William B. Dewey

The softer side of dry-climate landscaping

Sharon Cohoon  – November 17, 2004

In Santa Barbara, a drought-tolerant garden is always good insurance. Because the area relies on its own water—not imported sources—landscape irrigation restrictions kick in when the water supply runs low. Knowing that, Bobby and Susan Shand of Montecito planned accordingly. When they engaged landscape designer Pat Brodie, they asked her to use unthirsty plants. But since their house is traditional in style rather than modern or Mediterranean, they didn’t want cactus, agaves, or anything too austere.

To keep the look soft, Brodie chose plants with fine, downy-textured leaves and airy, cool-colored flower clusters. Trachelium caeruleum, the violet-blue cloud spilling over the rocks in the foreground of this photo, is a prime example. It is backed by a complementary drift of Mexican bush sage (Salvia leucantha). To the left is a lavender-gray pillow of catmint (Nepeta faassenii). To the right are the creamy plumes of yarrow (Achillea ‘Anthea’). “Except for the red flax, which lends contrast, everything has a soft and delicate appearance,” Brodie says. “But they’re actually all very tough.”

Fall is an excellent time to plant a drought-tolerant border. Mexican bush sage and catmint, which are still in bloom, will be easy to find at nurseries. T. caeruleum flowers a bit earlier, so it might be harder to find; a service-oriented nursery can order it for you.

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