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Practical Drought Tolerant Plants

My front garden is beautiful this year in spite of the drought.  All of my yard is dripped (no overhead spraying) and it is only watered once a week.  The front garden is entirely water-wise except for the two hydrangeas close to the house.  They do get the  same amount of water as everything else, and have learned to adapt.
My garden is over 25 years old so most of the plants that remain do so because they have survived.
The area around the fountain is planted with standard oleander (I have learned to love oleander).  I think we Californians tend to dismiss it because it grows profusely along the highways.  I personally love it.  Another bonus is the deer hate it since it is poisonous.  These appear red right now because they are just beginning to bloom.  Once they bloom they are the color of the roses below.


They are under planted with landscape roses (another underrated plant).  They require no special care like most roses.  I fertilize them in the early spring and let them go. They are rimmed by  teucrium (germander).  I have barely replaced a single plant in 25 years.  This is another of the most underrated plants in existence.  It blooms once a year (it has not yet bloomed).  It is hacked back after blooming and that is all the care it requires until the following year.
The bulk of the front yard is planted in lavender
and bordered with nepeta faassenii (catmint),  The lavender and catmint do require cutting back three times a year but are well worth it for the repeat bloom.Santa Barbara Daisies can be invasive but require so little effort and bloom all summer long


The side yard is mostly gravel with star jasmine, a few sickly camelias and bordered by boxwood.  Most of the area is dry shade so these are the plants that have managed to tolerate that. The standard roses are Red Fairy which I would highly recommend both for disease tolerance and putting up with less water than most.
A Mature Brazilian Pepper Tree surrounded by California Gold (gravel) hasn’t gotten any additional irrigation in years.  All of the mature olives on the property no longer receive any summer water either.
The climber super dorothy on both arbors in the distance is extremely disease resistant and quite drought tolerant by rose standards but it has never been too “super” in my yard.  They are at least 8-10 years old and still don’t cover the arbors.  Inside the fence is my small herb garden.

Another view from the pool.  The Rose Sally Holmes (who will tolerate light shade) is climbing on the fence in the distance.  Another good performer that can get by on less water and fertilizer.  On the closest arbor is the rose Cecil Bruener.  I don’t think it is possible to kill that rose.
The back garden which houses roses that require more care and water is not at it’s best due to the drought.  I am not willing to drench them in the water they desire so hopefully they will survive.  The beautiful Butterfly Bush is a great performer, requiring little water and care.  The rose in front (once the David Austin Symphony Rose) has reverted to its natural state.  I have no idea what wild rose it is but it too is doing well in spite of the lack of water.
What are you doing to conserve water in your garden? Are there any special circumstances you are dealing with in your area ?

Reader Interactions


    • Cindy says

      I do feel blessed and I should remind myself of that everyday!! Thank you so much for the sweet comment!

  1. Debra Phillips says

    are you sure this isn't a botanic garden? or a resort? or paradise? bet it's the latter, paradise, surrounded by mountain views! cindy you are a designer/care tender extraordinaire.
    suddenly i would take a drought over the nonsense here; japanese beetles = few roses. last winter = no buddleia, and much more. we replace lavender like an annual. olives???? i'm dying over here. cheers to you!!

    • Cindy says

      Debra as I said you and your hubby need to plan a trip here! We would love to host you guys! You are too sweet my friend!!

  2. redbirdv says

    Your combination of plants is wonderful! We're renovating an old Dutch colonial in Illinois, + the yard there is a blank slate. I know we'll have lavender + roses — I can't wait.

    • Cindy says


      I grew up in the midwest and my sister lives in Chicago. You are lucky you have abundent water! I know with water comes many more pests however! I do remember that!

    • Cindy says

      Thank you so much Elizabeth. Sometimes it takes reminders from people like you to remind me how lucky I am!

  3. Peggy Zortman says

    Your gardens are amazing! The drought has taken its toll here. We have moved to the family farm and the only remaining flowers are an old bush rose, a few iris and some tulips. I am making plans for a few simple beds of lavender. I had completely forgotten germander and think I may need to add that too? Great post!

    • Cindy says

      Hi Peggy

      Honestly germander is the easiest plant in my entire yard. I forget how easy it is sometimes. If I were doing it all over again I would have much more crushed california gold (gravel). I love it!

  4. Karen says

    Your yard is beautiful. I've kept a list of plants you recommend and will get to planting soon. I think our biggest problem where we are in California, is the grass. The lot is small so I need to do some planning for a substitute landscape to replace the grass at some point. I love the look of the lavender, roses and such. The gravel you've got looks like decomposed granite. Very nice.

    • Cindy says

      Karen we had one small patch of grass when our kids were growing up. I got rid of it as soon as they were old enough to not care. Grass delivers the least bang for the buck in my opinion. Your garden is beautiful as well!!

  5. the polished pebble: says

    beautiful!!!!!! I love all of your choices and you have the gift of a true gardener. I'm always shocked how big and woody the butterfly bushes can get…like a tree. Lets hope we have a normal rainfall this coming winter ; )))

    • Cindy says

      I always hack my butterfly bushes to the ground after blooming. I think some varieties are better than others!

  6. La Contessa says

    MY garden TOO has been the BEST EVER without the water…………..we have had a mild SPRING with overcast days.Was outside yesterday deadheading………….YOUR GARDEN is DELICIOUS!I have made a note about your California GOLD gravel.Are you happy with that?I am looking to re-place the grass up top.Could I put a French day bed on it and some Urns?Easy to walk on……………….Recently I was told crushed rock is better then gravel to stay in place!Any thoughts on that?I am CONSERVING like crazy……..we still haveNOT turned the SPINKLERS on and the roses are starting to say "HEY WATER PLEASE!"I too have spent the last 21 years MAKING this GARDEN and it's going to HURT……………….I think!Roses are TUFF little bushes they will come back but I have already lost some SANTA BARBARA daisies!!AND to think it's Just the beginning!!!

    • Cindy says


      Re the California Gold (I LOVE IT!) Make sure it is the smaller of the choices. I had decomposed granite and it tracked everywhere. This is much better. If I were doing it over again all of the paths would be wider and I would use more gravel. We replaced our only patch of grass years ago. I have never missed it one bit.

  7. Judy says

    Good topic. Thanks for the inspiration. Trying to figure out what to replace our lawns with…as are many of our friends and neighbors. Of course, I am quite sure that if we take out our lawns, next winter will be the wettest one on record 😉 But that would be a very good thing–

    Judy Brown
    San Luis Obispo

    • Cindy says

      Hi Judy

      I never regretted getting rid of my grass. I hope you are right about a wet year. There will be more dry ones to come even so. I have really learned to appreciate the plants that thrive and give up on those that don't!

  8. Celia Becker @After Orange County says

    Cindy, what an amazingly beautiful garden you have. It's so nice when plants mature as yours have.You have inspired me on my continued quest to fill in my own garden, which although it is 10 years old, has suffered from the harsh winter conditions here in the California mountains, which kill some of my plants every year. That coupled with the limited type of plants that grow in this zone, as well as the drought conditions make gardening here very challenging.

  9. Leslie Harris says

    The drought has certainly affected the current landscaping of our backyard. I aspire to have a yard as water efficient as yours Cindy. And it's so beautiful too!

  10. Karena Albert says

    Cindy I am actually amazed at how gorgeous and well planned your garden and grounds are kept!
    Here in the Midwest we do not have to worry about any lack of water until later in the summer. It has been like a swamp lately. I wish the rains would spread where they are needed, in the meantime you are setting a great example!

    The Arts by Karena

    • Cindy says

      I grew up in the midwest Karena I remember those summers!! You are so right about the rains. It seems we are all undergoing a change in climate…

    • Cindy says

      I wish it took very little maintenance! It is getting better though as I give up the impossible plants!!

  11. Lynne (lynnesgiftsfromtheheart) says

    Your gardens are absolutely gorgeous! I love the mix of colors and the natural feel you've provided. We've had so much rain here lately haven't had to worry about watering yet. Thanks for sharing your beautiful gardens. fondly ~lynne~

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