Monday, December 27, 2010

Camels and Sand?

Donkeytail Spurge in bloom.

Unknown variety sedium in bloom.

Sedium Crazy Ruffles.
Unknown variety sedium in bloom.

I often hear gardeners wishing they could grow or copy plants from a different climate.  You often can do this with a little imagination, a little more work and knowledge of what's available for your growing zone.

I thought of this while reading an article about the Sherman Library and Gardens located in Corona del Mar, California.   Such a beautiful example of the plant life in arid regions and exotic vegetation of tropical climates.  They also incorporate potted plants in a way that looks natural and regional.

Here are a few suggestions if you'd like to incorporate a little dessert into your Midwest garden:

  • Probably the most obvious first step is to look at web sites of established gardens (like the Sherman).  Look at these gardens with an overview for texture, design, color and ideas.  NOT for specific plants.
  • You may want to borrow ideas from rock gardens and oriental designs.
  • Decide how big you want your xeriscaped area.  For beginners, my advice is go smaller than your beginning thoughts. 
  • Your new bed should be in full sun if possible.
  • Decide if you want an informal or structured bed.  Both have possible applications or you can use a combination.
  • Consider a good quality landscaping cloth.  NOT plastic sheets but the breathable, easily shaped and cut, water moves through kind.  Weeding in rock is not fun.
  1. Prepare a drawing of how you'd like your new bed to look.
  2. Prepare your new bed much like any other new growing area.  Kill all current ground cover.
  3. If your bed includes electrical needs, install those now.  
  4. If your bed includes water features, install those next (ponds and streams).  Dessert gardens often include a dry river bed (see my article #57 "Dry Creek Beds")  
  5. Install any new large hardscapes such as paths, edging, and accent rocks.
Here is a list of perennial plants that look like dessert plants and some varieties grow in Zone 5 (check out the zone to make sure the variety you choose is hardy in your locale):
  • Spurges
  • Sediums
  • Ferns
  • Yucca
  • Creeping evergreens
  • Bonsai pruned trees
  • Agave
  • Cactus - Prickly Pear is an example
  • Sempervivum
  • Stonecrop 
Annuals that could make fine accents because of the flowers or foliage:
  • Primrose aka Primulas
  • Moss Rose
  • Red Hot Poker
  • Elephant Ear
  • Small hot pepper plants
  • California poppy
Potted house plants:
  • Palms
  • Mother-in-law's tongue
  • Ginger
  • Camella
  • Begonia
  • Citrus trees
  • Cacti
  • Aloe
  • Jade
There are many more plants that would suffice - just think form and zone when shopping.

And finally, most gardens of this type are covered with a hard mulch, such as small stones, pea gravel, or landscaping glass.  Wood mulch typically holds in moisture - not something you need with these plants.  If planting annuals, leave a portion with no hard ground cover for planting since it can be VERY difficult to dig in rock.  I would not use sand as a cover as it packs very much like cement in our climate.

If you plan to set existing pots of house plants IN the ground for a natural look in the summer, set a larger plastic pot in the ground first - within about two inches of it's top.  You can set and remove your houseplants easily without lots of digging later.  Bring the mulch up to the outside lip of the plastic pot. 

My little pot is an example of a very small succulent garden.  I often use "Hens and Chickens" as a basis. 

Speaking of camels - statuary can sometimes re-emphasize your theme.  Maybe not a camel, but then garden preferences comes in as wide of a variety as gardeners themselves.   

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