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.

Select A Letter Below
Plant Name Capsule Description
Penstemon azureus Flower stems to 18 inches; blue flowers over grey-green leaves.
Penstemon azureus var. angustissimus 12-18 inches. Narrow blue grey leaves; yellow buds open to blue flowers.
Penstemon cardinalis Broad green basal leaves; 2 foot spike of bright, true red flowers.
Penstemon 'Catherine de la Mare' 1-2'; leafy low clumps, blue purple fls.
Penstemon centranthifolius Scarlet bugler; 2-4 feet; grey leaves, bright red flowers.
Penstemon clevelandii hybrid Low grey leaves; bright rose pink flowers on 18-24 inch spikes.
Penstemon eatonii Low green leaves; 2-3 foot stems with bright orange narrow flowers.
Penstemon grinnellii 3 feet+; native with large toothed leaves, lavender flowers.
Penstemon heterophyllus 'Blue Springs' 1-2 feet; Foothill penstemon. True blue flowers.
Penstemon heterophyllus 'Margarita BOP' Bushy, 1-2 feet. Blue-green leaves, bright blue flowers. Disease resistant.
Penstemon heterophyllus--Panoche strain Low perennial with bright blue flowers from yellow buds in spring.
Penstemon newberryi var. sonomensis 'St. Helena' Choice rock garden shrublet; green leaves, bright red flowers.
Penstemon neomexicanus Glossy low green leaves; 2 foot spikes of blue purple flowers.
Penstemon palmeri Long spikes of fragrant pink flowers, toothed grey green leaves.
Penstemon parryi Low, thick leaves are bluish green; 1-3 foot flowers stems have bright pink flowers, spring.
Penstemon pinifolius Tidy shrublet with needle-like green leaves; spikes of red flowers in summer.
Penstemon pinifolius 'Compactus' 12 inches. Tidy shrublet with needle-like green leaves; spikes of scarlet flowers.
Penstemon pinifolius 'Mersea Yellow' 12 inches. Tidy shrublet with needle-like green leaves; spikes of yellow flowers.
Penstemon rostriflorus (bridgesii) To 3 feet. Red tubular flowers bloom summer and fall. Green leaves.
Penstemon speciosus x ? Low green leaves; 2 foot spikes of bright blue flowers.

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