Drought-Tolerant Delights

The profusely flowering Leucophyllum langmaniae 'Lynn's Legacy' is one of many drought-tolerant plants that will be available at the Fall Plant Sale, Oct. 24–26. Photo by Lisa Blackburn.

The profusely flowering Leucophyllum langmaniae ‘Lynn’s Legacy’ is one of many drought-tolerant plants that will be available at the Fall Plant Sale, Oct. 24–26. Photo by Lisa Blackburn.

If you’re a garden lover in Southern California, there’s probably one thing on your mind as the fall planting season gets underway: drought. Finding ways to cut back on watering in the garden has become a high priority for everyone in the region. (Learn what The Huntington is doing to conserve water here.) One unexpected benefit is that many home gardeners are growing California natives and drought-tolerant species for the first time. These plants are transforming the residential landscape in beautiful ways.

At this weekend’s Fall Plant Sale at The Huntington, which gets under way Friday, Oct. 24, shoppers will have a wide selection of water-wise options to choose from, among other offerings. Sale manager Louise Guerin reports that we’re featuring many more natives and dry-climate plants this year because of the growing demand. And there’s lots of diversity within those categories, from gorgeous flowering shrubs and trees to grass-like sedges. The range of options might surprise people.

Take Leucophyllum langmaniae ‘Lynn’s Legacy’ for example—one of Guerin’s favorites. A native southwestern shrub, it features mounds of silvery green foliage and profuse, long-lasting blooms in a delicate shade of lavender. It may be hard to believe that such a lush-looking plant requires only minimal irrigation, but it’s true. Other attractive specimens in the same genus are L. zygophyllum ‘Cimarron’ and L. frutescens ‘Heavenly Cloud’, which will also be available.

Southwestern native Tecoma 'Sunrise' is a tall shrub that blazes with summer color. Photo by Lisa Blackburn.

Southwestern native Tecoma ‘Sunrise’ is a tall shrub that blazes with summer color. Photo by Lisa Blackburn.

California natives such as Arctostaphylos and Ceanothus will be prominently featured in the sale for those looking for true “local color.” But Guerin points out there are also excellent water-wise choices from other parts of the world with climates similar to our own, including Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and Central and South America. The graceful shrub Grevillea ‘Moonlight’, an Australian native with spidery, ivory-colored flowers, is just one of many examples.

We asked several other members of the Botanical staff to share some of their personal picks at the sale. Tim Thibault, curator of woody plants, is an expert on trees and large shrubs. One of his favorites is Tecoma ‘Sunrise’, a flowering shrub that can grow to about 8 feet in height, bearing summer flowers in a rich gold hue. Another of Thibault’s favorites is X Chitalpa tashkentensis ‘Pink Dawn’, an intergenetic hybrid (a cross between different genera) involving the local desert species Chilopsis linearis, or desert willow. This small tree offers a broad leaf canopy and a long flowering season of showy pink blooms.

A favorite with cactus lovers, Weberbauerocereus johnsonii has brilliant yellow spines that are particularly beautiful when backlit by the sun. Photo by John Trager.

A favorite with cactus lovers, Weberbauerocereus johnsonii has brilliant yellow spines that are particularly beautiful when backlit by the sun. Photo by John Trager.

John Trager, curator of the Desert Collections, cares for thousands of dry-climate succulents, quite a few of which will be represented at the sale—from agaves and aloes that make a bold statement in the landscape to flowering hoyas and epiphytic cacti that are ideal for hanging baskets. One of his more unusual choices is Urginea maritima, or sea squill, a bulb that sends up tall spears of white flowers. And for cactus lovers, he singles out for special mention the Weberbauerocereus johnsonii. It’s among the most brilliant of all yellow-spined cacti and is particularly beautiful when backlit by the sun.

Plant conservation specialist Sean Lahmeyer gives high marks to a drought-adapted species from New South Wales, Australia: Acacia stenophylla, the shoestring acacia. It’s a spectacular landscape tree with a weeping, airy canopy that provides filtered sunlight to plants below, preventing sunburn. And if you like parrots, there’s a bonus: The seeds will attract them to your garden.

Nursery assistant Alicia Ruvalcaba, checking out the inventory in the plant sale area, pointed out an assortment of ornamental low-water grasses and sedges that can be used as accent plantings, borders, or as lawn substitutes. Among the standouts is the feathery dwarf red fountain grass, Pennisetum setaceum ‘Eaton Canyon’. She also mentioned a favorite tree from last year’s sale, Cassia bicapsularis ‘Buttercream’, back again this year by popular demand. Several rows of cassias in 2-gallon pots were waiting in the nursery area, covered with masses of buds that looked ready to burst into buttery-yellow bloom just in time for the sale.

A wide selection of ornamental grasses and sedges, like this feathery Pennesetum setaceum 'Eaton Canyon', are versatile players in the water-wise garden. Photo by Lisa Blackburn.

A wide selection of ornamental grasses and sedges, like this feathery Pennesetum setaceum ‘Eaton Canyon’, are versatile players in the water-wise garden. Photo by Lisa Blackburn.

And if sale-goers need any water-wise landscape inspiration, they need look no further than the Huntington parking lot. Drought-tolerant plants are a key element of the new entry gardens for the Steven S. Koblik Education and Visitor Center, which opens next year. Scott Kleinrock, The Huntington’s landscape design and planning coordinator for the project, has combined to stunning effect such flowering perennials as the California native Salvia clevelandii ‘Winnifred Gilman’, the South American Verbena bonariensis, and the South African Leonotis leonurus (lion’s tail), accenting them with soft mounds of bunch-grasses and sedges, including Muhlenbergia rigens (deer grass), Carex divulsa, and Leymus condensatus ‘Canyon Prince’. Limited quantities of each will be available.

The Fall Plant Sale will be held in the Botanical nursery area and is open free to Members and to Non-Members with general admission. Hours are from noon to 4:30 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 24, and from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 25 and 26. Shoppers are encouraged to bring a wagon or cart to carry their purchases.

You can see more photos of plants we’ll be featuring at the Fall Plant Sale on Flickr.

Lisa Blackburn is communications coordinator at The Huntington.

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