Works in Progress

One of gardening’s countless sayings is that all gardens are works in progress. That is true of my own garden. Long-time readers of this column will recall that I have been developing a drought-tolerant garden with beds representing the world’s five major dry-summer regions: the Mediterranean basin, South Africa, Chile’s central coast, southwestern coast of Australia, and California’s coast.

This project involves converting an existing a nondescript landscape into a thematic garden. In addition to the five summer-dry regions, the garden includes beds devoted to roses, irises and salvias.

Despite the progressive nature of gardening, there are occasional moments to celebrate reaching certain accomplishments. After many weekends of diligent work, I can report that my helpers and I have cleared a daunting accumulation of weeds, upgraded the irrigation controllers and valves, installed drip tubing and emitters, and mulched every square foot of bare soil.

During this time-consuming process, several good plants died. Hand watering has never been my strong suit!

We have the continuing adventure of finding plants from these far-flung regions, putting them in the ground, and documenting the collections with paper records and plot diagrams.

This approach to landscaping has yielded two important realizations. First, collecting plants by dry-summer region tends to abandon all but very basic design concepts. By definition, all dry-summer plants are suitable candidates for the Monterey Bay climate. Also, the gardener can still select and place plants that have mature sizes that are right for the space. Finally, the gardener can still position the smaller plants in front and the larger plants in back.

The finer points of landscape design generally are beyond reach. This garden does not include subtly artful contrasts of leaf textures; complementary, analogous or triadic combinations of blossom colors; or a year-round schedule of blooms. It also does not include plant communities (clusters of plants that grow together in nature). Instead, each bed offers an essentially random collection of plants from a climatic region, some of which seem puzzled by their strange bedfellows.

In my view, it is interesting nevertheless.

As I gradually convert the garden to a “botanical zoo,” I have to decide the fate of plants that were included in the previous landscape but do not belong in the new landscape. I could just relocate smaller plants. Most Monterey Bay area gardens already include plants from dry-summer climates because they are good choices for the local climate.

Larger shrubs and trees are another story. I have callously removed some smaller trees, donated two huge salvias to a friend who maintains a more spacious garden, and given away many smaller perennials. Currently, I am agonizing over a thirty-foot elderberry (Sambucus cerulea?) that is shading the Australian garden.

Enjoy your own work in progress!

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Here are photos of the elderberry tree in the Australian garden, and a Blue Hibiscus, one of the plants that isn’t getting all the hours of sun that they prefer.

Elderberry (Sambucus cerulea)
Elderberry (Sambucus cerulea) and Blue Hibiscus (Alyogyne huegelii ‘Santa Cruz’)

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