drought tolerant plants

As written by Peter Shaw in Surf Coast Living Magazine.

Here’s a good trick used by many garden designers – amateurs and professionals. And once it’s been explained to you, you’ll start to spot it being put to good use all over the place. But not in a way that means you’ll see a lot of gardens that all look identical. No, this trick is based on method rather than the look, and is gives fantastic results. Read on if you’d like to inject your garden with a bit more health and general good looks.

Let’s call this trick the 80:20 rule. Imagine you are going to replant a section of your garden that has never looked good or thrived. Start by drawing up a design for the area where 80% of the plants are tough things that are able to look after themselves. That leaves you with 20% of plants that might be more interesting: things that are a bit more fussy, more colourful or possibly more ephemeral (they’ll be there for a season or two and then need replacing). Your 80% backbone planting should be made of drought tolerant plants that will survive almost all conditions: things that you know are going to do well. In coastal gardens in Victoria we’re talking correas, westringeas, Acacia cognata, some camellias, hebes, lomandras, carex, callistemons and grevilleas – all these are ideal to form the backbone of drought tolerant plants leaving the remaining 20% of space for those more interesting plants. Position these, we’ll call them high interest zones, in places where they’ll be appreciated – near gates, doorways, around outdoor living zones and from the main views looking out from your home.

Less is also more when using the 80:20 rule. If you use fewer types or varieties of plants, and bulk up the plantings with more than one of the same plant, you’ll achieve a good look. Just repeat these – some people say to use odd numbers but I don’t think it’s that important especially in large garden spaces. The less is more approach is also good where a house or garden is a little disjointed, a bit mixed up perhaps through a renovation, views of a neighbour’s house, different fence lines or whatever. A space that’s uneasy on the eye will be hugely improved if you introduce fewer types of plants, and plant them in bulk. The planting will join it all together and distract from the busy-ness elsewhere.

The 80% of your garden that’s filled with the drought tolerant plants can also perform a valuable micro-climate function. Carefully chosen species can work to buffer the more tender 20% of interesting plants from conditions that have made it tricky for things to thrive in your garden up until now. Take note of areas around the house and start creating mental zones. Note how that area to the north is exposed to the sun, how it builds reflected heat and bakes nearby plants. You may also have a tough area to the south side with cold and winds. On the west it can be different again; in fact one garden can have four or more different mini climate zones so you need to acknowledge these, and plant accordingly. Use your 80%-drought tolerant plants to reduce the negative impacts of heat and wind, for example, and you may be able to successfully add that 20% of more tender yet interesting plants within the shelter they offer. Whatever you do, link it all with a common planting thread or plant types running throughout the garden.

Use large groups of drought tolerant plants for a more dramatic effect

If you do have a hellishly difficult patch in the garden, use succulents with confidence. To avoid the nanna look, rather than collecting many different succulents, again limit yourself to one kind. A bunch of agaves, cotyledons or aeoniums will work quite well and it’s better to more of one type than just a few of many varieties.

Plants are a major part of the garden and shouldn’t be thought of at the last minute. If having a go at the 80:20 rule sounds too complicated, consider investing in a proper planting design. It will take all these factors – and more – into account. It always makes sense to invest in informed advice when buying plants, especially for a whole garden.


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