Sunday, November 27, 2011

Dry land plants

Our summer seems to have arrived, heralded with a late outbreak of spring gales, with north westerly winds blasting down off the Tararuas, and the temperature steadily climbing.  As the months turn over, and November gives way to December we are once again faced with the need to work out a method to cope with the upcoming dry months, when our available water supply is rationed.

This past week has been illustrative of the need for water – the combination of winds and a lack of heavy rain (although we actually had some rain) means the lawns have stopped growing with the desperate passion they have been hitherto showing.

It is hard to tell what the weather will do for this summer but I note that NIWA are saying we can expect normal or slightly more than normal rain in the period December 2011 – February 2012.  However, they also go on to say that soil conditions are river levels are likely to be lower  than normal because both are starting our at lower than usual for this time of the year.

In a way it makes little difference, as the Wairarapa district councils are all under pressure to keep their water usage low as they do not have the ability to take endless amounts of water from local rivers.  Under these conditions all gardeners need to be a bit water smart over the coming few months.  Fortunately there are a lot of things we can do to help reduce demand on our precious water supplies.

One of the most effective ways to do this is to choose plants that are appropriate to our conditions. The fact is we live in dry areas, and should not try to grow wet climate plants unless we can provide some natural supplies of water.

At this time of the year I love the way Mediterranean plants come into their own.  Lavenders are perfect hot and dry climate plants, with their fresh grey/green leaves and wonderful range of coloured flowers.  They work well in formal gardens, but are equally at home in naturalistic plants. Among the other great dry climate shrubs are rock roses, Cistus and their cousins, the Helianthemums.  These plants, with their silvery leaves and tough textures, will thrive in the heat of summer, and will always look tidy.  For native lovers, most Hebes will do well in similar conditions, including many silver leaved forms.  Some of the coastal Coprosmas, and most grasses will also thrive as will the Wairarapa native shrubs, Brachyglottis greyii and B. compacta, with silver leaves and golden flowers.

In the garden we can extend the range a little more with some other heat-loving shrubs especially the Australian and South African shrubs that thrive in our climate.  Proteas, Leucodrendrons, Regal pelargoniums, Grevillias, and many others, will all do well and will easily cope with the summer dry.
Extra colour can be added by other dry loving bulbs, perennials and annuals, as well as a good dose of the very fashionable succulents, such as Aloes and Agaves.  You could also try the new variegated Beschoneria yuccoides that I saw recently in a local garden centre.

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