Much attention has been brought to drought-tolerant plants in our area over the last several years, and rightly so. Not only are these plants easy care, but many are absolutely stunning additions to the garden. A variety of natives fit the bill, including arctostaphylos, lewisia, ribes, and mahonia, all providing ease and beauty in the garden while simultaneously attracting native pollinators. In addition, a tremendous variety of water-wise plants originating from California all the way to Tasmania have been popularized over the last decade, and many have proven to thrive in Portland's climate, including but not limited to ceanothus, leptospermum (tea tree), callistemon, and grevillea. We've reached a magical moment where a Portland gardener could plant an entire, sunny yard with a tremendous variety of plants and trees and have no problem getting away with watering just a handful of times throughout the summer, with wonderful results. What a time to be alive!
We've culled together a grouping of several of our most tried-and-true drought tolerant plants for you to peruse. We hope you see something you can't live without and will visit the nursery to pick up something new. Our summers certainly don't look to be getting any cooler, so any movement toward a drier garden is undoubtedly a smart one.
Arctostaphylos (Manzanita): Seeing more and more Manzanitas pop up around the Portland area couldn't make us happier. These majestic evergreens, once thought to be too fussy to grow in our climate, have proven wildly successful in our native soil. Very early blooms (late winter/early spring) provide some of the first food of the year for hummingbirds, and vigorous leaf growth follows. Perhaps the most well-known Manzanita in our area is 'Uva-Ursi,' a common groundcover for full sun, but the variety of Manzanitas that will thrive in our area is large and varied - some are even tree-like, growing quickly to 8 or 10 feet tall. Many varieties of Manzanita have extremely attractive, mahogany-colored bark, which is easily exposed by trimming off a few of the lowest branches for the first several years after planting. A few of our favorites varieties for bark color are 'Howard McMinn' and 'Austin Griffiths'. Other Manzanitas are most beloved for their tough-yet-attractive foliage, including 'Sunset', which features unique and lovely coppery-orange new growth, and 'Pacific Mist, a low-growing shrub with long, blue leaves and purple stems for contrast. If you haven't yet added a Manzanita to your sun garden, it's an easy choice. With such a wide variety of shapes and sizes, there is always a Manzanita that fits the bill.
Yucca: Yuccas are a wonderful addition to the drought-tolerant garden because of their unique architecture. Tall, rigid, semi-spheres of spikes look striking in groups as well as when paired with visually softer companion plants like lavender, sage, amsonia, yarrow, and leptospermum (tea tree). Yucca rostrata is perhaps the boldest variety that thrives here in the Pacific NW, forming a large trunk over time, which, by raising the foliage off the ground, allows the Yucca's spikes to form a striking blue sphere easily four or more feet across. 'Color Guard' is another favorite, with its bold, bright yellow stripes, and 'Golden Sword' is another dramatic option, with alternating blue, green, and pale yellow striping. Still on the fence about yuccas? Wait until you see the flower! After a period of establishment (typically just one to two years), full-sun yuccas will produce an incredibly dramatic flower stalk, or inflorescence, each summer, which is covered in dozens if not hundreds of gorgeous, creamy-colored flowers. We think yucca is worth growing for this dramatic show alone.
Sedum and Sempervivum: The tremendous variety of these hardy succulents available to us here in the Pacific NW makes it impossible not to find several must-haves. These plants are available in a range of colors and textures, feature polite spreading behavior, and couldn't be easier to propagate - what more could one ask for in the garden? One of our most beloved is the native Sedum 'Cape Blanco' with its powdery blue mounded foliage, which takes on a purple hue as the cooler weather arrives. Sedum 'Angelina', with its brilliant chartreuse needles, makes a lovely contrast to dark-leaved shrubs, and a new arrival at the nursery, Sedum 'Tricolor' features green and white variegation with pink leaf edges - a unique combination all in one darling package. Sempervivum 'Mrs. Guiseppe' is another favorite, with its taller-than-average blue-green rosettes spiked with purple tips. Sempervivum are often called Hen and Chicks because of the way they reproduce, which makes them ideal plants for containers. We love the way they quickly fill a space and politely creep over the edges in their unique way.
Salvia: Salvias are wonderful, extremely long-flowering plants that thrive in hot and dry conditions, making them a great choice for tough spots in the garden. While many Salvias are hardy in out climate, some not-so-tough varieties can be grown as annuals here and are well worth it. The variety of flower colors within this genus is incredible diverse, 'May Night' features dense spikes of deep indigo flowers and fresh, fragrant foliage. 'Heatwave Glimmer' boasts masses of creamy white flowers and a lovely purple-black calyx. The bright magenta, tubular flowers of 'Wendy's Wish' protrude from dusty pink bracts on maroon stems - those who don't believe themselves a fan of pink flowers may change their minds after setting eyes on Wendy. Plant any of these Salvias now and you (and your neighborhood hummingbirds) will enjoy their flowers well into fall.