Ewen's garden

A collection of columns, paintings and photographs about gardening on an offshore island in New Zealand.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Oasis in the dry

This time of year is a good time to be looking around at what is thriving successfully in the middle of a drought. What looks fresh and green, hasn’t shriveled in the dry, yet catches the eye? It is important to be aware of what is working and what is not, with limited water supply. One garden I noticed in particular recently, set on rather a steep exposed site, consisted largely of flax, cabbage trees and some large specimens of Doryanthes palmeri. The D. palmeri is a native of Queensland forming a large rosette of leaves, eventually up to 2m in height with a spread of about 3m. The leaves are broad, sword like and echo the form of the flax, but on a grander scale. Once at maturity, which may take up to ten years, the plant will flower, sending up tall, but rather stout flower spikes. The flowers are deep red and held close to the stem of the spike. If more colour is required, there are many differently coloured forms of flax, and cabbage tree available. Another star performer in the dry garden is Neomarcia caerulea (no common name available), produces what seems an endless supply of deep blue iris-like flowers all summer. The centre of the blooms have a brown and cream tiger stripe pattern on them, the foliage consists of erect strap-like leaves up to 1.6m in height. Unfortunately these flowers only last for a day and then curl up and die but the plant may have up to a dozen or so flowers at once creating an eye catching performance. Mine is placed in the crook of a dog-leg on the flight of steps to the top of the garden, in this way affording the perfect view of the flowers from above.
Surrounding this is another drought resistant plant of the succulent group, Sedum sp. The leaves are a fleshy light green beneath umbels of pink, red and white flowers attractive to the bees. Below these is a strip of lambs’ ears, Stachys lanata with fury grey leaves, the flowers appear during summer on long fluffy spikes. Even if it didn’t flower it is worth its place for the foliage alone. As with lambs’ ears many drought tolerant plants have grey leaves, another stalwart in my garden is dusty miller, Senecio cineraria, which grow to a height of about 50cm, the yellow daisy-like flowers being carried above the foliage in mid summer. Some like to cut the blooms away to avoid the intrusion into a colour scheme not including yellow. I go with nature here as many of the these grey leaved plants have either yellow or purple to mauve flowers I leave them on, and there is the colour theme for this part of the garden.
Other plants to have survived well are the agaves, large bold succulents with an unmistakable architectural form. These sorts of plants have more impact if they can be planted on mass their ‘look-at-me!’ character causing all other plants to bow in subservience.
One last group of plants to perform without a drop of water have been the bromeliads. In partial shade, on a steep slope these beauties have added a colourful exotic approach to our front door. The only maintenance they get from me is a bit of a tidy-up of the spent foliage, a small thing to ask for so much performance!
With the forecast full of rain it will again be time to be in the garden, soft warm soil around the fingers, what better time to implement new ideas and get plants in the ground.

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