There's nothing quite as inviting as a lush, green garden. But in today's era of increased climate change—meaning drought for several U.S. regions—thirsty, water-dependent landscapes are becoming a thing of the past. But don't put away your gardening gloves just yet: As it turns out, there are plenty of creative ways to cultivate gardens that thrive without so much water. Just ask Patricia Bennar. Since starting her career as a landscape architect in the 1990s, she's been designing gardens mostly in and around her home in Los Angeles and, as drought has become increasingly common in Southern California, has developed a reliable repertoire of drought-resistant plants, techniques, and styles to keep landscapes beautiful without extra toll on the environment. House Beautiful chatted with the designer about the best drought-resistant plants, the biggest misconceptions about low-water gardens, and everything else to know to create one for yourself.
Pay attention to the seasons.
In what might surprise non-Californians, who see the state as the land of eternal sunshine, Patricia underscores the importance of changing seasons in all her gardens. "People don't always recognize it, but there are seasons here," she insists. No matter what climate you're in, using a variety of plants that bloom in different seasons will keep your garden looking healthy year-round—without having to force it.
Know what grows naturally.
Another way to ensure your garden stays naturally healthy is to plant species native to your climate. If you're in a dry region, tropical flowers will require a lot of extra water. "I've really focused on learning California plants," Patricia says. "But anywhere, it's important to know your native plants. Those will thrive, and they'll also attract bees, butterflies, really benefit the ecosystem."
Not all drought-resistant plants are succulents.
"Some drought-tolerant gardens can feel really parched, and I think people react negatively to that," Patricia says. "An all-succulent garden can be really lovely, but it's not for everybody."
In California, Patricia loves wild lilac, which blooms a blue color and is popular in the canyons around LA, but which would also work well in an urban garden. "I think it's painful to people who are used to really tropical looking things to not use those," she says. "But I try to introduce things that will give that same feel."
Think shade over hue.
Speaking of achieving a more tropical, lush feel with less water, Patricia urges gardeners to be more open-minded in their definition of colorful: Variation in shades of green can be just as interesting (and, in fact, often look even more lush) than pops of different colors from flowers. "I grew up in really lush greenery, so that dark green really appeals to me," the designer explains.
"There is a broader range of color in these plants; it's not all the gray grays and the dry looking things," she says. Opt for a variety of textures, too. "There really is a richness there, and a range of greens within a native palette," Patricia says. "I think you can have a beautiful garden without a flower in it."
Steer clear of fertilizer.
If you're going with native plants, you won't miss it: "Natives don't like a lot of fertilizer," Patricia says. "They like to go into the native soil."
Developing a truly forward-looking garden involves time—a lot of it. "The perpetuation of plants in the garden is so important," Patricia says. Be open to exploring plants which you may never even see truly mature. "You know, oaks are slow-growing but they last a long time," Patricia says by way of example.
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