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 spectabilis Sturdy, 3 feet+; large toothed leaves, blue purple flowers.
Penstemon strictus Dark green low leaves, clumping. 2 foot stems of rich blue purple flowers.
Penstemon 'Utah Natives' Low clumps; 1 foot stems; purple, pink, blue flowers.
Pentas Falling Star TM 'Pink Bicolor' 10-12"h. Clusters of star-shaped light and dark pink bicolor fls; dk grn foliage.
Pentas Pinata TM 'Lavender' 12-14"h. Clusters of star-shaped lavender fls; dk grn foliage.
Pentas Pinata TM 'Pink' 12-14"h. Clusters of star-shaped light pink fls; dk grn foliage.
Pentas Pinata TM 'Red' 12-14"h. Clusters of star-shaped bright red fls; dk grn foliage.
Perovskia abrotanoides Russian sage; 3 feet; cut grey leaves, lavender flowers.
Perovskia 'Filigran' To 3 feet, bushy. Dissected leaves, lavender-blue flowers.
Perovskia 'Little Spire' PP#11643 Compact form of Russian sage, to 2 feet. Grey leaves, lavender blue flowers in summer.
Perovskia 'Longin' 2 feet+. Furry purple flower calyx, lavender flowers, grey leaves.
Phacelia bolanderi Perennial. Low grey-green leaves; heads of lavender blue flowers.
Phacelia californica Neat clumps of dark-grey leaves, heads of lilac flowers on 16 inch stems. Perennial.
Phacelia campanularia Desert bluebells. Vivid dark blue flowers over grey green leaves.
Phacelia viscida Bright blue flowers with white centers.
Philadelphus lewisii 'Covelo' Wintergreen Nursery selection. 4-8 feet high and wide. Bushy with arching stems. Fragrant white flowers.
Philadelphus lewisii 'Goose Creek' Native mock-orange; fragrant double white flowers.
Philadelphus mexicanus Cascading shrub has many intensely fragrant creamy flower in clusters, summer. Can be grown as vine.
Philadelphus microphyllus 'Desert Snow' 4-5 feet. Twiggy. Felted leaves. Fragrant white flowers, summer.
Philotheca myoporoides 'Galaxy' UCSC/Koala Blooms selection. 4 feet, rounded. Pink buds open to starry white flowers.

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