Summer Dry Gardens: A New Look for Los Angeles Lawns?

Lion's Tail (Leonotis leonurus) is a tall shrub that produces showy orange flowers that bees, birds and butterflies love.
Lion’s Tail (Leonotis leonurus) is a tall shrub that produces showy orange flowers that bees, birds and butterflies love.

With the lack of water facing California in this fourth year of drought, “drought tolerant” gardening seems to be the phrase most bandied about, with “water-wise”, “California native”, and  “drought-shaming” not far behind. But one writer and horticulturist would like to see us using, and implementing, a slightly different concept in talking about what works in Southern California gardens and that term is “summer-dry.”

Based on the “right plant right place” concept, the summer-dry theory says that all plants are drought tolerant in their native habitat and also that no plant can live without water. Here in Southern California we have at least six months of little or no rain, and there are plants that can withstand little or almost no water during the summer-dry conditions, but can also thrive in the wet soggy months of rain when (hopefully) El Nino returns. Instead of “drought tolerant” we should be looking at “climate tolerant” and use plants that have proven successful in the soil (mostly clay), sun (consistent) and water (limited for 6-9 months/year) conditions of our area. Regardless, one still has to provide some water to all plants, or they will die.

Summer-dry.com is a website based off the book “Plants and Landscapes for Summer-Dry Climates” photographed by Saxon Holt and published by the East Bay Municipal Utility District in Northern California. Don’t be put off that it’s a book and website produced in NoCal: the authors speak to conditions and plant material that work in SoCal as well. The book include plants native to California, but also shares information on plants from the four other summer-dry ecosystems around the world including the Mediterranean, South Africa, western Chile, and much of southern Australia.

Most big box and chain plant nurseries won’t carry many of these plants. If you hire a landscaper they will be able to source the plants from wholesalers who specialize in natives and summer-dry plants, and will give you a much better idea of what will work in your particular yard. Some nurseries that do sell some of these plants retail are Anawalt Lumber on Highland, Theodore Payne in Sunland, C&S Nursery in Culver City, Matilija Nursery in Filmore, Lincoln Ave Nursery in Altadena, Belle Fontaine in Pasadena and Native Sons north of Santa Barbara.

If you’re considering changing your lawn or gardens to do your part for the drought, you need to click on over to Summer-dry.com and start snooping around. The site is resplendent with gorgeous photos that showcase the variety of summer-dry plants that can be searched by name or by plant type (shrubs, trees, groundcover, etc.)

If you have any bit of gardener in you, you’ll salivate over the photographs, and want to head to the nearest nursery. As one friend of mine said, you may even begin to refer to the site as “planter’s porn” because the landscapes are so lush and lovely and you just can’t stop looking.

Larchmont Buzz: Right Plant Right Place

KCRW: Eight Things to Think About before Ditching your Lawn

 

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About Julie Grist

Julie co-founded the Larchmont Buzz with fellow buzzer Mary Hawley in 2011 and served as Editor, Publisher and writer for the hive for many years until the sale of the Buzz in August 2015. She is still circling the hive as an occasional writer.

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