by Charlene Burgi
Choosing low-water-use perennials can be overwhelming since there are so many species to consider, not to mention the number of varieties within each species. It also doesn’t help that every spring catalog and garden website is touting countless beautiful low-water-using perennials that are “must haves” in the garden this year. Poring over each page of color, I search for tolerance factors such as deer and rabbit resistance, sun exposure, cold hardiness, etc.
There are three plants in the investigation that deserve mentioning. One is penstemon, also known as beardtongue. Several penstemon species are native to the west and require very little water after the first year in the ground. They seem to tolerate extremely harsh conditions, with the exception of poor-draining soil. The blossoms come in a wide range of colors, and given there are over 250 species, plants grow to various heights from groundcovers up to four feet tall. An added bonus is their blossoms attract hummingbirds and are supposed to be resistant to deer browsing. A word of caution here: More than once I have seen deer sample the goods on this plant.
Another one of my favorite low-water-using, sun-loving perennials is salvia, otherwise called sage. In the book The Country Diary of Garden Lore, by Julia Jones and Barbara Deer, I laughed as I read, “when sage grows vigorously in the garden, the wife rules the house”! On a serious note, the plant offers multitudes of ailment remedies in addition to the flower’s spectacular long-blooming season. Sage comes in a variety of sizes, colors, shapes, and tolerances. There are over 900 species in this mint family and the list of known species grows larger each year. Birds and bees appreciate their presence in the garden; however, some varieties are more susceptible to aphids and white fly, so make certain they are planted with adequate air circulation. When attempting to identify sage, touch the stem of the plant— it is always square!
Lastly, helleborus, or Lenten rose, is a dream plant for dry shade gardens. It blooms during the winter and spring when the garden tends to lay dormant. The colors of the cup-shaped flowers are subtle shades ranging from the palest of green to pink or purple. Deer and rabbits ignore its existence. Like the above-mentioned perennials, these plants thrive in fast-draining soil and require little water once established.
Perennials are a great way to bring color into your garden. Experiment with the wide varieties that are available. Choose those that are native to the West Coast. I mentioned three, but how can we overlook yarrow, hummingbird mint, and poppies? And the list goes on! If you are looking for color, cut flowers, or plants to fill in bare spots, give these perennials a whirl!
Join Us for Earth Day Marin Festival April 6
MMWD is pleased to be a major sponsor and partner of the Earth Day Marin 2014 Festival on Sunday, April 6, 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. at Redwood High School in Larkspur. Join us for this fun, free, family-friendly event and day of action on sustainability solutions addressing drought, climate change, and other environmental concerns. Enjoy music, hands-on activities, inspiring speakers, storytellers, puppet shows, authors, organic food, and more! We’ll be giving away stainless steel water bottles to the first 500 people who take action at the event to reduce their water use. For complete festival details, visit earthdaymarin.org.