue.

You can use the alphabetical listings below (with page divisions for the larger groups) to easily access informational displays on these plants. More detailed descriptions and information on how to use them are now available in our new publication, Plants for a Thirsty State, in PDF format. Click here to download the complete publication, with color covers, in PDF format. A separate, smaller file with just the main body text is available here.

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Plant Name Capsule Description
Brachysema celsianum (lanceolatum) Dense shrub to 2 feet, narrow dark grey leaves, bright red pea flowers.
Brodiaea californica Tall stems, to 2 feet. Bright rosy violet flowers spring-summer.
Brodiaea elegans Harvest brodiaea. 8-12 inch stems; blue purple flowers, spring.
Bromus benekenii 1 foot high. Spreading grass, soft light green wide leaves. Sun or light shade.
Buchloe dactyloides 'Buffalo Bill' TM Low grass, for meadows, turf; small showy panicles. Winter dormant.
Bulbine frutescens Clumping succulent, narrow green leaves; spikes of yellow flowers.
Bulbine frutescens 'Hallmark' Many trailing stems. Succulent leaves. Spikes of orange flowers.
Bulbine frutescens 'Orange' Clumping succulent, with long green leaves, spikes of orange flowers.
Bulbinella robusta Shiny narrow leaves, bright yellow "torches" winter-spring.
Calamagrostis foliosa Low blue-green clumps about 12 inches high; arching flower stems.
Calamintha nepeta 'Blue Cloud' 12-18 inches high. Soft green aromatic leaves, many small light blue flowers.
Calamintha grandiflora 'Variegata' 12-18 inches high. Soft cream and green leaves, rose pink flowers.
Calamintha nepeta 'White Cloud' 12-18 inches high. Soft green aromatic leaves, many small white flowers.
Callirhoe involucrata Winecup. Spreading, low. Vivid 2 inch rose purple flowers.
Callistemon 'Cane's Hybrid' UCSC/Koala selection. To 10 feet, bushy. Pale pink flowers. Silky new growth matures to narrow grey leaves.
Callistemon 'King's Park Special' 8-12 feet. Bushy, with masses of bright red flowers spring-summer.
Callistemon 'Little John' 3-5 feet high, 4-6 feet wide. Dense bushy shrub, with masses of bright red flowers spring-summer.
Callistemon 'Mauve Mist' Bottlebrush; 6-10 feet. Mauve-pink brushes in summer.
Callistemon 'Taree Pink' Green leaves are pink when young. Bright pink flowers in spring. Great screening shrub.
Callistemon viminalis 'Neon Pink' Broad green leaves, vivid dark pink flowers in spring. Bottle Pop TM.

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