More on Drought


I read Susan’s post on drought-tolerant plants while I was in the New Mexico high desert–where it rained almost every day.  Summers around there are known for their delicious, dramatic thunderstorms that rumble in just in time to cool down the 100+ temps and wash through the sandy, alkaline soil.

And then I returned home to chilly, overcast, northern California, where it barely rains for months but also never gets warm.  You’d think that High Country Garden‘s plants would just sulk in my slightly acid, clay soil, but guess what?  They’re flourishing.

I agree with the commenters who said that we should stop lusting after plants that grow halfway across the country, but I also know that drought-tolerant plants make sense anywhere.  Just depends on your definition of drought.

Before I order from High Country, I call them up and tell them where I live.  I make it clear that tempsNm2
never get much above 70, and I check to see if what I’m after can tolerate a little morning or afternoon shade. They’re surprisingly knowledgeable about my climate, and like any great nursery, they’ll cheerfully talk me out of a plant that won’t work here.

Here’s what I think a town like Santa Fe or Taos has to teach us: Figure out what works and run with it.  Every parking lot, every street median, every storefront and cafe and garden was growing yarrow, hollyhock, salvia, lavender–if it works, plant it by the dozen. 

I also loved the fact that gardeners there have figured out how to work with the architecture.  A blue Nm3
windowsill is just crying out for something orange.  A long red ristra (string of chile peppers) hanging in a doorway demands some yellow to help it pop.  Santa Fe has figured out what its thing is, horticulturally speaking, and it’s running with it.  It makes the whole city feel like one continuous garden.

And I’m not just talking about the wealthy, touristy communities–even run-down neighborhoods in Albuquerque looked fabulous–because they have figured out what to grow.

Do they long for roses and spirea and lilacs?  Well, yeah–probably.  What gardener doesn’t want what they don’t have?  But meanwhile, the place looks enchanting  The butterflies don’t seem to mind, either.


  1. thank you for this. it’s hard to limit yourself when everything we are confronted with screams “NOW”, “MORE” and “BIGGER”. i’m learning not to rely on my optimism when it routinely kills things. it’s hard, but i think i have come to love discovering what works even more than having it my way. and it’s easier when i’m shown how beautifully it can be done.

  2. Spot on, Amy, and great pics too.

    I love Santa Fe’s colorful cottage gardens, juxtaposed as they are with pale-orange adobe and cobalt windowsills. And you know what, it looks just as enchanting in a snowfall, when the rounded adobe walls are topped with a white line of snow, and the greenish-gray sagebrush and yellowing grasses bend under the weight. Those Santa Feans know how to make their architecture and gardens work in all seasons.

    For adobe and roses, if anyone’s interested, visit the Antique Rose Emporium in north San Antonio. While the Emporium in Brenham is better known, the San Antonio nursery has lovely adobe buildings and roses of all types sprawling across the walls. Gorgeous!

  3. I guess I’m the odd one out, but having the flavor of the month in my garden isn’t as important to me as creating a great killer combo that knocks my eyes out. It’s like matching the right wine with each course.

    As I tell my design students, I’d rather have a garden filled with common, everyday plants that thrive, than a bunch of rare, exotic plants on life-support. Why try to make a plant that’s adapted to one climate try to survive where nature doesn’t intend it. That’s the fundamental idea behind sustainable landscaping. Work with what nature gives you.

    I guess it depends on whether you want to be a plant collector or create a beautiful design. For me, design trumps variety.

    A good design should not rely on having the rare and unusual–it’s about finding great combinations, responding to the site, creating interest through more than just flower color. It’s about how artistic you can be with the material on hand.

    Food analogy, anyone? I don’t mind eating mom’s meatloaf recipe, but combine it with a perfect side dish of grilled summer squash and garlic mashed potatoes and I’m in heaven. It’s how you pair ’em up.

  4. The plants that grow so well all over Santa Fe that you mentioned…yarrow, hollyhock, salvia and lavender… also are some of my best standbys here in N. Georgia. I am originally from So. Cal, so I am always lusting for plants that my Mom and Grandparents had in their garden there. It’s sentimental. I want California poppies and perfect roses without spray and agapanthus and ranunculas, and palm trees. Oh well, at least camelias do well here, and I got a windmill palm (hardy to 5 degrees F). And I have a confederate jasmine by the front door (is that the same as the star jasmine in

  5. Okay, just where do you live that it doesn’t get above 70, because I want to move there! I love the High Country Gardens catalog. I get it every year and drool over it, but have yet to order from it. I think I will vow to do so in the near future!

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