One does not need to be limited to cacti and succulents to have a garden that survives drought. It is possible to create a beautiful cottage garden full of dry-loving flowering perennial plants that thrive with no watering!
Water wise plants usually have a leaf adaptation that makes them conserve or use less water. Look for silver, hairy and leathery leaves. Perennial plants that come from the Mediterranean or Canary Islands are most suitable for this situation.
Jerusalem Sage (Phlomis russeliana)
This Mediterranean species, native to the mountains of Syria, is admired for its wonderful felted, silvery-grey textured leaves, which are an attraction, with or without the flowers. It grows to 1m and the flower spires reach over 1m and in the case of P. russeliana, are topped with hooded butter-yellow flowers. The soft foliage is covered in tiny, silver hairs that help reduce moisture loss.
Unlike some of its more cold-tender relatives, hardy Jerusalem sage has proven to be quite cold tolerant. A very tough and easy-to-grow plant, Phlomis adds an eye catching structure to the garden, combining readily with other perennials with interesting foliages.
Just as lovely is the P. italica with pinky lavender whorls of flowers. There are several Phlomis around in nurseries, including the deeper yellow Jerusalem sage, P. fruticosa from Southern Europe, and the pale cream-flowered Lebanese sage P. chrysophylla. As with all perennials regularly remove spent flowers, cut back leggy stems in late autumn and replant by division.
Germander (Teucrium fruticans)
A very hardy, dry-tolerant shrub that grows to 1.5m and offers ornamental, silver foliage which will tolerate regular clipping to produce a dense formal hedge. Left as a specimen shrub in the garden it will flower from autumn through to late spring with a display of blue flowers, deeper in colour than those normally found in this species.
Choose a full sun to part shade location with well-drained soil. Look out for a variety called 'Silver 'n' Sapphires'. Prune the after main flowering flush to promote a dense and neat appearance.
Spurge (Euphorbia spp)
This is a group of small colourful shrubs, suitable for full sun, with distinct foliage colours and flowers. It grows to 0.8m x 0.8m and they have extreme tolerance to hot and dry conditions. The flowers persist in large clusters throughout winter and spring, and they have ornamental, colourful foliage all year around.
Euphorbias require good drainage if receiving regular irrigation or in areas of high rainfall, as they do not like to sit in water for lengthy periods of time. Pruning is generally not required although cutting back spent flower stems to base will encourage a bushier habit. Take care when pruning to avoid skin contact with sap as it can be irritating. The foliage can range from pink, lime, purple/black and silver.
• Euphorbia ‘Silver Swan’ with striking variegated foliage of grey-green with silvery edging. It has a tidy plant habit of medium growth. Spikes of creamy coloured flowers produced from late winter through to spring
• Euphorbia ‘Ascot Rainbow’ has been selected for its distinct and unique variegated flowers and foliage. The flower colour consist of cream, lime and green while the foliage displays tones of cream, green/blue with stunning red/pink colouring throughout the cooler months of the year.
• Euphorbia 'Blackbird' has been selected for its outstanding burgundy foliage colour which does not fade throughout the heat of summer or cold of winter. It boasts a very compact, tidy habit with a prolific display of unique flowers of lime-yellow from mid-winter continuing on into spring.
• Euphorbia ‘Red Wing’ is a smaller growing 45cm high shrub with long grey-green foliage with new growth tinged pink-red and lime green flowers which smother the foliage from late winter through spring.
Clivia lily (Clivia miniata)
A useful and indestructible evergreen perennial that grows to 0.7m with dark green, strappy leaves and clusters of trumpet shaped orange flowers. It grows well in dry shade under trees but will only tolerate the lightest of frosts. It also comes in peach, apricot and lemon.
Pride of Madeira (Echium ‘Cobalt Towers’)
This large sprawling shrub that reaches a height of 2m bears a halo of iridescent purple flower spires in spring and has grey-blue leaves that are soft to the touch. Cut Echium back hard at the end of the flowering period. The pieces will propagate easily from 10 cm cuttings when struck in a sandy mixture. It is frost-resistant and tolerant of salt-laden winds, which makes this large shrub great for coastal areas. Echium wildpretii, has elegant, single, coral-pink flowers reaching up to 2 metres tall.
Tree Ageratum or Mist Flower (Eupatorium sp.)
Attractive, very large soft leaves are carried on a soft wooded shrub to 2m. Fluffy purple-blue flower heads to 30cm cover the plant in early spring. It is an excellent bold shade plant but is frost sensitive. The leaves wilt easily during the day but will perk back up in the evenings. Prune off the finished flowers and feed.
Rosa odorata ‘Mutabilis’
This 2m rose is prized for the ever-changing colour of its flowers, which bloom continuously from spring until frost. The single cupped flowers open lemon, then become pink, watermelon, and finally a rich cerise. The foliage is reddish purple, disease-resistant, and is evergreen in warm climates. This rose can be treated as a shrub or trained as a climber. It is suitable as a single specimen or an informal hedge, or grown in mixed borders.
It is tolerant of dry weather and poor soils. Grow in well-drained soil in full sun or partial shade. While dormant in late winter or early spring, prune lightly or back by up to a third, reducing side shoots by half to one third. To renovate, prune one in four or five shoots from the base.
Dry-loving flowers and perennials:
White Wisteria (Wisteria sinensis ‘Alba’)
Weeping Crabapple (Malus erlichtermeyer)
Cistus ‘Mrs Bennett’s White’
Rosemary ‘Blue Lagoon’
Salvia ‘Indigo Blue’
Artichoke (Cynara scolymus)
Century plant (Agave attenuate)
Bluegrass (Festuca glauca)
Bearded Iris (Iris x germanica)
Russian Sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia ‘Blue Spires’)
Wormwood (Artemesia ‘Powis Castle’)
Licorice Plant (Helichrysum petiolare ‘Silver’)
Waverley Nursery - RMB 8355 Matcham rd, Matcham
Waverley is a Specialist Nursery with a comprehensive list of Rare and hard to find perennials, ornamental grasses, exotic shrubs, climbers & bulbs. They also have an excellent mail order service.