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Allan designs and plants flowering gardens in Montreal, Zone 5 [USDA Zone 4] .

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Entries in drought tolerant plants (3)


A Drought-Tolerant Perennial that is Really a Shrub

Image: canbyi is a drought tolerant, cold climate, evergreen plant hardy to USDA Zone 4, perhaps even 3. When I first discovered it, accidentally, in a grab bag collection of perennial seedlings at a behemoth retailer, it seemed appropriate as rock garden ground cover.

Fascinated by its rich, dark green and sensuous pinnate foliage, I placed it in a dry sunny spot, among the Phlox subulata and the Arabica caucasica. That’s how I created a visually effective composition of various low growing foliage plants, that cascaded over the rock garden.

Extreme close up image from wikpedia.orgThroughout the season, Paxistima would stand out from among all of them. To the eye, it appeared prickly, but to the touch, it was soft, smooth, and silky. It beckoned me closer every time I noticed it and I would reach out to stroke it with the same eagerness as petting a puppy. What an exciting and moving tactile experience!

Image: arrowheadalpines.comIt was a surprise to realize how slowly this plant would mature. However, its lack of height [mine grew one inch high but it can reach 12 inches] and its disciplined spread [it will slowly grow to 5 feet wide if left untrimmed, but it is not invasive] were compatible attributes with my gardening personality. I was pleased that it could thrive in dry clay, in a heat-and-drought-ravaged corner of the garden.

After ten years of making me happy, I lost the plant in a renovation project when, for structural reasons, the rock garden had to be demolished. Since Paxistima had insinuated itself between several large boulders and was rooted into hard clay, there was no way the demolition crew could save it.

A few years later, when I began to landscape other people’s gardens, I found a new need for my long lost but loving Paxistima. Providing it is manicured each season, this soft, sensual, and reliable evergreen plant can be used successfully as background filler in the front border of flowerbeds.

However, when I began to hunt for it anew, I discovered two facts that had eluded me. First, in some parts of the country, Paxistima is almost impossible to find at retail. Second, it is not a perennial but a miniature shrub.

Very small shrubs that exhibit attractive sensory attributes have an important role to play in the design and appearance of perennial flowerbeds. There will be more on this subject in my next post where I hope to report on three relatively new miniature shrubs suitable for cold-climate gardening.


Lavandula Angustifolia, a Versatile Perennial

Lavender is a plant that is loved by butterflies, hated by ants and avoided by deer. This perennial doubles as an aromatic herb and adds subdued color and texture to any sun garden. Its foliage is silver blue and the flowers are lavender, of course. Because it is drought tolerant, it is a popular choice for xeriscapes.

As Lavender matures, its stems become woody and leggy. To keep it looking neat, treat this perennial as if it were a miniature shrub and prune it before new growth appears each spring. After that, just ignore it. This elegant-looking plant is harvested for the aromatic properties of both the flower and the foliage. Lavender grows well in zones 5 to 8 and requires a well-drained location.



Spectacular Perennial: Sedum Spectabile

Image courtesy of wikimedia.orgIt doesn’t get easier than this!

Sedum spectabile or Tall Sedum is a low maintenance sun-loving plant that is tough. It can handle heat, drought, clay, salt and lots of neglect. This is a  compact, hardy plant that will grow into a neat bouquet 18 to 24 inches in height [depending on the cultivar] on sturdy stems that do not flop. Its succulent leaves, in shades of lime, apple or gray green, offer sculptural shapes, unusual color and smooth texture. And all that occurs long before the plant explodes into bloom. The non-fading pink or red color of the broccoli-shaped florets last up to 10 weeks. By autumn, they turn darker and browner at a time when most garden flowers are going dormant. Spent flower heads may be left uncut until spring as they offer dramatic interest all winter long. Want to propagate? It’s a snap, literally! In early summer, break off a stem from the plant and stick it into earth. Alternatively, it may be easily propagated by digging up and slicing the root ball into several sections. This may be done any time during the growing season without harm. Recently, florist shops have not only been including Sedum in creative floral arrangements but have also begun to feature them as spectacular autumn centerpieces. Wow!