In recent months we have been hearing of an ‘El Nino’ weather pattern which can bring dry weather to Canterbury. It’s a good time to consider how this impacts on our gardens and particularly on plant selection for garden design in Canterbury.
For some years now an emerging trend in garden design has been a higher use of drought tolerant plantings. In years past we may have considered this something our Australian counterparts dealt with, but as water and irrigation issues have become more prevalent, investigation into the use of drought tolerant plants in our application has increased.
The first response of garden design to water supply and availability restrictions is to choose plants that are matched to the local environmental conditions where they will be planted. Plants that are native to an area will be likely to thrive, whereas introduced botanical specimen may not be suited and may require irrigation and nutrient input levels that simply don’t make sense from a resource and cost perspective.
Drought tolerant plants are often characterised by a silver/green foliage colour. For example Brachyglottis, Pachystegia, and Olearia are New Zealand natives noted by this foliage that are well suited to dry Canterbury conditions. Most of our native grasses are also well suited to surviving prolonged dry spells once they are established.
If native plants are not what you have in mind for your drought tolerant garden design, there are other plant options for you to explore. Plants suited to a Mediterranean climate will generally thrive in Canterbury, while having low water requirements. Santolina, Olive, Sweet Bay, Rosemary and Lavandula will add good evergreen structure and some flowering interest.
Recent plant releases that have good application for drought tolerance include evergreen Lomandra and Dianella. These are Australian natives which have a wide range of hybrids available that provides good textural interest, much like our native grasses, but in a wider range of colour and with the propensity to hold a better rigid, upright form over time. When mass planted with closer spacings, these will achieve a
effect which may also help with reduced ongoing maintenance and weed control.
On a recent garden tour in Northern California, it was interesting to see the plant selection at the McConnell Arboretuem in Turtle Bay, Redding. Their climate is hotter than ours and in persistent current drought conditions. The designer had used drought tolerant flowering perennials like Russian Sage, Verbena bonariensis and Echinacea for colour highlights alongside mass planted native groundcover, textural, Californian grasses and succulents reminiscent of the ‘New Perennial’ garden movement championed by famous garden designers like Piet Oudolf. This could be well applied here in Canterbury conditions to good visual and sustainable outcome.