If you look out your window and see lush green this time of year, chances are someone is spending many greenbacks for climate denial.
It takes a great deal of water to keep a landscape lush and green in a summer-dry Mediterranean climate. For a big lawn surrounded by water-dependent shrubs and edged with thirsty annuals, it can cost hundreds of dollars a month to keep up the illusion that you’re living in Kansas or New Jersey rather than California.
You have a choice: You can go to Belize every year or you can stay home and spend that money trying to make your yard look like Belize, minus the tropical plant diversity and jungle wildlife.
One of the advantages of living in a summer-dry Mediterranean climate is that you don’t need to spend your summers keeping up with the yard work, endlessly mowing and pruning and weeding to keep rampant growth in check. Instead, with a drought-tolerant landscape, you can sit back and enjoy quiet afternoons in the garden as an astounding variety of bees forage in the buckwheat blossoms, towhees kick up mulch or hummingbirds zip around the fuchsia.
In general, drought-tolerant California native shrubs, planted in the rainy season, may need weekly watering the first summer and monthly watering the second. After that, many need only occasional water during heat waves or if the rainy season is especially dry. Some natives, such as Fremontodendron and woolly bluecurls, may thrive without water after planting. If your budget allows, you can stimulate more flowering toward the end of the dry season by watering perennials such as monkeyflower and penstemon weekly.
And though late summer is the dormant season for many drought-tolerant natives, analogous to the dead of winter in Kansas or New Jersey, a well-planned California native garden can maintain color.
Some of the color is foliage, such as the blue-greens, gray-greens and silvery tones of sages and buckwheats. You can get tinges of red on manzanita leaves and their red-brown branches. Howard McMinn manzanita and some forms of coyotebrush sport a lighter, springier green than other natives. Coffeeberry is a dependable foundation shrub, usually found in shades of olive to dark green.
Other colors in the dry garden come mostly from subshrubs and low perennials. One of the easiest natives to grow, hummingbird fuchsia looks its best at the end of summer, its profuse red to orange flowers start to bloom in mid- to late-summer and end with the first frost. Buckwheats also shine in the late-summer dry garden, with sprays of bee-happy white, pinkish or yellow flowers fading to rusty tones. Plant Wayne Roderick seaside daisy for light lavender to rose flowers, San Bruno golden aster for a cheerful mass of yellow flowers or yarrow for white to rose flowers.
In this summer-dry climate, your garden is an oasis, and an oasis needs a water source. The susurration of a fountain adds immeasurably to the pleasure of being in a garden and will lure you to linger. Its burbling whisper can relax you and heighten your senses.