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(OT) Some plants LIKE drought?!

Melissa Northern Italy zone 8
2 months ago
last modified: 2 months ago

I've been touring around in the old part of the big garden the last couple of days, looking at areas I haven't seen for months, as I was unwilling to go out in the blazing sun and then hike back uphill to the house. We've had low precipitation for over a year, mildly redeemed by rains in August and September, which, though not enough to recharge the aquifers, do appear to have been enough to keep the garden watered.

The Bermuda grass and bindweed are rejoicing. No comment on that. But some desirable plants appear to have done quite well--better than before--this last year. I mentioned Buddleia alternifolia in Jackie's thread on rain. This plant sat at a foot or so tall for a decade, then this summer took off, tripling or quadrupling its dimensions. Another sitter that grew well is Jasminum primulinum, now looking at though it's at last on its way to becoming the fountain of green I imagined it when I bought it a decade or so ago. And the perovskia that has struggled along for years looks as though it's finally taking hold.

Many plants, perhaps the majority, have come through the drought pretty well. I don't worry about shrubs like winter honeysuckle, Viburnum x burkwoodii, forsythia, which is an amazingly tough shrub in our conditions, photinia, privet. The plants adapted to dry Mediterranean climates are likewise fine: phlomis, vitex, lentisk, Mexican sage, caryopteris, evergreen oaks, Italian cypress, olives. Our local natives that grow in dry areas, idem, like downy oak (Quercus pubescens), laburnum, and flowering ash. I say nothing about the roses. I think quite a few of them haven't liked sitting out in the blazing sun, which unfortunately is the situation of many of them. I need more trees (we're working on it).

A couple of pretty things I saw this evening: a handful of pure, fresh blooms on 'Awakening', that wonderful trooper of a rose; and the combination, now in full bloom, of tall pink asters, golden yellow Dittrichia viscosa (false yellowhead), and a young hybrid caryopteris with blue flowers. I need to find a shrub to anchor the corner of that bed.

Comments (8)

  • Sheila z8a Rogue Valley OR
    2 months ago

    Sounds so interesting and lovely Melissa.

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  • Melissa Northern Italy zone 8
    Original Author
    2 months ago

    Jackie, bare soil does give a wink and a nod, doesn't it? Good luck with your proposed drought-tolerant line of plants. I don't know what you're thinking of, but plants like phlomis and shrub germander (Teucrium fruticans) come immediately to mind. There are probably plants available in California that haven't yet made it to our northern Italian common gardening culture: myrtle, for example, that's hardy but that I never see planted around here. The big IF is of course annual rainfall amounts where you are that are much lower than ours, I suspect even after a year of drought. Plants manage to grow, though, somehow: you just have to find the right ones.

    Sheila, thanks for the kind words but it's so frustrating. Everything is incomplete, and completing it is such a job. I have a double hedge of rosemary down there: fine, but there's a hole where I need one last plant of rosemary, and blessed if I can get one to grow. The area behind the oak is too bleakly sunny. My prescription is to dig a big hole, amend the hole, plant a persimmon, water it for a year, then wait. If I'm lucky, that is, if the tree lives, in five years or so I'll have a young persimmon starting to do its job of occupying that space and give a bit of shade. I need another shrub in the line after the Buddleia alternifolia. I was thinking perhaps a laburnum, which would mean getting the laburnum--where?--planting it and, again, watering it for a year. There's another hole that needs a good-sized shrub: which? (Possibly another winter honeysuckle, a worthy shrub). The area a little above this, where we planted dry climate shrubs because the ground was so poor and rocky, is doing surprisingly well. But there's a hole, which I want to fill with a rosemary, currently rooting, and a vitex, currently not rooting, and where do I get one? And so it goes on, all through the garden: never, or only extremely rarely, any completeness.

    So, my highly imperfect paradise. I might tackle this area this fall--if I can find the plants--if it rains enough to get the ground wet--and try for a trifle more of a whole, and hoping that climate change doesn't do in the entire project in the coming years. I feel that there's a terrible amount of repetition in the plants I use. On the other hand, I need hundreds if not thousands of shrubs, so there's going to be a good deal of sameness. I wish I could fool around more with little and individual plants, but we're still in the initial phase of establishing foundation plantings. This after twenty years.

  • rosaprimula
    2 months ago
    last modified: 2 months ago

    I treated this summer as a field test. Even in the best years, I only get an annual rainfall of around 600mm and, while I am prepared to water plants until they are established, I am not watering anything else in the ground. But yep, the plot is not naked. Far from it, there are a few things which have come through this year without much fuss. Reading your post with much interest, Melissa. as I am exploring xeric gardening and looking to make some radical changes on the plot. Managing my tiny courtyard pot garden wore me out (although I have myself to blame).1-2 hours watering, every single day and didn't dare go anywhere for longer than 24hours (unless I bribed the offspring, with patchy results).

    Perovskia, for sure, along with various euphorbias (a couple of which bloom for months). Coronilla has thrived and this years discovery - sphaeralcea ambigua 'Childerley has fitted into a sunny scheme of peach, oranges, bronze and plum colours' including a really nice figwort (phygelius 'African Queen'). I intend to search out more of the malva family, including abutilons. The little western agastache 'Apricot Sprite' and all the hybrid penstemons did well, which has prompted me to go in search of more of the species. A large blue flowered iochroma has been outstanding. Looking absolutely gorgeous right now - the many autumn sages. I love these shrubby salvias and, as they are so easy to propagate, I have many, in all shades apart from yellows (although I do have a pale La Luna s.jamensis and the creamy s.'San Antonio'). O, and cistus. I have several rock roses - some of which have grown enormous, but all of them do very well here, although they don't have the longest bloom time (lots better than my solitary paeonies though - the tough, but huge delavayi ludlowii).

    I like daisies but have had to bid goodbye to heleniums, symphiotrichum, rudbeckias, heliopsis, silphium, vernonia...none of these prairie plants survive my dry soil (sand, on chalk!), no matter how much amending I do. Surprisingly, dahlias have done rather well though...and I am going to give Korean Chrysanthemums a go, next year because I love the garden in September/October. All the late summer annuals I sow in May (tithonias, zinnia, callistephus, thunbergia, salpiglossis, tagetes et al, have been a fail so I am looking for late flowering perennials which thrive in Xeric conditions. I don't think I am going to manage any spring planting any more so this means only hardy annuals and autumn sown perennials (which is when I do all my seeds sowing). I have a caryopteris waiting to be planted up so it's good to hear they are drought survivors

    I guess it is obvious that I struggle with serene and austere palettes, so gentle evergreens, cool whites, glaucous leaves, and an emphasis on foliage and structure have not really gained any traction in my gaudy soul. When I succumbed to the lure of euphorbias, I felt I had finally joined the grown-up garden sophisticates club. At least a little bit. Oddly though, this craving for colour does not extend to roses, which I restrict to whites, creams, palest blush (although I bookend my plot with a couple of screamers - r.moyesii and Scharlachglut). The rest of the plot though, verges on the lurid. Extra amounts of orange and magenta!

    Writing down what looks like a long list has reminded me that the most egregious failures were the annuals - both flowers and vegetables, so no real disaster, while the plot survived remarkably well without any input from me (I pretty much abandoned it throughout July/August.) As for roses...well none died. They look OK apart from missing out on the later flush of blooms (hybrid musks). Of those which gallantly attempted later blooms (such as the ever-prolific Crepuscule), the florets were painfully...diminished and wilted looking. Since I mostly grow single bloomers, the roses are never up there on the kill-list because of drought or disease. Size though - a different (problematic) issue. After 20 years, some of them have had to be sent to the chipper. No amount of pruning will change an enthusiastic rambler into a mannerly bush. If anything, it makes the chaos and crowding worse ('growth follows the knife').

    Still, there are bulbs...and many of these do very well indeed...in fact, the spring bulb industry is based in my area. I ordered a couple of hundred species tulips. I grow a lot of garden tulips, most of which are surprisingly perennial (dry, baked, drained), but the little wildlings are the spring stars of my gravel bed. 20 years ago, if you wanted these, you had to make do with the half dozen from bulb merchants or grow from seed (still the only way to get t.sprengeri and some of the rarer ones) but nowadays, a decent catalogue will hold at least a couple of dozen species tulips so I hope to see them used more widely. I certainly love them.

    Also, as a consolation for the dreadful failures this year, I went a bit mad, loitering on a Rare Plants website and ordered ridiculously costly little bulbs for close-up drooling in tiny pots...acis, tecophilea, romulea and over 1000 anemones, tulips, eremurus, iris, narcissus and such. I have spent my annual garden budget already.


    I was initially very shocked to see how incredibly slowly plants will grow with no irrigation. While they don't die, they seem to take years to actually establish. In my wood, it isn't uncommon for a shrub to sit for 5-7 (or more) years, apparently not growing an inch ...although it must be going on underground, out of sight...because after numerous seasons of doing nothing, they suddenly,emerge from near dormancy, into 'normal'* growth.

    * what I usually expect after a year or 2(at most) on the allotment, where I make an effort, at least for the first season.

  • jacqueline9CA
    2 months ago

    Aha! Both of you know so much about plants - do either of you (or anyone else) grow "glandularia pulchella"? Evidently it is some sort of verbena - its other name is "Verbena puchella" or moss verbena, said to grow 8" tall and several feet wide, and be covered in bloom in Spring and Fall. It said it was drought hardy, but then went on to say that it only needs to be watered two times a week in Spring & Fall, and once a week in Summer! My entire garden only gets watered once or twice a week in the hottest part of Summer, including roses, hydrangeas, etc. etc. So, it does not seem drought hardy to me, but the photos (as usual) were very nice, a sort of carpet of blooms on lacy foliage. Very curious if you have opinions about it.


    Jackie

  • Melissa Northern Italy zone 8
    Original Author
    2 months ago

    Rosaprimula, good to hear from you and get all these details about your gardening. It looks as though your gardening and mine are neatly dissected into two separate zones of the world of dry climate gardening. You garden in sand; I garden in clay. You get 60cm of precipitation in a good year; we get about 100cm. You grow many herbaceous plants; I concentrate on shrubs and trees. It's still interesting, but the information may be more useful to other forum members than mine to you or yours to me.

    You're probably right that I prefer a relatively subdued palette. My garden is minimally groomed and calls for wildish-looking plants. Our climate and soil don't encourage fall color, so we lack that advantage. To a considerable extent I can't indulge in small plants: much of the garden is overgrown in grass, and little plants just can't get their heads up, to grow and to be seen. For example, lavender, which I love, isn't quite tall enough; phlomis is all-conquering, so, I grow phlomis. Such herbaceous perennials as I've tried over the years have mainly died out, largely from competition; once established, plants in my garden need to be able to survive months of neglect. The big garden and the shade garden being established in open country, hedges, the allée of Italian cypresses, rough borders of subshrubs are needed to provide the structure that doesn't come from buildings, walls, terraces, pavements.

    I started out with a passion for roses, though they've been on the back burner for a while now, and the hotter, drier weather has been mowing down some of the more vulnerable varieties. Our differing conditions make themselves felt in our selections. Broadly, I can grow the once-blooming roses of European origin pretty well; the warm climate old roses mostly require more drastic amendment than I've been able to provide in the big garden, so that Teas, Chinas, and Noisettes are largely limited to the house garden, with its steep drops, gravel, and terracing on top of rock and construction debris giving the needed drainage. Roses with Multiflora ancestry are very difficult. Hybrid Teas, English Roses, Floribundas require better conditions than I can offer. Rugosas and the early yellow species get mowed down by cane girdler. Hybrid Damasks tend to do well, though this last summer has been a rough one, and I hardly dare look at my principal rose beds. Wichurianas are pretty good, which is fine as I adore them, and the Ayshire ramblers, like the Gallicas and Co. bred from a species rose that grows wild locally, do well. Forms of R. foetida hold their own.

    This is a long post, not long enough to say all I want. I'll post it now, hoping to continue later.

  • jacqueline9CA
    2 months ago

    hoping to post

  • Sheila z8a Rogue Valley OR
    2 months ago

    Where are you located rosaprimula? Your posts could mean even more with your location specified.